Against Mars-a-Lago: Why SpaceX’s Mars colonization plan should terrify youWhen CEO Elon Musk announced last month that his aerospace company SpaceX would be sending cargo missions to Mars by 2022 — the first step in his tourism-driven colonization plan — a small cheer went up among space and science enthusiasts. Writing in the New York Post, Stephen Carter called Musk’s vision “inspiring,” a salve for politically contentious times. “Our species has turned its vision inward; our image of human possibility has grown cramped and pessimistic,” Carter wrote:"We dream less of reaching the stars than of winning the next election; less of maturing as a species than of shunning those who are different; less of the blessings of an advanced technological tomorrow than of an apocalyptic future marked by a desperate struggle to survive. Maybe a focus on the possibility of reaching our nearest planetary neighbor will help change all that."The Post editorial reflected a growing media consensus that humankind’s ultimate destiny is the colonization of the solar system — yet on a private basis. American government leaders generally agree with this vision. Obama egged on the privatization of NASA by legislating a policy shift to private commercial spaceflight, awarding government contracts to private companies like SpaceX to shuttle supplies to the International Space Station. “Governments can develop new technology and do some of the exciting early exploration but in the long run it's the private sector that finds ways to make profit, finds ways to expand humanity,” said Dr. S. Pete Worden, the director of the NASA Ames Research lab, in 2012. And in a Wall Street Journal op-ed this week, Vice President Mike Pence wrote of his ambitions to bring American-style capitalism to the stars: “In the years to come, American industry must be the first to maintain a constant commercial human presence in low-Earth orbit, to expand the sphere of the economy beyond this blue marble,” Pence wrote.One wonders if these luminaries know their history. There has be no instance in which a private corporation became a colonizing power that did not end badly for everyone besides the shareholders. The East India Company is perhaps the finest portent of Musk’s Martian ambitions. In 1765, the East India Company forced the Mughal emperor to sign a legal agreement that would essentially permit their company to become the de facto rulers of Bengal. The East India Company then collected taxes and used its private army, which was over 200,000 strong by the early 19th century, to repress those who got in the way of its profit margins. “It was not the British government that seized India at the end of the 18th century, but a dangerously unregulated private company headquartered in one small office, five windows wide, in London, and managed in India by an unstable sociopath,” writes William Dalrymple in the Guardian. “It almost certainly remains the supreme act of corporate violence in world history.”The East India Company came to colonize much of the Indian subcontinent. In the modern era, an era in which the right of corporations to do what they want, unencumbered, has become a sacrosanct right in the eyes of many politicians, the lessons of the East India Company seem to have been all but forgotten. As Dalrymple writes:As with all such corporations, then as now, the [East India Company] was answerable only to its shareholders. With no stake in the just governance of the region, or its long-term wellbeing, the company’s rule quickly turned into the straightforward pillage of Bengal, and the rapid transfer westwards of its wealth.
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