I was learning how to play a new song this week, ‘Spaceship Orion’ by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. It’s an old tune I’ve always liked. To me it’s a companion piece to another song I have long known, Neil Young’s classic ‘After the Gold Rush.’ Both songs are about humanity flying to some distant planet, seeking a new home, once earth has been met with ecological disaster. Neil Young’s song is perhaps more optimistic about that future, ending with the lines ‘Flying Mother Nature’s silver seed to a new home in the Sun,’ while the Daredevils end their song with the repeated lines ‘It can’t be like home, it can’t feel like home to you there.’
Of course not. For one thing, it’s imaginary. How many books and stories and movies have there been about humanity setting up new colonies on distant planets? How often we’ve been run through the whole speculative drill about families in suspended animation, whole populations enduring multi-year flights to the ends of the galaxy, waking up to a planet with sufficient atmosphere, water, and acceptable gravity, waiting there for us? The fact that to this point no planet has been found that even remotely fills the bill does not deter the science fiction writers. It’s just not going to happen, I think anybody with their head on straight can see that.
This has always been my problem with the ‘space program,’ with ‘exploring space’—as if exploring something infinite has any practical meaning. What a huge waste of money. Sure, putting satellites into orbit has had some practical value; but manned space flight? It is as much science fiction as science, and always has been. Boys playing with rockets. And now, I fear that it feeds into some dangerous political fantasies. Our current White House regime holds to three interesting ideas, which considered together, make for a scary scenario.
First is protection of the wealthiest in America. The recently passed tax ‘reform’ bill does just that, while offering weak and temporary sops to working Americans. Wages remain stagnant despite what is touted as a red-hot economy, while inflation is ticking up, led by gas prices. To the top economic tier, a great economy means they are making more money, while to the rest of us, it means less value for our income. An extremely rich upper class trailed by a weakening middle class and increasingly desperate lower class is becoming institutionally cemented into our society. Anyone who would mention this or opine that it should be otherwise is, of course, a socialist.
Second is denial of climate change—or at least of man’s role in it. David Brooks wrote a piece years ago (when he still had some cred in conservative circles) about the things conservatives actually believe that they won’t admit. Climate science was one of those things. Most conservative politicians are educated people, they understand basic science and can see the signs all around them. But they can’t admit it, either out of deference to their energy company sponsors or to jolly along the average benighted southern voter. When the occupant of the White House takes America out of the Paris Climate Agreement and works to weaken any environmental laws we do have, the applause from his side of the aisle in congress is deafening.
Third is a fixation on space things. New policy directives call for a return to the moon and eventually flights to Mars, for renting space to rich guys who love rockets. In several of his recent disjointed ramblings, the Dissembler in Chief has mentioned how rich guys love rockets; this left many wondering where he was headed, what he meant—as if he ever really means anything. Where this comes from is anybody’s guess: so here’s mine.
A scenario of many of the science fiction stories about inhabiting the moon, Mars, and beyond posits a happy future on extra-terrestrial colonies—for a lucky few. Those lucky few are, of course, the wealthiest. This seems like outlandish speculation, except the idea of all our official resources being focused on the happiness of a tiny percentage of rich people is rapidly becoming reality. Further, we can officially deny the effects of climate change, but in private, keep a weather eye out for those changes. If our toadying to the energy companies and their campaign donations leads to increasing environmental straits, we ought to have a plan. And so that plan, being promulgated even as we speak, is to intensify our efforts in space, particularly manned exploration of other planets. We must prepare to set up those colonies for rich people if/when everything goes south. Yes, the whole idea is still as much science fiction as science, but I’d bet anything that our administration in Washington is more informed by movies like The Martian and Interstellar than actual science.
Let’s face it. Earth is the only planet where humans will ever live. Let’s work to save it, and stop with these science fiction scenarios in which only the blessed few may thrive on a distant orb. I like the song ‘Spaceship Orion,’ but I realize it’s only a song.
As for my theory about where the Occupant in Chief is headed with his space talk, you may think it’s a little far-fetched. Maybe I’m being paranoid and getting carried away. After all, setting up colonies for rich people, while denying the opportunity to the vast run of humanity, would require having some kind of enforcement in place, some kind of Space Force, and I haven’t heard anybody suggesting that we start a Space Force. Have you?