From Conquest to Creation - a Tale of Two Millennia
By Dr. Michael Martin-Smith
The rapidly imminent advent of the new Millennium, although on one level merely a change of dates on innumerable calendars, is nevertheless for millions a time for reflection, both on our past, and our future.
Looking backwards over the past 1,000 years - the second Millennium since the birth of Christ or, as some now style it, the Common Era - we can see that the major developments have been the spread of a particular civilization from its obscure origins in Europe, to cover the whole of the planet.
The adoption of Christianity by the late Roman Empire in the first Millennium sowed the seeds for a missionary endeavour to achieve world domination for that Faith, and its associated culture, which achieved a degree of success beyond all expectations, in the second. The linkage of Christianity to exploration and marine technology, with the astronomically based science of navigation, coupled with the strong mercantile developments in mid Millennial Europe fuelled an expansion which in speed and scope has no parallel in human history. For unlike many earlier migrations, this spread of a whole culture did not take place into a comparative vacuum, but encountered and destroyed many ancient and sophisticated indigenous civilizations. It is now well understood that the growth of Western Civilization with its science, wealth, global markets, health, and education was based on martial strength and enterprise, and came with a heavy price, chiefly paid by indigenous peoples the world over. The spectacular defeat of the mighty Aztec Empire, by a few hundred horsemen under the courageous and unscrupulous Hernan Cortez, was only one of a series of conquests driven by religious zealotry, lust for gold, military skill, and assisted by imported disease.
The Pilgrim Fathers, widely held to be the true originators of the present United States of America, likewise, were not an unalloyed blessing for Native Americans in their search for new forms of religious community. We can look back with the advantages of hindsight and appreciate that the present global civilization was born in blood and slavery; few would wish to undo it, but the price should not be forgotten.
The creation of a global ci-devant Christian civilization of unprecedented wealth and power, which has given over 1.5 billion people access to a hitherto unequalled level of education, wealth, nutrition, and longevity has to be set against the destruction of the ways of life of earlier millions. The issue is not easily evaded, since there can be few, if any, readers of this or any other publication who are not the direct beneficiaries of these developments. However, guilt is of little value, since we cannot re-write history, nor undo what has been done; any misdirected and overzealous attempts would merely jeopardise the futures of the innocents as yet unborn.
We can thus with clear and sober eyes look upon the closing Millennium as being one of conquest, and try to look forward to the coming Millennium in search of constructive differences. If so, there is the opportunity for our descendants, not to undo what has been done, but to give it a greater meaning and dignity, for the sake of the trillions of Humans who could follow us. We have seen how a civilization driven by a sense of purpose, linked to a search for wealth, has made astounding conquests, the chief of which - entirely unforeseen by traders and missionaries alike - has been that knowledge and understanding of our Universe, and our place in it, which we call science. Allied to ingenuity and technology, this growth has taken humans to the Moon, and our machines to the edge of the solar system, in only the closing decades of the second millennium.
Even more recently, we have learned that the fate of the Aztecs, Incas, and countless others awaits our descendants with apodictic certainty - though not from the hand of a new celestial conqueror, or even , probably, our own mistakes, but from an incoming asteroid or comet.
The natural and inevitable progression of our culture, based on expansion, science, and conquest, is its expansion into Space. We can already see the first halting stages towards a space based economy; our communications infrastructure, upon which so much of our way of life depends, is now moving inexorably off the planet, while distance education , telemedicine, and earth monitoring in their broadest senses are following rapidly. This is particularly true in large regions which Western sophisticates are pleased to call "underdeveloped" - an adjective which that selfsame space technology, by becoming increasingly home-based, is rendering more outdated with every passing decade.
The expected arrival of enterepreneurs in the fields of lunar and asteroid prospecting and development is now more than a gleam in the futurist's eye, while tourism - that ever- present human economic generator - is gearing up for the new Frontier. Within a century, we can expect to see thriving industries off the planet, with the raw materials and energy resources of the Moon, asteroids, and Mars being transformed into the sinews of a new, dispersed human civilization of unimaginable scope.
By the end of the third Millennium, it is quite possible that Humanity will have changed the solar system in a process known as the Humanization of Space as profoundly as we have altered the Earth in the second. The first phase, "Greater Earth", involving the Moon, near-Earth asteroids, and the use of free solar energy from Space, can and should be realized within a century, and offers Humanity unique solutions to the threats of human induced climatic changes, impacts from Space, and the vagaries of plate tectonics and epidemic disease by that time-honoured evolutionary strategy - Diaspora.
By now, many readers will be wondering if this is not a massive replication of the imperialism of the past millennium, with the added threat to future Aztecs! However, even our first generation of space explorers has revealed the astonishing fact that, in all the vast wilderness between Mercury and the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune, no creature larger than a microbe - with the highly speculative exception of primitive marine life in the oceans of Europa and Callisto (two moons of Jupiter), has been found to give our more scrupulous descendants a moment's anxiety.
There is also the fact that bringing to life the barren worlds of our solar system, or, a fortiori, setting up free- floating habitats designed from our own specifications, will require ecological stewardship and degrees of co-operation unknown in all of History - indeed without these, our civilization , on or off the Earth, has no future worthy of acceptance. A pastoral mindlessness for a species which has produced a Mozart, Hypatia, Jane Austen or Einstein would surely be little improvement on extinction! A development of free floating space settlements, with their own inbuilt ecologies and landscapes was first proposed by Gerard ONeill of Princeton University in 1969/9, the year of the Apollo Moon landings, and the Limits to growth publication by the club of Rome. These could well arise over generations, as an evolutionary outgrowth from space tourism, as follows.
Suborbital flights are expected to become available to wealthier tourists within 3-5 years. I myself am booked onto a venture called the Mayflower Expedition (http://www.mayflowerrocket.com) which hopes to fly passengers within 12-14 months of raising the funding, at $5,500 each. A successful suborbital tourist business would be followed within 10-15 years by full blown space hotels, perhaps from presently discarded space shuttle tanks, or modified space station modules.
Over another generation, some of these hotels would be expanded into resorts ( like, perhaps, Centre Parcs), with facilities for largescale zero gravity sports, acrobatics, dance, and relief or alleviation of disabling diseases. These would be large, and assembled and supplied in increasing measure from non-terrestrial energy and raw materials. Some would come to resemble large cruise ships rather than hotels, with no direct planetary landings. People would come and leave by reusable shuttle craft. The evolution from such facilities into full blown largely self sufficient colonies is clear, and should be possible within 3 generations or so.
Thenceforth, the Sky would be no limit at all. Thus the new Millennium will be characterized by a truly stupendous growth of Human range and capacity, but, unlike previous centuries, this period of conquest will not be achieved by martial heroism, nor walk hand in hand with the agents of destruction, but will be built from the constructive co-operation of Humanity in all its diversity, with the ultimately creative aim of taking Life and Mind out into the Universe at large. This vast Life-bearing and nurturing task fits in very well with that other expected trend of the coming centuries, the growth towards full and equal participation of emancipated womanhood. For this whole constructive life-bearing movement out into Space surely speaks clearly to the essence of woman, underpinned though it will undoubtedly be by the engineering and exploratory nature of man; in this gigantic task, the more destructive militaristic elements of the male nature will find , if not no place, a very much altered and sublimated place!
The present debilitating hostilities between genders, races, and creeds will surely find their ultimate dissolution in the bloodless "conquest" of Space. On those foundations, let us build not only our survival as a mindful species , but also its unimaginable growth and development. For, at the turn of the next Millennium, our descendants will live in an environment whose possibilities will be no more comprehensible to us than a laser light show or a Cathedral is to a fish. Such a development will not undo the mistakes and tragedies of Human history, but will at least give them meaning and dignity; for an Earthbound civilization, extinction allows for no such possibility. "We belong wherever keen eyes, quick wits, and strong right arms can take Us!"
by Dr.Michael Martin-Smith President of Space Age Associates
Co-Founder, the Greater Earth Initiative