ALLOW a dreamer to dream for a moment. Could this world of ours ever come together in any meaningful way? Could some sense of shared unity one day take hold among the great angry, shouting mix and swirl of chaotic humanity here on planet Earth? The idea is so beautifully simple, so necessary, so morally just and right that it’s almost absurd to even imagine such a prospect in this ugly and cruel world we’ve created. But, as I said, allow a dreamer to dream, just for once.

This world has never felt more divided. That’s quite something for someone of my generation to say, with our shared childhood memories of terror in Ireland, Cold War paranoia and nuclear dread, GIs in Vietnam, and Britain riven by class politics and economic agony. Yet I’ve never felt such a cleaving in the world, such detachment from each other, such isolation between countries and people, such variance and discord in beliefs, such mutual hate both personal and political.

The world is a kaleidoscope of mutual spite. We’re riven at home over independence and Brexit; decency falters wherever we look; abroad authoritarianism looms; democracy crumbles; tyranny rises; culture wars divide not just nations but households; generations turn on each other; the secularist and the religious are at each other’s throats; gender and sexuality are used as crowbars to separate those who should stand side by side; poverty is an iron wedge which leaves wealthy privilege on one side and hungry masses on the other. Social media turns us all into warriors in a million armies; we fight with hate and rage for the tiny splintered group we identify with. All sense of ‘the other’ seems dead – and with it goes empathy, the most precious human trait. Nothing holds together.

It’s as if Covid came to tell us: if you really want to live in a lonely, angry, fearful world, well here it is.

Perhaps, in mid-life I’m just more attuned to such hateful separation than I was as a young man, but I don’t think so. We don’t even have a unifying sense of shared culture anymore – art in all its forms, from books to film and music to TV, is shattered and fragmented. Few of us watch the same programmes, see the same movies, read the same books, listen to the same music. We’re divided even in our sense of taste and style. We’re each of us factionalised, politically and culturally. Choice – endless choice – has all but finished us as a cohesive species. The world is like a suit of clothes coming apart at the seams – one extra tug on a loose thread and it may all just fall to the ground in rags.

Maybe, we need to look elsewhere for what could bring us together? I felt a pang of hope just the other day when Nasa told the world scientists had found water on the moon. There’s enough water, they believe, to make colonisation of the moon a real possibility. Where there’s water there’s life – where there’s life, there’s hope. That water – frozen deep in the lunar landscape – can be mined and drank; split into its constituents parts of oxygen and hydrogen for fuel and air.

What a thing it would be to live to see all the different, distrustful nations and races of Earth come together in some great unifying project not just to return humans to the moon, after our first few faltering steps half a century ago, but to send us there for good – to colonise that big silver ghost in the sky that’s fascinated us since we climbed down from the trees.

Could that bring us together? Would a global Manhattan Project – where all the peoples of the Earth come together, sharing their knowledge and resources, to pull off humanity’s greatest adventure – change us from a petty squabbling rabble, a hateful Tower of Babel, into one species united in a great scientific and cultural endeavour that would change history?

I did say, allow me to dream. In the long dead past, when my grandmother was a girl before the First World War and helped plough fields on a farm in rural Ireland, she told me that when the village came together – reaping and sowing, building hayricks, and tending cattle – their differences disappeared. A row that had festered over the winter between two families, melted away in Spring when they worked side by side in the fields.

Is it crazy to imagine that if we dared to dream, we could change ourselves for the better? Is it foolish to imagine that not only could we colonise another world, but by doing so we’d bring about such a paradigm shift in human thinking that we’d never be the same again, and the new world we opened up in our minds could be as marvellous as the new world we explored?

In such cynical times, it feels childish to even play with these ideas, but I’d rather be a child than drown alone in isolated fear and mistrust. Yet isn’t it tragic to dream of leaving this beautiful world of ours behind to build a better tomorrow? Doesn’t it imply an abandonment of hope that things can change here on Earth? What a ruin we’ve made of the gifts we’ve been given.

Of course, reality must intrude on any dream. Who’d lead this endeavour? A broken America? A dangerous Russia? An even more dangerous China? A timid Europe? Who or what would pull the planet together in such an audacious adventure? I see no prophets or leaders, who’ll glitter in the pages of history, to take such a step.

Self-evidently, I’m a product too of the cynical age in which we live, and so my mind must inevitably drift in this direction: even if we were capable of taking such a leap, of uniting and taking a brave scientific step out into the universe, what might happen once we got there?

Knowing humanity as we all do, perhaps our dream of colonising that satellite of ours might not lead to utopia. Perhaps once we got there, once we’d settled, we’d revert to type. We’d split, we’d divide. We’d wage war again. Maybe our lot as a species is just to dream – but at least we’ve that.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald