The Children of Trantor

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So right now there is a fairly large brush fire burning about five miles from my house. We were without power for about two hours this afternoon because of it. This event, along with a conversation I had with my dad this morning, caused me to reflect on some things.

The first section of Isaac Asimov's novel Foundation features a story of a young man, Gaal, from a planet on the outer rim traveling to the Empire's capitol planet, Trantor, whose surface is entirely covered by city (Much like Coruscant from Star Wars) for a new job. Gaal had never been to Trantor and was exited to take a tour of the planet and see its surface up close. All the locals ensured him that the surface would be rather underwhelming but after arriving on the planet and spending some time taking care of his accommodations for the night he gets on an elevator to the surface to experience it for himself. The surface of Trantor was only just a giant roof which covered everything, but while the spectacle was underwhelming as promised Gaal was happy to at least see the sky as it was familiar to him unlike the maze of tunnels underneath the roof.

A man on the same tour as Gaal could tell that he was not from Trantor and struck up a conversation with him. He explains that all children born on Trantor are required to periodically take trips up to the surface to experience and understand the sky. The children of Trantor did not like the feeling of openness that existed on the surface, they much preferred to be below in the place they were familiar, most never went back after they were no longer required to. The maze of tunnels and windowless dwellings that were so foreign to Gaal was what these children called home, they would probably be completely unable to comprehend what life would be like in the rural area that Gaal grew up.

While we are not a part of any galactic empire, today there are many people who are much like these children of Trantor. Several months ago there was a tweet that went viral that had a picture of farmland in Kansas or Nebraska or someplace like that taken from an airplane window, the caption of it was the question "Does anyone know why the landscape looks like this?" Twitter had a good time either roasting this guy (who was from some big East Coast city) for not knowing what a farm was, or expressing how strange it was that the place looked like Minecraft, and yet in both of these groups of people there are many who believe that they know enough about the lifestyle of the other to think they can make decisions on behalf of the people from places they don't understand.

Today it is easy to divide ourselves into groups and stick to associating with people only like ourselves. This is what politicians have been doing to us for years now, here in America they have made so much progress at dividing the population that so called centrist voters are almost statistically insignificant. This is a huge problem. Most people who live outside developing nations can't comprehend life without electricity or running water. Similarly most people who have spent their lives living in cities likely can't comprehend life in the country, and would refuse to even try. The same is likely true for those who have grown up in the country won't know what to think of city life. If anything close to world peace will ever be achieved we need to seek to understand the perspectives of others, it is quite possible that people of different backgrounds are all a lot more similar than they assume.

We cannot be like the children of Trantor who refuse to leave the bubble they were born in. We may not have to leave it for long, but we need to be outside long enough to understand the people outside.