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Manifest Destiny, Discrimination Edition

Manifest Destiny, Discrimination Edition

It’s too early for this.

Behold, Mars: site of future discoveries adventures microaggressions.

Yes, really. Happy Sunday, everyone.

Every once in a while, the social justice warrior set cracks a window and shines light on what’s really bugging them about the world. Racism, ageism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, life-phobia—if they can’t find a problem, they’ll use one of these handy buzzwords to invent one. Last week, Martin Robbins at The Guardian (presumably) gazed up into the firmament and saw what only a social justice warrior could see when presented with such breathtaking splendor: potential. For discrimination.

Martin presents a simple question: How can our future Mars colonies be free of sexism and racism? (Anyone with a brain reading this just did a spit take.) In his essay, he questions the idea that “[w]hen we go into space, we will all magically become nice,” and makes an exquisitely flawed case for why future off-planet settlements will look a less like a Picard-era Enterprise, and more like an Earp-era gambling outpost.

From The Guardian:

We see this in coverage of the space programme, with its endless propaganda about “cooperation” between nations, and promotion of the idea that clever people in tough situations produce the best humanity has to offer. It’s rampant in fiction, where shows like Star Trek assume that three centuries of civil rights progress will inevitably turn us all into morally-centered middle-class rationalists.

And it’s there, unspoken and unchallenged, at the heart of our current aspirations for space. There’s no room for discussion about social justice or equality when it comes to planning our future Mars colonies because we all just assume that decent educated scientists and engineers – the “right kind” of people – won’t have any problem with that sort of thing.

Except every available single scrap of historical experience tells us that this is an incredibly naive and dangerous assumption to make. Colonies and outposts are portrayed as lights in the darkness; hot spots of progress, ingenuity and adventure. That may be true to some extent, but they’ve also been places of crime, vigilante justice, tyrants, rape, pillaging, abuse and war. It’s true that when things get hard we can see the best in people, but oftentimes we see the worst too.

It’s real. Here’s the headline:

Guardian Discrimination Mars

What Robbins says about the juxtaposition of violence and pioneering is mostly true, except for the part about how there’s “no room for discussion” about equality in space travel; we constantly discuss equality as it relates to community progress, societal structures, education, and opportunities in STEM careers.

I have no doubt that the first colony on Mars will play host to the first trash talking on Mars, which will be followed closely by the first sucker punch on Mars, the first scuffle on Mars, and the formation of the first territorial gangs on Mars. Robbins believes that racial, original, and gendered differences will lead to the inevitable introduction of violence. He points to an article by DL Lee in which Lee challenges the status quo of thinkers and doers currently occupying a seat at the table.

Whose destiny is manifest in the mission to Mars? Unless you’re a white male of Euro descent, probably not yours:

To paraphrase Douglas Adams: “Space is white. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly white it is.” It’s also very male and European. Women in space-colony fiction have generally been presented as sexy walking vaginas, whose main purpose is to provide the male astronauts with a place to dock their penis at night. This being necessary in order to “ensure the survival of the species”.

If you think that attitude doesn’t exist in the real world, it’s worth recalling the comments of Prof Anatoly Grigoryev, a doctor and key figure in the Russian space programme. “Women are fragile and delicate creatures; that is why men should lead the way to distant planets and carry women there in their strong hands.”

(Grigoryev really did say that, for what it’s worth.)

The problem here isn’t Robbins’ assertions that our future Mars colony will be a wretched den of thieves and serial killers (it will be—admit it) but his belief that bringing more diverse voices into the conversation—he uses Elon Musk an the SpaceX program as an example—will somehow mitigate the risk of things turning into a complete cluster the moment the transport shuttles head back to Earth.

I think Lee is absolutely right though when she says:

“When we look around and see a homogenous group of individuals discussing these issues – issues that command insane budgets, we should pause. Why aren’t other voices and perspectives at the table? How much is this conversation being controlled (framed, initiated, directed, routed) by capitalist and political interests of the (few) people at the table?”

It’s early days, but if we really want to create a progressive new world then issues like these should be at the hearts of our efforts from the very start. I hope Musk and his peers open up that discussion sooner rather than later, and I hope that people like Lee can take part in it. The last thing we need is to wake up in 50 years and find that a bunch of #gamergate nobheads are running Mars.

He adds this slice of pernicious sanctimony:

The first woman to be raped in space has probably already been born. And if that last sentence makes you howl with protest or insist that such a thing just wouldn’t happen, then I’d stop a second and ask yourself why.

This is a seriously clever straw man, because it places the reader face to face with the premise Robbins has spent his entire article constructing: the Mars colony will actually be a patriarchal rape colony, and it’s all your fault because of X, Y, and Z social issues.

My response to this, and response to critical theory-based arguments in general, is this:

X, Y, and Z social issues are not the problem. You are the problem.

By “you,” I of course mean humanity itself: flawed, sinful, selfish, scared, ambitious, stupid humanity will turn the Mars colony into a mirror of what lies in the hearts and minds of the people that occupy it, much like individual communities reflect the values of those who live within their borders.

The social justice movement doesn’t seek to improve humanity; it seeks to cure it. This is a thousand times more arrogant than the breathtaking arrogance that put men across the Atlantic, beyond the Mississippi, into airplanes and skyscrapers, and onto the moon. Diversity of thought has existed since the dawn of man, and we still haven’t managed to use its mystical power to cure the rapists, thieves, murderers, and people who talk on speakerphone in public of their incessantly and aggressively flawed natures.

Our own darkness is beyond us.

How can our future Mars colonies be free of sexism and racism, then? They can’t be; but don’t discount the influence of those who have the strength to fight their most base impulses. They’re the ones who have kept the world turning, and they’re the ones who will prevent the pieces of the next great colonies from flying apart.


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Some 40 or so years ago, I attended a meeting of the L5 Society at MIT.
They were giving a talk about what is “L5” (and L4, etc) and the case for space colonization. Part of the presentation was the concept of putting a large glass cylinder at L5 position in space with plants, animals and people inside.
During the presentation, I just kept imagining that glass cylinder breaking. It looked awful fragile.
Well, lo and behold, when we got to the Q & A, I came to realize that most of the folks who want to colonize L5 were social misfits, who hated living on Earth. I just couldn’t imagine this diverse set of social misfits trying to cobble together a society in the big glass cylinder in the vacuum of space, when they couldn’t do it in the relatively safe environment on Earth. Frankly, I thought that hanging out with Charles Manson would probably be safer.

    At the risk of sounding frivolous, such tubes and the consequences of moving most of the human population to them (with the 1%’er liberal types left behind, of course) is the foundation of the ‘Mobile Suit Gundam’ Japanese animation franchise in its various incarnations. The quick version: Those chucked into space (willingly or not) and those purportedly nursing Earth’s environment back to health end up killing each other. A lot.

    In that sense, it’s actually quite realistic.

“I have no doubt that the first colony on Mars will play host to the first trash talking on Mars, which will be followed closely by the first sucker punch on Mars, the first scuffle on Mars, and the formation of the first territorial gangs on Mars.”


“The problem here isn’t Robbins’ assertions that our future Mars colony will be a wretched den of thieves and serial killers (it will be—admit it)…”

Well, this explains a LOT about Amy’s world-view.

    xdevildog in reply to Ragspierre. | May 11, 2015 at 9:58 am

    If past is prologue, then a portion of any outpost is going to be just as Amy described it – but only a portion. There will be a lot of transitional characters working both sides of the moral line, to bring back the Wyatt Earp analogy, and a law abiding contingent,too. However their “law” will likely be much more basic than the intrusive behemoth we are used to.

    Example from our own American west. My paternal grandfather was imprisoned for voluntary manslaughter in the 1920’s. He was a good cowboy, a lousy farmer and an innovative bootlegger. That line of work put him in competition with one of his peers that expressed itself through destruction of each other’s distilling operations and both sides feeding information about names and places to the local sheriff.

    After a couple of years of this, my granddad happened upon the patriarch of the opposing clan on a rural road in Nevada. Both were on horseback. Words were exchanged and he ventilated the offending party with his Smith & Wesson. Granddad’s personal decorum demanded that he load up the body in a buckboard and make the 20 mile run to the county seat to turn himself in, which he did. His defense at trial was, “He called my wife a whore.” Based on this testimony the jury acquitted on murder one and convicted on manslaughter. He served ten years and returned to the same community to live out his remaining days as a well respected rancher.

    That kind of law.

      Ragspierre in reply to xdevildog. | May 11, 2015 at 10:49 am

      Here’s why I think that model is silly…

      You could walk or ride into Tombstone.

      As the costs of getting to a colony rise, especially when the colony is small, you are going to have fewer people who CAN make it to that locale OR will be accepted.

      In any stage where we can correctly call a Mars group a “colony”, it’s not going to be a place where any-old-body goes and is allowed to stay. It won’t be a place a felon runs to in order to avoid prosecution. It will be a place with some very clear, hard, and jealously applied standards of conduct.

      In the foreseeable future, the costs of getting to Mars will be very high. It won’t be a place where poor and uneducated people will go or be allowed. Not because they are poor, per se, but because of the decision-making skills they have exhibited.

      Now, when we get into the “settlement” category, after the cost of getting there is radically lowered, we MIGHT see a population of people that would exhibit the kind of behavior Amy thinks will be the norm. But I doubt that, too. Where people are successful, they don’t tolerate those kinds of behaviors in their midst. And they don’t invite them, either. You won’t, for instance, see gang activity in a upper-middle income suburb, though it is integrated with all kinds of people of all different races.

      Plus, there is the option of just exiling any bad apples back to Earth.

        xdevildog in reply to Ragspierre. | May 11, 2015 at 11:52 am

        Well, Rags, since you choose to disparage my comment with “silly”, I guess I have to respond. (After all, I am related to my grandfather.)

        As near as I can tell, you and I are talking about two different stages that could roughly be termed exploration and colonization. I think your model holds in the exploration phase – the Lewis and Clark phase if you will. You might remember that expedition was so costly, dangerous and possibly without any financial return that the federal government financed it.

        Amy, perhaps without really considering the difference, and I are talking about the colonization phase. Tombstone didn’t exist when L&C explored a small portion of the west. Had they wanted to go to at the time to where Tombstone would someday be, the cost would have been just as high and the possible rewards even more nebulous.

        However Tombstone was worth the personal gamble when it existed because of the mines that brought it into existence and because of all the commerce, legal and illegal, that the wealth produced by those mines entailed.

        It would be interesting to do a bit of an economic study on what is cost an individual in sweat and coin to walk or ride into Tombstone once it was settled, expressed as a percentage of average annual income, using some place like St. Louis as a starting point. I’ll bet the cost was still high if not exorbitant.

        There was a sweaty little piece on Drudge a few days back under a headline “World’s First Trillionaire Will Be Whoever Mines Asteroids”. Sounded a lot like the equally sweaty nineteenth century newspaper headlines touting the Comstock.

        My life experience is that people are people wherever you put enough of them. Being a “trillionaire” will sound great to many of the folks I have dealt with over the last 28 years. But they will show up to mine the miners. Much easier and marginally less dangerous work than running a drill in 0.001g in a vacuum on an asteroid.

      Ragspierre in reply to xdevildog. | May 11, 2015 at 11:38 am

      But cool story about your grandpa…!!!

      One of mine was Public Enemy No. 1 in Long Beach, Calif. for a while during Prohibition. A fur reel Okie, too.

        xdevildog in reply to Ragspierre. | May 11, 2015 at 11:56 am

        Mine started out in the hill country of Tennessee, so close to an Okie in temperament and financial resources.

        Sorry about the down vote. Whoever set it up next to the reply button should be flogged.

“Colonies and outposts are portrayed as lights in the darkness; hot spots of progress, ingenuity and adventure. That may be true to some extent, but they’ve also been places of crime, vigilante justice, tyrants, rape, pillaging, abuse and war. ”

Sounds a lot like the internet…

Henry Hawkins | May 11, 2015 at 9:31 am


If you read the red, blue and green Mars series, this sort of thing (at least with environmentalism) is all predicted for the Mars colony.

Like most colonies in a harsh environment, political correctness and dogmatic thinking will take a second chair to objectivity and pragmatism. Survival tends to do that.

    MattMusson in reply to EBL. | May 11, 2015 at 11:06 am

    Are you saying that hard work and contribution will be valued ahead of Good Intentions?

I can’t wait to go to Mars and prove society’s micro-managers wrong.

“X, Y, and Z social issues are not the problem. You are the problem.

By “you,” I of course mean humanity itself: flawed, sinful, selfish, scared, ambitious, stupid humanity will turn the Mars colony into a mirror of what lies in the hearts and minds of the people that occupy it, much like individual communities reflect the values of those who live within their borders.

The social justice movement doesn’t seek to improve humanity; it seeks to cure it.”

I totally concur with your assessment. Human nature goes wherever you go. So does your good name (or otherwise) and how you view the world.

Reason alone often leads to violence. Epicureanism leads to pleasure, a sensory place where value judgments do not exist.

“The Enlightenment has left us with an alternative: either reason or violence. Nietzsche and his postmodern followers have demonstrated aptly that reason itself is violent (Nietzsche 1990, 43), adding in their honest moments the horrifying thought that violent reason can be transcended only in the violence of un-reason (Foucault 1988, 285). Miroslav Volf, Yale Professor from his book “Exclusion and Embrace”.
Regarding the violence of un-reason, consider the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In the presence of the “ring of power” men would lose their reason and quickly court thoughts of violence as they became obsessed with the ring’s power.

Horizontal AND vertical conversations are absolutely necessary for the best of mankind to form a society that is “good,” “flourishing” and “safe”. “Equal” and “fair” are valueless words.

Star Trek was basically a Wilsonian everybody-share-the-same-humane-values-in-an-unselfish commonwealth world order view.

I doubt that the sci-fi social micro-managers have read C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy.

(purchase thru this site)

BTW: the WHO is very concerned about people saying “swine flu” and “chicken flu”. They are afraid that these animals will become traumatized and stigmatized.

It’s time for me to leave for Mars.

    Ragspierre in reply to jennifer a johnson. | May 11, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    That’s the World Health Organization. Not the band.

    Pete Townsend said something recently about ISIS having him checking his ammo supply. So rockers are not all nuts…

    Thanks for the comments and the link, Jennifer-

    I used to have that trilogy many years ago, but I was into “hard” SF & this just didn’t register on me, except to think ‘some people got a strange idea of what SF is!’

    Now I’m a lot older, mebbe a tiny bit wiser, and of course I lost those books a long time ago. So with the feeling of, “this time I’m going to really get into C.S. Lewis!” I followed your link, fully prepared to shell out my dough, and glad that it would benefit this great website a little bit.


    Uh… sorry, Professor, but not just now.

    Now I’m too busy flagellating myself over the untold fortune in paperback books that I’ve given away over the years. Not to mention the comic books… sigh.

Empress Trudy | May 11, 2015 at 9:59 am

In about 10 years, apart from a few national pride programs by China and India, possibly Japan, to get to the moon, manned spaceflight will be over. And not just over for 20 or 30 years more but over, over and out. Over for at least a century or more. We don’t live in a ‘get their to boldly explore it’ world any more. We’re done. The Guardian author sort of touches on it w/o admitting it. We live in a world that wants to hate itself while it picks obsessively on tiny made out social outrages manufactured so that academics have something to do. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Well none, because they’re racist. And anyway we have to spend a hundred billion dollars making a rocket that can’t add to global warming.

So once the ISS goes out of service, we’re done. We’re as done as Europeans coming to Egypt for the first time and seeing the vast complex of pyramids and wondering what could have possibly done that.

    I think you’re discounting the economics of it too much.

    Manned spaceflight will continue, but it will be in a much different format. Once the cost per pound of launching a payload drops to something reasonable to get to a medium to high earth orbit, you’ll see a large scale commercial orbital launch platform be developed.

    Once that happens, interplanetary spaceflight becomes economically cheap, because you take everything up to the platform , assemble the interplanetary vehicle in space,and THEN load the payload, rather than trying to launch the whole thing from Earth. That way you can fight the big energy expenditure in little bites rather than all at once.

    This will occur even faster if a suitable nano-carbon fiber can be economically produced. This research is already in progress. Once that happens, A “space-elevator” becomes a very real possibility. If that technology is developed, expect the cost of going to Mars (or any other planet) to drop precipitously, as the cost per pound of payload to the orbital platform will drop to something akin to 10x commercial trucking rates. If the “tether” can be electrified, you can power the space platform itself, and run the “vehicle” as a mag-lev system, meaning that the station and the vehicle itself don’t need any fuel, making even more room for cargo.

    There’s too much “wealth” sitting out there for someone with vision NOT to act to take hold of it. All there needs to be is a spark.

      Barry in reply to Chuck Skinner. | May 11, 2015 at 8:27 pm

      Chuck has it correct. “Space” will be commercially developed. What do you think all these private startups are doing?

      Yes, they currently get govco contracts, but that is just a step to the first commercial, for profit, development.

I keep scanning that landscape hoping to see a Sheetz station. Something the libs might protest.

buckeyeminuteman | May 11, 2015 at 12:45 pm

God forbid they find aliens on Mars. The progressives will want to give them welfare, cheap housing, and free satellite TV! The price of all those benefits would be astronomical!

Henry Hawkins | May 11, 2015 at 1:01 pm

Ignored here is the far larger population needed for the re-emergence of pathologies leading to rape, discrimination, etc., that were not part of the initial beginning population. Ignored are all the currently insurmountable technical problems with a Mars colony, the worst of which involve the effects of constant 38% gravity on the human body, and the constant bombardment of UV radiation. The thin Mars atmosphere is 95% carbon dioxide – everything, humans, plants, space pets, etc., will have to be kept in sealed, pressurized, oxygenated containers, with every necessity recycle-able. With minimal atmosphere coupled with low gravity, current technology has no clue how to stop and land the huge, heavy craft required to pull this off, beyond sci-fi concepts of space ladders, orbiting stations, and such. Techniques used on the moon and with comparatively tiny Mars rovers will not work with larger ships. The list of tech problems goes on and on and on. The costs will be astronomical, impossible to predict because of all the required technology not yet in existence.

Ignore all that and instead, let’s focus on the important aspects of a Mars colony – sexism and racism? LOL

There will be no working Mars colony – which is entirely different from a manned exploration mission – in our lifetimes. (Ahhh! Ahhh! He said ‘manned’ not ‘personed!’).

    Believe it or not, the technological obstacles are not nearly that insurmountable.

    We’ve had most of the technologies to create the living modules for almost 20 years already.

    Low gravity? Ok. The plant’s are going to grow just fine in low gravity. More importantly is that there is some air movement in order to create hardy stalks of the plants (bending and flexing to harden the structure of the plant trunk), otherwise they do collapse under their own weight. The Animals (any that are taken) will adjust to the lower gravity pull over a period of a couple of months, without any real significant health effects unless they return to earth.

    Solar / UV Radiation? That can be blocked. It takes some doing in terms of coating the modules, but again, not insurmountable. A Polyethylene matrix internal framework filled with water for the main habitation modules should be sufficient to block the heavy gamma and cosmic radiation. Plus it doubles as your water reservoir, recycling any water used on site.

    As for the carbon-dioxide atmosphere, you create the plant modules specifically to exchange a certain amount of gas with the planetary atmosphere (at a set rate depending on what crops you want to grow and how fast you want to grow them). Short term, you end up with faster growing plants. Long term, you terraform the PLANET’s atmosphere to something more conducive to human life. The problem there is generating a planet wide magnetic field to prevent the newly oxygenated atmosphere from simply being stripped off into space. If you can create a sufficient magnetic field, you can terraform the planet.

    The recycling of the internal air/water/food? That one’s easy. We solved that one in 1993 at the Biosphere 2 project. The first mission ran for 2 years in a sealed bottle (with only one seal breakage due to an absolute medical emergency because one of the Biospherians accidentally severed a finger). Zero input, zero output. The second mission in 1996 (I think) failed, but that was due more to poor planning on the part of the team than anything else. The problems they had in terms of atmosphere were due to not accounting for cloudy days. When you run the math with that variable accounted for, you can build the ecosystem perfectly.

      Henry Hawkins in reply to Chuck Skinner. | May 12, 2015 at 12:08 pm

      Fuck the plants, low gravity eventually kills humans. We waste away physically. It can be slowed but not avoided.

      Lava tube tunnels are the only place on Mars to evade solar radiation, which comes in more varieties than you mention.

      Using plants to change the Mars atmosphere slowly into oxygen would take centuries, if not longer. In the meantime?

      I think creating planet-sized magnetic fields (!) might be a little more complicated and difficult than you allow.

      On recycling, it isn’t a perfect process. With each cycle you lose some of the material being recycled because at least some of it went into humans, livestock if any, and plants. Eventually you run out. There is no perpetual motion machine, of course, and there is no perpetual recycling. Such a colony would require regular imports of assorted necessities, another costly complication.

healthguyfsu | May 11, 2015 at 3:45 pm

Let’s be sure and send up only well-behaved diversity-laden folks with full indoctrination.

They will make nice pets for their Martian overlords.

If they use Affirmative Action in any way, fashion, or form to choose Mars explorers or colonists, pretty much any qualified person will immediately opt out.

It would be suicide.

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Frankly…. the model isn’t Star Trek… more like Firefly/Serenity. Browncoats anyone?