The White Lily Blog

Please Send Catholics to Outer Space

The New Scientist Environmental Blog had an interesting entry recently on the ‘carrying capacity of the planet.’ Many commentators displayed their excellent scientific credentials in arguing the many sides of the question, but for Catholics the question is moot. It doesn’t matter what the carrying capacity of Earth might be because our faith interprets the arcane words of Genesis, addressed by God to human beings, ‘Go forth and multiply” as meaning go forth and multiply. It’s our human mission statement.

As a mission statement, God’s command has a couple of interesting ramifications. The principal one, the one that makes us weep with surprised joy, is that, because God Himself desires our existence, even commands our existence, so each human person, however humble, is unspeakably valuable. No killing or mutilating is allowed. No cheating of us. No hurting us. Do you know that one of the four sins called unspeakable is to fail to pay a worker his fair wages? And He promised us that though His justice is slow to those who oppress us, it is exceedingly sure. Hell is eternal, and He promised that eternal hell in a hundred parables to all rich men who oppress Lazarus in whatever stinky state they encounter him, unborn or old, fair or black, male or female or–oh never mind, you get the point.

But another, unavoidable, and seemingly contrary ramification is that no matter how huge the carrying capacity of the earth, if we live this mission to multiply, if we invest each act of coitus with the possibility of conception –which is the Catholic’s ancient and contemporary commandment, I mean right now (even as individual disobedient Catholics, alas, contracept with all the others), we simply must eventually run out of room one day, though we learn to leave carbon footprints as small as microbes. It doesn’t matter what the carrying capacity of the earth is, eventually it must run out. This realization, even if we suppress it, is toxic to the mission, and poison to the will to reproduce.

Better planning won’t help, not the bottom line and not the psychological impediments. We cannot plan ‘the production’ of human beings. No matter a person’s faith or politics, among humans it is apparently impossible to achieve a balanced Zero Sum reproduction with rates spread among classes, races, continents, states, and genetic strengths without resorting to literal breeding programs. And that is sexual fascism. And wouldn’t work anyway-it barely works among animals, as those who breed animals in captivity are aware. Humans will just stop reproducing, as the middle classes in all nations are now except among Muslims.

It is therefore incumbent to look elsewhere for living space. It is necessary to resolve this contradiction so that humanity can solve both its population problems, the one (total overpopulation) some time in the future, the other (the current western depopulation) immediate.

Why does no one speak now of space colonies as the next step, then?

If we were even to begin to discuss the very preliminary steps to make that investment, which I have seen estimated by people who do not drool as about thirty thousand dollars per acre (about the same as a new building project in Manhattan, by the way), things would come together. A big chunk of frozen cognitive dissonance would melt. Food aid to the starving would make sense instead of seeming, as it does to some bloggers on the environmental site referenced, as an impossible encouragement to populations destined to starve in any case. Love itself would make sense again. It would make sense to welcome again the wee carbon footprints by beautiful, beautiful babies of all shades and tongues. Abortion would disappear, a stupid idea, not even worthy of legislation. If we could glimpse a future in space!

We could perhaps enjoy the conditions as we had for one brief, optimistic time here in the US, when the frontier opened and any man dissatisfied with his working conditions could head for the west and find his farm, or his gold. We could, perhaps, as decentralized as space exploration might prove to be, once begun, also enjoy a stepped down version of capitalism, a reversion to an earlier period when the state did indeed intervene, but in our favor for once, putting human beings before profits. We might kill our own pigs again, and grow heirloom tomatoes, there among the stars.

In fact, other current financial gridlocks might melt. We might be able to go ‘back to the future’ in economic organization, too. New and farflung colonies and later terraformed worlds could again be organized as of old with guilds and cooperatives, around principles neither capitalistic nor communistic, the old principle that guided the world for more than a thousand years until it was finally overcome by capitalism, ‘I have enough, let the other guy have some.’ That was the time of the One Hundred and One feast days when all were forbidden by law to work one third of the whole year! That was the time when advertising was illegal because you didn’t want an advantage over the other guy. It was a time when interest rates were 0% because it was illegal to charge one’s brother for the use of capital– and didn’t the markets like it. People are surprised to learn how much leisure earlier epochs enjoyed, and could again–in space.

Mercantilism and sin overthrew all that on earth;. We might as well just say sin overthrew it, for advanced capitalism is merely enforced greed in the organization of production and consumption of production.  That is how it began, and that is how it continues. To be a good capitalist now, you have to screw somebody. Enron wasn’t an anomaly, Enron is the rule. But if we went back to an lower level of production, we could reverse that. And it’s possible, in space. A colony could be owned by all the people; I don’t mean by the government of the colony, but by the people themselves, in shares that could be sold, or used as collateral. A space ship could be owned the same way.

Imperial capitalism is not a given for Christians, in spite of all the protestant neocons and their market gods. We could step off–this is what papal encyclicals teach us– to something Very Like Moderate Socialism But Not Completely, for the plan includes God, and thereby, unlike purely materialistic socialism, includes both transcendent hope for eternal life and the preservation of private property and life itself. It’s small, perhaps, but the inclusion of God makes all the difference. There are many sites and printed material on Catholic economics, google distributism, and visit Angelus press and other Catholic press sources.

Under those circumstances, with all of space to explore, with liberal economics in the form of more widely distributed income and even more importantly, more widely distributed ownership, combined with traditional social values that foster high reproductive rates, we could enjoy a wonderfully wage-stimulating mild labor shortage combined with market-stimulating young and growing populations that in combination foster a much more merciful capitalism than we presently enjoy, when declining populations in the west mean each person must personally continually expand his own little inner market for the imperialistic beast to grow. It is killing us spiritually, and it is making us fat. It leads to the kind of idiocy where the government gives us money to stimulate the market so we few can consume even more, and then exhorts us, via public service announcements, to save for our retirements. It leads to the kind of idiocy where we kill by violent abortion between one fourth and one third of our conceived children. We waste them in ways we’d not even do to cardboard.

We call the stage of capitalism we are presently suffering many things–materialism, imperialism, living large–but it is only the market doing what it does once it’s out of control. Meanwhile it is influencing us to disobey God’s directive to reproduce. Or we think we cannot, we doubt ourselves, due to the obvious limitations of one earth and the constant drone of the rich to please not bring those damn kids to their party. And it is in us to reproduce. It is so deeply in us. To tie human sexuality to mere momentary orgasmic pleasure is to rob sex of all dignity and sweetness, to reduce it to ashes. It makes it ALL porn.

It doesn’t have to be so, even in our lifetimes. We presently have the technological means to expand into space colonies, although the price would be high (and also economy stimulating, without the nasty side-effects of that other economy stimulator, war–oh, and of course very importantly, early on we could reap a new green source of energy via microwave transmission of solar power). Life on these colonies need not lack green plants, blue skies, and broad vistas. Besides, close to the centers of the cylinders, we shall be able to fly, didn’t you know that?

But we presently lack the will, being divided as we are as to mankind’s mission. Is our mission to disappear? Or is it to continue to populate, and wipe out all else not directly related to our repopulation as the cost? This conundrum causes a sickness in our will to survive that a motion toward the colonization of space could cure. Of course, as a practical matter space colonies are well in the future–but so is the end of the carrying capacity of Mother Earth, according to scientists. We have time. Meanwhile the mental momentum and early economic benefits could carry us far even before we actually slip gravity’s surly bonds.

If anyone wishes to point out that there never was a more hilarious pairing of partners than distributism, which espoused the elimination of machinery and the going back in all things technological to simpler times, paired with space colonies that would depend for their very lives upon an extremely advanced technology–I know that. (It was equally difficult to put such an idea forward back in the early twentieth century when technology had not developed even an iota of what we both enjoy and hate today.) And it may be true, we may find it to be true, that in the end, the elimination of modern technology is necessary to find our balance again. If so, we are witnessing the beginning of such suffering as the world has never seen.

But love compels us to avoid that if we can. Pius XI has told us, in Quadragesimo Anno, that it is not necessary, and that justice and technology are not incompatible if the state honors basic moral principles regarding the protection of human life, the sanctity of private property (although not its unchecked exercise), and the primacy of the human family of man, woman, and offspring.

There are so many sane principles associated with distributism (regarding property, the money system, the organization of labor into guilds, interest, cooperatives, and the centrality of agriculture) that continue to apply, and I am arguing, would apply even more powerfully in the necessary, distance-driven decentralization that space development would entail. It is up to Catholics (and all people of good will) to study the Catholic Church’s economics of justice and charity and find there the many practical ways that the essentials of a more just system can be advanced without the horrors of either imperialist capitalism or communism. Space colonialization should be on our Catholic A list. Here and now, I volunteer.

3 Comments so far
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Nice writing. You are on my RSS reader now so I can read more from you down the road.

Allen Taylor

Comment by Allen Taylor

Well, given the rapid aging of the society, I foresee a fairly rapid decline in the population in the next 100 years in the developed world. Granted the population will keep growing in places like India – but I don’t think that’s enough argument to look for exoplanets.
As for communes and such – I think we have established that the social experiment as such without God at its core will not work, as demonstrated by Marxism and communism. There are small communities that are Christian that operate the commune-like societies (like Mariapolis from the Focolare movement). I think small groups with that size society will work, though.

1. She seems to mixing up Catholic social justice issues with social systems a bit – you can’t reduce catholic teaching into a social system. You can’t simply impose a “gospel-driven” social system without God being at the center of it. Without everyone having that in their heart, I don’t see how it will work.

2. also, the Biblically, we have the imperative to multply and subdue the earth – it says nothing about space colonies. Does that give us the right? Or are we do pull a “Jesuit” and just ask for forgiveness than ask for permission first?

3. Since we are to multiply and subdue the earth, I don’t know if we necessarily have to worry about running out of room.

Comment by ScholarChanter

Dear ScholarChanter,
Thanks so much for your comment! You sure make some interesting and thoughtful points. I got a little confused about what ‘she’ you mean, but in any case, I think I’m the ‘she’ since I’m the author of the post. And so let me say, I didn’t say I was talking about a secular system. I am talking about a system with God at its center. It seems to me that is what Pius XI was talking about, and Leo XIII, too, a state that was liberal in economics and conservative in social issues. Would you read Quadragessimo Anno and get back to me, tell me if it changed your mind that such a state is possible? There is very much disagreement on this point, and I have taken the side of proposing such a state again (as it was for many centuries, for as you know, there was no secular state in many countries), one that has tolerance for other religions but honors the One God and Christianity in the public sphere. This is madness, of course, but as you (and Pius XI) point out, social justice without God in the center is madness, too, and there is no other solution to our economic problems but plain old social justice. It is the poor who are the stumbling block–that caused the sub-prime meltdown, in their simple and just need for housing. It will happen again and again and again, until this need, and all the other human needs, are met in a just way. And everyone doesn’t have to “have it in their heart” to follow the law; they might not believe that abortion kills a living person to obey the law that prohibits it, right? Now, the outer space part, I have absolutely no justification for that except to point out that, as you said, God told us to go forth and multiply, and the earth does have limits, making the universe the place God might have meant. And why not?I do not see why we must be so literal in our understanding of where God was pointing, with the simple word earth. There would be very many economic benefits to such a move and all we have to do is escape ‘the surly bonds’ of gravity, to paraphrase the poet(investigate what huge floating solar panels could deliver to us via microwaves!. But you are plenty right about it all being moot, we will disappear soon enough unless people begin to multiply again. That’s the main problem, now. And it seems to me that the concept of a new frontier, especially coupled with a just economic system where they would have ownership stakes, is just the ticket to give them the courage to reproduce. Don’t you think? Mull it over a little and come back!

Comment by thewhitelilyblog

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