The Romantic Pessimist’s Argument for Space

I consider myself a romantic pessimist.  I hope for the best… and plan for the worst.  That said, I’m also a dreamer and most of my hopes and ambitions are tied to space.  Not surprising, then, that I write science fiction, eh?  I’m writing this post as something of a dialogue, a hope that we continue to look out and push the boundaries.

So what do I think of space right now?  Well, to be honest, I’m afraid.  There is a very vocal percentage of Americans who seem to think that space is something that we should avoid.  Their arguments run a gamut of points.  Some are the simple ‘we need to fix things here before we worry about that stuff.’  Some are economic ‘it’s too expensive, we don’t get anything out of it.’  The most insidious, I think, are the people who seem to feel that humanity is somehow a corrupting influence, that we have polluted and destroyed our world and will go out and do the same elsewhere.

I’ll tackle those arguments, since they’re the ones I hear the most.  The first one, the one about fixing things here on Earth, is at its heart, an illogical argument.  What exactly are we supposed to fix here on Earth?  Poverty, crime, war, social injustice, sad puppies… the list goes ever onward.  The truth is, there will always be things that need to be fixed.  Humanity, is at its nature, imperfect.  We can never fix things here on Earth entirely, not without unlimited resources and a fundemental change in human nature.  Poverty is an effect of limited resources, economic factors, and supply and demand.  As wealth increases throughout  a system, it trickles down to others.  This is the free market… which can be imperfect and can be distorted, but that’s a can of worms I’ll open another time.  Crime is caused by a variety of factors, many of which stem from a society plagued by poverty, social inequality, corruption, and a failure of society to enforce the Social Contract.  War is another event triggered by limited resources and economic factors.  Add in perceived injustices and nationalistic fervor.  Sad puppies we can address at another time.  These are big issues, many of which do not have easy or simple solutions, no matter what some politicians say.  Most of them, short of a perfect world, cannot be fixed by us, they have to gradually shift over time.  Are we to focus all of our efforts upon these issues and any others, we still may not change them.  Indeed attempts to end poverty have often shown to make things worse, instead of lifting people up, they pull the rest of us down.  Attempts to end war, peacekeeping, is often a band-aid, which prevents violence while peacekeepers are present but fails to achieve long-lasting solutions.  Saying that we need to fix something first is akin to the man who says he’ll go look for a job… tomorrow.  Putting off a serious investment in space is not allowing us to focus more resources on problems, merely to offset the cost of space exploration to the future.

The economic arguement against space exploration and development is, in my opinion, the most spurious.  People said much the same about expeditions to the New World in the Age of Exploration.  Yes, many of those expeditions bankrupted people and others brought back only meager returns.  Exploration and development is not something that pays off instantly.  It, horror of horrors, requires hard work.  Space requires us to travel further, experience a harsher environment, and to put ourselves at risk… but in return we will gain access to resources and options far beyond what we now possess.  It will require the development of new engines, the construction of a space elevator, and yes, it will cost in lives lost in the effort.  Space is far harsher an environment than any place on Earth.  People have died in explorations of lonely mountains and remote polar regions here… but they expanded our knowledge and they died doing what they dreamed of.  It is far better to die doing something grand, in my opinion, than to live a life where you never accomplish anything.  And yes, I’m someone who lives and may well die by that opinion.  The resources we can harvest in space make our current resources laughable.  A single nickle iron asteroid could meet our steel requirements for a year.  Energy shortage?  A solar array in space could have more surface area than anything we could build in space, be dispersed, and still provide us with power, either directly beamed down in the form of light or converted to microwaves and transmitted down in that fashion.  No, these are not things that will come right away.  These are things we’d have to work for and work hard at… but hey, poverty’s one of those issues we want to fix, right?  Booming industry in space, lots of people needed, trained people.  New jobs created to train them and build the training areas.  New jobs created to provide them with support and services.  Going back to the previous argument, let’s fix the environment.  Don’t care for all those nasty coal plants?  Really like solar power, but you don’t like the nasty chemicals that solar plants produce?  Building it in space won’t contaminate our planet and if we’re smart about it, we could provide power to the entire world.  Cheap power for the entire world.  How’s that for fixing some problems down here?

The last argument is one of philosophy and outlook rather than one of reason and logic.  Some people seem to think that humanity is, at its core, a vile and wretched thing.  These people point out that wherever we go, we bring war, bloodshed, destruction.  Movies such as Avatar make me sick to my stomach.  Because under all that pretty CGI and ‘big dreams’ there is black withered heart that hates itself and wants to make you hate yourself too.  Those poor oppressed people who don’t really exist and those nasty military-industrial complex types who want to tear their planet apart.  It’s a movie with a message about how horrible people are… and how technology is evil and the only people who want to go out there to the stars are nasty, greedy, self-serving, types.  Why?  Why should we beleive that message, brought to us by Ferngully In Space?  Why should we look back at history and see only the negative… white Christian settlers slaughtering the peaceful Native Americans.  What about the Declaration of Independence?  What about great American artists and writers?  America the Beautiful, the National Anthem, Edgar Allen Poe.  What about the American Industrial Revolution that brought about the rise of the first real free society in the world?  What about standing up to the Soviet Union and showing that a free society is a match for a totalitarian regime any day?

There are people who honestly are plagued by such guilt that they would rather see humanity huddling naked in caves than happy, prosperous, and long lived.  This nihilistic tendency is a nasty, virulent ideology that upholds that people are bad… and all to many of them seem to think that the best thing anyone can do is to take themselves out of the picture.  They hate themselves, and they want us to hate ourselves too.  Rather than conservation, they want nature to remain immaculate, untouched, perfect.  They have some image of the world without people as being pristine.  This would, by necessity, lead to the removal of the human race.  And in, their hearts, they’re glad for that, because not only do they hate themselves, they hate you too.  The very thought of us polluting ‘untouched new worlds’ and the construction that would allow us to reach them causes them emotional agony, not just from the thought of what we might do out there, but also because we might expand, live, prosper… and show that their beleif structure is flawed.  If we succeed out in space, we show them that humanity is not bad and we show the potential that we hold in ourselves.

We have in us a desire to go forth, to see what lies beyond the next horizon.  To pent that up, to reject it, is to reject ourselves… to reject our very nature.  Our past is here, our home is Earth.  Yet in the nature of all children, as we grow up, we must take those first steps away from home, to find our own path.  That path lies in space… and the sooner we begin that journey, the sooner we continue our growth to adulthood.

Here’s some interesting links, people who say some good things… and people who argue the opposite.  Feel free to link anything in that you think pertinent.  Thanks for reading.

http://accordingtohoyt.com/2014/02/07/a-radical-notion-a-guest-post-by-james-cambias/

http://debatewise.org/debates/137-space-exploration-is-a-waste-of-money/

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