The Right to Remain Uninhabited

Luke McLean

An Open Letter to Stop Space Exploration

The exploration of space receives more attention that almost any other science fiction topic. Whenever the news cycle wants to find something ‘sciency’ they turn to NASA, or one of its government contractors such as SpaceX. Questions about possibility or cost float through the collective conversation about space. One question not asked is whether space projects should be allowed to go forward, irrespective of cost.

Ask any commentator on space and they will advocate travelling interplanetary space to extend the human capacity in the universe. Some even point out that humanity will be linked to the mortality of the Earth, or the Sun itself, if people can never leave the planet.

For the sake of knowledge and exploration, and the indefinite preservation of the species, space advocates push people towards leaving the atmosphere and into the stars. They never stop to ask if humanity should go to these places, not just if they can.

Assuming interplanetary, interstellar, and intergalactic space travel were quick, safe, and free, what would be the obligation of humans to go to these places? Or to stay away?

Some enthusiasts submit that life itself is important and if humans can spread any form of life anywhere, then that is a gain for the entirety of the universe, beyond just the human interest. The “astro-ecologist” approach falls into a pit of bias, and forgets a truth of the world around us.

Distributing life is a human interest, because humans are dependent upon other life forms. Seeding ‘barren’ locations with life as a first step to developing an Earth-like ecosystem far from Earth is not a neutral or objective practice — any less neutral than a fungus cultivating lichens (not fungus) in an inhospitable environment to prepare for the direct spreading of its spores.

Shooting bacteria into the orbit of a foreign moon in planning of the eventual human conquest of that rock on the backs of those bacteria one day isn’t beneficial to the moon or the microbes participating in that man-made experiment.

The failure to understand nature in ecological outlooks leans on the fallacy that life is more important than existence. Life is not in balance. Life is not in peace. Life is dynamic, and self-interested, and relentless. Yet life wanes in comparison to the power and majesty of the inanimate and inorganic world. The stars, the mountains, the wind, the heavens, the earth. None can be called “alive,” but that does not mean they are not important or deserve a place in the world.

By artificially placing the interests of the living organisms over top of non-living world, and therefore biasing the interests of organisms such as humans over ecosystems in space, advocates for exploration and colonisation beyond the Earth make an argument about the priorities of all of existence.

The hubris to suggest that planets such as Mars, moons such as Luna, and stars such as Sol are at a detriment because they are devoid of life betrays the destructive and consumptive habits lifeforms can bring to any environment. To accept the truth of existence is to accept that most of the world is not alive, and not attempt to impose a value on that.

Space analysts pass around a regularly used thought experiment, a paradox about the lack of life in the galaxy. If human life is at all representative of common life forms, and if the galaxy is billions of years old, then the galaxy should be teeming with life — the story goes — but it isn’t. This isn’t a limit of observation, because the very need to look closely proves that life is not easy to find.

Is there a flaw in the scientific models of the cosmos? Or did all these lifeforms die off? What does that bear in mind for humanity?

This paradox bases an assumption on a “progressive” model of biology — that lifeforms will become increasingly specialised and complex, and eventually develop technologies which become more and more sophisticated and wide-ranging. The second assumption is that the so-called “advanced” life either has a drive to explore the galaxy, or takes no interest in their surroundings.

Neither of these assumptions should be granted to the famous story. Such assumptions impose a recent and idiosyncratic outlook of certain human societies as a universal, not only onto mankind throughout all of time, but onto the vastness of the universe itself. More importantly than exposing a problematic bias, the assumptions take no account of the non-living world.

If life-centric scientists believe so much in the power of life, they have to consider the origin of life. All living beings originated from non-living beings, no matter how much scientists try to create an artificial starting point by searching for the “origin of life” or “the first replicating cell.” The inorganic bourns the organic, so to any degree the living have rights then so do the non-living.

Plants and ecosystems that do not have life, or that maintain only microbial life, have a right to remain in their equilibrium without a human presence. Humans have a desire to replicate themselves and consume their environment, which led to the consumption of every continent on the Earth.

Conservationists have already made the criticism that humans should not have the right to pollute other planets merely as an escape from having recklessly polluted the Earth. The rights of other planets go deeper; It may be that they should not have humans on them at all, even in the unlikely utopia of a sustainable and well-behaved state.

From a planetary perspective, Earth created life on Earth, so should any Earth-being be open to find a place on Mars, or Jupiter? Should a Solar being be open to inhabit another star system? Not as a point of nationalism, but as a point of balance and of right, what place does an Earthling have on another planet?

On Earth, any person has the right to live in any nation on Earth because all humans have equal right and inheritance of the Earth, on an individual level. Because no human presence is natural or in balance with the surrounding environment, all human colonies are equally as natural as each other, creating a more unified experience.

Imagine, however, if there were a place of natural humans, adjacent the human colonies that now span the globe. The species inhabitants of those colonies would naturally view the human invaders as a pest, an infection, that came to inflict harm and consume the resources of the planet. Just as a human population feels unease with the introduction of a new predator or parasite, the rest of nature may have something to lose if humans commit to take resources while failing to replenish them.

As a species, humans must rely upon predation for energy and upon parasitism for habitancy — that is to say, people cannot make their own food or find a place to live without killing or displacing something else in order to eat or relocate it — so the capacity to replenish is necessarily small, and permanently limited; Any species which could produce its own food or live in harmony with nature could no longer be called a human, as humans are defined by their predatory and animated characteristics.

The human bias to consume in the face of mortality is not an excuse to violate the right to be uninhabited, which has been deprived of much of the Earth, and which remains in most of the universe. Everything in existence has a right to exist, and the ecosystems around the universe exist beyond a definition of life. Humans have no place to divide the world between living (us) and non-living (them), nor do they have a place to make a determination that lifeforms have more rights and powers than everything else. The “non-living” world has much greater majesty, beauty, and power than the “living” world could ever imagine.

As scientists can not even agree on what a definition for “alive” versus “not alive” is, it ought to be considered that there is no real difference, as the organic and inorganic live as one in the world, and each have a right to their continued existence but for the violation of each other. The doesn’t mean tsunamis have a right to obliterate human cities, nor does it mean that humans can imagine they have inherent dominion over the universe. The paradox of life in the galaxy is not the perceived absence of alien warships, but the paradox that if everything has an absolute right to exist, then in essence nothing does.

The point is, that no one has an absolute right to determine the fate of another planet, and humanity certainly does not have an absolute destiny to colonise the stars. If it could be said that any human being has an absolute destiny, that would be: to find a group of friends, have children, and then die. This is the fate of all healthy human lives, not more and not less — a social life, a new generation, and an inevitable fate. Space is not a convenient escape from reality, as much as furious fiction authors and the few immature billionaires (usually borne from tech rather than energy, retail, or finance) make it out to be.

There may be some voices tempted to say the world is a free-for-all. That any advantage one can get over the other, or on the surrounding world, is a victory, as in the end all life will come to an end eventually. Those tempted to say that give into the same human bias, looking out into the great, unfathomable world and regressing back to the basic penchant for consumption and self-proliferation; they fall back into fatalism and surrender to vices. There is a difference in accepting the lack of a right to life and losing respect for all life as it is. Human life has value, but not an absolute value. The entirety of the universe cannot be expected to share the anthropomorphic focus on self-preservation and perpetual growth.

There is no meaningful difference between the words “consumption and proliferation” versus the words “parasitism and infestation.” People usually use the word “infestation” to refer to non-human animals or microbes, but those animals probably wouldn’t commit to such a human-centric bias. To them, a human body is nothing more than a host, not a prize nor a victim. There is no moral component for the infesters. They view the human body as an open landscape of energy, space, and nutrients; they have no capacity to even understand that the human as a whole is somewhat united and self-aware.

Humanity resents being infected with bacteria or invading animals because they represent a loss of control and present a likelihood of death. But to the infecting faction, what is death? A once fertile, inanimate field of resources become [ inviable / unviable ] after being consumed. At their scale, there may be no difference, while at the human scale people know that is not the case.

People, including space advocates and scientists, have no right that they can understand nature at the planetary scale — just as the bacterial or insect parasite has no right capacity to understand humanity at the human scale. To understand the rights of existence at the human scale, one must be human, or looking down on humans. To understand the rights of existence at the planetary scale, one must be on the planetary scale, or the galactic scale, or encompassing the universal. That is impossible, as humans have no more chance to embody a planet they inhabit as a roach or a mosquito has to embody a human it consumes.

As we cannot begin to fathom the world around us, we should not be so eager to consume it all in the fears of our own mortality. Existence has a right to exist, distinct from the terms of human consideration. What is the end goal of space exploration? To discover the origin of life? The meaning of life? To one day leave the Earth and spread Earth-based life to other planets? While unlikely to happen in the least anyways, it should be questioned immediately whether these objectives are actually benign, or have anything to offer those other planets.

The secrets of human purpose likely do not exist on Mars, or the Moon, or even in the deepest core of the Sun. Even if they did, what exactly would we learn that we could apply? At what cost comes the destruction of those worlds?

Some call Singapore a marvel of human achievement, a world onto its own, but there was a world before the skyscrapers, and a world remains buried under the concrete, swirling aside the boiling oceans on the coast. Will Mars be the next “achievement?” Sprawling farms and condominiums upon what is currently a peaceful and balanced landscape? Not everything can be expressed in human terms. Failing to understand that reinforces that humanity has no place infecting the world with its presence, as humans seek to exploit those worlds for their own sake.

The world has the right to remain. Existence has the right to exist. In terms of people eying the cosmos, space has The Right to Remain Uninhabited.

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