Why Elon Musk and the billionaire space bros want to put people in space cages forever
Space colonization is not at all about gadgets and rockets and planets
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In reaction to last week’s post, a reader yelled at me for being a Luddite and a treehugger — while totally missing the point of my argument.
Well, allow me to retort.
If you dream of building some kind of libertarian techno-utopia on Mars or in orbit, especially to “save humanity” or some such, I have news for you: while you may think very highly of your own perspicacity and foresight, you are being conned. You are nothing but a witless mark, the tool of charlatans and mountebanks much more cunning than you’ll ever be.
But don’t take my word for it. Instead, consider the statements of space colonialists themselves, who often say the quiet part loud without even the slightest shred of self-awareness. They must think it’s great.
For instance, here’s Christopher Wanjek, a former senior writer at NASA and author of a recent opus on space colonization (published by no less than Harvard University Press):
...Mars migration will be driven partially by naïveté. Many of those who want to live on Mars don’t truly understand how challenging it is (...) A subset of immigrants will set off for Mars for the pursuit of freedom, an opportunity to escape Earth governments and to establish their own sense of ideal governance (…) Of course, there’s irony to the fact that the price of freedom will be containment in shelters on Mars…
(from Christopher Wanjek’s The Spacefarers: How Humans Will Settle the Moon, Mars, and Beyond, Harvard University Press, 2020; p. 285)
Mr. Wanjek’s comtempt is refreshing, although I wonder how deliberate it is. He portrays the prospective space colonists as useful idiots raised on Ayn Rand and Robert Heinlein. But useful for what?
Here’s the money shot, a few pages further:
In a few generations, evolution and the nascent indication of speciation will begin to kick in. (...) With high mortality probable, “survival of the fittest” may become apparent as those with genes better adapted for Mars, whichever they might be, would survive to adulthood, reproduce, and pass along those genes… (op. cit. p. 295)
There is no way around it. In those “containment shelters on Mars,” many will have to needlessly die, including children, who would have otherwise been perfectly fine on Earth. Thankfully, this will allow “survival of the fittest” to “kick in.” Finally we can go back to the good, old-fashioned, guided rectification of the species — also known as eugenics — which is impeded on Earth by all sorts of cumbersome interdicts and laws.
Set asides eugenics for a moment (I know, it's a tall order). One way to look at Mr. Wanjek’s speculations is to clap in unison with the rest of the crowd, the tech press, the robber barons, the scientific establishment and the military-industrial complex. Another way to look at it, no doubt unpopular, is to marvel at how one could qualify as progress or “destiny” medical experiments on captive human populations. Furthermore, the earnest glee of it all, given that it's pure science-fiction at this point, gives off very strong Dr. Strangelove vibes.
As for eugenics, you may applaud it down here on Earth. You are free to be illiterate or sociopathic. We'll revisit when you, or your children, are the ones forcibly sterilized or euthanized by the local Martian government.
That said, I disagree with Mr. Wanjek: it requires much more than libertarian naiveté to colonize space. Parking humans in containment shelters, on Mars or elsewhere, so as to breed them and select them like cattle — that requires malice.
Surely this can't be what Elon Musk and his fellow space billionaires want for humanity?
What these visionary philanthropists want does not matter one bit. Only what they plan counts. And they plan to build high-tech Lagers in space where all aspects of human life will be constantly monitored, supervised and optimized, from the vital and the indispensable, breathing, to the most intimate, love and childbearing.
No amount of technology or resources will change that. On the contrary. By definition, any artificial replica of Earth’s atmosphere and of Earth’s gravity in space will have to be confined. Any human inside these habitats will have to be trained, disciplined and coerced and so will their children and their great-grandchildren. Machines that keep you alive have a way to extract immediate and complete compliance from you. If you’ve ever tried scuba diving, you’ll know what I mean.
You may think that space colonization is all about awesome gadgets and awesome rockets and awesome planets, making money mining the Moon, “progress” and that sort of pablum, it is not — and you’re a sucker and a patsy.
Again, don’t take my word for it. Space colonialists themselves keep repeating that space colonization is first and foremost about the species and its perpetuation. It is their sci-fi romance of controlled sexual reproduction: population breeding and population enhancement under the dominion of machines and, more pointedly, under the authority of those who own them. The money, the starships, the suburban office parks in orbit are all shiny objects, mere means to an end.
That's why I am against Mars, and space colonization more broadly. These ideals, plans, projects, visions — call them what you want — all express a deep desire to regiment and subjugate human bodies, human society and human life. They are carceral fantasies. I use the term Lager on purpose: it is no surprise that the so-called “Space Age,” its industrial phase, truly began in Nazi concentration camps. Such is the destiny of the whole enterprise. The discourse, the propaganda, the faces may change. The dark impulses cannot.
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