Monday, September 12, 2005

The Final Frontier: same human behaviours?

In an interesting article on the future of space exploration, Phil Smith, a space industry analyst and space artist in the Washington, DC area, speculates about the next thousand years, even tens of thousands of years, during which humankind will establish itself extra-terrestrially, marking a new eon (the ‘Astrazoic eon’) in the history of the human race.

If it reads a bit close to the experience of the exploration, pioneering and settlement of the Americas, with a mixture of State-sponsored funding and management added to private entrepreneurship, that is to be expected, perhaps. John Locke asserted (Locke: Two Treatises on Government, 1690) that ‘in the beginning all the world was America’, i.e., the America of the wilderness and its savage tribes, the descendants of central Asian peoples, who crossed the ice-age land bridge and spread throughout the empty spaces 13,000 years earlier into what we now call the Americas. Phil Smith similarly constructs a sequel in which future human space exploration and eventual settlement reproduces the pattern so that one day they might say, the ‘entire Universe is modern America.’

Phil Smith writes on “The Astrazoic Eon” in The Space Review: essays and commentary about the final frontier', Rockville, MD, USA (12 September 2005):

“Beginning with pioneers, the bulk of activity in space will be commercial in nature. I quote a statement from Robert Bigelow, who says it best: “The U.S. Government could fund and order Lewis and Clark to explore the West, but it could not pay or force pioneers to settle the region. Governments do have an important role to play in creating an environment conducive to space development, but it is the pioneering entrepreneurs, not the soldiers or bureaucrats, who can take and colonize a new frontier.” Money and the acquisition of things are prime motivators for pioneers and eventually settlers, though by no means are they the only push-factors in migration.

The term “commercial” is understood to describe a free market (or capitalist) system defined by Adam Smith and subsequently practiced in ever-evolving forms in the United States and other countries. A free market system is as essential to the health of a democratic republic as a constitution drafted to protect the rights of its citizens because it promotes innovation and change. A free market system is largely self-regulating and provides the best environment for promotion of opportunity, excellence, personal growth, and freedom of expression. It is a self-sustaining force with the necessary amount of motivation, guile, and passion to tame the challenges of interplanetary space. Curiosity and the desire to explore, while powerful motivators for some individuals and critical to the overall process of migration, are minor motivators on the scale of civilization. A free market system, when supported by a representative democratic style of government, will be the true sustainer of human exploration and exploitation of the solar system. It is important to remember that space is not at all different than Earth when it comes to economic potential. The differences lie in magnitude.
One of the government’s legitimate roles, working closely with industry partners, is to enable free markets to gain a foothold and prosper, to seed commercial activity when free enterprise cannot do it on its own. Then, when markets flourish, the government stands back and only provides those services deemed appropriate by the people, like keeping the peace, regulation of certain markets, licensing, and so on. These roles are ideally suited for the Departments of Transportation and Commerce.”

Apart from Adam Smith never defining a ‘capitalist’ system (neither the word nor the phenomenon existed in the mid-18th century) its ‘ever evolving’ forms in the modern USA are even more distant from what Smith wrote about in “Wealth of Nations”.

The dangers inherent in space exploration and eventual settlement whether conducted under the direction of an Earth-bound State or by major capitalist corporations, I suggest that the omens are not good for confidence in their conduct of future space exploration. State sponsored exploration inevitably will delegate tyrannical powers to unsupervised and, therefore inherently, unscrupulous pirates and brigands, as the visitations of Spaniards and Portuguese upon Central and South America showed (as well as the indigenous populations on each other).

The Dutch and British chartered joint stock companies were formed for distant trade in the 17th and 18th centuries and were hardly examples we would recommend to follow in space, as an examination of their histories as ‘monopolies’ (which no doubt will be deemed ‘necessary’ by their lobbyists for expensive ventures in space too) and a reading of what Smith wrote about them and their conduct in “Wealth of Nations” (Book IV) soon reveals. Unless kept far apart, such organizations usually end up conducting war on each other, dragging their Earth bound governments into them too.

Unless there are democratic republics, operating at peace with each other all over the Earth (‘the entire world becomes America again’ – which is some agenda for the immediate future, if ever really possible) the prospect of the appropriate conditions for avoiding the mistakes of the past when the entire world was settled, being reproduced in space under peaceful commercial enterprise is remote.

Phil Smith concludes: “A free market system, when supported by a representative democratic style of government, will be the true sustainer of human exploration and exploitation of the solar system. It is important to remember that space is not at all different than Earth when it comes to economic potential. The differences lie in magnitude.”

Paraphrasing this assertion we should may be conclude: ‘It is also important to remember that humans in space are not at all different than humans on Earth when it comes to (mis)behaviourial potential. The differences lie, perhaps, only in altitude.’


Blogger Phil Smith said...


You are quite right that Adam Smith never defined "capitalist," which is a relatively modern word. I should have been a bit more careful there...


Phil Smith

8:05 pm  

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