There is something paradoxical in the fact that scientific elites often dream of finding technical “fixes” to crises and catastrophes of the present in the proclaimed effort to achieve a “better future”. Such technical “fixes” may indeed improve some human living conditions for the better, and even alter social behavior to a certain extent, but they rarely “fix” the deeper issues that led to those problems in the first place.
In the present global crisis, in the midst of a global pandemic, the dream to “plant” a colony on Mars is being touted as a technical “fix” to somehow construct a “better” future…
As Elon Musk put it: “You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great - and that's what being a spacefaring civilization is all about. It's about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past.”
Death by electricity
One technical “fix” that was supposed to lead a better future that I discussed in a previous WSI article is the invention of the electric chair. At the time, many reformers considered electrocution to be a “civilized” way of carrying out the death penalty.
Yet the electric chair was in no way “civilized” and it did absolutely nothing to deter crime or, more importantly, to resolve the problems that can lead people to commit crimes that ostensibly warrant the death penalty in the first place.
The fact of the matter is that hanging, the chopping block, and the guillotine, were all more efficient, more “ecological”—and much cheaper!—than the electric chair. Nevertheless, the inventors of electricity just had to apply their new-found toy to create “Ol’ Sparky…”. Better ways to sell electricity were all in the name of a “better future”. Tasers too…
War of currents
But how does the electric chair relate to spacefaring to Mars?
Because the inventor of Alternating Current (AC) was Elon Musk’s second-place hero, Nikola Tesla. And, of course, electricity is key to Mr. Musk’s battery-powered dream car, the Tesla (a name for which Mr. Musk had to purchase the rights for better sales!).
One of the first ways in which electricity was touted to the world was to show how handy it was in grilling animals and humans in the great “war of currents.” At that time, it was George Westinghouse who argued in favor of the use of Alternating Current (AC) while Thomas Edison, Mr. Musk’s No. 1 hero (because it was Edison, not Mr. Musk, who “brought his stuff to market and made those inventions accessible to the world”) had favored Direct Current (DC) for the electric chair and other uses.
War of satellites
Much like the “war of currents” between Edison and Westinghouse, there is a somewhat similar “war of satellites” going on between Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. This war is to determine which of two can “get it up” (to orbit or to Mars) first. They have been feuding for at least fifteen years…
In the “war of satellites” Mr. Musk is developing SpaceX's Starlink satellite constellation. Mr. Bezos wants to launch Project Kuiper satellites. Their billionaire feud will negatively impact the nature of the US and world space programs. Space X sees Starlink partly as a way to fund other projects that Mr. Musk hopes could send people to Mars. More than 900 Starlink satellites have been launched so far. By contrast, Mr. Bezos’ Project Kuiper seeks to provide internet access to populations around the world—that is part of Mr. Bezos' fantasy to make "millions of people living and working in space"—in the process of proliferating Amazon’s super profits.
Poor Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison’s rip-off
Both Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos used electricity invented by others and the work skills of others to max their fortunes.
Poor Nikola Tesla, the real genius, died in financial ruin, partly because he was ripped off by Mr. Musk’s No. 1 hero, Thomas Edison, who had refused to pay Tesla $50,000 for an improved design for his DC dynamos. After months of experimentation, Tesla presented his solution and asked for the cash. Edison purportedly responded, “Tesla, you don’t understand our American humor.” As Tesla was just a good-hearted Serb, he just didn’t quite understand the good old humor of the great American rip-off!
The greatest rip-off in world history
So, what does that say about the present? Thomas Edison was only pointing the way toward the greatest rip-off ever— that is, the greatest transfer of wealth to the smallest number of people in world history.
Musk and Bezos are not the only ones. The total wealth of America’s 664 billionaires now stands at $4.2 trillion— more than two-thirds higher than the $2.4 trillion in total wealth held by the bottom half of the population, 165 million Americans. And that is not counting the estimation that the world’s richest 1% now possess more than twice as much wealth as 6.9 billion people. These super wealthy also include the likes Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, and a number of corporate and royal families—but even they are envious of the American capitalists.
The new global pillage
The second rip-off is the new Global Pillage. To his credit, Mr. Musk is right that the new renewable technologies of solar, wind and geothermal power represent far better ways to produce electricity than coal and oil and radiating nuclear power. (Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima, Fessenheim, etc.).
And I am glad Mr. Musk offered a $100 million prize for the best carbon capture technologies… even if such technology is not a cure-all either. Much needs to be done to attempt to eliminate all forms of pollution from carbon, and methane (from cows and melting tundra!), not to overlook pesticides and micro-plastics as well… in addition to the need to plant trees… But even pure solar energy burning through the depleting O3zone layer is not going to “solve” problems on earth once photovoltaic cells are applied to the powering of electric cars and space satellites.
A new pillage of the earth’s “conflict minerals,” such as tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold, as well as lithium, among many other elements, is taking place with devastating impact on the environment, on water use, and on labor, due to the rising demand for smartphones, advanced motors, and EV batteries.
And the tearing up of the earth’s environment in the name of the digital future when many of these rare earth elements can be recycled represents one possible cause of bat pandemics… that is, assuming the disease did not come out of a Wuhan bio-weapons lab, as grudgingly admitted might be possible by scientists associated with the World Health Organization.
And there are other speculative forms of electronic rip-off in the making.
Certainly, the invention of electricity did benefit humanity by providing warmth for homes, energy for electrical appliances, and many other important uses, evidently for today’s laptops and cell phones. Yet as a “technical fix,” electricity did not fix the problems of affordability. If you can’t pay, you can’t use it!
That is, unless you just happened to be lucky enough invest in “electronic cash systems” or “cryptocurrency” at a time when such an investment cost almost nothing.
There is a deeper issue here, such as the impact on cryptocurrency on banks, insurance companies, and the value of national currencies, but we will leave that debate to the side for a more immediate concern…
Mr. Musk’s favorite cryptocurrency is called Dogecoins… Maybe that’s the real reason Mr. Musk wants to host Saturday Night Live… he hopes the value of the Dogecoin will skyrocket —before he finds the right moment to sell it!!!
I hope that will not prove to be the case. But if the value of the Dogecoin plummets, and many people get shocked by holding some worthless bits of electricity, don’t say I didn’t warn you!
The giving pledge
Now Mr. Musk, along with other billionaires, did sign a giving pledge to “share” half of their wealth (even if it is a pledge that they are having a hard time keeping up with due to their amassing of pandemic profits). In Mr. Musk’s case, he plans to spend half of his money on problems on earth and the other half to establish a city on Mars “to ensure the continuation of life (of all species) should the Earth be hit by a meteor like the dinosaurs or World War III… destroys us.”
Yet there are a number of problems with Mr. Musk’s plan. The first is that if Mr. Musk was really concerned with the continuation of today’s living species, and if he really fears that the earth might be hit by meteors as during the dinosaur era, then why in the hell would he want to resurrect dinosaurs in the first place?
After having watched too many episodes of Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, Mr. Musk and his Neuralink associate now want to bring back dinosaurs at a time when many species face extinction, including the bees that pollinate one-third of the crops we eat… A fable for our time…
Perhaps it would be better for Mr. Musk to concentrate his megabucks on saving the lives of species who can actually help humanity and other species to survive—instead of resurrecting dinosaurs for an amusement park? One way to save living creatures and humans too might be to help find alternative ways to farm without the use of dangerous pesticides…
There is another problem. As Mr. Musk should know, Mars has a lot thinner atmosphere than does the earth and is thus much more susceptible to meteor showers that could destroy human colonies, plus a few dinosaurs brought along as pets to the Red Planet. And I doubt cost-effective meteor defenses could easily be devised. Like Missile Defenses against hypersonic weapons!
The war of currents goes to outer space
But there is yet another problem with Mr. Musk’s pledge. One of the reasons Mr. Musk claims he wants to go to Mars is to save the human race. Yet the march toward World War III will simply follow him to Mars—because the country that controls space could achieve military dominance over the entire planet…
There is really no escape!
The “war of satellites” is provoking a new space race that could soon lead to global conflict. Trump’s Space Force, now backed by Biden, is very serious... So too are the Chinese and Russian versions.
Space satellites are crucial for the new systems of telecommunications, mapping, and the internet. They are also crucial for the Pentagon for mapping, targeting, electronic eavesdropping, directing drones, missiles and hypersonic weaponry. The commercial and military uses of the digital world are merging.
As took place in April-May, NASA, the Europeans, and the Japanese teamed up on SpaceX's Crew Dragon to send astronauts to the International Space station as a step toward both the moon and Mars. And now the Russians and Chinese want to establish their own lunar space station. For its part, Beijing plans to “set up bases on the moon… and gain… expertise for deep-space expeditions beyond the moon. The long-term goal is to send humans to Mars."
Incredibly, the Chinese appear a bit more forthright than Elon Musk… After describing the risks that will confront space travelers to Mars, the China Daily admits that “mankind's existing technologies are not good enough for a manned mission to Mars and are only sufficient for expeditions with a human crew to orbit the planet.”
Nevertheless, the Americans, the French, Japanese, Russian, Chinese and Indians are all scrambling to make space satellites while making new Star Wars weapons too... like solar-powered anti-satellite weapons, laser beams, and drones.
The rising demand for 5-G technology, quantum computing, renewable energies, magnets, and electrically-produced Artificial Intelligence (AI), is now threatening war between the US and its Allies versus China and Russia. The US and its Allies are competing with China for the control of the global supply chain of the rare earth materials (the vast majority of which found in China) that are needed to construct these new electrical gadgets.
Artificial Intelligence and Armageddon
But the really big trick is how to apply Artificial Intelligence to weapons systems and unmanned vehicles, whether in the air, at sea or on land, underwater—as well as in outer space. Mr. Musk may be at the cutting edge of high tech, linking AI with computer chips in the human brain, for example, but these inventions are also a prime force in robotics and AI that can now determine the decision to go to war.
Russian President Putin observed that AI raises both “colossal opportunities” and “threats that are difficult to predict” and that “whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”
To which Mr. Musk retorted, “China, Russia, soon all countries w strong computer science. Competition for AI superiority at national level most likely cause of WW3 imo.” Not only that, Mr. Musk also pointed out that war “may be initiated not by the country leaders, but one of the AI's, if it decides that a pre-emptive strike is the most probable path to victory.”
In this comment, Mr. Musk put his finger on the trigger: At least we now know who is really in charge of Armageddon. It is not untrustworthy politicians, not generals, not billionaires, and not even the Cosmos or the Divine—but electrically-generated Artificial Intelligence!
Laws and governance on Mars
Let us assume, for a moment, that Mr. Musk does develop a new “game-changing propulsion system like a nuclear-powered rocket” as the Chinese, not very ecologically, propose. (A recent Russian attempt to develop such a propulsion system exploded into radioactive dust). And let us assume that Mr. Musk can figure out a way to land on, and lift off, from Mars, in the assumption that he “can get it up” before the Chinese or Jeff Bezos do.
In such a way, Mr. Musk and a few Chosen Individuals can try to escape World War III on earth—as if the military-technologies of Armageddon were not already being extended from Earth into Outer Space and near Mars!
The first question is this: If Mr. Musk finally plants his first colony on Mars, who is going to make the choices that govern working, eating and sleeping, life and death?
Will Mr. Musk’s Mars plantation be under American laws, under the UN’s Outer Space treaty, or what? Perhaps those of the US Space Command? Or might the plantation be considered a purely “private” affair? What might be “private” and what “public”?
And in this new Mars plantation, who will make the major decisions? Mr. Musk? The US Space Command? A Corporate Board? Elected Officials? Or could the power to decide to be shared by all participants? What will be the role of the average Spacefarers?
And what happens if Beijing establishes a colony just for a portion of its billion or so people?
And in terms of the legal framework, what if someone, perhaps touched by some unknown radiation illness, commits a horrific crime? Will there be a trial by jury? A judge? A military court? Will solar-powered electrocution still be an option? Or will the death penalty be banned as it should everywhere (despite the latest fad of assassination by drone attacks)?
Those are just some of the issues. I think Mr. Musk needs to do a lot more thinking before he or his followers really set foot on the Red planet. And be careful Spacefarers… there is already an awful lot of space junk out there in orbit… Perhaps our tax dollars should clean that mess up first so that Mr. Musk, Mr. Bezos, the Chinese, and others can “get it up”?
Convincing war mongers not to go to war
To recapitulate: The fact that colonies on Mars will be more likely to be struck by meteors than the people on earth appears to rule out that rationale to colonize the Red planet…
And secondly, the very process of lifting up to Mars is actually provoking a “war of satellites”, so that there is a good chance that World War III might take place before anyone lands on Mars.
Believe me, Mr. Musk, there is no escape!
In sum, it would prove much wiser to spend the megabucks of Musk and other billionaires on a real diplomatic effort to prevent Armageddon and on a real technical effort to prevent species extinction while truly trying to reduce the gap between the super-rich and the rest—so as to achieve the true resurrection of both man and nature—and not of dinosaurs.
Given the fact that China accounted for 41% of Tesla’s global sales in 2020, and that Mr. Musk believes that China could soon overtake the US to become the Tesla’s No. 1 market, perhaps he could engage in some behind the scenes diplomacy to convince the warmongers on both the Chinese and American sides not to go to war over a shortage of high quality Taiwanese computer chips in the name of the “Thucydides Trap”? (A perspective that, by the way, misinterprets Thucydides’ concept of innovation.)
If Mr. Musk could just get the Chinese and Taiwanese to talk peace to each other, then he would be a real hero!
The Mars mission may make us hope the future will be better... but believe me, without first working to really “fix” the major political, social, economic and environmental problems on earth, “spacefaring civilization” will just drag the “war of satellites” onto the Red Planet immediately upon landing.