I was born with a romance for space, and so I was recently thrilled to read Benjamin Abbot’s argument on settling the future.  I too have been bothered by the trends I am seeing in the space industry and the vernacular used in reference to it.
The blockbuster Avatar was a great portrayal of how our past can catch up to our future, but I’m afraid it acted more as an advertisement than a warning of that treacherous scenario.
In the somewhat disappointing scenario that we arrive at an inhabitable yet vacant planet we should not breathe a sigh of relief that our ugly nature will remain in the closet. Colonialism does not rely solely on genocide; servitude and environmental imbalance also flock to its banner. We need not even land on another planet to necessarily re-realize the worst parts of our capabilities. The conditions of our factories and mines today are abysmal; it can be assured that space workers will not fare any better conditions. It often is not the natives but the colonists themselves that cast off the chains to their overlords.
“If innovation can’t be done right - without victims - I’m willing to wait or go without. Here’s to revolution and relationships – not progress.” – Benjamin Abbott
What Benjamin Abbott puts forth - and to which I emotionally agree - is that even for an avid enthusiast of interstellar civilization like myself, the cost of colonialism on a galactic scale is too high for our conscience to pay. I find myself torn between feeling naïve or hypocritical, probably because I am realizing both. Perhaps this is what was meant by:
“The meek shall inherit the Earth—the rest of us will go to the stars” - Robert A. Heinlein
There is a solid and irrefutable point that was raised in regards to our unrestrained appetite for consuming resources by any means necessary. I witnessed this attitude by some, not all, of the attendees at the recent 2012 Conference of the Seasteading Institute  and I am confident I’ll see the same at September’s 100 Year Starship Symposium.  From their self-advertisement both organizations are courting the business community and selling the prospect of a new frontier in much the same way America was sold to European corporations. Many eager enthusiasts are attempting to engage in the same resource-raping tactics that have gotten us in the ill-gained position we are in now.
In the late 80’s early 90’s, when you could still see the stars at night in DC, I would have sleepovers where we would look up at the sky all night searching for evidence to support our imaginations. At the time we convinced ourselves, and some others, that there was interstellar air traffic coming to port overhead. I had definite plans to be on the 1st manned Mars mission back in 2001, lol. It was saddening to see interest and progress in space go into decline as it has for the past twenty years. In retrospect, taking Benjamin Abbot’s point into consideration, perhaps it was all well-intentioned; we could have been trying to do it right, without victims.
The recent commercializing of the space program has great potential to reignite the public’s hunger for progress in space exploration. Corporations are far more adept at utilizing mass media and marketing to create interest, than government agencies. It seems that with the privatization of space transport underway that trend of decline may become reversed; but then the hesitation may have been a missed opportunity.
Through our desire to flirt with the cosmos, I fear we are creating an unhealthy bedfellow by looking to corporations as our new cosmic sugar daddies. I’m referring to the term Space Colonization in particular and Space Exploration in some degree as well. It is my prediction as we move farther along the path of a commercialized space industry the term Space Exploration will die out in favor of terms like Space Colonization. Beginning with the more minor point about the term Space Exploration, there isn’t much romance with it.
Space is by definition nothing, who in their right mind wants to explore nothingness? Funding revoked. Space Colonization, that sounds quite a bit sexier. It gives off clear images of gluttonous amounts of resources being accumulated from places too far away for laws to be enforced, compounded by epic visions from sci-fi films. The term also implies concrete outcomes, where as exploration implies no necessary benefit other than the thrilling adventures of years in a trillion-rupee tin can.
Words do not appear as definitions to most people, they see visions or conceptions when they hear them. Governments tend to use dry legal vernacular, while corporations appeal to the compulsive emotions of people’s appetitive nature.
When you hear Space Colonization do you see Gerard O’Neill’s High Frontier or Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress?
Like Benjamin Abbott’s appeal, I too caution everyone to examine the historical and ethical implications of our current path to extraterrestrial existence.
With the big news from space being projects of profit corporations I have begun to tremble that our extraterrestrial future will look a lot more like Avatar than Star Trek. That is why I intend to inspire the meek to take to the stars at this year’s 100 Year Starship Symposium.
I have started using the term spacesteading to refer to proposals of life in space. Inspired by Patri Friedman’s Seasteading Institute, which I have long been a de facto Ambassador for, spacesteading represents a less biased conception of what life in space may look like. The term spacesteading is a fresh start or blank slate for us to re-envision how we plan to interact with the galaxy. It also encourages a diversity of applications, which should ensure a wider variety of successful models.
Truthfully, no matter what you call it, the reality on the ground is likely going to become the reality at sea or in space. Even in Star Trek they had to evolve past capitalism to form the United Federation of Planets. I, respectfully, liken Benjamin Abbott’s stance, quoted above, to bumper sticker philosophy. We should wait or do without, if acquisition means placing another in undue stress, unfortunately that in no way translates that we will or can.
Waiting, as we now have seen, just allows others to take the lead. Opting out in objection does nothing to promote a more positive solution. If you want your principles to dictate the future you must make positive efforts to create that reality, further you must be willing to do so by any means necessary. If you aren’t, whoever is willing to will surely make a victim, or slave out of you.
Thank Goddard  that we have no life on neighboring planets because the repetition of our colonial past played out on an interplanetary scale is one aspect of science fiction I hope never to be realized.
Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Gerard Oniell’s The High Frontier
Logo - The United Federation of Planets —
Gabriel Rothblatt is an Ambassador for the Seasteading Institute, a member of the Board of Directors for Terasem Movement Incorporated and the Lifeboat Foundations Futurist Board of Advisors. He is a former US Congressional Candidate in FL-8, the Space Coast of Florida.
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