TCS Daily

Mars Needs Liberals

By Philip Shropshire - June 27, 2002 12:00 AM

"And yet some of us here can accept transforming the entire physical reality of this planet, without doing a single thing to change our selves, or the way we live. To be twenty first century scientists on Mars, in fact, but at the same time living within 19th century social systems, based on seventeenth-century ideologies. It's absurd. It's crazy. It's, It's.." he seized his head in his hands, tugged at his hair, roared "It's unscientific! And so I say that among all the many things we transform on Mars, ourselves and
our social reality should be among them. We must terraform not only Mars, but ourselves."

-- From Kim Stanley Robinson's "Red Mars"

There is a stunning scene in "Oceanic" -- one of just many extraordinary stories by the author Greg Egan -- where it's clear that a man's sexual organ (euphemistically referred to as the "bridge") can be traded among partners. Female biotechies thus create the futuristic and sexually blurred world called Coventry. And they orchestrate a number of other interesting things such as setting themselves up as gods and using nanotech to create "miracles."

I came to the conclusion that while Coventry made for a sober examination of future tech and the nature of religious belief, it was not a place I'd ever want to visit. Ever.

But as a liberal tolerant person, I think the biotech-feminist creators of Coventry had the right to create the world of their dreams. I actually think that's the main reason for space exploration: You explore space not just because it's there (which is a perfectly good reason mind you), you explore space because you want to create better, smarter societies.

As such, I'm always surprised to find that there are leftists who oppose space exploration. I've debated them off and on and read their arguments a number of times. The primary argument that I've gleaned is that we shouldn't, say, send men to Mars because we've done such a horrible job with the Earth.

Let me offer two counterarguments: First, I thought the idea of being a liberal is that you're tolerant of other points of view. We're the ones who tolerate South Park and different sexual choices and the right to watch porn. My hope is that if I decide to go to Mars another liberal, or progressive person, would tolerate my decision and wish me luck. I suppose I'm hoping that when a green says "Don't Go To Mars" that he or she is simply referring to himself or herself. You can handle Cartman with peace. You should let me take that one way ticket to the Mars plains with peace.

Second, I would hope that greens would go to Mars! One of the reasons I will leave for Mars or wherever is that I don't feel that I've failed the Earth all by myself. I sorted my cans and glasses. I did my share of recycling. But I don't have a half billion dollars to lobby Congress to pass bills and subsidize old technologies that hurt the environment. It's a situation that's getting worse and not better. But on Mars we can do better if we're working under some different rules.

This is why I'll go further than Professor Glenn Reynolds did in a previous column and say that I wouldn't want to live under the American constitution on Mars, especially if I have a choice about it. Professor Reynolds thinks the stress factors are tolerable. I don't think the American Indian or victims of the American slave trade would agree.

Furthermore, I would really not like putting anybody in jail for smoking marijuana on Mars and I don't want Enron or the nuclear energy lobby controlling my decisions on Mars. Bad enough that I have to tolerate these things here.

In fact, that's the wicked secret dream of space exploration: You can create new constitutions, new rules. In other words, instead of thinking that men are bad and therefore shouldn't explore, why not try asking how would you create a constitution that encourages our most noble aspirations? For example, Mr. or Ms. Green, would you like to create an environmental Supreme Court as proposed in the Kim Stanley Robinson "Mars" series? Would you like to directly vote on international trade agreements like NAFTA? Would you like a national referendum process? Hell, would you like direct democracy and a confirmation vote on everything your congress does?

Well you can have that if you have the courage to work for it. But not here, and probably not anywhere where you have to live under the United States constitution.

It's not that I'm unpatriotic. It's just that I think that we can do better -- e.g., mechanisms for runoff voting and uniform ballot machines sure would be nice. I'm also of the opinion that people who build state of the art fusion drives are going to want state of the art constitutions to go along with them. Keep in mind that the Mars Society -- aside from worrying about energy sources and dental health - wants a constitution and government set before they land. They also already have their own flag.

I might add that if you were seriously concerned about the Martian ecosphere it would be nice if there were some environmentally sensitive types on the Red Planet. Who would be more responsible about making that choice as to whether to preserve the precious Martian bacterial life: The head of the Sierra Club or those lobbyists who want the EPA to lessen clean air standards? Who do you want making that choice to pave over the rare Martian ruins for the new mall: the head of Wal Mart or the head of Greenpeace? I think the choice is clear.

I should add that it might be true that we might lose the Earth. But it would be nice to have that fight on another world with some different rules. How about a constitution that mandates publicly funded elections, free airtime for candidates and proportional representation? The good opportunities are endless if you have the courage to grasp them. "Make it so" as one television character used to phrase it.

So I would hope that the greens, to paraphrase that line in "Total Recall," would get their asses to Mars and make sure that Vilos Cohaagen doesn't charge us for the air.

Philip Shropshire opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement and went door to door raising money to oppose it. He publishes two websites: and

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