#93 March 1996
Section 126.96.36.199.093.of the Artemis Data Book
Post-modernism : An Enemy of Space Colonizationby Forrest W. Schultz
I recently read a very interesting book, which I believe is very helpful in explaining the decline of zeal for space exploration and colonization.
The Sixties Spiritual Awakening: American Religion Moving From Modern to Postmodern, by Robert S. Ellwood, 1994 Rutgers University Press
Ellwood is a sociology of religion scholar, and his book contains one of the best discussions I have ever seen of the multifarious impact which the Sixties have had on our society. The result of this impact is the now predominating post-modernist spirit - a spirit which differs radically from the modernism which preceded it.
Although Ellwood's discussion of what this post-modernism means for America's space activities is quite brief, it gets to the heart of the matter. Here is what he says concerning the first manned lunar landing:
"In the 1990s as one watches videos of the epochal event, one vicariously participates in an adventure inherently gripping yet oddly dated in mentality and means, like a tale from Homer. Despite the 1969 talk of the heroic venture of Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong, and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin as only the first step in a great human exploration of the universe, one feels intuitively [that] it was rather the last great moment in an era now closed. ... The Apollo-Saturn missions were isolated adventures, like Odysseus's, not new Columbian voyages. ... the Moon landing was a supreme and last expression of the American modernist spirit, ... invincibly confident in its technological skill and its righteous use thereof, believing in progress forever." (pp. 305, 306)
In short, the spirit which generated the American space program and carried it into its glory days, culminating in the Apollo lunar missions, is no longer the ruling and guiding spirit in America, according to Ellwood. That spirit - the "modernist" spirit - has now been supplanted by the "post-modernist" spirit, which is antipathetical to the optimism, heroism, dynamism, and objectivism of the modernist era.
If Ellwood's analysis is correct, and I believe it is, then it explains why space activists are having to fight an "uphill" battle. The real obstacle we face is not a lack of funds or technology, but the postmodernist spirit, which does not share our vision. The reason we have to fight to "take back the dream" and "recover the vision" of Apollo is that the postmodernist spirit has repudiated the vision and dream of space. This cynical postmodernism scoffs at the conquest of space as a grandiose notion. The postmodernist hegemony began in the early 1970s. This is why, instead of becoming the springboard to the colonization of space, the lunar landing became instead "the last great moment in an era now closed". That in a nutshell is Ellwood's diagnosis of the contemporary malaise.
I believe that Ellwood's interpretation is correct, as far as it goes. But I think that it needs to be supplemented with an accurate understanding of the modernist spirit, without which, one may be misled into the common misconception of supposing that the nature of modernism was totally at odds with the preceding medieval era. This is far from true. The modernist era incorporated (via secularization) many ideas from the medieval mind. One of the most important of these earlier ideas is what David A. Dunlop calls "The Value of the Grand Vision and the Long Trajectory" in his essay "An Appropriate Environment for Man" on pages 9-11 of the October '95 issue of Moon Miners' Manifesto (issue # 89).
As an example of this Grand Vision/Long Trajectory idea, Dunlop refers to the construction of the great European cathedrals, and then contrasts this with "The Tyranny of the Short Term Standard", which is the currently accepted outlook:
"We seem to have lost culturally the capacity that existed during the middle ages which concerned itself with 'meeting the requirements of God' even if it took generations to fulfill such requirements. The constructions of the great cathedrals of Europe were the work of centuries spanning many generations. No such clear sense of over arching necessity of purpose exists today for any national or international project ...We don't aspire to visions of new worlds. The output of enormous effort in the here and now that will not see completion in one's lifetime is a very alien and even humorous idea in an era which is increasingly conditioned to short term expectations of accomplishment and maximized individual consumption." (p. 10, emphasis his)
Dunlop then cites two examples of the "Grand Vision / Long Trajectory" from the modernist era in America, namely the purchases of the Louisiana Territory and of Alaska.
"When the opportunity arose for the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from the French, the amount represented a substantial portion of the entire budget of the United States in 1805. Yet Jefferson, looking ahead over the course of a century or two, realized that the purchase price was an infinitesimal portion of the true value of what was being offered. Against opposition, he persuaded Congress to take the plunge. On a smaller scale, 'Seward's folly' of purchasing Alaska for 67 million dollars in the mid 1860s was another such uncommon example of the long term view prevailing. The economic wisdom of Jefferson and Seward is now clearly apparent after well over a century has passed, but the territorial gain and economic gain of other planets, the Moon, and Mars has eluded every President and Congress since Nixon!" (p. 10, emphasis his).
Now I firmly believe, as I have stated in previous articles, and as most other space activists believe, that we must strive to radically reduce the costs of getting to and living in space. But this is not enough. It is even more important that we fight against the prevailing cynical myopic post-modernist spirit, and seek to restore the greatness which Western Culture had during its medieval and modernist eras, when the then predominant Grand Vision & Long Trajectory idea inspired men to dream great dreams and accomplish great works. Let's face it: even with Cheap Access to Space (CATS) and Cheap Utilization of the Resources of Space (CURS) [Ed. an unfortunate acronym!], it is still going to take an enormous amount of money, materials, and manpower to create a spacefaring civilization. People will not be inclined to make this kind of investment in the future until they have been liberated from the postmodernist slough of despondency and set free to once again dream the great dream of fulfilling the next great step in the Dominion Mandate - building the "cathedrals" of the next millennium: human settlements in space.
Forrest W. Schultz is President of the Environment Chapter of the National Space Society, an at large chapter and resides in Grantsville, Georgia.
Contents of this issue of Moon Miners' Manifesto