As the dying days of 2014 quickly melt away, I’m drawn to consider the future and what it might bring for our civilization. I, like most boys of my generation, had dreams of becoming an astronaut. My family’s ancestral motto is “tendite in astra viri” (“these men, they shall go to the stars”), so it might have been in my blood. And yet (without realizing it then) I grew up in a time when it seemed that we began to take steps back and away from the stars. It amazes and saddens me to think, in this age of wonders in which we live, that we have 7 billion humans occupying this amazing world, and yet out of all of these on this entire globe, there are only eight little old men alive today who have ever actually stepped upon another world. And it terrifies me to think that as these heroes of human progress and adventure continue to suffer the natural effects of old age, the day may someday come relatively soon when there will be no one alive on the entire Earth who can say that they stepped on ground that was not our own.
Someone else might respond that going to space is silly and stupid and wasteful when we have so many problems at home, when we’re destroying our world, and who cares if there’s only eight humans alive who’ve walked on the moon, when there are only five northern white rhinos left in the entire world?
I have a word for these people: idiots. Narrow-minded thinkers, in the short and the long term.
Is it that I just don’t care? Do I not give a damn about things like poverty, environmental damage, or wildlife as long as I get to play Star Trek? Not at all. In fact, quite the exact opposite: if you care about those things, then you should want us to go to space.
More importantly, you should want to see us as a civilization – and indeed a species – of innovators. From the moment we crawled out of caves and started using tools, we have been discovering how to do things more effectively and efficiently, and have been finding solutions to our collective problems through this. It is in our very nature.
But incredibly, there are far too many people taken far too seriously in the modern political/social arena who do not want to see us like that at all. They want us to envision things like technology, science, exploration, and innovation (not to mention civilization itself) as dangerous and harmful. Unfortunately, too many of these people at the moment effectively “own” the conversation on things like world hunger (and social justice in general) and environmentalism. This is a bit like giving over control of the Fire Brigade to a pyromaniac; their only answer seems to always amount to “burn it all down.”
What I mean by this is that at the heart of politicized leftist movements that cover these causes, what you often find is such a fundamental distrust of both innovation (through science and technology) and of civilization itself that the only “solutions” they come up with involve retreating from any of these things. They mask this behind terms like “sustainability” – which when you think about it means “to maintain ourselves as we are now,” the opposite of advancing, and even then what they often want is for our entire civilization (or the whole human race) to go backward. The plan, as they envision it, is that if we just stop producing, stop exploring, stop inventing and just somehow ‘cut down’ on our energy expenditure (they usually have non-answers for just how to do that to a degree that would actually make a difference without killing about 6 billion people), we’ll go back to a mythical hippie pre-industrial age where everything will be “natural” and therefore better. And these people are the moderates, the more radical wing of these ideologies actually belong to literal “human extinction” movements, thinking that “nature” will be better off without us.
Now, in some ways, we are all at fault for this. Partly because (as I already expressed in an earlier article) our entire society has become infested with a postmodernist rot that is killing us from within. Partly also because our own particular western civilization (where most of these conversations are taking place) is a victim of its own success. Our civilization has been so incredibly good at solving problems (that no other civilization was able to solve as effectively) that we are in essence at least three generations separated from being able to remember just how unbelievably awful life was before all the comforts that our modern innovation has provided.
The college kids who think they know so much about how important sustainability is or post Facebook posts about the white rhino or protest GMOs and modern pharmaceuticals to the point of intentionally destroying an experimental GMO rice crop that could have prevented blindness in hundreds of thousands of third world children or try to get people to use completely useless homeopathic ‘natural’ alternatives to epidemic-preventing vaccines not only have no memory of a world without the security of our advanced technology, but neither do their post-boomer parents or baby-boomer grandparents. Only the rapidly-disappearing great-grandparents from the WWII generation might have some recollection of a world without antibiotics, the green revolution, advancement in shipping and production, modern electronics, the automobile, and medical advancements like the polio vaccine. Even great grandma would probably have to strain through the recesses of her childhood memories to be able to remember what a truly pre-industrial time looked like, when life was brutal, harsh, and tremendously short. These college kids (and for that matter, their still-deluded baby-boomer grandparents) can believe in a non-industrial hippie ‘green utopia’ as some kind of mythic paradise because we’ve been so incredibly awesome at innovation that women no longer have a one-in-three risk of dying in childbirth or having to spend the first half of their day just getting drinkable water from ten miles away. These days, children can afford to be spoiled with an ideologically-dubious education because they don’t have to slave away on their parents’ meager insect-infested plot of farmland, and people live twice as long now and can thus afford to waste time worrying about whether their rice milk is gluten-free.
But there’s also another particular way that the conservatives out there are to blame for all this: far too many of them fell for the lie that causes like social justice or environmental protection are causes that ‘belong’ to the Left. They let themselves be so convinced that the Left should be the only ones allowed to define these problems that the Right has now devolved into being unable to do anything other than deny that there’s a problem at all; and that the Left’s ideas of solutions are the only viable solutions that the right can only stupidly argue that trying to solve the problem isn’t worth it.
This is ridiculous. Of course there are problems with things like environmental damage, third-world hunger, and resource management! We are stupid not to take ownership of those problems because we are then running away from the real answer as to how to solve them all. To use the Fire Brigade analogy again: we let ourselves be convinced that only pyromaniacs would ever step into a fire hall, so we just let them take over the whole department!
It wasn’t always like that; conservationism, environmental protection and the war on poverty were legitimate conservative issues (in the United States and elsewhere) for a very long time. But postmodernist manipulation of language, their taking control of the fundamental definitions of terms and assumptions in the entire discourse, allowed conservatives to be tricked into thinking otherwise. Historically, the always-utopian Left has never had real answers to these problems; their solution always involves trying to retreat back into some kind of ‘noble savage’ state of fantastical pristine innocence rejecting all that has made civilization great just because it has also run into problems.
But civilization has always managed to go along solving worse problems than it creates, and finding innovations that solve the old problems. The Malthusians out there predicted that world population growth would lead to mass-starvation unless forcible sterilization reduced the species, but the green revolution proved otherwise.
As for the environment, put aside for a moment any question of whether you think climate change is real or not, or human-caused or not, or any of that stuff. It’s irrelevant. It’s a red herring meant to distract from the real issue. We all know that many of the conveniences of the modern world have environmentally-harmful byproducts; that things like non-biodegradable plastics are a problem, for example. And whether or not you believe that carbon emissions are causing or at least contributing to changes in earth’s climate (I happen to be convinced they are), anyone looking at the issue reasonably has to admit that the emissions of our current methods of production are not healthy for our environment, that the speed and methods we use to get at the vital resources we need to power our civilization are inefficient and damaging to our ecosystems, and that to top it all off, sooner or later we’re going to run out of our main power source.
You shouldn’t be afraid to admit those things. The only reason you are is because you’ve been sold on the idea that the only other alternative is to create some kind of repressive regime of market controls, ‘putting democracy on hold’, and enforced reduction of lifestyle for the sake of sustainability.
But that’s not the only answer! And here’s where space comes back into the picture. No, its not that we’ll just make colonies on other planets and other stars and that will be that; that’s just the long-term answer, which is very far off (but essential, not only for the ultimate survival of the human race but of all other life on earth). There’s also the short-term answer: that exploration and expansion into space will create all kinds of scientific and technological innovations that will help us find solutions to many of our current problems long before we have any kind of permanent outer-space colony. An astounding amount of our current science and technology on the eve of 2015 is directly or indirectly owing to the Space Race that started some 50+ years ago. And working on what will get us ‘up there’ in the next big phase of expansion to the stars, and what we will discover along the way, will unlock achievements for us that we can’t even imagine yet.
It’s not just outer space, of course. Innovation and technology here on Earth are the real answer too. No amount of sustainability will be able to solve our problems of either resource-distribution or environmental protection (at least not without going to the extreme of killing roughly six out of every seven people). But you know what will? GMOs. New kinds of plastics. 3D printers. Newer cleaner nuclear energy. Advancements in medical, biotech, and pharmaceutical technologies. The astounding increase in access to information, education, commerce, and communication that the internet represents; this very place where you’re reading this right now, the consequences of just how much of our world it’s going to radically alter we haven’t even begun to envision. A social-activism committee of a dozen preeminent environmental-policy “experts” won’t be able to figure out any answer to how to solve the water-consumption issues of drought-stricken regions other than “make everyone use less water,” but 12 million internet nerds trying to deal with the same issue on a gameified internet app just might. No amount of Facebook posts by bleating liberal arts college students who have been taught to think that private enterprise is a crime against humanity are going to save those five remaining white rhinos, but advancements in genetic sciences might just be able to save them, and the dodo bird too.
2015, and all the years to come, could be amazing. We are on the verge of technological and scientific transformations that will make the electric light bulb seem boring by comparison; and social changes in this century will make the changes in the course of the last century seem microscopic by comparison.
Or, we can surrender all of that and listen to the people who want us to fail, to go backward into a condition that will make us fail at addressing any of our problems while reducing all of our quality of life, as if to punish us for having dared to create a world that has until now proven them wrong about everything. Personally, I want us looking up at the Stars, rather than backward toward the Cave. But we can only do this if we stop letting the “back to the cave” movement own our modern problems and thus hold the monopoly on the conversation about how to solve them.
Kasimir Urbanski doesn’t write on a specific subject; he’s EveryJoe’s resident maniac-at-large. A recovering Humanities academic and world-traveler, he now lives in South America and is a researcher of fringe religion, eastern philosophy, and esoteric consciousness-expansion. In his spare time he writes tabletop RPGs, and blogs about them at therpgpundit.blogspot.com.