Mars: Voyage to the Billionaires’ Panic Room

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In the old days, way back, as far back as twenty years ago (and that’s further back than most people can think about now), when you got rich you bought lots of big houses and a superyacht and a private jet. That way you could visit ultra-expensive resorts along with the other billionaires and not feel as if your penis was too small.

Today mansions and yachts and jets are yesterday’s trinkets. What matters today is to dream beyond the increasingly damaged atmosphere of mere Earth and put your money where few can: into building the next generation of launchers and spaceships.

There are benefits to the rest of us, of course: cheaper launch costs which in turn will mean more satellites in orbit so we can more accurately chart the degradation of our planet and perhaps the occasional spin-out technology that will make it easier for us to slide omelets out of the pan, should we ever one day accidentally find ourselves making breakfast for ourselves rather than ordering it online and having it delivered to our doorstep by some venture-capital-bleeding startup whose idea of success is to grow customer base and financial losses in lockstep.

The real purpose of all this space-oriented activity, however, is clear: we’re ruining the Earth and so we need a Plan B. This is the mantra of a surprisingly diverse group of people who seem to regard the fact that we’ve evolved to be suited for the planet we actually inhabit as a mere distraction. Instead of spending billions to clean up our act and save this fragile beautiful Earth, our billionaire celebrities are busy dreaming of flying off to build a new civilization on a desolate radiation-blasted rock some fifty million kilometers away. What could possibly make more sense?

Of course this makes no sense at all, until you see it from the perspective of this tiny handful of tech-obsessed billionaires. For them, developing the capability to launch stuff into space and then potentially go on to Mars is the ultimate rich boy’s toy. Who cares if some Russian oligarch has the world’s largest and most expensive luxury yacht and more private jets than he can count? We’re off into space! Take that, Russian fatboy!

As for the pathetically teenage fantasy that we can trash the Earth but still be OK because we can build bunkers on Mars, this is nothing more than a billionaire’s panic room relocated to a different planet. The fact that people like Elon Musk think it makes sense is a very clear indicator of how much Musk & Co have lost whatever tenuous grip they had on reality in the first place. And the subordinate “reasons we must go to Mars” are equally fatuous. “There may be some global disaster that means we need redundancy for the human race” is one tech-oriented pitch we often hear, as if a species could be backed-up on a different planet in case we need a warm fail-over in event of a global systems crash.

Well, guess what, boys? Backing up data to a remote site is not at all analogous with life. First of all it’s hubris to imagine our dull-witted self-destructive species should be around for more than a few dozen decades more, and secondly it’s ridiculous to assume it’s OK for us to wreck the Earth provided a tiny rich subset of our species can blast off to a barren planet where they can live out their lives inside pressurized radiation shelters where they would be utterly dependent on fragile technology for their very survival.

If the tech billionaires were slightly more intelligent and far less obsessed with the game of “who’s got the biggest launcher” they could use some of their vast wealth to ameliorate the many harms we are inflicting on our planet. But when you’re a billionaire you care only about your social ranking among the other billionaires. And so we get the race to space, the race to Mars, and who knows what other follies in the years to come.

Which is, above all the other stupid and self-harming things we do as a species, perhaps the ultimate indictment of our species’ inherent mental limitations.

So let’s have half a cheer for panic rooms on Mars while we lose the Amazon rain forest and what’s left of forests in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Africa. Let’s have half a cheer for panic rooms on Mars while we trawl the last fish from the ocean and smash up the sea floor. Let’s have half a cheer for panic rooms on Mars while we dump ever more plastic into the oceans and put ever more stabilizers, anti-oxidants, flavorings, colorings, and preservatives into the shrink-wrapped portion-sized slop we pour down our throats. And let’s have half a cheer for panic rooms on Mars while we swallow down the many pills our doctors prescribe for us so that we’re so drugged and insensible we don’t notice that we’re killing ourselves and everything around us.

In short, let’s watch in awe as a handful of overly rich boys compete to see who has the shiniest space toys while we slowly kill ourselves out of sheer unrelenting stupidity, all the while thinking we’re smart and stable and are making the world great again.

Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.

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