Will Musk’s SpaceX Result in Space Colonialism? – Labour Article
When it first took off, space travel was a strictly public affair. During the Cold War, the USA’s and the USSR’s rockets became metaphorical weapons. A bloodless battle was fought outside the atmosphere. The USSR claimed almost every major win, including the first artificial space satellite, the first man and woman in space, and the first object on the moon. The USA’s only major victory was to land the first moonwalk. This was an incredible achievement which the USA presented as the only significant finishing line. This then effectively ended the space race. This may have been a classic case of quitting while you’re ahead, but nonetheless, the spectacular significance of that moment in 1969 is undeniable.
For decades after that, though, progress in space exploration slowed to a crawl. People started to talk of space exploration (particularly space tourism) as a broken promise. Almost as if, despite our lack of respect for our own planet, humanity is entitled to access the whole universe. States have not heavily invested in space travel, which has prompted some people to feel they are ‘owed’. The wealthiest of these have taken matters into their own hands via the private sector.
Take Elon Musk as the most prominent example. When he founded SpaceX in 2002, it was on the assumption that Mars is there to be taken by anyone with enough money and dedication. He believes humanity could become a multi-planetary species in as little as four years, and that this is necessary for the “continuance of consciousness as we know it”. If states aren’t going to fund it, then it’s his right to do so instead (or, at least, in partnership with them).
But what would a privatised planetary takeover look like? Who will own the resources necessary for survival, and how will everyone else pay for them? Perhaps, when looking forward to space colonialism, we can learn something from good old fashioned Earth colonialism.
The liberal theory of property, for instance, was formulated in part by John Locke. He was heavily involved in the colonisation of America, from which over half of his personal wealth stemmed. His theory was that God gave the Earth to mankind in common. However, once a “reasonable and hardworking man” (he spoke only of men here) applied labour to something, for instance by picking apples from a communal tree, the fruits of that labour became his property. This theory (set out in the Second Treatise of Government) presides as the seeds of modern Western capitalist property laws.
The problem, though, is that only a limited number of people were counted as “reasonable and hardworking men”. Most famously, the Native Americans who had already been successfully working the land for centuries did not count, in the early liberal view, as reasonable or hardworking people (or even people at all). Therefore, their land was no longer theirs. Enslaved African people, who were brought to America by colonists, did not even own themselves, let alone the fruits of their hard labour. White women, whose labour at the time enabled the labour of white men, were not deemed to labour at all and also were banned from ownership.
Despite huge change since then, some of the contradiction of liberal property theory lives on. Are employees of privately owned businesses not “reasonable and hardworking”? Yet, they do not own what they apply their labour too. Shareholders do not, often, work for the businesses they partially own at all. In a natural continuation of Locke’s original contradictions, “reasonable and hardworking” has become “already wealthy enough to amass more wealth”. Since there have been no reparations for this stolen labour, it’s easy to see why, in 2018, the Black median household income was just 61% of that of white households and women’s average income was 85% of men’s. Meanwhile, the top 5% earners in the US earned 23% of all US income, and 40% of Americans wouldn’t be able to cover a $400 emergency cost (according to Pew Research Centre and a Federal Reserve survey).
The SpaceX website reads: “We believe hard work and innovative solutions result in big gains”– language which is eerily close to Locke’s. But big gains for whom? Via Twitter, Musk has already suggested that those humans not wealthy enough to pay for their trips to Mars can simply work for him to pay off their debts. Already, a kind of space feudalism with Musk as the lord of the land threatens to emerge.
This, of course, is hugely speculative. My point is that, unless we proceed with caution, private-sector space colonialism will reproduce the unfair, deadly hypocrisy and hierarchies that were partially sparked by liberal ideas, then slowly baked into the very core of Western capitalism. For many, “the continuation of consciousness as we know it” means simply the continuation of stifling oppression. If humanity must seek pastures new, let’s learn from our past mistakes. We must take it as an opportunity to make the process truly democratic and inclusive.
Written by Guest Labour Writer, Jess Wilson
Point of Information
Do we need more? – A Liberal Response
Jess is correct that the current trajectory of Space Exploration and Colonisation stems from a belief that what is out there to be used by humans is to be claimed. If God made the Earth for humans to use, we are only just cashing in our claim to the Heavens.
One thing that Jess hasn’t touched on but is equally important to stress is that Locke also had no appreciation for the concept of living within his means. It was the age of expansion, of growth, of conquering and comparing and competing for the world’s resources. The problem is, and Musk and his fellow Space Entrepreneurs are aware, we are close to depleting this world’s resources.
Space, in its abundance, provides a solution to this problem. There is a literal galaxy of all we could need to survive as a species. The drive to leave Earth out of a need for survival is an admittance of the continuation of the Status Quo – ie vast overconsumption. The truth is, we are draining the earth dry. The solution doesn’t necessarily need to be reaching for the stars.
There are growing calls amongst climate activists and scholars to question this need for growth. It is a controversial topic because it gets embroiled and caricatured as a call for draconian population controls or damnation to poverty for the developing world.
The utopia would be a world where development (as in, the improvement in the quality of life of individuals) did not require economic growth. In reality, it is probably unlikely we can feed, clothe, educate, treat and provide access to all other basic needs of the world’s population without some economic growth. Not impossible though.
For a start, it is estimated we already produce enough food to feed 10 billion people. We in the West just waste most of it. If scientists develop a cheap and efficient way to desalinate seawater (take the salt out to make it drinkable) we’d have oceans of the stuff.
But… there are fears we are running out of metals. And that is where things get tricky. We might need space to save the earth. Demand for rare earth metals will skyrocket in the future as we crank out solar panels, batteries, electric motors and all these new, green saviour technologies. We might overconsume them too. Asteroid mining might be needed to fulfil this need… which means space colonisation (at least by robots) might also be necessary.
Suffice to say, the ethics of space exploration are tricky. Does it present a moral hazard by encouraging us to continue in our capitalistic, exploitative ways instead of trying to form a better system, or will it be required in order to survive? Whatever side of that question you come down on, Jess is right to question how it will map onto the existing inequalities and injustices here on the ground.
Written by Junior Liberal Writer, Daniel Jones
Humans are Natural Risk-takers: Space is just the next step – A Conservative Response
Space provides huge opportunities such as business opportunities, employment and solving issues such as resource depletion. Of course, things are going to be tricky but humans are risk-takers.
A successful project always comes down to extensive planning, review, scrutiny and budget allocation amongst other crucial factors. Development and progression are always envisaged but factors such as climate change must be considered.
Space does solve problems such as population size. Moving habitats to space from Earth would mean species could be saved and climate change could be slowed down. Space travel is expensive however so accessibility must be considered for lower-income groups. It will be fascinating to see how travel to space and perhaps settlement will progress.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Max Jablonowski
I’m a queer loving feminist liberal, enough to make a hard-line conservative have an aneurism. I have been forced to this position having grown up witnessing and experiencing injustice first-hand. Politics sort of came to me, which it does if you are anything but a cis-white-heterosexual man. My life and the way I wanted to live it was unavoidably political, so I may as well get involved.
I am Max Jablonowski, a second year student studying French and Politics at the University of Exeter, and I am about to go on my year abroad to Paris to complete two internships. I was Academic Events Manager of the Politics Society in Exeter and I was privileged enough to organize events such as Question Time, co-host the 2019 General Election Hustings with MWEXE and host the Rt. Hon. James Brokenshire MP, the current Minister of State for Security.