People are starting to take the notion of large-scale habitation of space seriously, and some of the Social Justice Warriors, fresh from their recent bloodying with GamerGate and the Hugos, seem to be switching their sights to a new target. A few weeks ago, Elon Musk, Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson had a conversation about (among other things) the importance of becoming a multi-planet species (one of Musk’s driving concerns, and the reason he started his company SpaceX).
— DNLee (@DNLee5) March 24, 2015
Ultimately, her concern culminated in this:
This Elon Musk’s Mission to Mars to save Humanity sermon is White Colonialism Interstellar Manifest Destiny Bullshit. There, I said it!
— DNLee (@DNLee5) March 24, 2015
It resulted in a lively Twitter exchange into which both I and Homer Hickam (he of Rocket Boys and other fame) chimed in.
More recently, this past Monday, she wrote a more reasoned blog post, but the concern remains the same.
It’s not a new issue. Linda Billings, an occasional adviser to NASA (whom I’ve known for many years), has long expressed similar concerns about the frontier metaphor, and she responded to the kerfuffle herself shortly after.
But the shark may have been jumped yesterday over at The Guardian, when Martin Robbins told us that the first woman to be raped in space has probably already been born (Nick Gillespie over at Reason was less than impressed).
The problem with Lee’s argument is that she’s fighting against possibly the most pernicious space myth in existence, a myth far worse than moon landing conspiracy theories. It’s a myth almost universally believed, that sits at the core of liberal technocratic thought, and has been embedded in practically every other work of speculative fiction for the last half century.
You can sum it up like this: “When we go into space, we will all magically become nice.”
We see this in coverage of the space programme, with its endless propaganda about “cooperation” between nations, and promotion of the idea that clever people in tough situations produce the best humanity has to offer. It’s rampant in fiction, where shows like Star Trek assume that three centuries of civil rights progress will inevitably turn us all into morally-centered middle-class rationalists.
And it’s there, unspoken and unchallenged, at the heart of our current aspirations for space. There’s no room for discussion about social justice or equality when it comes to planning our future Mars colonies because we all just assume that decent educated scientists and engineers – the “right kind” of people – won’t have any problem with that sort of thing.
When it comes to the space myth-busting business, I stand second to none, but honestly, I’ve never really encountered this one. Robbins is right. The first woman to be raped off planet has probably already been born. As well as the first woman off-planet rapist.
The underlying assumption in all this, of course, is that there is some “we” here who will decide who will go into space, and under what rules they will live, and that they are part of that “we.” They imagine that space settlement will be some sort of U.S. government project over which they will have influence (as usual) beyond their numbers. They may have been somehow encouraged in this fantasy by the announcement last week by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher that he was going to introduce a (long needed) bill to make space settlement a national goal. When he does, it is certain to kick off a congressional, and perhaps national debate, which will include concerns like this.
But sadly for these social engineer wannabes, that’s not how it’s going to happen. While I’m sure that they’d love to establish some kind of rules at the UN or someplace to prevent (for example) Vox Day from establishing a Stepford planet, that’s just not in the cards. Mark Steyn often says that the future belongs to those who show up. Similarly, the rest of the universe will belong to those who decide to go out and settle it, and they’ll make their own rules.
The issue came up when I first started blogging, over a decade ago:
…our role in expanding into the universe will not be to ravage ecosystems, but to create them. We can, and will, make our dead solar system flower, overbrimming it with life (and not just human life), and consciousness, and love, and beauty, and laughter. And we will help it in knowing itself in a way that it cannot without sentience as represented by ourselves.
And unfortunately, because we’re human, we will indeed take along many of the uglier things that our emailer deplores. But we will do it regardless, and we won’t wait to develop the “character” that she demands — to do so would, I suspect, postpone the next step of our evolution…forever. Because I’m figuring that that’s approximately how long it will be before the “Lori M”s of the world finds our flawed race up to their hypercritical and unrealistic muster.
Fortunately, the decision will not be hers. She is welcome to stay behind. As the old tee-shirt says, the meek will inherit the earth — the rest of us will go to the stars.
As I noted in a talk at the Space Access conference last weekend, we have to be ready for that debate. There is a moral case to be made for settling space by humanity, warts and all, and we have to be prepared to make it.