Ruth Lewis, a member of our Emerging Fellows program, asks whether humanity will fare any better in space than they have on earth in her eleventh blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
What would be the nature of humanity, of colonists that leave the Earth and seek to travel through space, to seek to settle on other planets? Would they take the best of humanity and form a utopian community, supporting human liberty and community? Or would they be forced by harsh or enclosed environment and the necessity for mere survival to enact rigorous constraints on all behaviour through a utilitarian view? Would strict moral codes require obedience to a rules-based hierarchy? Or would it somehow be possible to balance these two polarities of existence for extended periods of time, to make space habitation tolerable, to provide some level of comfort?
Within a constrained utopia, what would liberty look like? Should we find ourselves free to construct the type of society that has eluded us an Earth? Our better natures embracing idealism, enhancing respect for our fellow travellers. Individual fulfilment could be balanced within a small or growing community, protected from our historical past and warlike precedents on Earth. Free to construct a society based on a collective social vision of common purpose and caring for all.
How would we construct our ideal off-world society? We would have scientific and engineering professionals who are capable of constructing, maintaining and adapting the life support infrastructure that the off-world population needs. Whilst enduring the physical constraints of living within these confined off-world colonies or spaceships we would need philosophers to promote higher thinking and imbue purpose in otherwise repetitive mechanistic lives. We would need creative people to promote artistic expression to bring colour, freedom of thought and imagination, stimulating the senses within an environment that may lack the sounds, scent or visual stimulus that we enjoy in the terrestrial realm.
We would need charismatic leaders, prepared to balance the paradox between individual needs for expression and action, and social unity. People who intuitively understand the base nature of humankind, and resolve it to promote the greater good. They must be free from tyranny, corruption or power-seeking. They must be able to build common visions and cohesion against the backdrop of the harsh realities of extra-terrestrial space. In these conditions, leadership of a band of space explorers must be decisive and timely, as mere survival will depend on obedience to deal with contingencies. Individual liberty must be secondary to the collective survival of the whole.
After a long journey through time and space, and through generations of descendants to reach a habitable planet, how could the new colonists still regard Earth as their home? They would be free define a new worldview, a new form of governance and society that may reflect the best or the worst of the generations evolved on the way, and of the leadership that guided them there.
They may encounter non-human life on this habitable planet. How would they treat these extra-terrestrials? Would the utopian view prevail, extending our noble ideals to respect and value alien life forms - intelligent or not - and the environments that we may encounter? Or would we extend our historical Earthly expansionary policies for individual liberty, acquisition and survival in harsh lands to ensure our survival through dominance and submission at all costs?
There are no direct answers to these questions, other than to seek historical and current precedents as a guide. We can recognise our shortcomings and through reflection and deep insight seek to build wisdom on the current human condition. And use foresight for the capabilities that we need to travel into space with.
© Ruth Lewis 2019