When I was in journalism school 40 years ago, we learned about those factors that went into making news judgments. One was proximity — the value of the hometown story, of localizing news, giving greater weight to events near at hand, looking into the distance (the war in Vietnam, for instance) only as foreign affairs affected us. We were warned not to focus on problems in distant parts of the world while ignoring stories closer to home.
There was a term for that; it was called “afghanistanism.”
At the time it made sense, as few of us knew where or what Afghanistan was. “A remote place way on the other side of the world,” we were told.
Another term was coming into common usage in those days — “spaceship earth.” It was rooted in the U.S. space program: astronauts on their way to the moon looking back at the tiny blue and green planet, a jewel seemingly suspended in utter blackness, and realizing how very small it was, some contemplating the common humanity of the distant orb’s inhabitants traveling together through the cosmos.
“When you’re finally up at the moon looking back on earth,” wrote Apollo astronaut Frank Borman in 1968, “all those differences and nationalistic traits are pretty well going to blend, and you’re going to get a concept that maybe this really is one world and why the hell can’t we learn to live together like decent people.”
For years we’ve been hearing the rhetoric about one planet, one people. We know conceptually that media and environmental exploitation, transnational corporations and human migration have transcended national borders. Think tanks and governments have examined the interplay of affluent nations with less developed parts of the world. Arts and culture offer the optimistic dance of our shared humanity, while the fight over land, resources and ideology rips wider the divides.
International agencies and educational institutions such as Notre Dame are global in scope, sending experts, scholars, students and alumni to braid strands of understanding, aid and hope across societal boundaries for a better, more cohesive world. Intellectually we get it. We’re all in this together.
It is unfortunate that we’re learning — for real — just how small this world is because poverty, injustice and violence in “faraway lands” are driving people across our borders, because radical Islam has brought its war to our homes and because our desecration of the planet already imperils the well-being of our species. Afghanistan is a local story; spaceship earth is a small, fragile home to 7 billion people. We are all neighbors now.
This thread has run through this magazine for years, but even more so recently as we’ve done stories on refugee camps, U.S. foreign policy, immigration, racism, economic disparities and climate change. We’ve heard from a young alumna concerned about the girl next door and from a Missouri doctor who considered Ebola victims in Sierra Leone as his neighbors. And we’ll continue to sound this call from a University intent on helping others, healing the world and guiding the right decision when somebody comes knocking at our door.
— Kerry Temple ’74