Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Thursday, November 29, 2012

There Is No Escape Hatch

"Well, you know, of course, humans need to migrate and disperse off-world if we really want to ensure our survival as a species…"

Since it is often proposed in the cadences of a throwaway line, it is difficult to tell just how glib technophiles are being when they offer up occasional asides to this effect, especially in the midst of discussions of catastrophic climate change, resource descent, overpopulation, and so on, but also commenting on other human dilemmas, abiding war-likeness in a world of WMD proliferation, stubbornly lingering ethnic hatreds, and the like.

But it is a sentiment that comes up surprisingly often, I find, whether in jest, in earnest, off-handedly, or as a provocation. The theme permeates science fiction, of course. It comes up fairly regularly in courses I teach on environmental problems and politics with undergraduates as well. And plenty of comparatively high-profile presumably serious-minded folks like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have been known to advance the notion formally.

I will cheerfully grant that I am a space exploration enthusiast myself, a real NASA fanboy, a booster for moonbases and research stations on Mars from way back. But I also consider it the height of pernicious frivolity to propose space diaspora as anything remotely like a solution to climate change catastrophe and other apparently intractable human problems. I see utterances to the contrary more or less as symptoms of capitulation and despair, disavowals of these problems rather than efforts at solutions, leaps into wish-fulfillment that resign us to defeat.

Does anybody seriously need reminding there is no planet within the actual reach of our grasp that is even a fraction as friendly to human flourishing as our companion the earth is, this planet we evolved to flourish in, even in its current state of debasement at our hands? We can't get to Mars let alone terraform it, we cannot exceed the speed of light, there are no traversable wormholes, there are no warp drives, there are no viable multi-generational generational starship plans, and no suggestion to the contrary that is meant as anything mroe than a conceit to hang a yarn on is the least bit serious to anybody who is the least bit serious.

Does anybody seriously doubt that the scientific knowledge base, public investment, and infrastructural plant required to migrate any non-negligible population off-world would demand incomparably more of a material investment than actually cleaning up the mess we have made of earth would do, or that the very enterprise of any such migration itself would materially exacerbate the ruin of the planet more than any of the catastrophic business we are already undertaking on that score, or that even "ideally" the operation would save a fractional minority of humans while requiring the highest payment from all earthlings?

But the definitive consideration for me is that even if we set aside all the insurmountable instrumental and political hurdles that beset such a notion of a human escape from the human catastrophe of fouling our nest beyond healing, even if we concede the abstract possibility of leaving that nest behind as we cannot concede any of it concretely, it remains devastatingly true that the human beings who left earth would still be the human beings that committed these crimes, bringing our unresolved problems with us wherever we went next. We would bring the short sighted parochialism and greed that made our civilization unsustainable to our stewardship of the next planet, we would bring our warlikeness and the legacies of its violations with us into space.

Far from believing the universe a kind of safety valve relieving the pressure imposed by our stupidity in the confinement of a small world, I say the universe isn't safe from humans until first we overcome our stupidity through the work of civilization and solve the problems we would now disavow through such irresponsible fantasies of escape.


Eudoxia said...

Let's all just escape to Australia where the people are nicer.

erickingsley said...

Short version...By leaving the Earth, you are just exporting the problems to another world, unless you've solved the problems making Earth unsuitable, in which case you don't need to leave it.

Barkeron said...

It's sheer escapism, pure and simple.

Space Cadets are stuck on the maturity level of small children and want to simply run away when faced with problems. That's plainly obvious when you look at how many of them are committed to various Libertarian creeds to "keep what is mine", proclaim their intentions to "go Galt", or refuse to accept basic facts they encounter in daily life and instead staunchly insist on their point.

"Just throw some blue algae and shrimps at Mars and - BANG - Earth II!"