The humanities and space history
by Taylor Dinerman
|Exposing any weaknesses in the logic and arguments of space advocates is excellent preparation for what they will face from politicians.|
The greatest and most interesting thing about this conference was its ambiguous relationship to the US government. Andrew Butrica gave a long and passionate denunciation of almost everything that the US government, dominated as it has been by the GOP for much of the last quarter century, has done. In fact, few attendees had anything positive to say about NASA or the US space program, which has, in spite of its many and all too evident flaws, accomplished some remarkable things.
This brings up the question of what role, if any, the humanities should play in future decisions about the space program. Should any group which is fundamentally hostile to the basic goals of a project, whose ambitions are closely identified with America’s national interests, have any influence on it? The answer should be of course: just as the critiques of the anti-war movement have helped America’s military leaders to improve their performance, so the critics of the space program serve a valuable function. Exposing any weaknesses in the logic and arguments of space advocates is excellent preparation for what they will face from politicians.
Much of the criticism is based on either a heartfelt dislike of the program and of the so-called military industrial complex, or on the urge to deconstruct any structure that supports bourgeois civilization and stands in the way of the triumph of the “other”. Since space travel is one of the great symbolic achievements of Western civilization, and its origins are morally suspect, embedded as they are in the two great totalitarian socialist regimes of the 20th century, it is only natural that some will seek to tear down the ultimate triumph of American Exceptionalism.
In any case they have generously provided space advocates with what may be the best justification for the continued exploration and colonization of space: “Who want to be stuck on the same planet with the semioticians, forever?”