Anthropological reflections on space colonization
by Babak Shakouri Hassanabadi
|Without sufficient knowledge about human behavior and reciprocal physical and cultural interaction with the community and surrounding environment, any attempt for colonizing space may fail.|
A human extraterrestrial colony would be a modern group in which individuals come together to cooperate and collaborate for ensuring the survival of the community as a whole in a harsh and hostile environment. Here, members of the colony must psychologically feel affiliated and attached to the community of colonizers in first place, otherwise they may develop depression or emotionally get disconnected from others; that would impair the function of the individual and the colony as a whole.
Unlike what sci-fi movies advocate, a space colony would not be a place for practicing individualistic, courageous activities, although courage and individual critical decision making is necessary. No hero or heroine can singlehandedly carry the burden of colony’s function in the long run. All members of the colony are equally important and crucial for the success of their assigned missions, and keep the community physically and mentally sound over the course of time. Hence, special attention should be given to meticulously selecting individuals who are mentally and culturally able and willing to engage in teamwork. Cultural anthropologists believe that some cultures put more emphasis on collective actions and regard unilateral headstrong behaviors as unwanted and unacceptable conduct, which can be very disadvantageous in off world settlements. If members of a space colony are selected from pro-collectivism cultures and also share ethnic and sociopolitical elements, then the likelihood of success of the colony in a cultural sense would be greatly enhanced.
In a new space colony, a group of people will likely live in a closed small habitat for long time. Such a situation, if perceived by the inhabitants as overcrowded, may cause acute psychological disorders that could put the very existence of the colony at risk. Studies of humans have suggested that social behavior is adversely affected by higher population density. Altruistic behavior tends to decline as crowding increases. Also, crowded situations appear to result in poorer performance.
|It is impossible to disregard the hidden and express competitions between various ethnicities, nations, and religious groups, all of which stem from human nature to distinguish between “us” and “them.” Such tendency should be avoided in space colonies by any means possible.|
Crowding may have a detrimental effect on health of the colonizers as well. Studies indicate that crowding is associated with increased blood pressure and increased secretion of stress hormones at least in the short term. Researchers identify two reasons why crowded conditions may be detrimental to health: first, the stress associated with crowding may depress the immune system and have other direct health effects; second, overcrowded conditions may facilitate the spread of communicable diseases. A number of studies indicate that crowded conditions are associated with increased incidence of colds, asthma, influenza and diarrhea, particularly in young children. Such analogy could easily be drawn and apply correctly for future human settlements on the Moon or Mars as well.
That said, special care should be taken to keep the balance between the available space in the habitat and the number of occupants to avoid an impression of overcrowding, which in turn could decrease the odds of success of the colonizing attempt.
Space exploration is and has always been immensely expensive. Establishing a permanent colony in space would not be an exception, thus international cooperation is deemed not only to be desirable but also necessary and inevitable. When different governments contribute to such a gigantic project, the first expectation they might have is to send one or more colonizers from their nations. Diverse ethnic or national composition of the colonizing group might be very welcomed on Earth but not so much on an extraterrestrial habitat. People are wedded to the notion that they belong to differing tribe-type categories like races, ethnic groups, nations, religions, castes, street gangs, sports fandom, and high school cliques. It is impossible to disregard the hidden and express competitions between various ethnicities, nations, and religious groups, all of which stem from human nature to distinguish between “us” and “them.” Such tendency should be avoided in space colonies by any means possible.
Ethnic or political friction between a number of groups, among many other instances of collective “dislike” in today’s political world, is too bold to be ignored. It is a matter of fact that, broadly speaking, some nationalities or social groups cannot get along easily with each other and prefer to keep their distance if they have the chance to. Such approach is not recommended within a space colony. Within the closed habitat of a Lunar or Martian colony, such ethnic, cultural, or political confrontation could turn out to be unconstructive at least, and destructive at most.
|Once space colonizers in the eye of Earthlings become regarded as “them” and not “us,” it will be the time to celebrate the emergence of the first known extraterrestrial culture developed by human immigrants from planet Earth.|
Although drawing an absolute general rule is impossible and exceptions could always be found, but generally speaking, the ethnic or national composition of the colony members should be narrowly tailored so that, on one hand, it prevents any type of unwanted grouping or confrontation between the members and, on the other hand, enhances the solidarity and unity of the group on the basis of common societal heritages or shared positive ethno-politico-historical backgrounds. Such meticulous attention in selecting the socially harmonious individuals as colonizers would improve the chances for a successful extraterrestrial colony as far as human element is concerned.
Culture refers to the personality and attitude of an organization. It also includes the shared beliefs, values, and behavior of the employees. These determine the ways in which the organization and its people make decisions and solve problems. Webster’s Dictionary defines culture as “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group.” Your culture is a distinct way of living and thinking that is based on where you live, your heritage, and your experiences. Over the course of time that space colony likely develops a culture of its own, different from terrestrial cultures that the initial colonizers brought with them to the alien surface of Moon or Mars.
However, extraterrestrial human culture could be distinct from its terrestrial counterparts. In order to determine whether an extraterrestrial culture has been developed or not, future anthropologists will study different components of the culture such as family structure, moral values of the community, means of economic production, wealth distribution methods, societal classes, religious beliefs, collective identity, language, and so on. In short, once space colonizers in the eye of Earthlings become regarded as “them” and not “us,” it will be the time to celebrate the emergence of the first known extraterrestrial culture developed by human immigrants from planet Earth. How that new extraterrestrial culture would interact with terrestrial cultures or other space colonies elsewhere is a question for future anthropologists of the “space anthropocene” era. But for now we can confidently predict that the impact of cultural exchange between Earth and space colonies won’t be to any extent less than the influence of cultural exchange between colonists of the New World and the countries of the Old World five centuries ago.