We Lucky Molecules

Exclusive: As American neocons and other war hawks push for endless war in the Mideast and now eastern Europe, the resulting chaos is straining the capacity of civilization to meet basic human needs and raising the risk of nuclear war, what would be a tragic ending to the Universe’s luckiest molecules, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Scientists don’t know how many atoms and molecules there are in the Universe, but it’s clear that the vast, vast, vast majority find themselves locked in lifeless form perhaps consumed by the fire of an exploding nova, or sucked into a black hole going who knows where, or simply frozen in the dark reaches of space.

A tiny, tiny, infinitesimal minority found themselves on Planet Earth and even there, the vast, vast majority remained in inert form as rocks or water or may have edged their way into the simplest life forms as amoeba or plankton or made it up to vegetation as a tree or a flower.

The image of the Earth rising over the surface of the moon, a photograph taken by the first U.S. astronauts to orbit the moon.

The image of the Earth rising over the surface of the moon, a photograph taken by the first U.S. astronauts to orbit the moon.

Relative to the total number, an extraordinarily few molecules have achieved intelligent life and fewer still formed themselves into human beings with the intellect to comprehend many of the mysteries of the Universe. As far as scientists know, we may be the only beings anywhere capable of this feat. Despite decades of seeking signs of intelligent life across the Universe, none has been found.

So, it may be that we the seven billion or so of us humans who live on Planet Earth in the Twenty-first Century represent the luckiest of molecules. We get to appreciate the magnificence of Nature, not only the beauty of budding trees and blossoming flowers, or the stark snow-covered mountains and the pounding ocean waves, but via modern technology like the Hubble Spacecraft, we get to see deeply into space to observe the colorful, surrealistic displays of distant galaxies.

Yet, what those photographs also tell us is that, as awe-inspiring as the Universe is, it is fearsomely hostile to life. Some parts of the Universe are extremely hot amid burning gases of giant stars but most of it is extremely cold, a black and bleak emptiness.

The odds of finding ourselves on a tiny piece of the Universe with the delicate, almost impossible balance between hot and cold, a sphere spinning at the right speed in the perfect location with a moon to pull at the oceans and a large planet situated as a shield between us and waves of giant asteroids rampaging through space, with an atmosphere to further protect and sustain us, and all the other stunning improbabilities of Planet Earth those odds are below any imaginable calculation. It’s safe to say the chances of us being here having advanced enough to know as much as we do are very close to zero.

We are, indeed, very lucky molecules. But there is, of course, a downside to our luck. As living things, we are also dying things. And our consciousness makes us aware of that inevitability. Plus, there are even more painful aspects of life, watching loved ones suffer with illness or from hunger or as victims of violence.

There can be a sense of senselessness to the human existence. There is wholly unnecessary destruction, driven by greed or fear or ideology or religion. We have seen plenty of that in human history and especially over the past century, a time of world wars, human-caused global pollution and advanced instruments to deliver death, even the potential to exterminate all life on the planet.

Science has not only enabled us to understand our possibly singular place in the Universe; science also has helped us master the capability to make Earth just one more barren rock floating through space.

That risk of ending the extraordinary run of luck experienced by those relatively few molecules that found their way onto Planet Earth and then into the bodies of human beings remains the greatest challenge of our time. Yet it is a challenge that is often treated cavalierly, as something to be ignored or even taunted, as politicians, pundits and pretend patriots push the human race toward endless war, daring the chance that one side or another might take the extra step and unleash nuclear conflagration in some ultimate game of chicken.

Journalism’s Role

In my life’s role as a journalist, I have always believed that ignorance presents the greatest danger for humanity touching off such a cosmic catastrophe. Sometimes the ignorance can be self-imposed by people not wanting to know facts that make them uncomfortable or that contest what they have been trained to believe. Other times, the ignorance is imposed from the outside as propaganda to manipulate a population into a desired response, usually to get in line behind some warmongering leader.

Though there’s not much a journalist can do about the first type of ignorance besides making reliable information available and hoping that people will open their eyes to it the most daunting and crucial professional challenge is to pierce through the second kind of ignorance, the intentional twisting of reality to elicit a dangerous response from a population.

But success in countering propaganda has become increasingly difficult as its practitioners have become more sophisticated in their management and control of information and as their methods of disinformation delivery have grown more varied. Now, the false information can come from a dominant news outlet but also from an upstart Web site that has the look of independence but is actually bought and paid for by powerful interests.

Propaganda can come from entities of the Right, the Left or the Center. It is hard, if not impossible, to know who to trust and who is reliable. That is why I have always tried to stay true to the bedrock principles of journalism, precepts as basic as “show, don’t tell,” laying out the information in a way so the reader is enlightened but also can draw his or her own conclusion. Stories should be engaging, not lecturing.

After all, despite journalism’s sometimes lofty goals empowering the people so they can make democracy work or act to prevent unnecessary killing and suffering journalism is fundamentally a pedestrian profession. It is the job of assembling facts and applying common sense to those facts. And, there must be no preference for one outcome over another, just a commitment to figure out what happened as best you can. Or, put differently, you might say: “I don’t care what the truth is; I just care what the truth is.”

A journalist also should be humble, recognizing that something as grand as “truth” is rarely revealed. We almost always have to settle for a more limited understanding, though one that can keep expanding as more facts become available. The best we can usually do is give people an honest framework for understanding what is happening around them, even if it’s an imperfect or limited depiction.

But the more people understand about the realities of the world, the less vulnerable they are to the propagandists, those clever folks who disseminate ignorance in the superficial form of information and then use that ignorance to dominate the people. The true calling of a journalist is to give the people as many facts as possible and thus the tools to detect and negate the propaganda.

All this goes to the overriding principle that there is nothing more important to a democracy than an informed electorate and to the counterpoint that the most effective way to defeat democracy is to misinform the people. And, as the world hurtles toward more and more wars and ever worsening crises, there may be nothing more important than exposing the lies, exaggerations and prejudices that undergird most conflicts.

As President John F. Kennedy said in perhaps his finest speech at American University on June 10, 1963 “For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.”

In an age of environmental fragility and nuclear dangers, the human race must finally recognize its common interests and cooperate in the common cause of averting unnecessary chaos and conflict. We must in the end realize that we are among the luckiest molecules in the Universe and act accordingly.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

image_pdfimage_print

32 comments for “We Lucky Molecules

  1. Daniel Dixon
    April 26, 2015 at 11:11

    Thank you Robert Parry for reminding us of who we are, what we represent, and our obligation to seek the truth. Acting on the truth toward a peaceful world in the now rather than someday in a nebulous future is the burden we are obligated to accept on behalf of life itself.

    Best regards.

  2. April 24, 2015 at 12:38

    Article is a pearl in ocean of lies we read now in most mainstream media. Thank you, Mr. Perry. How can we all stop lies? WWII happened because world was just watching but not acting against rise of fascism. Now we see same in Ukraine and EU & USA believe that they are going to be fine. World is closing their eyes and ears on war crimes Ukrainian junta does, genocide, political repressions, violation of human rights. We should do everything in our power to stop American Administration to participate in it. It’s shame for all American. Enough bloodshed around Globe!

  3. Steven
    April 23, 2015 at 16:26

    Great Reporting Edward R. Murrow would be proud, not to fail to mention Benjamin Franklin

  4. Daniel Guyot
    April 23, 2015 at 04:29

    Dear Mr. Parry,

    Most of the comments made here are very encouraging. I learned much more by reading your blog for a few months than by reading newspapers everyday since I was a student. I am very grateful to you for your work and for the search of truth. As one of your readers said (Gregory Kruse), I am gratified to be with you. Let us keep up our spirits.

  5. Mary
    April 23, 2015 at 00:04

    From Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos”:

    We have heard the rationales offered by the superpowers. We know who speaks for the nations; but who speaks for the human species? Who speaks for earth?

    From an extraterrestrial perspective, our global civilization is clearly on the edge of failure and the most important task it faces is preserving the lives and well-being of its citizens and the future habitability of the planet. If we are willing to live with the growing likelihood of nuclear war, shouldn’t we also be willing to explore vigorously every possible means to prevent nuclear war? Shouldn’t we consider in every nation major changes in the traditional ways of doing things, a fundamental restructuring of economic, political, social and religious institutions? We have reached a point where there can be no more special interests or special cases. Nuclear arms threaten every person on the earth.

    Fundamental changes in society are sometimes labeled impractical or contrary to human nature: as if nuclear war were practical or as if there were only one human nature. But fundamental changes can clearly be made. We are surrounded by them. In the last two centuries abject slavery, which was with us for thousands of years, has almost entirely been eliminated in a stirring world wide revolution. Women, systematically mistreated for millennia, are gradually gaining the political and economic power traditionally denied to them. And some wars of aggression have recently been stopped or curtailed because of a revulsion felt by the people in the aggressor nations. The old appeals to racial, sexual and religious chauvinism and to rabid nationalism are beginning not to work. A new consciousness is developing which sees the earth as a single organism and recognizes that an organism at war with itself is doomed. We are one planet.

    One of the great revelations of the age of space exploration is the image of the earth, finite and lonely, somehow vulnerable, bearing the entire human species through the oceans of space and time. But this is an ancient perception . . . history is full of people who, out of fear or ignorance or the lust for power, have destroyed treasures of immeasurable value which truly belong to all of us. We must not let it happen again.

  6. brandenburg
    April 22, 2015 at 23:35

    Cet article est supide,digne ‘un jourlaiste content d’avoir pa hasar lu sur ggogle des bribes d’astrophysique et d’en avoir fait le tout!pl poublis dabs sa crétnerie,son ignrand drsse et s vnité et neconnaît pas “le privipe anthopique” qui nous dit que cet immense unveset sabeauté n’exuste qoe our que l genre humain ouisse se déloppet,croiître et mutiplier jusu’aux etrémotée de la terre et qu’uk visage fe memme portant dans ses bras son enfant est un milliard de fois olus beau que cet unuvers caril cobene en lui sul tout celui-ci!

  7. Rob
    April 22, 2015 at 22:51

    Mr. Parry,
    Thank you for this essay. It’s perfect. I wish you could present this at the annual journalists gathering. Bill Moyers was speaker once and his presentation was perfect, too. It is gratifying that people like you, though rare, exist.
    Your essay illustrates my philosophy which is “step back.” MarioDE pointed out an unfortunate truth about people, very self-centered, living in their small contained worlds. They seem unable to “step back” to take a longer view and see a bigger picture; they don’t know that every other person on the planet is as important as they. I have heard people say many times, “I don’t care. It doesn’t affect me.” One must step back in order to assimilate the facts necessary to arrive as close as possible to reality and truth. I appreciate your statement, “I don’t care what the truth is; I just care what the truth is.” i.e., don’t determine the outcome ahead of time. Most journalists these days don’t follow that tenet, have an agenda and write from that determined outcome. They are numerous and easy to spot which makes you a rather rare breed of journalist. Every time I read your writings, I learn something. Thanks for that.

  8. Zachary Smith
    April 22, 2015 at 22:00


    As living things, we are also dying things.

    Dying is inevitable for individuals, but a consoling thought has always been that your civilization would continue to live and perhaps to grow. That your own personal works might have contributed to a better life for others in the future. That the memory of those works might be honored.

    That’s no longer a safe assumption, for our development as a successful species promises to be a temporary one. And worse, our own misdeeds will be what does us in.

    You can educate people, but will it stick? Unfortunately, when some folks “find Jesus” or gain some similar religious enlightenment, they feel it necessary to shed everything they know about science and history and adopt beliefs more in line with what their religious leader is saying from the pulpit. (of course that assumes they ever did know any science or history)

    The lower end of the IQ curve is a problem. By definition 50% of humans have an IQ lower than 100. Even the dumbest of these are the smartest critters who ever lived, but they’re putty in the hands of their intellectual betters.

    Those brainier types might be saints, but it doesn’t take many who aren’t to decide to play the system for their own advantage. The worst of them are “psychopaths”. Conventional morality means absolutely nothing to these types – it’s all about Me Me Me. Some of them have the luck to blunder into wealth. Perhaps it’s an invention of a new system to squeeze a couple of bucks out of hundreds of millions of people. Maybe they marry rich. And they might just go to work for some less capable person (or corporate person) who needs their soul-less skills.

    Everywhere you look you see their work. The most distressing of their efforts is the so-far successful one to convince Joe Sixpack that Climate Change isn’t happening. This is currently destroying the only planet suitable for human life.

    Greedy fanatics with big money are working to get the entire planet delivered into their hands. And because of the amounts of money available and the cleverness of the campaign, they’re almost there. Buying the Supreme Court they needed was essential, for this has served to make their work totally legal. Hit Joe and Jane Sixpack with clever propaganda from all directions and they’re going to start to believe it. Saddam Hussein took down the Twin Towers and wants to blow you to hell and gone with his nuclear bombs. (change to Assad/Putin/filthy Iranians as needed) Social Security, the US Post Office, and Labor Unions are awful threats to your financial security. Most women have a slutty nature, and must be closely monitored and regulated to keep them from killing their Unborn Babies.

    The hyper-rich psychopaths have already destroyed the US industrial base. They’ve totally destabilized the financial institutions here. They’ve accumulated basically unlimited amounts of money, and want to continue their roll. The most recent push seems to be the TPP “free trade” thing to gain control of everything they don’t now own or control. After that, will they settle for anything less than total dominion? That’s a recipe for nuclear war. I fear that the frantic arms buildup by Russia and China may be in anticipation of such an event.

    Once upon a time I thought that humans might “make it” in galactic terms. That we’d become a successful species in that sense. That outcome now seems quite unlikely.

    As things are going, we’re going to be a “flash-in-the-pan” and will not have even a fraction of the run of the dinosaurs.

  9. Gregory Kruse
    April 22, 2015 at 20:01

    I am touched that you put aside your reporter hat and spoke to us as the excellent human being you are. I am gratified to be associated with you.

    • Daniel Guyot
      April 23, 2015 at 04:34

      I fully agree with the comment made by Gregory. Thank you, Mr. Parry. It is true, that we feel gratified to be associated with you. We do not know what is going to happen, but in any case, let us keep up our spirits and our search for truth.

  10. marioDE
    April 22, 2015 at 19:44

    It’s a beautiful, profound and enlightening expose no doubt. The problem is that for the wast majority of people, the world is very small. It revolve around their house, work place, their city, their belongings, their entertainments, their car, their friends and family and a yearly trip somewhere else. That’s it. They have no clue that they are living on a rock hurling at 1000 miles and hour in the deepness of space. It’s not part of their reality. What happen around the world does not interest them at all. They do not care or want to know what their government does abroad under their name as long as it does not affect their little world. They are dumb down completely and will live a life in a very tiny but secure world. Only a minority will take the time to look up and try to grasp the extraordinary beauty and complexity of the world and try to advance humanity toward a better outcome while others will try to exploit recklessly as much as possible, earth resources to exhaustion while stripping other fellows of their livelihood.

    That’s why I think humanity will slowly but invariably go extinct by the destruction of life on their only true home, the spacecraft called Earth. This experiment will end and nature will try again something else in millions of years, hopefully with a more intelligent and responsible specie.

  11. Abe
    April 22, 2015 at 18:24

    We Are Here: The Pale Blue Dot
    By Carl Sagan
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MnFMrNdj1yY

  12. William Jacoby
    April 22, 2015 at 18:08

    With so many efforts to break through having failed, I commend you for writing our epitaph and inviting one and all to read it before we perish. I fear that, as usual, far too few will.

    Journalism’s goals are lofty, at least your understanding of them. It was perhaps unrealistic to ever expect that big businesses–corporations–would place allegience to those goals above those of turning a profit and courting favor with the government. You, at least, tore free from the corporation and have tried to honor those ideals in your work. Thank you for trying.

  13. Randal Marlin
    April 22, 2015 at 17:05

    Bertrand Russell understood and fought vehemently to warn the world against nuclear catastrophe.
    There are international treaties against propaganda for war. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides in Article 20: “Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.”
    Freedom of speech is also recognized, hence the difficulty of enforcing this provision.
    But it is time to engage in a Peace Offensive, based on finding a means of combating propaganda for war without entrenching unduly on legitimate free-speech rights.
    The United Nations should establish a Truth Commission, empowered to subpoena witnesses, whereby allegations of propaganda for war can be heard. No need to prosecute and jail anyone. Just establish the truth on contentious, war-inciting matters. Calling attention to propaganda, even if the truth is not fully established, will alert people to the problem and make them less likely to be stampeded into war.
    Good for you, Robert Parry, for questioning so many of the war-facilitating allegations in recent history. I’ve written a book on propaganda, where I deal with the question of definition. I’m confident that the problem of definition can be sufficiently answered for purposes of making my proposal work.

  14. Randy
    April 22, 2015 at 16:58

    Although we don’t like hearing it, im sure you do know that War is inevitable? War is completely natural.

    Any global peace is simply a scam. The world you want to live in Mr Parry is a fairy tale wonderland.

    Would you try your hardest to maintain a “world peace” while your people are starving and overpopulated? Or will you lead your people to the only way that can give them the food and space they need, which is by war?

    • Gregory Kruse
      April 22, 2015 at 19:58

      That would be fine if we still fought wars with sticks and rocks.

      • Randy
        April 22, 2015 at 20:09

        No matter how the wars are fought, there is no possible way that war can be avoided. I wonder what Mr parry thinks will happen when Resources start getting a little too low, and populations to high. Will the “world peace” still be the order of the day?

        If the world had gone down another road, instead of attacking and destroying Germany in WW2 we would probably live in a much more peaceful world.

        Will you allow your people to starve and die off to maintain “world peace”? The world is in the condition it’s in thanks to the great champions of “world Peace”
        While billions of people suffer in this “peace”

        • April 22, 2015 at 21:46

          I hope you don’t have children.

        • Mary
          April 23, 2015 at 00:22

          You’re contradicting yourself, Randy. Previously, you said that a peaceful world was impossible.

          • Randy
            April 23, 2015 at 07:41

            I’m not contradicting myself at all. You’d have to be a fool to think there can be any lasting “world peace”

            The “good” guys beat the “evil” guys 70 years ago in the world war, and look at the condition of the world? Maybe the “good” guys who won weren’t so good after all huh?

            And peace can be won ONLY for YOUR OWN PEOPLE. Not for the whole world. But this peace will always have to be defended and protected. There can never be peace forever… a long lasting peace can be attained by a huge war, but it won’t be forever. This different peoples on this planet will always have clashing interests for the most part.

            The current world order is absolutely the wrong one, because all it does is lead us to our destruction. But that’s the world order you people asked for from your heroes Roosevelt and Churchill

        • Theodora Crawford
          April 23, 2015 at 12:13

          I can’t help but imagine what a little “Golden Rule” and spending the zillions of military dollars on health, food (throw in a few flowers), education and amenities to provide a decent life for all people would have a better outcome than the expenditures we’ve chosen so far.

    • Abe
      April 22, 2015 at 23:46

      As if on cue, here’s “Hitler had it right” Randy, at the ready with the Lebensraum propaganda. I’ll wager he’s a Zionist. They’re praying fervently for their Führer, er, moshiach to lead Greater Israel to victory. Sieg heil.

      • Randy
        April 23, 2015 at 00:14

        Where’s the propaganda?

        So you believe that the world has endless resources and land, and that people will never have to fight each other over who gets to survive? Funny how people like you never offer any counter arguements but only your trash

        • Mary
          April 23, 2015 at 00:20

          Scarcity is no longer a problem thanks to technology; greed, however, is a problem.

          • Theodora Crawford
            April 23, 2015 at 12:16

            Oh Mary, how I wish that scarcity was no longer a problem. Lucky you! We’re discussing “global” here and sadly, scarcity rules for most of us. I agree, however, that greed is too much with us.

        • Abe
          April 23, 2015 at 15:05

          Yep. A Zionist. Definitely.

      • historicvs
        April 26, 2015 at 11:14

        The most interesting thing about what we have been told about Hitler’s “Lebensraum” is that while he referenced it repeatedly – it is after all a Germanic cultural icon that dates back to Frederick the Great – he never made any of his usual meticulous plans to obtain or to govern it. We’re told he attacked the Soviets in 1941 to achieve this goal, but where exactly were these millions of German pioneer settlers going to come from? There was a great labor shortage in Germany, to the extent that the government was trying to attract a million foreign workers to the Reich. The war with England was failing and a new war with an increasingly belligerent United States was clearly on the near horizon. And Stalin was massing a huge army on Europe’s eastern border, poised to attack.

        Please spare me the neo-Nazi insult – I am just pointing out the glaring inconsistencies about what we’ve been told about WWII and what actually happened. Today’s endless war state had its origin in the spectacularly successful campaign of lies and the lawlessness of the Executive Branch that are the true heritage of the so-called “Good War.”

    • MA
      April 23, 2015 at 07:16

      “And when your Lord said to the angels, ‘Indeed I will make upon the Earth a successive authority’. They said, ‘Will you place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?’ He (God) said, ‘Indeed I know that which you do not know”. Al-Quraan: 2:30
      “And We said, ‘Go down as enemies to one another, and you will have upon the earth a place of settlement and provision for a time’. ” Al-Quraan: 2:36
      “We said, ‘Go down from it, all of you. And when guidance comes to you from Me, whoever follows my guidance – there will be no fear concerning them, not will they grieve’.” Al-Quraan: 2:38

    • Mindi
      April 24, 2015 at 00:13

      Randy- You actually think that conflict rather than peace is the essential human nature? That’s very sad, and very unscientific. The sociopaths that appear within humanity are a minority, & science shows that they lack “normal” (as in the norm) brain function. They do not experience empathy, for example, because certain neurons do not fire. The sociopath is not natural, & typically demonstrates a childhood without normal parental affection. Again, what is the norm- parantal affection or abuse? Moreover, what can be said of the need to invent mythologies & propaganda to turn humans against fellow humans? If an inclination to war was natural, propaganda and deceit would be unnecessary. Particularly when basic subsistence needs are met, humanity does not incline toward hate and conflict. The vast majority of us incline toward love and peace, & must be meddled with mentally & emotionally to act in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, dociopsths live power & control, &, thus, natural gravitate toward government.

  15. April 22, 2015 at 16:56

    One excellent thought train.

  16. Joe Tedesky
    April 22, 2015 at 16:28

    Wonderful insight Mr. Parry. Kennedy’s American University speech is probably my favorite. That particular JFK speech should be read aloud to the Western powers of the world today. Heck, it should be read to ALL the powers and people of the world. It was a terrific speech.

    We humans are a special bunch, but consider that there is other life out there somewhere and that they are hiding from us out of fear. I mean just look at Christopher Columbus. I’m Italian, and I am anything but proud of what Columbus did to our Native Americans. So, would the aliens be using some kind of stealth, so we won’t find them? Who knows, but if we were a smart species we would end all war.

Comments are closed.