There’s a kind of quiet war going on in society today. It’s a war of ideals. On the one hand are those who have an absolute love for, and faith in, technology to better the human condition, envisioning a society in which gadgets, inventions and medical advances will create a sort of antiseptic/sterile, plastic/syntho/artificial, electro/mechanical, computerized utopia, and people will finally realize their full intellectual and physical potential as the very the pinnacle of evolution/creation: the post, or transhuman, a version of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Übermensch, or Superman. See also this article about “Extropians”.
Science fiction is full of these Brave New Worlds. The earth, to these people, is merely a tool, a conveyance, a disposable means to an end, that end being the longevity of humanity in the stars. Thus they feel little or no real love for nature, its preservation, or loyalty to the earth. It’s all about man.
Their optimistic vision was, perhaps, foreshadowed in Donald Fagan’s song I.G.Y. Some lyrics:
Get your ticket to that wheel in space
While there’s time
The fix is in
You’ll be a witness to that game of chance in the sky
Perfect weather for a streamlined world
There’ll be spandex jackets one for everyone
A just machine to make big decisions
Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision
We’ll be clean when their work is done
We’ll be eternally free yes and eternally young
On the other hand, are those who accept that we are already living on, and are adapted to, a wonderful, diverse and still beautiful world, and know that such worlds in our galaxy, are, at least to any practical purposes for us, extremely rare. They understand that, as we don’t very well have any good substitutes right now, and likely won’t for a good long time (if ever), we need to protect the one we have. All life, they’ve learned, is a co-evolved, interconnected, interdependent whole, and thus every human-caused extinction is a trajedy.
The former have been dubbed techno-utopians, and they tend to be of the right-wing, Libertarian persuasion. A Wikipedia article on them says that Techno-utopianism attracts:
“adherents from the libertarian right end of the political spectrum. Therefore, techno-utopians often have a hostility toward government regulation and a belief in the superiority of the free market system.”
In this they mirror the Republican Party and its hostility to government regulation.
A large part of government regulation is concerned with environmental protection, especially as our growing numbers increasingly impact our fragile earth. That tends to put Libertarians and Republicans on the opposing side in efforts to safeguard and preserve it, and their think-tanks, like Cato Institute, often pen diatribes raging about this or that governmental overreach related to protecting the environment.
It’s always perplexed me, this open disdain for the protection of the environment. Take a look at the following chart from a study of the divisions between the Left and Right on the environment:
The book Open For Business describes “conservatives prolonged campaign to dismantle the federal regulatory framework for environmental protection.”
Why are right-wingers so opposed to protecting our world, a world, and its species, that they (or their Republican half at least) insist (when trying to force creationism onto public schools) was created by God? One reason is that interpreting the Bible as they do (2 Peter 3:10), they believe that the earth is destined to be destroyed by God anyway, so why not use it up? It’s only a temporary way station, they say, before heaven (or, perhaps, “the heavens” – stars?). (In this, though, they ignore Revelation 11:18 which says that God will “destroy those who destroy the earth”).
One could get the impression that these groups are either willfully blind to the deleterious effects of humanity on the earth or that they actually want to hasten its demise so as to force our hand to the stars.
“Living down to our worst expectations,” says a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, “the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology voted Thursday to cut deeply into NASA’s budget for Earth science, in a clear swipe at the study of climate change….
“The budget plan perfectly reflects the House GOP’s glorification of space exploration, which masks its disdain for research on climate change….
“The announcement of the vote by committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), was a model of misdirection and deceit. It mentioned ‘space’ and ‘space exploration’ a couple of dozen times, (not including the names of space-oriented organizations or his own committee). Earth science got one mention, and that one was an undisguised political slam: ‘The Obama administration has consistently cut funding for … human space exploration programs, while increasing funding for the Earth Science Division by more than 63 percent.'”
Team Trump has also stated their intention to undermine the science behind understanding climate change.
A leader of the techno-utopian movement is the theoretical physicist, Freeman Dyson, the architect of the hypothetical “Dyson Sphere”, that would be employed to do just that, take people on a one-way journey from the earth to space.
There is a worldwide secular religion which we may call environmentalism, holding that we are stewards of the earth. – Freeman Dyson
“Dyson’s obsession has always been the stars, not the earth: he spent many years working on the design of a spaceship … that would take him there. It’s not so much that he doesn’t care about our home planet — he must have learned something about ‘spaceship earth’ from son George over the years. Rather, he is simply very confident that we can always get off if we have to. ‘What the secular faith of Dysonism offers,’ Brower writes ‘is, first, a hypertrophied version of the technological fix, and second, the fantasy that, should the fix fail, we have someplace else to go.’ Dyson has stated in many places, and in various ways, that he thinks global warming is not a big problem, and that its importance has been exaggerated. To put things in perspective, though, Dyson doesn’t particularly think that the extirpation of all life other than human would be a particularly big deal ‘We are moving rapidly into the post-Darwinian era, when species other than our own will no longer exist, [emphasis mine] and the rules of Open Source sharing will be extended from the exchange of software to the exchange of genes,’ he is quoted as saying in Brower’s article. Dyson’s idea of what constitutes a ‘big problem’ may be, well, just a bit different from what most of the rest of us might have in mind.” From Real Climate
Perhaps a stepping stone to this extermination of all life other than human would be that proposed by the noted population enthusiast, Julian Simon (“I would be even more pleased if there were more cities, more people in unsettled areas“) in Chapter 20 of his Ultimate Resource in response to the question of what to do with wildlife as the human population continues to grow, that we might “want only to maintain the species just this side of extinction … why not just put them in a few big zoos?” he suggests.
Dyson is in the skeptic’s camp regarding climate change. Like them, he claims it’s bogus, and they love him for it. This despite the fact that he says “I do not pretend to be an expert about the details.” and “I know a lot about nuclear weapons and nothing about climate change.”
Ok, so let’s say we decide to dump the earth for another planet. Let’s take our closest, and best candidate neighbor, Mars. Just based on the aesthetics alone, why would anyone want to abandon our lovely earth for the red planet? Could it be simple ungracious boredom?
“But the whole point of going to Mars is that you’d have better substitutes. Any human being can visit the ocean. Anyone can visit the forest. These are beautiful things, but they are commonplace. I will get the chance to experience a sunrise on Mars.”
Hmm, Yes! It’s certainly tempting, isn’t it?
“The risk of fatality will be really high. There’s no way around it…. It would be basically, are you prepared to die? If that okay, then you’re a candidate for going.”
Don’t get me wrong here. I love the idea of the exploration of space. It is a noble and exciting prospect. But forfeiting the only such living planet (and what life!) we are ever likely to encounter in the process would be, let’s face it, crazy.
Of our connection to the earth Thomas Berry wrote:
If the outer world is diminished in its grandeur, then the emotional, imaginative, intellectual, and spiritual life of the human is diminished or extinguished. Without the soaring birds, the great forests, the sounds and coloration of the insects, the free-flowing streams, the flowering fields, the sight of clouds by day and the stars at night, we become impoverished in all that makes us human.” ~ The Great Work: Our Way into the Future. 2000.
All of this leads me to my next certifiably paranoid questions. Is there a reason, a strategy, behind the refusal of world leaders to seriously deal with pressing environmental problems? Could there be a reason they are are being allowed to worsen? Is a plan to abandon other species and/or the earth itself in the works?
For more on the right-wing’s infatuation with techno-utopianism see Paulina Borsook’s book Cyberselfish: A Critical Romp through the Terribly Libertarian Culture of High Tech.
Note: later edited to add in comments by Elon Musk.
(Addendum 1: None of the aforementioned should be interpreted as implying that I am either a theist, an atheist and/or a liberal. I am not.)
(Addendum 2: Is there a reason that I have spent more than the usual amount of time on this post? Yes. The scenario I post here, wild animals allowed to go or intentionally made extinct and the earth itself discarded, traded for a “vision” of life in the stars is the picture I paint of the future in my book, Opalescence. For more along this theme see my next post in this series, Space or Bust II)