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That brings us back to the stars.

There are plenty of arguments that politicians and policymakers can put forward as to why we should bring the starry sky back to our cities, without running the risk of having to go back to the drawing board with embarrassment. For example, light pollution is bad for public health. Our chronobiology is synchronized with light. Our chronobiology is therefore confused by the disappearance of the dark. This has an effect on our stress levels, which can have all sorts of other nasty physiological and psychological consequences. And this is all the more true for the ecosystems that surround us, because animals and plants cannot close the curtains at night. Moreover, it saves energy when we dim the lights or turn them off. And, lastly, we can hold up the starry sky as natural heritage. As we did with the Wadden Sea.

All good arguments, with demonstrable precedents that decision makers can fall back on. But as far as I am concerned, the best reason – which, like Manhattanism, cannot be stated openly – is to dim the ‘enlightenment’ (with both a small and a capital E) so that we can once again have a view of what lies outside ourselves. So that we can once again embrace the starry sky as a cosmic frame of reference. A daily reminder that there is something bigger than ourselves. That we have to take into account things that do not originate in ourselves – meaning, if we want to survive these times.

We live in a humanistic culture in which people and their interests are central to every consideration. This has brought us a lot but has not been a viable starting point for some time. We have to learn to live together with the life around us – which is now outside our narrow view – and to develop a post-humanistic view. But then we must first sense that our previous arrogance was somewhat out of place, that we do not represent much on a cosmic scale. This is frightening, but also empowering, just like the overview effect. We can achieve it by travelling to the stars and looking down, or simply by turning off the lights and looking up.

Text: Christian Fruneaux

Christiaan Fruneaux is a futurologist and co-founder of Studio Monnik


Guus Beumer, artistic and general director, Het Nieuwe Instituut
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