Thursday, July 23, 2015

New Barrel, Same Monkeys

So, how 'bout that Kepler-452b? Sure is some sexy stellar spectroscopy. Yeah, baby, wobble that axis!

Seriously, though, before everyone (by which I mean my fellow nerds) gets all hot and bothered about finding possibly-habitable planets once more, let's remember the problem with Earth has never been old Gaia herself but the disgusting infestation of primitive naked apes sucking the life out of her. Assume some physicist manages to solve the light speed question or the whole world gets together to build seed-ships (fat chance; we'd rather choke on our own petroleum farts right here where we are.) Leaving aside the possibility of other species for the moment, try to actually think about how expanding our own crackpot species off-planet would actually play out. Even if we find some way to colonize another world, what would this new frontier produce?

Probably the finest speculation on such is provided by Kim Stanley Robinson in the Mars books, but while a complex and semi-plausible interplay of possibilities, that story was predicated on a false premise. Robinson's ersatz Martians are smart. Well, at least the first waves are. More specifically, the First Hundred are scientists, brilliant minds sent to study local conditions and solve the problems of habitability. Get that. They're not even militarily tortured and brainwashed into submission before being sent off. This results in a lot of creative intellects taking the reins (and reigns) of the colonization project, who are allowed unprecedented cultural fiat (for nerds) by virtue of their prestige as media figures. People actually follow them and not just, say, the guys with the guns. Hilarity ensues.

Forget it.

Never, ever, not in a million years, no way in Hel's rancid cloaca would the power-mad control freaks who rule this hive of mindless apes we call a sentient species, ever, ever, EVER allow such a scenario to play out. Any colonization efforts will be either military in the classic sense of the word or ruled by a megalomaniacal multitrillionnaire who fills half the crew with her own purpose-bred private army, amounting to the same thing. An interstellar colony would not be populated by the best and brightest, but by a few mid-intellect oligarchs and by the work force they deign to bring with them, a large clutter of rabble stupid enough to be easily controllable. Oh, sure, they'll bring along the gadgets and survival instructions provided by intellect, but the rich and powerful do not allow independent thought anywhere near them. They would never allow intelligence to taint or threaten their monarchic claim on new ground.

Even if by some miracle a few worthwhile minds snuck through the screening system or arose by chance, the new society would, without even any need for conspiratorial  repression methods, destroy such upstarts with brutal efficiency. An interstellar colony would represent a purer frontier society than any which have existed. Intelligence was originally an evolutionary adaptation, sure, but this only works up to the sort of animal cunning which lives only to destroy one's enemies. True intellect, the sort we know as scientists, artists and philosophers, is evolutionarily self-destructive. It breeds in the safety of civilization as a constant (and again, from the point of view of leaders, largely undesirable) accident or aberration, a maladaptive overshoot in evolutionary terms.

A frontier is not a civilization but an animal system, an evolutionary one, constantly pruning any extravagance which does not feed into the constant power struggle for limited resources. It breeds savage, murderous competitiveness and not creativity or inclusive progress. An interstellar colony would be isolated in a deeper sense than any frontier society before it, cut off from the influx of civilized settlers refreshing civilized sensibilities, from dangerous radical views like equality. It would be more controllable by the first to amass wealth and power than any social system before it, the sort of isolated adulation-farm that the likes of Charles Manson, Dick Cheney and Jim Jones can only dream of and drool over. Much as I hate to say it, any new colony would be a far cry from Robinson's ivory tower. It would likely start as a brutal dictatorship led by brainwashed military thugs but even if not, it would soon turn into the inevitable: North Korea.

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