We are in the age of a new space race where there is no longer competition between countries backed by their respective governments to get to space, but between multimillion dollar corporate businesses racing to “save humanity.”
On Monday, Feb. 27, the SUNY New Paltz philosophy department held a talk titled, “Heaven on Mars: Corporate Messianism and the NewSpace Race” given by Mary-Jane Rubenstein, a professor of religion and science in society at Wesleyan University. Initially set to be held in Science Hall, the talk was moved online due to the winter storm that had hit earlier this week.
Rubenstien’s presentation outlined how corporate billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have been looking to move humanity off of Earth and are looking for alternatives to the planet we live on.
Musk’s interest is moving humanity to Mars and to leave Earth entirely. Bezos is looking to the moon and to create colonies in between Earth and the moon to supplement humanity’s increasing population.
“When the Obama Administration released the 2011 budget for NASA, the end of the Space Shuttle Program and reallocated funds to the so called new space industry,” Rubenstein said. “‘It is time,’ Obama’s advisors had written, ‘to consider turning this transport service over to the commercial sector.’ To make rocket ships as mass produced as cars and buses and speed boats and airplanes.”
The philosophy that Rubenstein outlines here is messianism, as alluded to in the title of the talk. In the minds of these billionaires, they are trying to sacrifice themselves to be the “messiah” of the human race by moving off world.
Rubenstein, towards the end of her talk, discusses the philosophy behind the writing of author Ursula Le Guin, in her book “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” In the book, a utopian city exists, perfect in every way for every citizen except one child. The perfection of this city all depends on this one child’s suffering.
“They all know it is there, the narrator explains, all the people of Omelas, some of whom have come to see it. Others are content merely to know that it’s there,” Rubenstein said. “They all know that it has to be there, that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery.”
She equates the desire to leave Earth to colonize some other part of space to someone ignoring the suffering of the child and leaving Omelas. She says it does nothing to save humanity, all it does is prolong the inevitable self destruction of the human race under the greedy economic system that is in place. Rubenstein argues that it would be more impactful to stay on Earth and fix the issues that are contributing to the factors that cause these people to want to leave.
“Can you walk away from this hatred of Earth and its creatures? But where would we go? You might ask, given the global and now outer spatial reach of corporate capital, there’s no ‘away’ left, at least not one to which any of us has physical access,” Rubenstein said. “Where could we possibly go to live otherwise? And even if we could find such an elsewhere? What about that poor, naked, suffering child?”
“Heaven on Mars” was the first of two philosophy talks that the department will be hosting this semester. The second of which will be given by John Russon from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. His talk will be on the subject of time and will be given towards the end of the semester.