By Quinlyn Manfull
When the United States decided to stop funding the Space Program, I was devastated. I thought going to Mars and hanging out in space would be really, really cool. I thought it may be the opportunity to better the future of our planet and of our world. But realistically, I didn’t know any of this. And neither does anyone else.
Last Tuesday, SpaceX successfully launched a Tesla into space using Musk’s Falcon Heavy rocket, the most powerful ever launched by a private company — CNN commentators announced “the new space age.” Viewers are hopeful of the next step: SpaceX has said they have capabilities to send people to Mars and these newest rockets have an impressive carrying capacity. But these projects bring no guarantee of betterment, and even if they can guarantee it, who will be able to access that betterment?
Long term projects that have a possibility of solving some status quo problems are fine in and of themselves, but they draw attention away from concrete solutions we already have. Not to mention that problems of income inequality, environmental destruction and the overwhelming plunder committed against our bodies and the earth that capitalism has committed will not be fixed using the same system that created them.
Millions of people die of curable diseases across poorer parts of the world. If capital were to be redistributed, we would be able to feed the global population times and times over. The idea that launching rockets or exploring deep sea could possibly save resources for our planet, or could possibly be the next step to saving our humanity is interesting, but there are many miles of analysis missing.
When the cure for TB and AIDS are blocked from millions across Latin America and Africa and the livelihoods of millions are stolen through illegal organ trades in order to benefit a few, how can one reasonably argue that technological improvements like space travel would serve the greater good?
Not only are stunts like the Tesla to Space launch an extensive waste of resources, they shift the focus of “saving humanity” away from root causes of inequality. We distract ourselves from the fact that the US is killing civilians across the middle east, that there are currently 63 million Americans living without access to clean water, that 45,000 people die from lack of health insurance in the U.S. every year.
This is the fault of the few. Corporations — and the wealthy dudes in charge of corporations — have an incentive to increase the gap between the rich and the poor, and an incentive to silence the masses and steal their labor to mass more capital that was unjustly acquired in the first place, and to destroy the environment and never check themselves for externalities.
They themselves will never feel these repercussions — they will not have to breathe in the toxic chemicals that are spreading in the air around native reservations or prisons around the country and world, they won’t have to drink the lead-ridden water that millions of Americans are subjected to, and now they won’t have to even apologize or recognize their role.
They’ll send a car to space, and then make trillions allowing others to get to go to space while those who are currently being forgotten are left to rot on the wasteland that we are told is the price we have to pay for the benefits of a free market.
Corporations are able to drain resources that could be spent to find cures to health problems around the world, or to solve the problems of environmental degradation that they themselves have perpetrated, but instead they are making themselves the saviors. Look to even Bernie Sanders endorsing the most recent Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase healthcare business plan to see that corporations are getting their slate wiped clean by masking the problems they create. White male capitalist led democratic socialism is no different from an extension of a late-capitalist hellscape.
Corporations will not be the solution to environmental collapse. By the year 2050 the global population of climate refugees will reach at least 250 million, states are disappearing due to rising sea levels, and wars over water are occuring in newly arid regions due to climate change. These pipedreams of sending us to space, or finding something cool during deep sea exploration will not materialize soon enough (if they do at all) to address these concerns.
There is a reason businesses do not invest into issues that harm poor communities, why Flint still does not have clean water, and its because those aren’t “fun, cool” ideas.
The accumulation and concentration of huge quantities of wealth has allowed a few people the privilege of playing around with some pet projects that are fun and exciting while ignoring and erasing their role in the imminent threat to life globally. This “techie bro syndrome” allows for those with enough capital to indulge in their wildest, rediculous fantasies.
Late capitalism is extended when you allow individuals to become so rich that the laws of even capitalism do not apply to them. We have seen this globally with the increased accumulation of capital and military capacity but also even within our own wealthy nation. 86 percent of native coastal communities in Alaska currently affected by climate change, villages are currently being relocated while permafrost is melting and 75 billion tons of ice is melting off of glaciers. People in Puerto Rico still do not have electricity or clean water, but somehow sending a sports car into space seems appropriate to these billionaires.
Even if all of these plans workout, if Musk funds a hyperloop train from Seattle to San Francisco and sends us all to space or finds the cure to some disease while exploring the deep sea, these greater problems will only continue to perpetuate if you allow corporations to “solve” problems.
We aren’t in search of solutions because these are natural problems. Profit incentive and private property will always undermine fundamental human dignity. These are not accidents but ploys of a capitalist state. Do not let Zuckerberg or Bezos or Musk solve these problems. Hold them accountable. We cannot have freedom in a world where they are our primary saviors.