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Let Honesty, Learning and Decency Guide Mauna Kea Debate
There are strong arguments on both sides of this issue, and there's no easy answer. Facts help, while half-truths, meanness and threats only diminish everyone involved.

About the Author

  • Chris Stark
    Technology professional, musician and graduate of Hawaii state public education system.

The debate between those in favor of and those opposed to the Thirty Meter Telescope has had the unfortunate result of driving a wedge between people in our community. While face-to-face conversations have been mostly polite, civil, and respectful, the conversations on social media sites tend to devolve quickly into the worst that humanity has to offer.

On one hand, the protesters on Mauna Kea have been largely a role model in peaceful protest. On the other hand, there is the social media blitz from every side of this issue, where there has been an unprecedented display of meanness, personal attacks, ridiculous misinformation, threats of violence and conspiracy theory. The leadership of the various opposition groups and the astronomy community from an official capacity have largely tried to remain civil and respectful, but individual members of the community both in support and opposition have lost any sense of decency.

This is not who we are. We are better than this. All this name calling, bullying, lying and manipulation only serves to make the rest of the world shake its head in disgust and shame.

Mauna Kea Demonstrators head to the Governor’s office. 21 april 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Mauna Kea demonstrators head to the governor’s office in late April.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Why do we care what the rest of the world thinks? Regardless of the outcome of the TMT project, the important issue that has come to the forefront is Hawaiian sovereignty, self-governance, and self-determination. Ultimately, gaining sovereignty means announcing to the rest of the world, “Hey world, Hawaii is an independent member of the global community!” The world’s opinion matters because membership in this global community comes with responsibilities.

A sovereign Hawaiian nation means being able to enter into agreements and treaties with other countries; Hawaii will very seriously need these treaties and agreements, because let’s face it: to maintain our current way of life, we need resources that we cannot produce ourselves — maybe we’ll get there eventually, but we’re not there now. As an independent nation, Hawaii will need to give something to its partner countries in return for the resources we will need. The unwillingness to compromise on small issues (like a telescope) translates in the world’s eyes to a likely unwillingness to compromise on much bigger and more important issues. Honestly, what foreign government is going to want to enter into treaties or agreements with a new nation that has shown such a sharp and vocal resistance to compromise?

What we need is some honesty and accountability in these debates. If you don’t know much about astronomy or telescopes, learn even just a little bit — you’ll be a better person for it. If you live in Hawaii, you have a rich and amazing place to learn this stuff — right in your own back yard. Likewise, if you don’t know much about Hawaiian history or culture, there are great books and online resources, and even better, there are so many people here you can talk with to get even deeper perspectives beyond words on a page. Go read the history, go talk story and familiarize yourself with the issues, especially if you live here. If you are unwilling to do either of these things, yet you continue to participate in these discussions, you are being a dishonest voice in the debate because you’re deliberately ignoring important and relevant facts.

There are strong arguments on both sides of this issue, which is why there is no easy answer. Let’s get the facts straight on both sides, and let’s do it honestly. Biases and half-truths hurt both sides. Knowing and understanding astronomy in no way weakens cultural arguments against TMT, and becoming familiar with the history of the Hawaiian people in no way diminishes the benefit that TMT could bring to all of humanity. The only way forward involves more discussion, and fruitful discussions can occur only when we recognize the validity and humanity of the perspectives on the other side of the issue from ourselves.

I am from Hawaii Island, and I work for the astronomy community. Nothing breaks my heart more than seeing my friends, family and neighbors divided in such a way that we’ve set aloha aside. Whether I support TMT or not is unimportant, but what is important is that we learn to discuss, breathe, process, ponder, and respect again. Rather than typing the angry responses and accusations that have been flying in both directions, let’s take a step back, take a few minutes and decide if angry comments are really helping anything.

We don’t have to agree about everything, but we can at least disagree respectfully.

We are Hawaii. We are ALL the stewards of humanity’s gateway to the universe: Mauna Kea.