Humankind is a pestilence–an unhealthy malignant growth, ravaging and destroying everything that it touches. For the sake of the rest of the universe, we must confine the vile infection to the single planet that it now inhabits.
That’s the attitude of surprisingly many people (though not of your humble weblogger).
I got an email this week from one of them–a “Lori M.”:
Forget “practical and affordable”- space travel is not ethical. Let’s face it: We cause problems here and we would just take them somewhere else.
Humankind consistently demonstrates a strong lack of the integrity for such a venture. History foreshadows the cyclical injustices of the past played out anew on some poor, unsuspecting ecosystem. Space travel/colonization would be irresponsible and sadly consistent with the thinking that got us to the state of informed depravity we are in now.
I’m not saying we should trash space travel- just table it until human societies show more promise. We do best to spend more time and effort developing character before technology.
“Space travel is not ethical.”
My, my, where to begin?
I don’t know where my correspondent was when she sent me the email, but I’ll bet it wasn’t the African savannah. I wonder if she thinks that the human race had the “integrity” to leave that place where we evolved and expand into what is now Europe? Or that those who had spread further east, into Siberia, should have had second thoughts before crossing the Aleutian land bridge and thus despoiling the Americas?
Is she of the school of thought that those descendants of the Africans, having developed the technologies of sail and navigation, should have then stayed in Europe, until they had attained some kind of societal perfection, by her (no doubt lofty) standards? Well, perhaps she is, though, of course, had they done so, she probably wouldn’t be here to so helpfully (if not specifically) point out to us our myriad failings. And wouldn’t that have been a tragedy?
Human beings “cause problems here…”
Indeed we do. Of course we cause lots of other things as well.
We often cause solutions to those same problems.
We also cause scientific theories. And symphonies, and majestic works of art, and gardens, and laughter, and joy. But apparently she would insist that all non-terrestrial existence remain empty of these things, because we’re too “depraved” and insufficiently “ethical” (by whatever unexplained standards of ethics she uses). To paraphrase the kid in West Side Story, as he told Officer Krupke, she wants to “make the universe deprived on account of we’re depraved.”
And she’s concerned that we will attack some “unsuspecting ecosystem.” Here’s a newsflash, Lori–not only are ecosystems off the earth “unsuspecting”–they’re non-existent, as far as we know. There is no solid evidence for life in the universe anywhere other than on our planet (which isn’t to say with any certainty, of course, that it doesn’t exist).
If this remains the case, our role in expanding into the universe will not be to ravage ecosystems, but to create them. We can, and will, make our dead solar system flower, filling it with life (and not just human life), and love, and beauty, and laughter.
And unfortunately, because we’re human, we will indeed take along many of the uglier things that our emailer deplores. But we will do it regardless, and we won’t wait to develop the “character” that she demands–to do so would, I suspect, postpone the next step of our evolution forever. Because I suspect that that’s how long it will be before the “Lori M”s of the world finds our flawed race up to their hypercritical and unrealistic muster.
Fortunately, the decision will not be hers. She is welcome to stay behind. As the old tee-shirt says, the meek will inherit the earth–the rest of us will go to the stars, and do so with a clear conscience.