Why aren’t we on Mars yet?
I think mankind will eventually have a manned outpost on Mars, perhaps even terraform the entire planet - a tentative step towards sending people to the stars in the distant future. But it's hard to see these great things being accomplished by our current societies, flawed as they are with greedy, self-serving economic and political models, underpinned by utter dependence on hundreds of millions of year’s worth of 'free' solar energy in fossil fuel.
NASA itself seems to be a Cold War relic, as much as I applaud experiments like the Mars Rovers, Hubble, et al. The LHC and ISS show us how expensive and collaborative science is becoming, so maybe this is the model of global cooperation for future space exploration as well.
We will achieve great things in the future, but only once global society is much reformed, by necessity probably. Let's hope not too late.
How did we get here?
Let’s recap history. Civilisation was ‘invented’ in the Middle East, by the peoples of Mesopotamia (Iraq – so don’t start me on how wrong it is that George Bush has invaded this place) and perfected, if you will, in Egypt, Greece and Rome. Rome was not strong enough to survive (or perhaps her ambitions overcame her) thus Rome fell to the forces of Tribalism, and for a long time Tribalism dominated Europe and the Mediterranean, albeit in a long Machiavellian union with Religion. Civilisation clung on for a time in the Middle East (the Byzantines) and of course Asia had its own history that intersects with this ‘Western’ history from time to time, and still does.
In any case, in Europe tribes became Kingdoms, and Kingdoms became Nations. In the meantime Science largely usurped Religion, and begat the Industrial Revolution. This powerful union of Great Nations and Industry swept the globe, igniting competition for resources (Colonialism), the tension between the Great Nations eventually sparking the First World War.
Now, war until this time had been a largely sporting affair. I see the last century as one Great Conflict, the First and Second World Wars and the Cold War being its three main phases, the recent wars in the Persian Gulf perhaps its last. I don’t think the Great Nations intended to start such a devastating conflict (no sane man or woman could) rather they failed to appreciate that industrial war was quite a different beast to what had gone before. Hitherto the King could not afford to take his attention too long from the harvest lest he and his subjects starve, so the campaigning season was short and the havoc war could wreak, limited. Total War was something else, as the Captains of Industry learned to their horror too late, despite the warning that was the American Civil War.
This Great Conflict paused for a time as the Great Nations were exhausted by what they had wrought. Three great politico-economic systems evolved as the Great Nations struggled for survival: Capitalism, Fascism, and Communism (each with an undercurrent of racism, but that’s another story). Battle was rejoined in short order, as each system thought itself at mortal peril from the others. Fascism was defeated, but by now Industry and Science had given us The Bomb. Terrified, the forces of Capitalism and Communism raced for industrial and scientific domination until, again exhausted, Communism fell by the wayside. Thank God, no one had been insane enough to push the nuclear button (well, just the twice, sorry Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but you know what I mean). Capitalism had emerged triumphant astride the world. A so called ‘New World Order’ was upon us.
But now, to our horror, we have realized that unchecked Capitalism still threatens us all. This New World Order of Capitalism is a house of cards built on a free source of energy, hundreds of millions of years in the making that we will ‘consume’ in a matter of decades. Concepts of ‘capital’ and ‘property’ and ‘profit’ are flawed and unjust. The wealth of the world is distributed to a privileged and undeserving few while untold millions starve and want. Disaster and Revolution loom again. History teaches us that mankind is unable to control these global forces; that change will only come when it’s forced upon us by calamity and war.
This economic and political system we have inherited is a ******* child of nationalism and capitalism – L’enfant terrible victor of a devastating war of greed, the most devastating war ever inflicted upon mankind, by orders of magnitude. Given its pedigree could it ever take us to a future we would be proud of? It seems unlikely.
I think an urgent priority for mankind is to find a just and global, political and economic system of government. To my mind it would recall the great civilizations of the Mediterranean and must follow the evolution: from family, to tribe, to kingdom, to nation, to world. Knowledge and Science will be our salvation and the most urgent need is to develop a sustainable energy technology, be it nuclear fusion, hydrogen technology, or solar, or something entirely new like anti-matter. I can envision a magnificent global society with great senates, universities, hospitals, gymnasiums and libraries. It would need a great army (as I believe the military tradition is valid and honourable, and the first duty of the state, even a global one, is the security of its citizens – the genie of warfare is long out of the bottle by now and to be weak is to invite attack, ask the Romans) but this army would be a force for good in the world. I acknowledge that the civilisations I admire were largely built on slavery, which of course we all abhor, but machine intelligence and robotics have already taken that role for us to a large degree, and will continue to do so.
If we can build a society like this
, then I think we’ll deserve to travel to the stars.