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Yet Another Year of Magical Thinking


A peculiar feature of the human condition is that a society in distress will call forth intellectual witch-doctors to put on a colorful show that distracts the supposedly thinking class from the insoluble quandaries that portend serious trouble ahead. This feature is on display these days in the person of freelance space pioneer Elon Musk. He intends to establish a human colony on Mars of one million people by 2040.

Musk, who is also developer of the Tesla line of electric cars and businesses that make solar-electric gear and batteries, has tested a series of space vehicles, most recently last week’s celebrated launch of his Falcon Heavy Rocket, said to be the most powerful in the world. It is just the precursor of the soon-to-come colossus Musk calls the BFR (“Big Fucking Rocket”) that will convey as many as 200 people at a time to their new home on the Red Planet.

NPR reporter Ari Shapiro was rhapsodizing about this “Space-X” project last week on the airwaves, lending it the media stamp-of-approval. And since NPR is a major news source for the US thinking class especially, you can be sure this meme of colonizing Mars is now embedded in the brains of the Pareto distribution (“the law of the vital few”) who affect to be thought leaders in this land.

There’s an old gag about the space race of yore that goes something like this (trigger warning to the ethnically hyper-sensitive):

The UN convenes a General Assembly session on space travel. The ambassadors of various nations are asked to talk about their space projects. The Russians and the Americans tick off their prior accomplishments and announce plans to explore the planets. Finally, the ambassador from Poland takes his turn at the rostrum.

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