active maas

The blog of thriller writer Robert Maas

A space war is fine by me

One day, we’re going to regret that we didn’t throw every effort we could into the space program. Our ancestors may look back on us as the age in which we could have done something significant to safeguard their lives, and chose to do nothing.

Our most optimistic future involves us leaving this planet. The planet might not die tomorrow, or next year, but it will die. Earth is a precarious little bubble of air and water and we’re going to have to get at least part of our gene pool out of here before it pops.

Yes, this is the optimistic future! Because the alternative futures all involve us blowing each other to pieces or choking to death on the fumes or dying out from plagues and viruses or becoming overrun by totalitarian or religious fruitcakes who send us back to the stone age because god or the Great Leader looks after his own.

The space program is not only the most exciting endeavor of our age, it’s the most important.

Unfortunately, it’s been steadily neglected now the full scale of the undertaking has become apparent (the river of space is just so wide, and there are few stepping-stones across the way) and the regimes that no longer puff their chests at each other technologically have found other ways to spend their money.

So who’s going to move us forward? In my opinion, it has to be government. I’m not convinced by the little steps private enterprise has taken in the space adventure, for example the rather dubious idea of low Earth orbit space tourism. It’s proper scientists we should be sending into space, not rich tourists and their poodle-carrying wives.

Only government can achieve a lasting and systematic program of space research and exploration. Only government can solve, one by one, each of the daunting issues involved in getting people out there for good.

If the world-killer asteroid rolls in tomorrow, we won’t all be rushing to buy tickets on Virgin Galactic. Admittedly, a self-sufficient Mars Hilton would be useful, but I’m not holding my breath, and anyway it will take government money to pioneer all the technologies involved.

But which government? Who do we support?

Personally, I couldn’t be less interested in party politics. Politics is much like my choice of computer. For me, a computer is simply the tool I use to assimilate and manipulate information. It’s the window (no pun intended) through which I view my work. I like that window to be transparent.

That’s why I dislike using an Apple computer. Because Apple is so brand-fixated, it wants me to think “Apple” every moment I’m using it. It puts the tool in my face, rather than the work.

And boy, when I’m forced onto an Apple, do I yearn for the days of blank sheets of paper in a typewriter. (Naturally, if Apple had the monopoly on typewriters, every sheet of paper, of the special size that is all that will fit into the Apple typewriter, would have the Apple logo in the top corner and be watermarked throughout.)

Politics is just the same. I don’t care for party slogans or expensive logos or those ultra-bright grins the pretty boys and girls flash at me from the TV ads. I don’t care who they are and how important they think they are. Politicians are tools. You have to look through them, rather than at them.

And of course, looking at them is exactly what they want you to do. For a start, it diverts your attention. In the UK, famously, some politicians are considered unelectable not because of their policies, but because they’re bald.

The whole WWE pomp of political elections leaves me cold because, when you do strip away all the branding and personalization, it’s almost impossible to differentiate one party from another.

I’m proud of living in the free world. When it comes to the concept of supporting “least harm,” for myself and for my children, western democracy is the best bet. Though it’s flawed, and though it’s often corrupt, it is the only system that keeps open the possibility of change and reform, the only system that cannot be utterly perverted by the aims of dictators, or even by the agendas of big business.

The American model of capitalism is something else entirely. Obviously, capitalism doesn’t qualify under any definition of “least harm” you want to test it with. Capitalism means large numbers of losers for every winner. The more capitalist your country is, the more losers, and the more desperate their situation.

A poor majority that is systematically denied access to good nutrition, good healthcare, good education, and good employment – this is hardly a shining beacon of the benefits of capitalism. It gets worse when you realize that capitalism always involves wild fluctuations between prosperity and recession. It doesn’t even work reliably.

So now I’m a pinko dissident. Well, not exactly. The trouble is, I have no data whatsoever on which to base an opinion on whether or not socialism works any better.

There hasn’t been a single socialist country that has managed to conduct its experiment without outside interference.

It’s obvious why America targets socialist countries for sanctions, bombings, assassinations, and much else. Were any of these experiments actually to succeed, it would show others that there is a workable alternative to the capitalist model. And that, of course, is unthinkable.

This is unfortunate, because socialism is exactly what we need to get ourselves into space. (If you’ve been indoctrinated to hate and fear the word “socialism,” just substitute it with the phrase “big government.” Wait, you hate and fear that, too?)

Socialism is where a government takes over the running of essential services in order to administer them centrally, often as a means of providing a better and more egalitarian standard of living. At least in theory.

Even the staunchest capitalist country is socialist to a degree, in that it administers a military. (Many, of course, use a plethora of outside contractors and suppliers.) It is this socialized military in America that facilitated the swift development of the atom bomb in the 1940s and the hugely successful leap into space in the 1960s.

There is no way a private enterprise could have built the bomb or gotten man onto the moon in the same timescale, or at anything like the same cost. Besides, where’s the profit in it? And how many corners would need to be cut — something NASA knows only too well, in its dealings with lowest-bid contractors?

If you believe that your capitalist government isn’t aware of the benefits of socialism, consider what happens the moment there’s a war. During WW2, America brought under government control large parts of its economy, including (to a greater or lesser extent) its education, healthcare, farming, communications, and even parts of its manufacturing that were not directly involved in the war effort.

Why? Because centralized planning and control made these things more efficient, more cost-effective, and more responsive.

The same thing happens after major disasters like earthquakes and floods. It’s the government that steps in, rather than leave it to the corporations. They know they can do it faster, cheaper, and to a reliably and accountably higher standard. They don’t always get it right, but they do learn from their mistakes.

Basically, even America is capitalist by choice and socialist by necessity.

This article isn’t a defense of Marxism. I hope that’s obvious. But it does suggest that we need to get away from the fiction that private enterprise is going to save us when the sun explodes. We’re saved only by governments putting money (our money) into space.

For all it actually matters, they can do it through the military, as NASA does. I don’t care who plants the flags, or if they leap around the lunar craters with Kalashnikovs. I only care that they get us out there.

And that means, whoever and whatever you support politically, you should at least try to get them to promise to increase government funding of space programs – and to follow through on this pledge not just within the short timescale of a political incumbency, but year on year until the job is done.

Slow Wilhlem Exit-S

Robert Maas’s latest thriller Slow Wilhelm Exit is available to buy at Amazon at a fraction of the cost of a trip on Virgin Galactic.


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