This material is provided as a public service to support the student Space Settlement Contest. The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of NASA or any other government body.
SHARPENS Wendell Berry Angry *
"Spaceship Earth" comes home to roost * Driving or driven to Space? *
Satellite surveillance * Other Voices *
THE DEBATE SHARPENS
Wendell Berry Angry
April 27, 1976
Your promotion of the space colony idea is getting more and more irresponsible. Like O'Neill and Vajk, you begin with an air of critical reasonableness, and promptly resort to the glib logic of a salesman. None of you has yet foreseen a problem without at the same time foreseeing a more than adequate answer; indeed, as you represent it, a space colony will be nothing less than a magic machine that will automatically transmute little problems into big solutions. Like utopians before, you envision a clean break with all human precedent: history, heredity, character. Thanks to a grandiose technological scheme, nothing is going to happen from now on that is not going to improve everything; as you say, even if it fails, we will be much better off. You people are operating at about the cultural depth of an oil company public relations expert. All this prophetic-ethical computer-mysticism! What is wrong with it is that it is simply failing to make sense - unless, of course, one is looking at it as a sycophant of science, or from the point of view of a government agency or a corporation. That is exactly what worries me: that your coverage of this issue, whatever you mean it to do, will serve to recruit and train a company of intellectual yahoos to justify the next power-grab by the corporations and the government.
Your dismissal, out of hand, of so many people's objections and doubts - solicited by you - is an alarming display of smugness. It is also insulting. I thought I was being asked to take part in a debate on an issue that you felt to be debatable. I now sense, from the substance and tone of your various remarks in the spring issue, that I was asked to say something that you expected to be inconsiderable in support of what you had already determined would be the losing side.
As you might have expected, I hold this treatment in something less than esteem. Perhaps, I have said to myself, I should just leave my statement in the spring issue as my final words to The CoEvolution Quarterly, and say no more. The trouble is that those were not meant as parting words, and I think parting words should be offered and understood as such. Here, then, are some parting words. First, some objections to various statements in your editorial.
1. "Either knowledge," you say, meaning either the success or the failure of space colonization, "is a kind of growing up." This assumes that all knowledge is good - which, of course, is not true. It is especially not true of knowledge that depends on practical proof or demonstration. Most people, one hopes, would not consider themselves improved by having killed someone, though, having done so, they would know more about it than before. There is no culture I know of that has not held that good people must refuse to know some things.
2. "If we can learn to successfully manage large complex ecosystems in the Space Colonies, that sophistication could help reverse our destructive practices on Earth." Sophistication, like knowledge, is a subject power, is good or bad according to the use that is made of it. Generally speaking, the more technological sophistication we have attained, the more destructive we have become. I do not think you recognize any of the doubts that now must surround the argument that still more of such sophistication will make us less destructive. It is not sophistication that makes people behave responsibly, but generous purpose and moral restrain. Peasants in Japan 4,000 years ago had these competences of character - and had a technology appropriate to them. This was a kind of sophistication, I think, though very different from the kind you are talking about. It was not inherent in their technical expertise, but in their willingness to live within strict moral-ecological limits. They did not waste anything. There have been other cultures that have had something of this sophistication. Some people in our own culture have something of it now. If such undestructiveness is so clearly possible on earth, by what logic shall we look for it in outer space? How can we expect to discover it by extravagance when its first principle is thrift?
3. You say that what the space colonists consume or destroy outside Earth's atmosphere will be "taken from no one else. They are out of the Earthly 'zero sum game' where one group's gain is another's loss." But do we not live in a universe? Is there no ecology of the heavens? You sound like Columbus taking "possession" of the Indies. I think you are only serving up again in space-jargon the ancient fallacy that we are somehow licensed to misbehave when we are away from home.
4. "The experiment of space colonies endangers only the experimenters." Not so. This continues your deliberate evasion of the fact that this project calls for more government and more government spending. Who do you think is going to pay the bill? And do you think people become more free by having their taxes increased? And what is the military potential of a space colony?
5. "People want to go not because it may be nicer than they have on Earth but because it will be harder." This is essentially a warmed-over Marine Corps recruitment advertisment - the same irresponsible promise, appealing to the sad fantasy: "If I could just get out of this nowhere place I could be a real man. I could show em." Let me point out to you, Stewart, that we have not yet, in this country, faced the hardship of the earth. As a people we lack the disciplines either of character or method to live here without destruction. If some of your would-be space recruits want to be sure-enough heroes, let them encapsulate themselves on a strip mine bench and try to make it fit for life by 1990. Let them "extend the biosphere" to the man-made deserts.
6. Space colonization, you say "employs the same nations, the same engineers, manufacturers, contractors, etc." as the arms race. Exactly. And this makes it certain that the worst characteristics of this society will survive in space colonization. The assumption I am arguing from is that you cannot escape character; you can only change it by changing its understanding of its limits. The arms race mentality is exactly the sort that would most like to re-enfranchise itself by opening "infinite" sources of energy and materials in space. That supposed infinity will be a perfect greenhouse for bad character; look at what mere abundance has already produced. Good character requires the disciplines of finitude.
7. "The Arms Race is a big bore." I have no understanding at all of your willingness to be responsible for this statement. Is space colonization, then, to be a kind of governmental entertainment for those who are bored with war? "To us," said D. H. Lawrence, "heaven switches on daylight, or turns on the shower-bath. We little gods are gods of the machine only. It is our highest. Our cosmos is a great engine. And we die of ennui. A subtle dragon stings us in the midst of plenty."
8. "I guess I expect that there will be much more public participation in Space Colonies than there has been in the Space Program so far. Debate such as in this issue." Why has there not been more public participation so far? What reason is there to expect an increase? And what is the force of public debate in the face of the economic and political power of the engineers, manufacturers, and contractors you were talking about? As you may remember, we carried on a protracted debate with those people during the Vietnam War. They stopped somewhat short of having us over for supper.
9. "Now is the time for NASA to encourage people besides engineers to get into the act. The program needs administrators who are not afraid of excellent artists . . ." The fundamental totalitarian impulse is to officialize excellence. We already have far too little free science because most scientists are busy "applying" science for the corporations or the government, which are therefore not afraid of excellent scientists. Almost any conservation fight will reveal very quickly whose hand most of the excellent scientists are eating out of. Now you would like to see excellent artists applying art for NASA. I hope the excellent artists will have the decency to remain a little hungry. Excellence in art, and in science too, requires enough independence so that one can afford to tell the truth. Economic dependence makes excellence servile. The government's prophet is always a liar.
I think you have wandered into a trap - one that is crowded with so many glamorous captives that you think it is some kind of escape. The trap is that a technological "solution" on the scale of this one is bound to create a whole set of new problems, ramifying ahead of foresight. Here is a pertinent quote from Mr. Vajk, whose essay you offer with evident approval:
"The popular wisdom currently holds that purely technological fixes are 'bad' because each technological 'solution' creates five new and different problems. But the reverse side of the coin is surely just as valid: purely societal fixes are also 'bad' because each societal 'solutions creates five new and different problems!
"What it is important to recognize here is that it is not relevant whether a 'fix' is societal or technological; what matters is whether or not the consequences of any proposed program have been carefully thought out, and that steps be taken to forestall or minimize any adverse effects on the system and its parts."
Mr. Vajk apparently does not recognize that he is talking about a condemnation peculiar to his kind of "scientific" mind. It is a condemnation in two ways: (1) It would commit us to a policy of technological "progress" as a perpetual bargaining against "adverse effects." (2) It would make us perpetually dependent on the "scientific" foretelling and control of such effects - something that never has worked adequately, and that there is no good reason to believe ever will work adequately. The fact is that when you overthrow the healthful balance of the relationships within a system - biological, political, or otherwise - you start a ramifying sequence of problems (Mr. Vajk's "five" is a figure of speech) that is not subject to prediction, and that can be controlled only by the restoration of balance. If we elect to live by such disruptions then we must resign ourselves to a life of desperate (and risky) solutions: the alternation of crisis and "breakthrough" described by E. F. Schumacher.
To say that we can only choose between purely technological solutions and purely societal solutions is a gross oversimplification, and probably a gross deception as well. To begin with, the distinction itself is counterfeit: it is impossible to differentiate between a society and its technology; there is a mutuality of causation and influence that I do not believe can be convincingly picked apart. All that can be served by this distinction is the self-esteem of a specialist who, for moral convenience, wishes to ignore the social consequences of mechanical "solutions."
Solutions that are only technological or only social or only both are necessarily accompanied by adverse effects because even both together fail to provide an adequate context or standard of behavior. Mr. Vaik's false distinction between technology and society rests upon another, implicit distinction that is equally false: he supposes that the human considerations of technology and society can somehow be separated from all of creation that is not human: plants, animals, soils, waters, climates, regions, continents, the world, the universe. The universe of systems within systems survives because it is healthy, it is in balance. Humans survive within it because - only because - they are, so far, more healthy than not. When the whole is considered, then it becomes possible to conceive of solutions of which the standard is not technological and/or social (wealth, power, comfort) but ecological or organic (health). When health or wholeness (not cure) is the standard, then solutions do not create problems.
I doubt that either of those terms (ecological or organic) is definitive; I use them for want of a better term. I can better define what I mean by an example: The flush toilet is a social-technological solution to a problem: How to get rid of excrement inoffensively. This solution immediately creates two problems (soil depletion and water pollution) which call for solutions (agricultural chemicals and sewage treatment plants) which create many other problems which call for more solutions which create even more problems, and so on and on. I doubt seriously that Mr. Vajk, if he had the national budget at his disposal, could accurately trace out and forestall or minimize the adverse effects of the flush toilet, much less those of space colonization.
By contrast, we have here on our farm an outdoor toilet with a concrete-block chamber underneath, in which, by the addition of sawdust and some effort and care, we compost the excrement of our household and make it fit to return to the soil. We do not do this, the Lord knows, because we want to be wealthy, powerful, and comfortable, but because we want to be healthy, and we know that we cannot be healthy if our soil is unhealthy. It is an ecological or organic solution. It was not prescribed to us by technology or society, but by a need more comprehensive than both. It is less dependent upon a device than upon an understanding and a discipline. And it does not cause a ramifying series of problems - or of problems and solutions madly leapfrogging over the top of each other. It is a solution that causes a ramifying series of solutions. It withholds contaminants from the water, it enriches the ground, it calls for forethought, moral responsibility, physical exertion - and from those solutions other solutions follow. It begins a process of healing, and healing does not cause a problem; it only incidentally causes a "cure." Healing can properly end only when we are whole, when health joins us to the universe. The whole is a great concordance of solutions.
Such solutions, I think, come from the understanding and acceptance of limits. I do not think they can come from dependence on any kind of quantity to which there is "no perceptible or theoretical end."
But that is enough of picking at details. Let me see if I can give you a more concise statement of my objection. It is this: your thinking (and that of O'Neill, Vajk and Co.) on this matter is demonstrably superficial, and its superficiality slides over a political alignment that I find both morally repugnant and personally threatening. The fact is that you cannot advocate space colonization without implicitly advocating an enlargement of governmental power and the enlargement and enrichment of the corporations. As you are bound to be aware, this project will not be carried out in place of or at the expense of any other government project. It will be added to a budget that is already oppressive. The people will have to pay for it - which is to say that the people of moderate and low income will have to pay for it.
To point the issue more exactly, you are proposing to increase the tax burdens of those of your readers who are struggling to implement in craft shops, in communes, and on small farms ideas and hopes that you have supported. These are marginal enterprises, already threatened with being taxed and priced out of existence. In practical terms, your advocacy of space colonization amounts to a betrayal of these modest settlements of the earth. That is why I intend these to be parting words.
That, and disappointment. Since 1968 I have followed what you did with what, to me, has been a satisfying interest and friendliness - not to mention a steadily growing sense of indebtedness and gratitude. But now you have set yourself up as what I can only look on as a political enemy - not because we do not agree, but because you have now made it plain that you are willing to coerce my support of an undertaking with which I disagree: though you offer me room in your magazine to object, you are nevertheless willing to turn my tax money and my citizenship against me. I cannot be tolerant of that. I am not going to associate myself or my work with coercion.
P.S. I shall consider this an open letter. You can publish it or not, as you wish. But I intend to send copies to interested persons. And I will probably publish it in some form - whole or in part - somewhere, sooner or later.
1 May, 1976
You know of the admiration and affection I have for you. That is not diminished by your remarks about Space Colonies, but increased. Of all the 76 pages on the subject in the Spring '76 CQ the statement I most often quote is your, "Humans are destructive in proportion to their supposition of abundance; if they are faced with an infinite abundance, then they will become infinitely destructive." I said it last week to the Deputy Administrator of NASA along with other misgivings having to do with satellite surveillance.
I'm no astronaut, Wendell, I'm an editor. My function is to raise questions, and shortly after I lucked onto the subject of Space Colonies I realized that they raise a tangle of questions so fundamental as to leave no one uncleaned. They raise doubts, enthusiasms, and passions the like of which I have not seen since I gave $20,000 to an audience of 1500 people to argue over.
Irresponsible? I did not put money or Space technology into this world. They push us around to the exact degree that we ignore them (rise above them). For me responsibility requires that we wade in and see what we really want. Governor Brown has convinced me that there is such a thing as "political truth'' and that it is arrived at only by a sustained (trusting) personal dialectic until everyone involved realizes they share a common humanity and participation with life, in whose perspective lives resolution.
I cannot anticipate that resolution, Wendell, ever. Evolution (especially co-evolution) defies prediction. Or control. Or even categorical understanding.
Recently I heard Space Colonies scolded by Elise Boulding as a typical male project. My notion of responsibility required that I mention to her Margaret Mead's 25-year support of Space Colonies, my mother's early and undiminished enthusiasm, and someone you know who probably had more influence on me than any one on this subject. That was Lois Jennings, Ottawa Indian and my wife for six years. When we were courting in the Nation's Capitol she expressed disappointment over one of the early Vanguard satellite misfirings. "I didn't know you were interested in that," I said. What she replied was, ''Every one of those shots gets us closer to home."
Home to the tribe? To Washington, D.C.? To a certain star. Or the stars? She never said.
To reply to your main concern (Gary Snyder shares it; so do I, less fervently): as near as I can tell, a large centralized government has been sufficient for a Space program, but it is not necessary. The next big project, Spacelab, is being designed and constructed wholly outside the U.S. by a consortium of European nations. Would you favor a world of proliferating smaller governments and occasional major collaborative enterprises such as ocean farming and Space exploration? I would.
I think that nuclear energy can be stopped, Wendell, and should be. I don't think Space exploration can be stopped, but it might be made wiser. I may be wrong about that I agree with you that a society can loot or it can learn, but not both. I would like to see us learn in Space, as well as here. If we find they're mutually exclusive, then preferably here Let us carefully watch the incremental steps in to Space. It is a new natural history, and natural history, says Bateson, is the correction for piety - including yours, mine and NASA's.
I believe that The CoEvolution Quarterly is useful to the extent that it is impious and acutely observing and a forum. That's why I value your voice in the magazine. Please don't withdraw it.
I value you, in any case.
P.S. For what it's worth, the mail and personal communication indicate that the Spring CQ raised far more misgivings than faiths among the readership about Space Colonies. (I'm glad about that) Don't quit while you're ahead. Besides, we've other fish to fry.
May 8, 1976
I have felt your friendship, and valued it, and returned it. For me, that greatly increases the burden of this argument. I fear, as I fear nothing else, these great projects - all of them - with their accompanying shifts of continental blocks of wealth and their millions of little coercions and oppressions (It doesn't make any difference who does them; they can't be done without extremely dangerous concentrations of wealth and power.) I have feared them, I think, as long as I have been conscious of them, and in the last ten or twelve years I have spent a lot of energy opposing some of them. The Space Colony proposal, unlike the others, involves a very complicating personal difficulty: it comes wearing the face of a friend. My response to the public issues involved has been constantly troubled by the question of what such an undertaking will do to friendship. For what we are disagreeing about is not how we will run our own lives, but how much power some people may be permitted to have over other people.
This is not an argument that I can enjoy very much, because the personal stakes are too high. I don't want to be unfriendly to you or to be estranged from The CoEvolution Quarterly. But I called my previous letter "parting words" because I wanted you to make no mistake about the intensity of my opposition. This is no academic debate. It's not the sort of disagreement that the two sides can resolve in a handshake and "still be friends." I can see it as nothing less than the most audacious scheme so far in the struggle to abolish all small solutions.
But I'm grateful for your letter. I can't overlook its generosity, and I respect your willingness to speak directly to a critic. I therefore venture these further words:
1. I agree that your "function is to raise questions." My complaint is that you have not been raising enough of them, or respecting enough the questions raised by others. I think you have been functioning more as an advocate than as an editor. If you want to be convincing as a question-raiser you will have to quit giving so many one-sided answers.
2. For me, responsibility does not require "that we wade in and see." It requires that we see very clearly before we wade in.
3. To say that "Evolution (especially co-evolution) defies . . . control" is to abandon the whole issue of responsibility. It is to say that anything we can do we must do. I wonder if you really mean this. Again, you have bewildered me.
4. It has never occurred to me that I should be against space colonization only if it can be stopped. I shall be against it even if it can't be stopped.
If The CoEvolution Quarterly can be run as a forum for this debate rather than as a mouth-piece for the "winning" side, then this parting can be mended. I hope very much that you and I will have other fish to fry. But it's hard to have an appetite for fish when you've already got a bone stuck in your throat.
P.S. if you want to reply to this, feel free.
11 May, 1976
Thanks to your response I do feel free. And I invite you to help me inspect the question of freedom and control. I am feeling and thinking and learning increasingly two ways about it as I hear the messages of geographer Carl Sauer and even the most environmentally beneficial activities of NASA. The more we know the more we control. According to Sauer no acre of Earth is unaffected by "the agency of man" - especially the places we have tried to protect. Cultural now and increasingly dominates biological. Recendy something has been added to cultural which is the product of intellect-technology in its full range of exquisite to brutal.
Maybe our function is to help maintain the best of biological wisdom and the best of cultural wisdom, and continually sort the exquisite from the brutal technology. The major criterion, I suppose, is balance. Where does freedom enter in all those controlling choices? Maybe through Heinz Von Foerster's guideline - choose the path that leaves the most choices open.
Does that include paths that open new choices - like Space?
"Spaceship Earth" comes home to roost
The U.S. Space Program is rapidly headed for moral and ethical problems it may not be equipped to handle. With the advent of the Space Shuttle in the early 1980's and the ability to construct very large antennas in near-Earth orbit, the resolution of visibility of the Earth from Space will jump several orders of magnitude. The traffic of communications via satellite will do the same. But what's important is, the kind of visibility and communications will change.
I think I'd best tell this story in the order it came to me from Jesco Von Puttkamer, the person at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration responsible for long-range planning. I had just completed the interview with Jacques Cousteau and NASA Deputy Administrator George Low which appears on p. 98 when astronaut Rusty Schweickart said he had another appointment for me, with Jesco. The nature of planning at NASA was improving, he said, and Jesco was in the middle of that change.
Sure enough, in quick outline Von Puttkamer showed me how the customary ''extrapolative'' planning - figuring your future needs from your present and recent capabilities - was being expanded to include "normative" planning - where you envision distant future goals and then work backward to see what is needed to get there.
The problem with normative planning, he explained, is that you need consensus on which distant goals everybody wants. And that's usually impossible to get. So what Jesco did was put down a list of all the interesting distant visions and then see what intermediate steps they all have in common. That's a bright move, because now you can work toward the intermediate projects without having to decide yet about the long-range stuff. Posterity can work that out as it goes, its freedom to choose preserved.
Also you can see your way around some potential blind alleys that extrapolative planning (he also called it "evolutionary") can get you into. NASA administrators had been planning to build Space Tugs following the Shuttle. After a searching look at Jesco's "relevance tree" they agreed that Space Stations - orbiting construction camps - are the real primary need to get to any of the interesting projects, since they all have to be assembled in orbit.
Von Puttkamer's normative planning working backward from all the possible early 21st century space projects. For any of them a space station (construction camp) is needed soon.
The correct term for that next step, Jesco felt, is ''space industrialization."
I asked how NASA's long-range planning relates to science fiction. Jesco said that he used to write science fiction to pay his way through school. So did Werner Von Braun. "Arthur Clarke was here just the other day. He drops in maybe twice a year. He gets new ideas from here, and we try out our ideas on him. After all he was the inventor of the communications satellite, the synchronous satellite.
"He was interested in some of the new communication initiatives we have in mind - large antennas from 150 feet up to a mile in length. It turns out that with an antenna of that size - taking all the complicated and expensive machinery and technology and putting it in space only once, and relegating the low-cost terminals to Earth use - you can build person-to-person communication. You end up with something like Dick Tracy wristwatches. Just one 150 ft antenna could have 25,000 channels and could serve millions of people.
"The same would apply to navigation. If you have a two-mile cross antenna in Space, you can have two wide beams going over the United States regularly. If you are down on the ground with a little wrist band receiver all you need to do is push a button and as the beams come over you, at the intersection the radio shows you exactly where you are. It can even tell you in what direction and how fast you're moving. You can measure your location to an accuracy of 100 feet, and the whole little system doesn't cost more than $10.
"We have even looked at building large structures to illuminate parts of the Earth with light from space. You can get ten times the intensity of the full moon by having maybe 50 mirrors floating out there. You can save electricity on the ground. You can reduce crime in certain areas by making it bright enough. You could facilitate around-the-clock construction. There are even now investigations going on whether crop-growth can be increased by having illumination from Space.
"If you want to find out how many people are getting across a frontier - maybe between the United States and Mexico, or some other country - you can put a million or so low-cost vibration-sensors into the ground. One big satellite receives the output from these sensors, and a central control station can then immediately see whether anyone has been moving around. So you can have better security. ''Or package location. Using one two-mile cross antenna you can locate packages all across the United States on a central control board. Ten billion packages tracked, each located to 100 feet every hour.''
He went on. Vastly improved air traffic control. Sophisticated radar imaging available to every boat near a coast. The complete replacement of the post office by instant hard copy transmission via satellite. The tagging and tracking of all nuclear fuel, to prevent theft and blackmail.
|BORDER SURVEILLANCE SYSTEM||5000 ft. X 10 ft. Antenna|
|COASTAL PASSIVE RADAR||10 N MI. Crossed Antenna|
|ASTRONOMICAL TELESCOPE||800 ft. Cross|
|ATMOSPHERIC TEMP. PROFILE SOUNDER||10 ft. dia.Antenna|
|VOTING/POLLING SYSTEM||150 ft. dia.Antenna|
|NATIONAL INFORMATION SYSTEM||150 ft. dia. Antenna|
|PERSONAL COMMUNICATIONS||150 ft. dia. Antenna|
|NUCLEAR ENERGY PLANT IN SPACE||3600 ft. Antenna|
|ENERGY GENRATION PLANT (RTG)||To Be Determined|
|ENERGY GENERATION-SOLAR/MICROWAVE||7.3 X 2.6 N. Mi.|
|AIRCRAFT BEAM POWERING||15 ft. dia. Mirrors (169 total)|
|CITY NIGHT ILLUMINATION||300 ft. dia. Mirrors (100 total)|
|NIGHT SEARCHLIGHT-LASER||(To Be Determined)|
|VEHICLE SPEED CONTROL||120 ft. dia. Antenna|
|ELECTRONIC MAIL TRANSMISSION||150 ft. dia. Antenna|
|URBAN POLICE WRIST RADIO (2 WAY)||150 ft. dia. Antenna|
Listening to the lengthening list I found myself dealing with a case of the horrors. My outlaw nomad was yelling from his hill - no, no fair, too much power to the cops! If there is no place to hide, there is no place to really invent. The Earth one big hydroponic garden? Let me out of here.
I had to flee anyway, to get back to a scheduled lunch with Low, Cousteau, and Schweickart. Over my potato chips and jello I voiced my fears to them. All of that satellite monitoring, I said. With that much information goes too much control. Who is worried about that, who is thinking about limiting it? Who is concerned about protecting privacy or freedom?
Jacques Cousteau said, "If you are doing something that will hurt your neighbor, it should be known. If you have syphilis I think you should wear a sign, I have syphilis " I said [sentence deleted]. It was against the law. Are you telling me I should have worn a sign? A lot of inventiveness would have been stopped by that. Too much information, too much control, too much order stops inventiveness. Anything that's newly right starts out by being 'wrong'. "
While Schweickart took my side and Low tried to mediate, I privately tried on Cousteau's view. Maybe we do have to become that intimate. God knows the present system I was defending seems hell-bent for disaster. How would it feel knowing everything going on and making new moves only by agreement? Might be a comfort and a wisdom.
The argument was not resolved then. Or, yet for me. I condone to admire Cousteau and support NASA. I read with pleasure in National Fisherman that the new 200 mile limit will be policed by satellite - at last better protection for the fish and fairplay on the seas.
But who polices the policemen? If technology can have normative planning, how about ethical philosophy? We know what's coming. We don't have to wait for the excesses to occur, such as they already have in the trespasses of computer records Retroactive regulation is harder. Robots aren't here yet, but Isaac Asimov admirably anticipated them years ago with the now-famous Three Laws of Robotics:
Wait, robots are here. The damned "smart'' bombs of Vietnam violate the First Law. It is time to legislate the devices of war.
The Congressional vote against the SST, the public vote in California about nuclear energy, the agitation about computer records, the self curtailment of chromosome surgery-effective debate has come to technology to stay. NASA is no exception.
But I'm not sure exactly what it is must be preserved from NASA, and what are the specific threats. Marshall McLuhan observed, ''Since Sputnik there is no Nature. Nature is an item contained in a man-made environment of satellites and information.'' (Culture is Our Business, 1970). And, as reader Ferguson Johnson reminded us, William Burroughs wrote in 1959 (Naked Lunch), "Americans have a special horror of giving up control, of letting things happen in their own way without interference. [Sentence deleted]
Wild freedom, trees falling in the wilderness unheard, the unimpeded health of ecosystems - that's our banner. But I wonder if it's already long gone, like the Earth-centered solar system or the seven days of creation.
Maybe the image of wild freedom is true even if the fact no longer is, and wisdom can still be based upon it.
Nightime illumination of crops from Space? Filterproof policing of borders? I thought that the end of our last issue on Space Colonies that our involvement in debate about NASA was over for a while. It's just begun. Address your comments to CQ Box 428, Sausalito, CA 94965.
Driving or driven to Space?
Glad to see your fair interview with me in the Summer CQ. I particularly value your concern about moral and ethical problems as may be introduced by the new initiatives offered by space, made possible by economic transportation to and from Earth orbit and our emerging capability to emplace and service large and complex facilities (tools) in the unique space environment. Those new "Public Service Systems" which I touched upon in the interview are no more than unconstrained ideas at this time; undoubtedly there would have to be regulatory control on what their capabilities are used for, but on the other hand their potential benefits to mankind appear truly immense.
I share your concern, and I welcome a debate in CQ, of the rather unprecedented humanistic aspects of what promises to become a most fascinating new frontier, a new era in space. You would contribute a good deal to what I feel is the most urgent need: the "humanizing" of the Space Program. In reading Wendell Berry's anguished letter against space colonies, I cannot help getting the feeling that some misunderstanding regarding NASA's proposals for the next steps in space may be involved here. A Space Colony Program is not proposed. I would probably share at least some of his concerns if indeed the advocacy of space colonies were that solidly founded and unquestioned as some of the advocates want us to believe. There are snake-oil salesmen at this new frontier just as they were in the old West. Space colonies may indeed be in our future - let coming generations decide on that - but so may many other "visions" people are dreaming about. Let us keep our options open at this time where we are but at the threshold of new frontiers, and let us plan our next steps to be responsive to mankind's near-term needs and wants while building a solid foundation of ethical responsibility and technological capability from which an open, choiceful long-term future (or futures) becomes accessible. That alone, in my opinion, provides validity to the Space Program.
By doing this one step at a time where each stepping-stone is of practical benefit to man's contemporary needs, the Space Program will pay its own way over and over again. It is a fact that the pursuit of space goals generates innovations in virtually all fields of science and technology, and therefore helps stimulate progress in areas not even remotely connected to the original program. Such high-technology endeavors are strongly anti-inflationary; they result in significant rates of social return out of all proportions to their cost. From secondary applications of space technology alone, each new dollar invested annually on space research and development would presently return $23 over a 10-year period, - that's more than 40% return-on-investment annually over 10 years. How much more can we gain by actually designing the "stepping-stones" to the long-range dreams primarily for near-term Earth-benefitting use! This is what, in your interview, I called "Space Industrialization," a progressive program to provide permanent, practical and commercial utilization tools of space through products and services that create - in the long run - new values, jobs, and better quality of life for all mankind instead of just for a measly 10,000 living in some space colony. Its funding would gradually shift from the public to the private sector as risks are lowered enough to become acceptable to private industrial entrepreneurs. This does not preclude, but in fact validates, the option that Space Industrialization may grow by natural force into Space Colonization.
What do I mean with "natural force"? Let me speculate.
When some life form stands at the limit of its further development, it receives "instinctive" properties from nature that enable it to surpass these limits. Eternities ago certain types of fish gained the ability to go up on the land and turn into life forms capable of spreading out over the continents. Long, long afterward man came and in time gained the ability to build ships and emigrate to new land areas. Life is something that grows constantly, expands in all directions, wants to fill voids and bring order to chaos. The pressure of life forces life forms further. We are experiencing this today on a different scale. Today we are building space ships And we have made the first journeys to another world. Will there then be large-scale emigration from Earth in the distant future?
Yes, undoubtedly. Pressure in that direction will increase, and our capabilities for emigration will also increase. The only risk would be that nature's experiment with man might not succeed. Nature has made mistakes before, created forms that have been unable to survive. The dinosaurs may be an example. Man with his desire for knowledge, with his critical brain, with his self-awareness, is also an experiment that might be a dead end.
Things could go downhill if we begin to doubt ourselves, if we allow developments that are basically instinctive to come to a halt because we do not find any meaning in them. Our civilization could begin to rot from within. In that case nature will make new experiments with other forms, but probably not on Earth, it may be too late for that. But we can hope that we will fulfill nature's demands.
Are we driving - or driven?
Many years ago, when I entered the space program with tremendous idealism, I used to see this power of nature to spread life as something of a religion-a matter of faith rather than provable evidence. Since it is a driving force upward toward higher goals and higher meaning, some people call this power God but that is an expression which came into existence because of the deficiencies of other explanations. I used to be unable to comprehend that anyone would question the validity of our thrust into the unknown. Today, I'm still no closer to a better understanding. All I see is the experts warning us of population explosion, resources depletion and "limits to growth," and at virtually the same instant in eternity, we have begun to venture into space . . . confound it! That can't be just coincidence!
I appreciate your concern about the questions of moral and ethics, Stewart, but I'm confident that our maturity will be commensurate to their challenges by the time we're there. I appreciate Wendell Berry's outcry, but I submit that the finitude he sees as basic requirements for a good character is a matter of individual viewpoint. It is relative. Man will always carry the disciplines of finitude with him/her, even into the far reaches of space, for it is precisely in the confrontation with the infinity of space that the realization of his own finitude will be thrust upon him.
With warmest regards,
Jesco von Puttkamer
Advanced Programs, office of Space Flight
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
The vast communications network that ticks off the passage of one person or coyote across a border, that can spot a field of marijuana in a Mexican mountain valley from 40 miles up that can pick up a conversation whispered 10 blocks away - this network is a police construct. The information, after all, does not come back to you and me. It goes to Authority Central, where it is processed to make sure all movement is in conformance with The Law, which the police powers are authorized to uphold.
The question becomes: How much effort and money are we, as a society, willing to put into the perfection of the police function? Do we really want a border patrol that nabs every desperate farm hand, coke runner and laetrile dealer? Is such perfection desirable? Will it be worth the effort? . . .
If we assume that the earth is in the middle of a process of self-discovery, using the human consciousness (among others) to understand that it is a planet hanging in curved space then this desire to know "every sparrow that falls" via electronic CNS extensions becomes natural. To take an evolutionary, deep-seated desire for knowing, which can deliver to the earth's total consciousness a sense of place and meaning, and give it over in its full power to police mentalities and authorities of whatever stripe, is to abuse it woefully. In other words, telemetry used to monitor manifestations of biological change (". . . emergence of daphnia in stagnant water in Quebec Province within the past two weeks has resulted in the largest sunfish fry count in history. . .") can lead to earth's improved self-understanding, or used to enforce some dimwit law can lead to increased authoritarianism. Humans are, finally, the bits of earth that leap up from the planet's surface, look around, tell what they see to each other, and die. The sum total of all this seeing and telling is the story of one planet waking up to itself....
The voices of those who would give our best telemetry to the bug scientists and big-dreamers are crushed under the magnitude of police communications. This is a cop world (as any evening of network television demonstrates so convincingly). But it won't be a cop world for long.
I personally am going to stop it. Cops are going back to loitering on streetcorners waiting to see a crime happen. Our ability to monitor everything is going to be given to scientists who have learned to use intuition, and so have developed a heart that feels for the earth. We will listen, not for the outlaw (who is only wresting himself or herself free) but for the cougar, so we will know how better to avoid it and leave it to its hunting. I personally will bring this about. I don't know how.
Jeff Cox organic
. . . As to cities in space - I recant. Earlier on, I sent you a note stating my enthusiasm for O'Neill's space colonies. Since then I've read just about everything on the subject, and have been on O'Neill's newsletter list. I no longer think they are such a great idea.... I feel that the colonies will come out looking like the image in Slater's Earthwalk. [sentence deleted]
. . . On a space colony we can start nice and clean and fresh and engineer it right. How nice to "build in" recycling from the start, and not have room to accumulate crappy consumer junk. How nice to emphasize elegance and esthetics and bring about a resurgence in craftsmanship, personal creativity fulfillment, and a true change in consciousness. I almost hate to point out that me and most of my neighbors are doing our damndest to live like that right now on this planet, and succeeding pretty well. Doesn't cost the taxpayers 100 billion either....
Gerald E. Myers
. . . For me, Life's purpose is to become increasingly aware of itself and to evolve into increasingly hostile environments (sea->land->air->space)....
Roger C. Girouard
. . . Imagine the artistic and intellectual implications of living in an architectural space where "down" can be seen to be in three different directions at once! . . .
Thomas S. Cooper
Albany, New York
. . . the whole idea of space colonies is making my brain itch . .
Brooklyn, New York
. . The industries most likely to be used - metallurgy, electronics, etc. - are high capital, high technology, they don't employ many people. So why. build a large expense colony? Cheaper to rotate your work crew every 3 - 6 months. That's what they do down here in places like Antartica. Nobody I know has proposed a self-contained colony there....
Hope, British Columbia, Canada
. . while Earth (Gaia) can still teach us much about meaning and purpose and rhythm, I think geocentric life ultimately will pale in comparison to the life among the stars. It's a gut feeling. And perhaps, there in the spaces between galaxies, will come the purest wisdom.
Point Pleasant, Pennsylvania
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