It seems the good gentlemen of the internet use the term ‘fisking’ for what I’m about to do, but I’m going to keep calling it ‘sporking’ in memory of the good old days when doing it to bad fanfiction was popular in fandom. I think it fell out of favour for several reasons, fandom’s migration to the bottomless pit of Tumblr being not too far down on the list, but I still wish those old LJ communities were up and running–most were mediocre at best, but some were truly hilarious.
Anyway, some of you may have seen this article on the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/science/the-lay-scientist/2015/may/06/how-can-our-future-mars-colonies-be-free-of-sexism-and-racism?CMP=share_btn_tw
And then immediately wished you hadn’t.
But I’m not here to tell you what to think, I’m here to procrastinate by sporking an article that’s obviously easy pickings. So buckle up, neckbeards and sock puppets, and let’s review (article in bold, my comments in normal)…
How can our future Mars colonies be free of sexism and racism?
I think we can all agree that is the most important thing to take into consideration when setting up a colony on another planet. I know it’s where the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise went wrong.
The white, male European conquerors of the New World and 19th-century American pioneers of Manifest Destiny still colour the space age, so is it a myth that we’ll turn nice on Mars?
I find it difficult to know where to start with this subheading. How is the space age ‘coloured’ by white male Europeans and 19th-century Americans? What do they mean by ‘turn nice’? Who is saying that we will? What does the first clause have to do with the second?
Ah, never mind. I’m sure it will all be explained.
We’re going to Mars – eventually.
The voices in my head told me so!
The quest to reach the dusty red planet is our version of Manifest Destiny, the 19th-century philosophy that saw Americans spread across their content
Yeah, I wondered why all those pilgrims had gathered in the town square, loading up the wagons to get to Mars. Manifest Destiny. Sounds legit.
Also, ‘content’? Did you mean, by any chance, ‘continent’? Come on, Guardian, you’re a professional publication, get a proofreader.
with the thought and consideration of a chilly lover stealing the duvet in their sleep.
They sleepwalked across the US? Shit, no wonder so many of them died!
There were a lot of different versions of it, but the main themes, as summarised by Wikipedia,
That bastion of academic sourcing.
should sound quite familiar:
Assuming you have an interest in that place and time in history. Otherwise it’s probably all new to you. But I’ll take your word for it–you did source from Wikipedia, after all!
- The special virtues of the American people and their institutions;
- America’s mission to redeem and remake the west in the image of agrarian America;
- An irresistible destiny to accomplish this essential duty.
So 150 years later, Elon Musk (of Tesla and SpaceX) is arguably the most visible example of Manifest Destiny in the space age.
Elon Musk believes that Mars must be remade in the image of agrarian America because of the special virtues of the American people and their institutions?
He’s the de facto leader of a western “liberal technocratic” consensus that harbours a long-term ambition to put humans on the red planet.
What consensus? A consensus of who? Why is Elon Musk their leader?
Not because they can, but because they feel we must.
Well, yeah, but in this case it’s because they’re afraid humanity might destroy itself if confined to a single planet. Which it might. I mean, personally I think it’s unlikely, but from what I can tell they’re not looking to colonise Mars ’cause destiny.
Phil Plait banged his hammer on this particular nail in a recent article for Slate in which he describes a tour of the SpaceX factory:
“[A] feeling I couldn’t put my finger on before suddenly came into focus. The attitude of the people I saw wasn’t just a general pride, as strong as it was, in doing something cool. It was that they were doing something important. And again, not just important in some vague, general way, but critical and quite specific in its endgame: making humans citizens of more than one world. A multiplanet species.”
What a bunch of bastards–trying to make humans a multi-planet species! And being serious about it! The nerve of them!
Manifest Destiny. But historically, this kind of attitude has come with two big problems.
I’m guessing mostly due to the fact that people had no idea how they’d even get to Mars. Also, just because they think it’s critical that something is done, doesn’t mean they believe it is their ‘destiny’.
Firstly, destiny is rarely great for the people already at the destination.
Think of the rights of those poor Martians, Elon Musk!
When Africans moved north to colonise Europe they obliterated the Neanderthals. When Europeans seized the New World, its cultures were virtually extinguished.
Except for all the cultures that are still here.
Luckily the only population on Mars that we know of is a handful of rovers, but no doubt we’ll start a war anyway, before dragging them into some form of slavery or oppression. It’s just what we do.
Think of the rights of those poor robots, Elon Musk! (Fuck, I hope this is supposed to be sarcastic)
(Two paragraphs cut for being meaningless)
To paraphrase Douglas Adams: “Space is white. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly white it is.”
That’s not ‘paraphrasing’. Adams did not say that. That is taking a Douglas Adams quote and replacing the word ‘big’ with the word ‘white’.
It’s also very male and European. Women in space-colony fiction
Wait, when did we start talking about 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”.
… you stopped reading science fiction after 1969, didn’t you?
(Paragraph letting us know a sexist Russian guy exists is cut)
No wonder Lee says, “I see only a very narrow invitation to this lifeboat.”
So a sexist Russian guy exists and women are allegedly not well represented in space-colony fiction, and this means that only white mean will be allowed on the colonising-Mars mission even though the first photo you had in this article was of three real-life female astronauts of three different ethnicities. Well, I’m sold.
The problem with Lee’s argument is that she’s fighting against possibly the most pernicious space myth in existence, a myth far worse than moon landing conspiracy theories. It’s a myth almost universally believed, that sits at the core of liberal technocratic thought, and has been embedded in practically every other work of speculative fiction for the last half century.
That space has already been colonised by Illuminati vampires?
You can sum it up like this: “When we go into space, we will all magically become nice.”
Yeah, those shows where everyone is nice to each other… in space! have always been big hits.
We see this in coverage of the space programme, with its endless propaganda about “cooperation” between nations,
How is that ‘propaganda’? Would you prefer we all have our own separate, competing space programmes?
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.
Star Trek and what else? I mean, I wouldn’t even agree with you about Star Trek, but what else, author? What else?
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.
Or maybe we’re still so far out regarding the technical aspects of setting up a colony on Mars that there’s no point in planning for the social side of things yet!
Except every available single scrap of historical experience tells us that this is an incredibly naive and dangerous assumption to make.
… what? Don’t get me wrong, colonising other places has historically ended up a big mess more often than not, but we’re talking about colonies set up often without any planning at all in ages where communication was much more difficult than it is today, by people who had different life-experiences and therefore held different values–thinking that those histories would apply to something that would take as much careful planning as any mission to colonise Mars would is ludicrous!
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.
Don’t forget cannibalism, that one’s my personal favourite!
It’s true that when things get hard we can see the best in people, but oftentimes we see the worst too.
200% of women and 117% of penguins have been sexually assaulted in that research outpost in Antarctica, mostly by white Europeans. Just because there’s no evidence for it, doesn’t mean it’s not true.
(Cut a paragraph that shows more sexist Russian assholes exist)
The first woman to be raped in space has probably already been born.
I mean, that could be true, but it’s written there like it’s going to be a landmark moment in human history.
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.
I was more inclined to ask why you’d be thinking about such a thing? Is there so little going on in the world that we have to write articles on the implications of hypothetical space-rape?
(cut obligatory ‘it’s not that I don’t think Elon Musk is doing a good thing’ so author can pretend mentioning Elon Musk earlier had some kind of point to the article)
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?”
What group? The only guy you’ve mentioned is Elon Musk. And are you actually going to do any investigative work into answering your questions or are you just going to sit there and wail ‘White men! So many white men! My eyes! My eyes!’ until someone shoves a token minority into shot to shut you up?
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.
Forget about shit like ‘how would we even get to fucking Mars’, and how you’d justify the cost of such an expenditure, deciding on a preset identity pallet for a mission whose undertakers have probably not even been born yet is the most important part!
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.
D.N. Lee is a biologist who studies animal behaviour and ecology, and by the time anything like a colony expedition is within sight of being feasible, she’ll probably be dead of old age like the rest of us.
The last thing we need is to wake up in 50 years and find that a bunch of #gamergate nobheads are running Mars.
The only thing worse than that would be a Mars run by a person who doesn’t know how to spell ‘knobhead’. Also, if the video game nerds get to Mars before NASA then frankly it would prove the point about SJWs never actually achieving anything and you’d all deserve it.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this sporking–it wasn’t on my itinerary but honestly I couldn’t resist. Until next time!