When I was a boy, maybe ten or so, I asked my dad what Capitalism is. He replied, “All you need to know son, is that the people in charge just want more and more money. Always. They’d sell the Earth to the highest bidder and then say where are we to live?”. Of course, I didn’t really understand that, then. It has always stuck with me, though. Now, I’m 38. I realize all about ownership and how things work. It’s the lack of forward-thinking and the “eyes bigger than the belly”(another of my dad’s phrases, that’s ever apt) factor that only want profit, and can’t (or won’t) consider consequences. With the global warming crisis deepening in recent years and becoming more widely accepted and understood, these words again take on fresh meaning. As for selling the Earth, we’re not quite there yet, but another commodity that might be up for grabs in the not too distant future is that which lies above and all around the Earth . . .
This week saw the launch of Elon Musk’s Space X rocket, the first privately funded manned space flight. For me, as a sci-fi fan this conjured up the idea of the beginning of a future where humans head off into space, but instead of there being a publicly funded administration, ran by people we voted for, it’s run with the primary aim of making money. Profiteering and the accumulation of wealth over discovery. Now, to be fair I don’t know a great deal about Elon Musk, or Space X and don’t want to tar him as an evil Space Overlord (though the idea is fun . . .), or make out that the private sector has no place at all in aiding discovery. Still, the likes of the Nostromo from the Aliens franchise and the Tyrell Corporation from Philip K Dick’s world are very much at the forefront of my mind. Whist I admit to having a very overactive imagination at times, what’s certainly true is that humanity is truly on the brink of exploring space like never before. Just ask Tom Cruise . . .
In the last few days, Tom Cruise has announced that he’s to collaborate with Musk and Space X, and even NASA, and look to make an action/adventure film in space. Quite what that would entail, how it would come about, and whether it would be any good or not remain to be seen. It’s certainly a bold aim. What this does show is that whilst space is not yet “owned” in the sense that private property is, it does seem that the future will have the same concept. There are no immediate plans to adopt a new attitude towards what’s there, a Starfleet style “space for everyone” philosophy. Capitalism is tipped to go to space and potentially experience astronomical growth (pun intended). The wealthy and the powerful get to decide who is allowed to do what, and it’s pretty much always them, or who they choose. Certainly, it would be when it comes to space.
Following the moon landing, Capitalism won. Out and out. That act was so crucial to achieve that it has long been, and continues to be, a point used as a final word in the argument of Capitalism as an effective system over Communism. Of course, how effective it is, is relative to the individual. Yes, the 1969 moon landing was an incredible achievement and the fact it was able to happen was beyond all expectation, given the resources and the fact that their entire computer power amounts to that of a modern hand-held device (not even a newer one, probably); the fact remains that the money spent could have eradicated world poverty, many times over. It was a political act and not one of true unity. Where have we come since? Where are we now, because of it? This isn’t an attack on the very idea of Capitalism, and shouldn’t be read as such. I’m not saying it has no place; clearly, it has and continues to. To denounce the whole concept is much too simplistic an approach. It’s too broad an idea and ideology for sweeping statements. What’s important is that its operations and results can be scrutinized and the propensity it has to become corrupted. I know, all systems do, but it’s important to focus on the one we live under and by. They are what govern us and decide our lives. It seems they’ll continue to.
In the future I hope that we’re much more Starfleet than Tyrell or some other privately owned conglomerate that maintains its position by exploitation and mass control — slavery, essentially. Should that be the case then perhaps those of us who reject an evil empire will form a band of rebels and fight back . . . Sound familiar? The act of heading out into the stars should allow us to really begin to see what we can achieve, and how much more we likely can if we can find a way to make discovery, exploration, and innovation the very reason that we live for, instead of achieving so-called success by earning and gaining property and possessions. That’s what holds us back. After all, it’s the discoveries made by the likes of Newton and Einstein, and a great many others whose names we don’t know (perhaps if their achievements were celebrated as “currency as a legacy” we might) that have led to space exploration. Without them it wouldn’t be possible.
Perhaps this current pandemic may lead to a global, universal basic income, and people would focus on finding ways to be remembered instead. Become links in a chain that help us realize what we can do as a species, collectively. Maybe that won’t come until later, or not at all. Mostly, I hope that in a historic moment like this, the possible emergence of a space corporation, that my dad’s wrong. He’d hope to be, too. There are those who believe there are better ways. Earth might be a tiny speck of dust, in the grand scheme of things, but it’s home to me and billions of others. Not just humanity, it’s so-called custodians, either. It’s the only one we have and a pretty terrific place. Let’s hope that those who run it begin to realize that. Do we really need a movie in space, just because we can do it? The extremely privileged could maybe do with looking around now and again. Truly seeing how small things appear from above requires accepting they exist and matter. It’s crucial that the powers that be take their heads out of the clouds for long enough to take stock, as well as removing their eyes from the profit margins of the account ledgers. If they can manage this then there’s hope yet and we can well and truly have lift-off.