My Rocketship Has a Nice Personality Though

Art by Jasmin Small and Rose Dixon-Campbell

Penises, I feel, are inherently funny. It’s not a maturity thing. It’s the incongruity of something that sticks out of the human body when so much goes in (food, water etc.). However, men with penises: less funny. As you’ve probably realised, I’m conflicted about phallic spaceships. On one hand, they look funny. On the other hand, they’re owned and run by men projecting a masculine ego onto space and its colonisation.

There are a number of reasons why we should go to space. Humans are explorers, and it is the next frontier. What we find will broaden our conceptual horizons, challenging how we see ourselves in the wider cosmos. The problems we face will likely require new solutions that can be translated back to solving some of Earth’s problems. But this doesn’t seem to be our focus anymore. It appears we only have two motivations: money and masculinity. The former is well-documented, the latter less so.

Western environmental philosophy rests on two tenets: the idea of Mother Nature, and the idea of humans’ (read: mans’) physical domination of Mother Nature. The former is used in mainstream conservationist arguments. The latter is how we actually engage with the natural world: a territory to be beaten back and then harvested.

The feminisation of nature is not necessarily a good thing. Just look at the way so much anti-abortion rhetoric frames a woman’s purpose as birthing men and raising them. Likewise calling nature a “mother” assumes that it exists to care for humanity. Nature does not exist for us. It simply is, just as women simply are. Neither should be tied to anyone else by obligations of care or servitude. 

But, by destroying nature, we have incurred a debt. Think of it like randomly attacking a stranger, you then owe them some form of atonement. Unfortunately, nature cannot tell us what could make up for centuries of exploitation and pollution. But it is not unreasonable to think we could start by stopping, and then by repairing and restoring it. 

The space race rejects this. It thinks the solution to our biophysical limitations is not to live within them, but to try and supersede them. It thinks we can solve the scarcity problem by doing exactly what we’ve done to Earth, only on other planets. However, the scarcity problem is an inherent facet of capitalism. Take just one instance: food. A decade ago, it was clear starvation was a distribution issue. In 2009, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation found that we produced enough food to feed ten billion people. But we won’t sell it cheap enough for those earning less than two USD a day, and instead we use it to feed livestock and create biofuel. Every year, one third of the food made for human consumption is wasted. We do not have a scarcity of food; we have a cruel and inhumane distribution of food. 

Can we honestly say that letting corporations mine metals out of meteors will make us all richer? What, in the history of industrial capitalism, points to this? Sure, consumer markets may benefit, Western countries may benefit, big corporations may benefit, but the vast majority of people will be excluded from these markets. Or, even better, they’ll have foreign companies dump under-priced products on them, preventing any long-term economic development.

When men like Musk, Bezos or Biden insist that we must go to space, they discard the teat of ‘Mother Earth’ for that of Mars. In doing so, they write large how patriarchal societies see women. This pervades even the representation of space.  

Space, in popular culture, is both empty and a frontier. Comparisons with the Wild West are abundant. This narrative prioritises a masculine ideal of ‘conquering’ and ‘overcoming’ nature. When so much of space is incredibly dangerous, aspects of this narrative are valid: challenges will have to be overcome. But what will solving these problems prove? The danger is that people will take them as evidence of individualism; they will be absorbed into the wider neoliberal idea of the individual beating back the natural world and asserting their authority. And, underneath, the idea of a man subduing a female nature to his will. This dismisses the inconvenient truth that the space race has always been an intensely collective endeavour. As Marianna Mazzucato documents in Mission Economy, the space race of the 1960s was a marvel of coordinated, cooperative effort. The narrative was not about worshiping Kennedy as it is today with Musk or Bezos.

The other side of this frontier myth is the idea that humanity solves its problems through individuals, and in particular men. The idea of Musk’s colony on Mars is built on the idea that sickeningly wealthy businessmen should hold society’s future in their hands. The dichotomy is clear. A bunch of white, rich men go off to Mars to fight against its inhospitable climate, while the rest of us, and in particular those from developing nations, must work together, selflessly, to survive. We will have to fight the inhospitable climate that they created.

And this idea won’t solve our problems. Just as pushing frontiers on Earth has spurred temporary economic growth, expanding into the Solar System will bring a period of renewed growth. But the issues that go hand in hand, like wealth inequality, plutocracy, police repression etc. will continue because fundamentally, nothing has changed. In many ways, allowing corporate colonialism will make things worse. In the last few years, it’s become apparent that the largest companies in the world: Apple, Meta, Alphabet, Amazon etc. are autocracies. Their CEOs run their own fiefdom, not only within the organisation, but across countries where they now expect to shape policy and public debate – because they’re rich enough.

If white, wealthy men dictate the future of the space race, why would we assume life in the future will be different from life now?

My immediate solution is government involvement and regulation. If men want to go to space in the name of humanity, then let humanity decide how they do so: let space be the jurisdiction of the United Nations. It will be far from perfect, but it will be a great deal better than our current trajectory. My long-term solution is, of course, less-phallic spaceships. Or one with a navigational system that can actually find the clitoris.



Originally published in Woroni Vol. 72 Issue 4 ‘Alien’

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