November 14, 2010

A leftist reaction to the commercialization of space

Peter Dickins has penned a provocative article in the Monthly ReviewThe Humanization of the Cosmos—To What End? Dickins approaches the subject of space colonization from a decidedly leftist perspective, and is left wondering how the process can unfold without the exploitation of humans and the environment.
Society is increasingly humanizing the cosmos. Satellites have for some time been central to the flow of information, to surveillance, and to the conduct of warfare. As these examples suggest, however, the humanization of the cosmos is primarily benefiting the powerful. These include major economic and military institutions. Furthermore, the forthcoming commodification and colonization of the cosmos is again likely to enhance the interests of the powerful, the major aerospace companies in particular. The time has come to consider alternative forms of cosmic humanization. These would enhance the prospects of the socially marginalized. They would also allow humanity to develop a better understanding of the cosmos and our relationship to it.
Reading this article, I couldn't help but think that Marxist analyses are growing increasingly irrelevant and anachronistic. Dickins's piece, while well intentioned and thoughtful, seemed, well, just unsophisticated by modern standards. Read this and see what I mean:
The general point is that the vision of the Space Renaissance Initiative, with its prime focus on the power of the supposedly autonomous and inventive individual, systematically omits questions of social, economic, and military power. Similarly, the Initiative’s focus on the apparently universal benefits of space humanization ignores some obvious questions. What will ploughing large amounts of capital into outer space colonization really do for stopping the exploitation of people and resources back here on earth? The “solution” seems to be simultaneously exacerbating social problems while jetting away from them. Consumer-led industrial capitalism necessarily creates huge social divisions and increasing degradation of the environment. Why should a galactic capitalism do otherwise? The Space Renaissance Initiative argues that space-humanization is necessarily a good thing for the environment by introducing new space-based technologies such as massive arrays of solar panels. But such “solutions” are again imaginary. Cheap electricity is most likely to increase levels of production and consumption back on earth. Environmental degradation will be exacerbated rather than diminished by this technological fix.
A simplistic and idealistic view of history, technology, and human agency therefore underpins the starting point of the Space Renaissance Initiative. Humanization in this shape—one now finding favor in official government circles—raises all kinds of highly problematic issues for society and the environment. What would an alternative, more critical, perspective on humanizing the cosmos tell us?
Hmm, dunno about that. Economic determinism ain't what it used to be. Dickins isn't really accounting for other pressures that lead to to greener solutions in innovation. I wouldn't write off capitalism and free enterprise just quite yet in terms of its ability to address environmental or humanitarian concerns.

And then there's this:
Some influential commentators argue that the current problem for capitalism is that there is now no “outside.” Capitalism is everywhere. Similarly, resistance to capitalism is either everywhere or nowhere. But, as suggested above, the humanization of the cosmos seriously questions these assertions. New “spatial fixes” are due to be opened up in the cosmos, capitalism’s emergent outside. At first, these will include artificial fixes such as satellites, space stations, and space hotels. But during the next twenty years or so, existing outsides, such as the moon and Mars, will begin attracting investments. The stage would then be set for wars in outer space between nations and companies attempting to make their own cosmic “fixes.”
Again, I don't buy it. Modern wars are not caused by economic stressors, they're more the result of ideological differences. Looking ahead, I see a greater emphasis on the creation of positive sum arrangements and the drive towards more powerful sources of energy which will alleviate many of these concerns.

Read the entire article and see if you agree with me.


Gabriel Garcia Sagario said...

what is the problem with Marx?.
every economist in the world have re-read, if they did not before, as a result of the global economic crisis. the wolrd has changed enough to take marx as a great thinker, not only as a politician or reovutionary.

ZarPaulus said...

Wars are not caused by economic issues? Then why did I hear so many times that Bush invaded Iraq for it's oil?

Seriously, Saudi Arabia is where most of the 9/11 terrorists came from. We didn't invade them because they trade with us.

Duncan said...

"Then why did I hear so many times that Bush invaded Iraq for it's oil?"

Repeating something does not make it true.

By the way, I wanted Saddam Hussein and his brutal dictatorship to be removed, and it just so happened that the USA did it for me.

But anyway, Marxism already lost any reputation several decades ago, a time when I had discussions with my leftist fellow students. Most of them were never able to learn something knew, and still produce the same kind of blabbering several decades later.

Forget it!