I’ve recently discovered a fantastic magazine called Jacobin, which is unreservedly Left leaning and offers a nice, refreshing alternative voice to the wishy washy liberal middle-of-the-roadism you find in a lot of other “Lefty” sites.
Over on the Jacobin Blog, Leigh Philips proves the magazine’s worth (to me at least) with a piece about how capitalism killed the Space Program:
[...] Nobody is asking why it is that the high point of manned spaceflight was reached at the end of the sixties, wondering whether there might be a reason for this drop in ambition, this retreat from humanity’s destiny in space. It’s not as if the planet has abandoned its love of space. The international excitement over the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory hints at a yearing to be thrilled about the possibility of life on other planets.
At the same time, a kind of left-wing cynicism about space exploration has bubbled up. Wasn’t this simply a distraction from the crisis? How can we be spending money on space while the Earth burns? How can we care about the improbable chance that we find possible evidence of the conditions for microbes having aeons ago existed on Mars when thousands of Americans are losing their homes to repossession, when half of all Spanish youth are without work?
Because these questioners might as well be asking: “Why bother exploring at all? What has curiosity ever done for us?” And this way of thinking is itself unwittingly framed by a neoliberal set of metrics, demanding immediate return on investment, and accepting the falsehood that we have an extremely limited reserve of public revenues, the greatest share of which must be directed to those areas with the highest priority.
The first point is obvious. We don’t know what benefits will be achieved when one sets off to investigate distant terrain. The adventure of exploration of the unknown is its own reward.
This comes along with Matt Novak’s appreciation of The Jetson’s on their 50th anniversary, and why they still matter:
It’s easy for some people to dismiss “The Jetsons” as just a TV show, and a lowly cartoon at that. But this little show—for better and for worse—has had a profound impact on the way that Americans think and talk about the future.
Somewhere along the way, we lost sight of exploration and innovation for its own sake. And by we, I mean our capitalist overlords. The 1% who demand that every human endeavor turn a profit, that they get the lion’s share of that profit, and that everything not profitable (to them) be scrapped. This attitude, what I’ve taken to calling Economic Calvanism, is what’s keeping us from recovering from the Great Recession, let alone settling Mars. We used to do great big things back when our leaders weren’t all greedy bastards and knew that to make money you have to spend money, often and especially on things that don’t return the investment, simply because they produce knowledge about the Universe and provide and investment in human worth, something that cannot be balanced out on ledger or calculated for in your semi-annual report.
Or, as Leigh Philips put it:
Of course, if there were a limited pie of public resources, then a prioritization of other areas would be legitimate – Gill Scott Heron would be right. At the moment, there are other areas in more dire need. But money can be found.
The UK’s Tax Justice Network in July published research showing that revenues lost to public coffers by the super-rich hiding these sums in tax havens amounted to $21 trillion as of 2010 – as much as the US and Japanese economies combined, and the figure could be as high as $32 trillion.
There is more than enough money out there to have decent social services – and new ones, guaranteed incomes, well-funded pensions, a transformation to a low-carbon (or even carbon-negative) economy, and investment in space exploration. It’s a false choice to say: either space or everything else. The choice is actually between the current crop of political ideologies clustered around the neoliberal center, and something genuinely transformative on a global scale.