Yesterday, Tesla Corp’s Elon Musk sent his Tesla roadster hurtling into space on the back of his company’s Falcon Heavy rockets in order to test them out, and both side rockets were able to land perfectly back onto their launch pads after they were done. It was a pivotal moment in our advancement in space travel and even opened the door for travel to Mars.
But while 2.3 million viewers and the world celebrated this momentous occasion of humanity’s advancement, there were those who found the moment to be an awful display of humanity’s selfishness and a total waste of resources.
Over at The Guardian, Nathan Robinson penned an op-ed calling Musk’s space-capades an “indefensible waste of resources.” Why? Because there are people in the world who are dying in Syria due to violence, and the UN is running out of ways to get people to care.
Robinson writes that the inequality displayed by Musk is “tragic.”
“There is, perhaps, no better way to appreciate the tragedy of 21st-century global inequality than by watching a billionaire spend $90m launching a $100,000 car into the far reaches of the solar system,” Robinson opined.
The Guardian writer continued by stating that Musk held this moment as important because “silly and fun things” should be. Robinson claims this was Musk’s attempt to cut naysayers off at the pass, and make them seem like killjoys.
Robinson then proceeds to be a total killjoy.
“But one doesn’t have to hate fun to question the justification for pursuing a costly new space race at exactly this moment,” he wrote. “If we examine the situation honestly, and get past our natural (and accurate) feeling that rockets are really cool, it becomes hard to defend a project like this.”
I think we can all appreciate Robinson’s care for those suffering out there in places where safety, food, and happiness are often in short supply, but his stance that we should all stop any advancement or fun just because some people don’t have what we have is not only short-sighted, it’s flat-out dangerous.
Robinson thinks that first, we have to solve the world’s problems before we can engage in scientific advancement and exploration, and says so quite plainly.
“A mission to Mars does indeed sound exciting, but it’s important to have our priorities straight. First, perhaps we could make it so that a child no longer dies of malaria every two minutes,” he wrote. “Or we could try to address the level of poverty in Alabama that has become so extreme the UN investigator did not believe it could still occur in a first-world country. Perhaps once violence, poverty and disease are solved, then we can head for the stars.”
This kind of thinking is so shallow that my shower floor could be considered the “deep end” by comparison. For one, solving violence, poverty, and disease sounds grand, but it’s just not going to happen. Those three things will always plague humanity.
Violence is part of human nature, be it because two men disagree about who should get the girl, or a warlord wants to overthrow a government. Countries will always fight to protect themselves, as they should, and old tribal rivalries caused by opposing belief systems will always lead to a clash. You will never eliminate violence. In order to do so, you would first have to eliminate the human modus operandi.
The same goes for poverty and disease. Some people will do the right things in the right succession to become wealthy. Some won’t. Some will make all the wrong choices or will have unfortunate things happen to them. Some will become ill and die. Some will starve due to famine caused by anything from plagues to the aforementioned violence of bad men. Some will rise from poverty and disease to become something greater. It’s not that uncommon of a story.
The world isn’t a place where perfection exists, and no matter how badly we strive for it, we’ll never reach it. We’re a world of endless variables, circumstances, and choice. To achieve your perfect world where there is no violence, disease, or poverty you’d have to eliminate everything that makes the universe what it is.
In other words, it’s a noble goal to eliminate all the negative things in the world, but it’s a fool’s errand.
Advancement, however, does help everyone. Capitalism has lifted the first world into something no one thought possible centuries ago and made America a marvel of humanity. The quality of life for those in America is far above and beyond what much of the world enjoys. Even many of the poor in America are the one percent when it comes to global wealth. This has allowed for our quality of life to improve by leaps and bounds and even caused our life expectancy to skyrocket. Medicines that cure those diseases and sicknesses are constantly in development, stopping cold what would otherwise ravage our population as it’s happened to so many others.
This was all due to advancements in technology, business, and thought, and it was all done while much of the world wasn’t remotely enjoying the rising standards in America. Trying to put this kind of thing on hold, as Robinson suggests, would stall us, and no one would benefit from the rise in technology spurred by the rise of another technology. Necessity is the mother of invention and we should not sterilize her.
Celebrating Musk throwing his car into space using a new kind of rocket is exactly the thing we need to be celebrating, and encouraging. Leaving Earth for different planets, where we’ll find new resources and spur new technologies, will elevate mankind. Not sitting here in the sand, wondering why the tide keeps coming in no matter how hard we splash it back.
Tl;dr…C.S. Lewis wrote best on Robinson’s viewpoint.
“The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven…It must be one way or the other. Either the day must come when joy prevails and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it: or else for ever and ever the makers of misery can destroy in others the happiness they reject for themselves. I know it has a grand sound to say ye’ll accept no salvation which leaves even one creature in the dark outside. But watch that sophistry or ye’ll make a Dog in a Manger the tyrant of the universe.” – C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce