How space settlement can challenge consumerism
by Babak Shakouri Hassanabadi
|The introduction of a culture of blind pursuit of profit, enshrined in consumerism to the would-be space colonies, means that people living on other worlds most likely may have the same problems that we on Earth are entangled with.|
Space settlement should be developed by following or avoiding certain sets of ideas, doctrines, and philosophical guidelines. In other words, space settlement is in need of an ideology in order to be put in practice. The qualifications of such an ideology can enable us to foresee what a human society would look like, what its social structure and moral values would be, and ultimately whether or not they could survive.
This article is devoted to casting light on how the predominant ideology of consumerism will be challenged by human colonies in space, and in which ways extraterrestrial human culture might affect or reshape our way of thinking here on Earth.
Consumerism is a social and economic order and ideology that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts. Such massive consumption is not aimed at meeting the actual needs of consumers, but rather the accumulation of wealth and profit for the manufacturers or distributors.
Although the spread of culture of consumerism has had some positive results in accumulation of wealth for capital owners, it has also led to repulsive consequences in many societies around the world. These include environmental destruction, pollution, climate change, perpetual economic crisis, disintegration of the societal fabric. These, and the spread of exaggerated individualism together with social alienation, are direct fruits of consumerist global culture.
By the same token, consumerism is highly appreciated in Western countries since a person’s standard of living is valued by his or her material possessions. This very issue raises profound concerns about the future of human colonies in space. The introduction of a culture of blind pursuit of profit, enshrined in consumerism to the would-be space colonies, means that people living on other worlds most likely may have the same problems that we on Earth are entangled with. One may ask that in this case, where off-world colonies are something akin to miserable societies on Earth, then what virtue is associated with spreading socio-economic misery and destruction beyond Earth in the first place? Thus, it would seem more logical to refrain from extravagant space exploration program expenses in the first place and spend the money here on Earth.
|Is there any hope for cultural survival in space, or is the fate of space settlement doomed to end up with consumerism as dominant mindset and ideology?|
Another drawback of the consumerist mindset in space settlement would be putting economic profitability as the first priority for extraterrestrial expansion of humanity. That is to say, when space settlement is regarded as a business, then any pure scientific or expeditionary attempt would be overshadowed since, just like all other commercial projects, space settlement first and foremost ought to be lucrative for its investors.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that a space settlement is established on the Moon or Mars. The question then would be how consumerism and the peculiarities of an off-world settlement could coexist. Is there any hope for cultural survival in space, or is the fate of space settlement doomed to end up with consumerism as dominant mindset and ideology?
Indeed, there are certain characteristics to the way of life in space that not only make culture of consumerism impossible to take hold but also could affect the way of life on Earth. That would come through the provision of a functioning alternative way of life that has successfully eliminated the hazardous side effects of consumerism for the sake of a more humane form of social management. These characteristics are scrutinized in following lines.
In economics, the profit motive is the motivation of firms that operate so as to maximize their profits. Mainstream microeconomic theory posits that the ultimate goal of a business is to make money. Stated differently, the reason for a business’s existence is to turn a profit. The profit motive is a key tenet of rational choice theory, or the theory that economic agents tend to pursue what is in their own best interests.
However, application of this theory could be gravely counterproductive for space settlement. Among others, maximization of profit requires three basic tactics: overcoming business competition, minimizing the cost price, and encouraging people to buy more goods in one way or another. These three tactics can be categorized as the good, the bad and the ugly so long as space settlement is concerned.
Certainly decreasing the cost price of economic production is of immense importance and highly desired in any space settlement, especially because almost all production lines must be fed with in situ raw material available from the surrounding alien environment. So far, reduction of cost price of production in a space settlement’s economy is the “good” element. Here, the role of advanced technologies becomes critical. Advanced machinery provides the potential to drastically minimize the cost price of vital goods, including oxygen, water, and other resources by producing them locally and cutting off the necessity for importing these materials from Earth at costs that certainly will be exorbitant.
Such advanced technologies are currently well developed and are ready to go but, due to resistance of profit-motivated corporations that regard new technologies as threats, are often disregarded by economic planners. We can all agree that such disregard of advanced technology for the sake of corporate greed won’t enable space settlement.
Competition between startup space settlements on alien surfaces would be the “bad” policy in space settlement for a variety of reasons. Although competition for attaining new and more effective means and methods of production is not unwanted, the scarcity of sophisticated research and development facilities in an off-world settlement would make it much better to put all machineries and skilled technicians together to achieve ultimate good of the colonies as common goal for all.
|The building block of extraterrestrial economic relations ought to be based on non-profit cooperation rather than free-market style competition.|
Another drawback of commercial or technological competition between startup space settlements is that it requires secrecy and concealment of the discoveries or technological achievements from others. Hypothetically, if two space settlements are competing over maximizing their economic production to sell the other and one of them comes across a rich source of vital mineral or chemical deposit on alien surface, the first law of business competition implies that that discovery should be kept hidden from the other colony to maintain the upper hand in commercial profitability. However, if the information is candidly shared, it will enable both colonies to thrive, rather that just one of them.
The psychosocial side effects of competition among groups of people is another reason against non-cooperative relation between colonies. Researches show that competition may create indifference or even aggression among members of two competing groups, which is certainly the last thing we want to witness in off-world settlements. Hence, the building block of extraterrestrial economic relations ought to be based on non-profit cooperation rather than free-market style competition.
Everyone knows that people buy things they don't need and this has become the overwhelming style of living in all industrial societies. However, materialism can take a toll on the individual’s well-being, quality of life, and environment. Consumerist economy requires production to be aimed at producing goods that sell better, not necessarily commodities that are needed the most. Such approach should not have any place in startup space settlements for two reasons.
First, survival of a settlement as a whole hinges on narrowly tailoring available resources and unreplaceable means of production to meet the urgent needs of the settlement. Shifting the production towards accumulation of commercial profit may impair the very raison d’être of the colony. It is true here on Earth, and certainly it will be such in any space settlement as well, that when the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.
Second, overproduction of unnecessary goods in space settlements for commercial ends creates the problem of waste management. In a closed ecosystem where everything ought to be recycled and reused, being entangled with a large amount of waste material in any given form may place the very existence of the settlement at danger.
For the time being, thinkers can only conjecture how the social structure of a human extraterrestrial settlement would develop over time, but one hopes that, based on the evidence of failures of consumerist socioeconomic systems, space inhabitants arrive at conclusion that enough is enough and step forth to implement an alternative socioeconomic system for the good of themselves, and humanity as well.
|It could be hoped that extraterrestrial human societies are better managed and function more satisfactorily in comparison with their consumerist terrestrial counterparts. Possibly, terrestrial nations will be encouraged to follow their example in one way or another.|
In order to reduce the unwanted effects of consumerism, space settlers should strive to establish certain fundamental changes in their societies, such as democratic collective management of production that always puts a community’s needs before individual or corporate greed, exercises waste management, eliminates any monetary value for goods and services, outlaws corporate governance in any given form and, last but not least, achieves a delicate balance between collectivism and individualism in its laws and education system.
Of these, it could be hoped that extraterrestrial human societies are better managed and function more satisfactorily in comparison with their consumerist terrestrial counterparts. Possibly, terrestrial nations will be encouraged to follow their example in one way or another.
If logic and science, allied with altruism and environmentalism, at the end lose the ultimate battle with extravagant corporate greed, the image that is well depicted in science fiction movie Elysium brilliantly prophesizes the doomed fate of humankind. That movie reflects the disastrous consequences of what will happen if consumerism is not harnessed both on the surface of Earth and in space settlements.