Tuesday, June 01, 2021

But Gee, What If We Fight?

      Nitwittery abounds when people try to predict the future -- and knowing a lot doesn't seem to help.  Hand humanity a new technology or idea, and people will take it and figure out things that the inventor never intended.  (Mass production lines give you cheap cars.  Cheap cars give you drive-in theaters and carhops and eventually, drive-through fast food.  Cars with bench seats give you kids making out in secluded locations.  This gives you all sorts of aftereffects.  And so on.  But who saw all that hitched to the first Model T?)

      Space travel has its own predictors of the future, back as far as Jules Verne and then H. G. Wells, and plenty of engineers not long after.  Fill your tank with Cavorite and settle the Universe!  The softer sciences were on that train, too (we can probably lay attracting their attention more at Mr. Wells's door than M. Verne's).  This (eventually) results in think-pieces like "Why We Should Think Twice About Colonizing Space."

      Tl;dr?  That's okay.  The upshot is that the fellow who wrote it worries we -- and/or our institutions -- will mutate and this will result in distrust, wars and general awfulness.

     There are a couple of problems with this line of thought -- first, we've already done just that and learned to cope (however badly).  Second, it's straight-up racist.

      Yeah, yeah, I know, overused word, et cetera, et cetera.  It still means something.  The central thesis behind "We Should Think Twice..." comes crashing down here in the United States when you turn on your radio to listen to the jazz station while you drive your German car past the Japanese grocery store on your way to the Italian restaurant while remembering the wonderful French pastry you enjoyed at breakfast (and that's just in my neighborhood.  Yours may offer even more choices).  Yes, we fight -- we also raid one another's fridges.  If you can drink milk as an adult without discomfort after, some of your ancestors were milk-sucking mutants who drank from their herd animals instead of making cheese -- and lactose tolerance is a trick our species has worked out at least twice, in multiple places, with several different creatures, from goats to camels to cattle.  Humans don't all look alike.  Our cultures vary.  This does not doom us to nothing but an endless succession of wars: we trade.  We marry.  We steal -- er, "appreciate" -- one another's music and cuisine, fashion and religions.  

      Our descendants might do the same thing in space?  Well, so what.  Space is vast and travel is slow.  Barring someone figuring out how to cheat at physics (unlikely but humanity's full of surprises), interplanetary war is iffy and interstellar war is damned near impossible.  Sorry space-opera fans: it's too far to go, especially when you have a whole solar system right at home, full of sunlight, water (there's ice all over the place), metal and other useful material.  In space, we're more likely to be insulated from one another by distance and more likely to swap low mass, speed-of-light-transmissible songs, books and ideas than raw materials.  And the more widely humanity spreads through the universe, the more likely there will be people around to do the swapping.  Maybe they'll be blue-skinned, live on sugar water and smell terrible -- think what a nightmare monster you'd be at the court of Tiglath-Pileser, any of 'em, with your Raybans, Spotifty-blaring iPhone and crazy-tall height compared to most of them.  And that's before we get to what you're wearing (you left the house in that?) and how odd you'd smell to them.

     Let's get out there and make new homes in space.  Plenty of other people will stay home.


RandyGC said...

I think the flip side of that is the trope that any alien race advanced enough for inter-stellar travel would have to have evolved beyond violence and war. They would have to be enlightened and benign.

Yeah right.

Granted, we only have a sample size of one, but that sample doesn't support the hypothesis.

If someone accidently stumbles onto a workable FTL drive today, just what makes anyone think that the human race as a whole would change it's way of expansion and interacting with foreign cultures from past experiences?

Roberta X said...

I don't know about "enlightened and benign," but I do believe that based on what we know now, the energies and resources required for any kind of interstellar travel, including generation ships, are so vast that any civilization that masters them would be subject to none of the kinds of economic pressures or needs that result in wars of conquest or colonialism. The universe is full of stuff that is free for the taking, with no need to deal with messy, intransigent, alien natives. (True of most of our Solar System right now, if some star-traveling aliens decide the asteroid belt would be a nice place to grab some nickel-iron, or maybe a a zillion tones of water ice from Saturn's rings.)

You are still left with religious zeal or flat-out xenophobia as motivating factors for hostile alien activity, and the latter may be a real worry: by most estimates, there ought to be lots of intelligent life out there but we're not seeing any evidence of it. One race of super-advanced we-hate-everyone-who-isn't-us types would account for this, and maybe every supernova is their handiwork, squashing intelligent species like swatting flies. I hope not.

Even cheap interplanetary travel could make humanity wealthy in material terms beyond our wildest dreams -- of course, once everyone has plenty of water, decent access to medical care, personal transportation and three hots and a cot, the 1% will be drinking wine with pearls dissolved in it and swapping Rembrandts like kids with baseball cards, or some other set of behaviors only the 1% can afford, but so it goes. We'd better get at least that far along before Somebody Else shows up, just in case they're hostile nutjobs.

Pigpen51 said...

I have to admit, I don't spend as much thought on this as perhaps I used to. As you mentioned, the physics seems to be against FTL craft, and so the only thing that would work for some other planetary beings to travel here would be some sort of time warp or wormhole, etc. Or some other thing that we simply cannot imagine yet.
When I just consider the vastness of the universe, and both our ever growing knowledge of it, and yet our actual lack of knowledge of it, I think that like a young person learning about their world, it is better that they first learn about their own neighborhood, before they attempt to learn about the nations on the other side of the planet.
It does seem that a permanent station on the moon might be the first step in colonizing Mars, or perhaps another planet in our solar system. And we must learn to look at things in terms of 50-100 years in advance, and make our plans that way, as well as in 20-30 years down the road. That will take coming together, as not only a nation, but perhaps as a world, so I doubt that the odds of that are too great.