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by DAVID Ker THOMSON

I’ve never found very compelling those arguments against space exploration based on the claim that it would divert money from starving children.  Until I see the proof that ceasing to be curious about our place in the cosmos would bring food directly to starving children, permit me to doubt, as Michelangelo was reputed to have said.

There’s something complacent about this flank attack on curiosity.  At least it’s consistent, in the sense that it’s incurious about its own presuppositions, for example that if given more money politicians would give it to starving children, or the belief that there isn’t enough money in the world.

Is it even true that there isn’t enough money in the world?  Certainly people who are formed by a social contract that valorizes money acquisition over other instincts would tend to believe there isn’t enough money.

My experience is the opposite, that far from being a scarce benefit, money and its love is plentiful and is a ground of evil.  Money and its lack arise together, not as opposites, but as a branch of the same unhealthy fetish, a move in the direction of abstraction.

It’s a commonplace to say that we need money for roads, employment opportunities, defense and other programs administered by governments, or for taking out the garbage.  But each of these claims can be demystified in its turn.

In my life in the city I’ve never been persuaded that even one car is necessary anywhere.  Wheelchairs and legs will do.  And a populace aware of its own health and trained to help others in very local emergency sites is likely to be far more vigorous than the one in our current system involving a naïve faith in heavy emergency vehicles logging long smog miles through even heavier traffic hauling traffic victims to semi-insured bureaucracies rife with antibiotic-resistant staff germs to die slowly in line in emergency rooms.

And is it more jobs we need, or fewer?  At least eighty percent of the jobs people perform are silly, useless, mindless, pointless or vicious, as the people who perform them will often tell you themselves.

Defense?  Even people who do not believe in bigger armies will still vote for governments that do, for various unconvincing reasons, all of which involve some belief in “leadership,” the dreamy hope that there’s someone out there who can tell you or your community how to eat or protect itself, and that the stupider or meaner or slicker the person is, the more likely it is that they’ll be able to “lead” you.  Leftist contempt for gun-toting Americans often conceals a far worse unexamined complacency about standing armies.  A standing army—the Canadian armed forces come to mind—is an army begging for a war to give it a justification, a raison debt.

As to garbage, it’s a common misunderstanding of money’d societies that garbage is something that needs to be taken “out” or driven around, like a girlfriend, or sent to Michigan or China or places like that, as we do here in Toronto.  In my experience, it’s far better to bury or compost garbage, which stinks, or not produce it in the first place.

For us—and we are anywhere from half the world to most of the world, people who don’t vote or who wish we weren’t compelled to it, who understand that whatever doesn’t partake of healthy food, shelter, and curiosity is probably foolish and best set adrift—life is for living.  We believe in looking not just at our feet but at the heavens.  If there’s a ladder, we’ll climb it.

If a working geosynchronous space elevator (a way to get on and off the planet without burning fuel) were to cost less than the left’s bad war, Iraq, would we make the exchange?  If it were to cost less than the left’s good war, Afghanistan, would we go for it?  Still we are not urging a cash wager here, but old-fashioned barter, wars for the elevator.  The more expensive, the better—use up all the wars if we have to.

The elevator, a space vine, would be dangerous and lovely, and would bring the kind of perilous but lovely knowledge that would come from any tree of knowledge of good and evil.  Yet it would ask a different question than the carnal questions of war, which are about the extent to which young men will embody the death drive of old men.

Each watershed in a larger watershed could produce some component of a space elevator and its supporting spaceships over the decade or two it might take to lower an elevator tendril into place.  Broken down into small enough components and acts, it would be not money but precision that would be required, and new ways of distributing the effort and risk.  It might even be technically impossible.  But the idea of exploring is worth exploring.  Without curiosity, our food and shelter will extend our lives without giving us lives worth extending.

We ought to increase our ignorance by studying the stars, grope upwards into the corona’d half-light of our immense unknowing, and so add to our stock of wisdom by relinquishing our image of ourselves as knowers.

The sky’s the lim…well, you know what the sky is.

DAVID Ker THOMSON lives in the Great Lakes watershed.    dave.thomson@utoronto.ca

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