Friday, September 28, 2007

Random Thoughts on a Friday Evening

When I started this space advocacy thing, I was already doing a lot of philosophical and historical reading—Aristotle, Toynbee, Rand, what have you—but one thing that surprised me was how philosophical pro-space literature is:
The Case for Mars, The High Frontier, etc. Heinlein, Zubrin, O’Neill, and the others have a vision of humanity that is often more lofty and courageous than our current age would seem to inspire. This has led me, unsurprisingly, to yet more reading.

We often have to ask ourselves: who are we as a people? Or, more selfishly: who am I? What kind of person am I? What kind of person do I want to be?

So I’ve done yet more reading: Cicero, Kipling, the King James Bible, Kissinger, Bobbitt, Pournelle, history, philosophy, space stuff, religion, biography, pop culture sociology. And then, of course, I have my daily interactions with non-literary people in person and via email. Occasionally, when I can stomach it, I watch the TV news. The more I read, the more I am convinced of the following:
  • People are inherently fallen, subject to temptation, greed, lust, ill temper, violence, gossip, shortsightedness, foolishness, and power-seeking. And I include myself in that category 100%.
  • The best thing I can prescribe is that individuals and groups act under a similar creed: if someone’s behavior is not causing you harm, leave them the hell alone. Of course that sort of libertarian thought is not likely to be practiced. Otherwise, laws wouldn’t be enforced, nor, most likely, would religions be spread, regardless of their goodness.
  • Religions seem blind to the possibilities or potential of space exploration and settlement. This is mostly because they—and I mean here Protestant Christian sects, I cannot speak for others—prefer that their followers focus on the next world. A friend of mine suggested the other day that “we needed a new church.” I’m not so sure. Roman Catholicism at least believes in practicing good works in this life. Would improving living conditions worldwide and offering the potential for new freedoms qualify as good works?
  • I suggested to my pastor and vicar, very gently of course, that space exploration offers us a chance to better learn about God’s creation. And, indeed, the more we see of the universe’s vastness, the more humbled we may become. I don’t hold with the scientific (liberal?) view that the size of the universe is proof-positive of how insignificant we are. On the contrary! If life is truly so rare, then we should treasure it as never before, and marvel that we have brains to comprehend it at all. I haven’t made much progress with either camp on these views.
  • Another argument I suggested to the vicar (this discussion quickly eluded or bored my pastor) was: “Isn’t space technology worthwhile if it is used to stop an asteroid that kills all life on Earth?” I was told, more or less, that if God wanted to smack us down like that, that was his privilege; likewise, if he felt it was within his mercy to grant us the intelligence to achieve such a mission, that was fine, too. Again, I was cautioned against focusing too much on this world and not enough on the next. Yeah, but while I’m here, shouldn’t I try to do everything in my power to help my fellow man? I left the church for about 20 years because of its hostility to science fiction. It doesn’t seem to be much more welcoming to science fact, either. I draw my moral and spiritual precepts from Christianity, but most of my daily-life inspiration comes from outer space, which God created. I’m sure I’m going to hell for that in some people’s minds.
  • We are in for a long war with Islam. Wouldn’t space colonies provide excellent sanctuaries and places for preserving Western Civilization, especially if Europe actually becomes “Eurabia,” as Bat Ye’or suggests? Some Europeans, not wishing to give up their culture or move to America to preserve it might seek an “island” from which to preserve their lives, families, and traditions. Such enclaves could offer the hope of a second Renaissance in exile.
  • America’s ruling political parties have both embraced “big government” as their mantra: for Republicans, big government encourages virtue, discourages vice, promotes a strong military, and rewards faithful political districts with pork; for Democrats, big government rights wrongs, ensures (enforces) equality of outcomes, emasculates a strong military, and rewards appropriate pressure groups with preferred legal rights. Actual limited government has fallen by the wayside in favor of doing good, and elected officials have assumed an air of arrogance toward their subjects that is becoming all too obvious. Free enclaves in space must be established, if only to get out from under foot once in awhile. But would such a government willingly establish such colonies, knowing its citizens were likely to secede? Would businesses funding such settlements accept independence if the end result was no return on investment? Yet the frontier must be preserved. We must do something before freedom is extinguished.
  • Book after book and study after study is pointing out the steadily decreasing gap between East and West. China has more honor students than we have students, and not all our students are geniuses. If it weren’t for immigration, America’s birth rate might well be falling. Would technological success or the challenge of the frontier create the cultural incentives to overcome these hurdles? One can only hope. There is some doubt as to whether our educational system can still teach kids the skills and insights they need to conquer the space frontier.
  • Space can, in fact, be tied to so many Earth-based issues that it truly baffles me how short-sighted our society has been toward it. We need a commitment to technological leadership—check. We need a reason to feel hopeful about the future—check. We need goals worthy of the freedoms that God and our Constitution gave us—check. We need reasons for kids to study the hard topics—check. We need new resources, energy, raw materials, and so forth to enable our capitalist economy to keep expanding without undue harm to our planet—check. We need more information about how the climate of our planet functions and what, if anything, we can do about it—check.

On and on like that. Space exploration and settlement are truly multidisciplinary activities worthy of our attention. And yet NASA is 0.58% of the federal budget, while “more important things here on Earth” are many dozens or hundreds of times greater—and still the Earth-bound want more from the paltry sum NASA consumes of the federal treasury. In fact, this will only get worse, either as the War on Terror deepens or as the Baby Boomers start retiring. Discretionary spending, of which NASA is a part, will dwindle to nothing, even though it is the one agency specifically dedicated to developing the very technologies that could save us. Frustrating, but there it is.

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