Discover more from Against Mars: Space Colonization and its Discontents
Why "Against Mars" ?
A short peek under the hood, or the nose, of the rocket ship
For decades, the mad dash to send humans into deep space has been heralded as the quintessence of The Good Thing, the epitome of technological progress and heroic derring-do, the real Right Stuff.
The race to the Moon and the space program are as integral to America’s national romance as Mickey Mouse and hot dog eating contests. And it’s not limited to America: Soviet Russia had its moment of glory too. These days, China, united behind the vision of Chairman Xi Jingping, is boldly going where everyone has gone before.
In short, space colonization is a given, it is what “we” are supposed to do or to become, “make humanity a multi-planetary species” as the owner of Twitter likes to repeat. Space colonization is the next stage in our evolution, almost like a natural movement or an outgrowth of life itself. Apparently there is even a gene for it. This is what we are told everyday, not only by billionaire clowns and breathless Wired columnists, but also by people of much more intellectual heft, our Big Men of Science and other sundry thought leaders.
Take for instance the late Stephen Hawking. In his last book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions, the acclaimed physicist wrote:
“...When we have reached similar crises in our history, there has usually been somewhere else to colonise. Columbus did it in 1492 when he discovered the New World. But now there is no new world. No Utopia around the corner. We are running out of space and the only places to go to are other worlds.” (Brief Answers to the Big Questions, 2018, p.149)
The “crisis” Hawking speaks of is not entirely fleshed out. Something to do with fin-de-siècle malaise or weltschmerz or melancholy. Nevermind. The proposed solution is to “go” to “other worlds” just like Columbus did. This is rather perfunctory and nebulous, not to mention hopelessly Victorian, and not in an auspicious way. For most, however, these anemic justifications do the trick. If a famous theoretical physicist says so, it must be true. Especially when it comes to stuff totally unrelated to theoretical physics.
Space colonization literature, such as it is, is rife with terse, unsophisticated pronouncements of that sort. They are all at once articles of faith and plaintive homilies, as if the public did not believe enough in its own awesome destiny among the stars, despite the constant drumbeat of news reports, PR, books, research papers, rocket launches, etc… etc…
But what if this was all for naught?
What if the dream of space colonization was just that, a dream - one that somehow captured our collective imagination, but a dream nonetheless? What if it was neither a given nor a natural and foreordained step in humanity’s forward march through deep time? What if - to paraphrase the great science-fiction writer Alfred Bester - stars were not, in fact, our destination?
What if space colonization was merely science-fiction, a narrative, or rather a meta-narrative, a myth, an ideology like any other? And therefore, how and why did it catch on? What is so special and so urgent about space colonization that countless scientists, engineers, government officials, billionaire oligarchs and indeed, entire nations, have committed work, ingenuity and treasure to make it a reality.
What if, and hear me out, space colonization was all bullshit?
I mean that quite literally. No hyperbole. Once you peer under the hood, or the nose, of the rocket ship, you encounter a seemingly inexhaustible supply of ghoulish garbage. It runs the gamut from apocalyptic fantasies and ideations of various forms of torture, to harebrained plans for suburban business parks in space (or “pizza joints”), and lest we forget the innumerable asteroids sitting there, ready to be strip-mined by legions of rugged, zero-g, profit-seeking space capitalists who have but the haziest clue about 1) the distribution of minerals and ice in the solar system and 2) the role of supply and demand in price-setting.
I believe that the entire enterprise must be stopped dead in its tracks before it is too late. I believe that contrary to the claims of its many advocates, space colonization is not progress but rather its exact opposite. This book and, by extension, this newsletter, are a rebuttal and a protest. My aim is to refute and to take down the very notion of space colonization once and for all, from first principles and on philosophical grounds.
This may sound overly ambitious, if not conceited. This may sound Quixotic. Yet, as you will see, the argument is blindingly obvious. It is crystal-clear. Its simplicity is what makes it so convincing. It is only obscured by the sound and the fury of our times.
In addition, I am a cynic. I do not expect this work to have any tangible effect in the present or in the near future. How could it? Some things have been set in motion long ago, and they are animated of their own momentum. They have decades upon decades of State support and military-industrial complex investments, billions and billions of dollars in celebrity endorsements, the backing of mercurial internet oligarchs, the enthusiastic assistance of TV scientists and Hollywood spectacles. I, on the other hand, have only words and, on occasion, they grab the attention and the good will of a few readers. My only hope is that, by circulating these words and ideas out in the wider public, they too will eventually gather their own momentum.
Writer and hero of human rights Behrouz Boochani once said: “I believe that literature has the potential to make change and challenge structures of power. Literature has the power to give us freedom.”
This is the purpose of this project, however impractical.
And so, like the Hidalgo from La Mancha, we go on a splendid adventure that is sure to fail. Against Mars.
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