As you can tell, I've been focused the past couple of weeks on space matters, but readers should not assume this is a personal whim, although it is certainly a strong personal interest. As most of you know, many people send me articles on all types of topics, and generally, I attempt to sort through these once every week or two weeks, and to try to blog about topics that are representative of the interests reflected in the types of articles being sent to me. The past two weeks have been, for me, a rather interesting window into what types of things people are looking at, and one of the topics heavily represented these past two weeks, more so than the usual amount of articles, has been space. If one will excuse the pun, space has been in the aether, so to speak, and for whatever reason, people seem to be tuned into this.
One of the most interesting and thought-provoking articles I received as from Mr. T.M., which appeared on the BBC's website in July of last year. This concerns the efforts to begin the process of drafting constitutional or governing structures for any future human space colonies:
The interesting thing here is the suggestion, or rather, insight, that small colonies in space or on some planet such as Mars might easily degenerate into forms of tyranny, and how one might protect against it:
“The relevance now is that there’s an increasing number of nations going into space, there’s an increasing number of private companies building rockets and with this renewed effort in space exploration it’s becoming very important to think about who’s going to control space,” explains Cockell. “Will it be corporations? Will it be the state? How is the individual to have any freedom in an environment that is absolutely lethal?”
“We have hundreds of years of experience of drafting constitutions and we should build on that,” says Cockell. And in broadly adopting the US constitution, conference delegates agree on a democratic structure with individual freedoms protected by a bill of rights. They also back an independent judiciary and press freedom. “But,” says Cockell, "there are things about space that are completely different to the Earth environment, in particular the issue of who controls the oxygen.”
Conference delegates decide that having air to breathe is a fundamental right that needs to be enshrined at the heart of any colonial constitution. “A space colony is a tyranny prone environment,” Cockell warns, pointing out that no other constitution has listed the right to breathable air before. “If somebody gets control of oxygen, they could very well have control over the whole population and could threaten dire consequences in return for extraordinary levels of power.”
Among the fundamental problems being discussed is "the right to leave:"
"Delegates also agree that the “right to leave” should be included in the new constitution. But that raises questions over the practicalities of leaving a colony on a planet without breathable air. As going outside is not a viable option, who pays for the trip home? Even more concerning, if the colony is being run by a corporation do they have the right to sack you? To send you back to Earth or throw you out of the airlock?"
This poses unique problems for drafting any such constitution for a space environment, particularly when the US Constitution is taken to be one of the guiding models. Consider: how would one guarantee a just enforcement of such a "space bill of rights" without the right of individual space colonists to keep and bear arms being a component of such a bill of rights? If the oxygen supply is in the control, for example, of a corporation or a technocratic elite, the temptations to tyranny become, as the article suggests, all too credible. And this, of course, like it or not, was the sort of reasoning behind the guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms in the American constitution in the first place.
But on the other hand, in the context of space colonies in a potentially lethal environment like Mars, for example, such a right becomes as problematical as not allowing individuals to keep and bear arms, for an "uprising" or revolt, or even accidental discharge of a weapon, could possibly equally endanger the whole artificial environment of a colony. One need only think of the effects of the accidental discharge of a firearm in an airplane at cruising altitude, should that discharge puncture the fuselage of the aircraft; everyone, in such a circumstance, is endangered, and in the space environment, the results could be equally, if not more, catastrophic.
What's the way around this? One solution would be technological, namely, weapons posing no danger to the artificial environment itself, and yet able to be sufficient to counterbalance whatever force might be present or available to a potential tyranny; stun weapons, tazers, and so on. Another solution might be to have redundant back up systems for food, air, and water supply in the hands of different factional groups.
The point here is, questions such as these need to be addressed in order for there to be any viable long term human presence in space. It's refreshing, in a way, to see that this British-led effort is being undertaken ostensibly in order to deal with the problem of safeguarding individual human liberty in the space environment, and it's equally refreshing to see that this effort recognizes the inherent tendencies toward tyranny in the whole notion of human colonies in space.
But there is perhaps also a hidden implication here, one which invites our usual high octane speculation: just as with the stories we've seen covering the development of this or that technology, with the implication that the technology available in the black projects world is much further advanced than that being publicly revealed, then the same might also be the case with this new emerging theme of space-based constitutions of government: perhaps they are much further along than meets the eye. It is here that the article also has another subtle implication. Most constitutions of democratic states - including, and especially, that of the United States - were created by oligarchical elites, meeting, and deliberating, entirely in secret. The Philadelphia convention of 1789 was precisely such a group. And let it be noted, they not only met in secret, and vastly exceded the mandate with which they were charged, springing an entirely new constitutional arrangement on the thirteen original states, but that they also were not planning a constitution for a "future but as yet unrealized" United States, but for an actually and already existing society and community. It is this factor, that should give one pause.
See you on the flip side...