Jeff Bezos and the Overview Effect

David R. Weiss – June 11, 2021

God loves Jeff Bezos. And: Jeff Bezos’ life choices constitutes a remarkable series of choosing evil over good again and again and again. And again. These things can both be true. Indeed, they are.

Few persons alive on the planet today, politicians or magnates, have so hoarded power and wealth at the expense of so many and at such dire cost to the planet, as Jeff Bezos. His very modus operandi is to exploit workers and undercut other businesses so as to maximize profit as though he were a cancer. If we’re honest (and it’s time to be honest), the man has a pathological obsession with wealth that ought to be criminalized because of the social and ecological harm it actively causes.

So, excuse me if I’m unimpressed by his plans to launch himself into space next month.

“The Blue Marble” – Earth from space – image from NASA, Apollo 17, 1972

He remarks in a recent Instagram video that going into space has been a childhood dream of his. That’s likely true for almost every Amazon worker whose slow impoverishment has been crucial to Bezos’ wealth. Then he says, “You see the Earth from space, [and] it changes you. It changes your relationship with this planet, with humanity.”

Nope. Nope. Nope.

Sorry, that’s NOT how it works. The “overview effect,” as it’s come to be known, refers to the transformational shift in perception reported by many astronauts as a result of spaceflight in which they have seen Earth whole and fragile, its collective vulnerability (our collective vulnerability) shimmering in space.

But Bezos has spent his adult life not merely insulating himself from collective vulnerability—he’s actually devoted his business model to exacerbating it. And in that case that is ZERO reason to think he can glibly—as a stroke to his narcissistic ego—jet off into the deep blue on a lark and gain enlightenment.

I call bullshit. Not because I’m mean spirited but because that’s the gospel truth.

Consider Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man, sometimes named Dives (which is simply the Greek word for “rich man”) feasts sumptuously day in and day out while Lazarus goes hungry outside his doorstep.

When both men die, Lazarus is carried off to Abraham’s bosom, where he is at last comforted. Dives, meanwhile, finds himself in the fiery torment of Hades. From there he begs Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his brothers that they might change their ways. Abraham reminds Dives that they already have Moses and the prophets (that is, the rich social justice teaching of the Jewish tradition) to guide them.

Dives protests, “But if someone goes to them from the dead, they will surely repent.” To which Abraham responds (but remember, this is Jesus’ parable), “If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” Not even if someone launches themselves into space.

I don’t doubt that the overview effect is real, but for someone so existentially (and economically) invested in rejecting it, someone leveraging the obscenity of their wealth to purchase it (!), the overview effect will prove far more elusive than a mere space flight. As Jesus advised another rich man (Mark 10:17-31), Bezos would be wiser to sell what he owns and give the money to poor. Short of a willingness to do that, his space flight is just another fool’s fantasy. As well as an assault on the poor … and on the planet.

* * *

David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at drw59mn@gmail.com. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.

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