Earthlings go into space (8/52)

Illustration by Susanne Gold/ text by Ted Ganten

To envision earth as a speaceship will support to recalibrate our normative thinking.  We and the planet, however, do not just need a new perspective, we need a motivation to bring them to life. As pointed out before social change needs either great suffering or great goals. I am all in to look for great goals.

What, if we – as humanity – set ourselves the goal of colonizing first the Earth’s orbit, then the Moon and, after terraforming the Mars as well? That would be a big and hard to achieve goal. We would need new technologies. We would have to bundle resources. We would have to create new organizational structures that are geared to the goal.

Colonization of space

“Colonization of space” sounds far-fetched, silly, maybe even crazy at first sight. And how, for god’s sake, should this help us to solve the challenges of our future mentioned above? Here’s my theory: There are two ways to achieve personal change, and from my point of view this also applies to the collective: great pain or great goals. Great pain of civilization – such as the Second World War – has really made people rethink. Many of the international organizations were created or strengthened as a result. However, it seems more desirable than waiting for further catastrophes to bring about change through a big goal. We are evolutionarily programmed to achieve goals. New goals will change our perspective. The more difficult the goals are to achieve, the better suited they are to mobilize (unexpected) forces. In management we speak of “big hairy audicious goals” and in our personal environment of dreams. Strong driving forces for individuals and large groups. Corporations use the mechanism daily to motivate global teams.

Save the planet first

Why shouldn’t the obvious need for preservation of the planet be the big, unifying goal? Why the reach for the stars? First of all, it should be made clear that planetary preservation and even preservation of Homo Sapiens are of course underlying goals. Although, sustainability goals are certainly obvious to every thinking being, it is not yet enough to orientate mankind towards them. It is a bit like living a healthier life. Everyone knows that a lot of meat, chips and fatty pizzas are unhealthy. We also know that alcohol, cigarettes and city air do not exactly support a long life. Everyone is aware that strength and endurance sports combined with sufficient stretching promote the quality of life. Hardly any person does it consistently. Why? It is an obvious goal. It is similar to the preservation of the planet for mankind. An obvious goal in the life of each individual. However, the minute we set ourselves a goal outside the everyday, self-evident zone – take a marathon run in 12 months as an example – most of us start to live healthier. We need to be healthy to perform in the run! Apart from exceptional individuals, the human psyche does not seem to accept the natural/reasonable as a motivating goal. Even people who are dedicated to researching topics to prolong human life or who are dedicated to human health as doctors are not aligned with their obvious insights in their own life habits. When the same people have goals in the outside world, such as success with a person they adore, a certain job, or even a travel dream, and a healthy lifestyle is helpful to achieve such a goal, it suddenly works.

Evolutionary tailwinds

Evolutionary we are problem optimizers. The self-evident does not exert the same attraction. These mechanisms can be transferred from the individual level to the collective. It would therefore be helpful for humanity to find a goal in the outside world that makes planet preservation seem important – as a reflex – and changes the perspective on our togetherness. Space colonization, in the sense of an extended sphere of action for humanity – not in the sense of leaving an exploited earth behind – could be such a goal. Of course, environmental protection and sustainability as such must continue to be promoted. In fact, the efforts must be significantly increased. But as the sole goal, the preservation of the planet has mass psychological difficulties. As a reflex this is much likelier to work.


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