D --- This demand can have transformative effects --- using the ballot to endorse a politics of space exploration and development that resists the corrupting effects of the military-industrial complex can generate social change
Parker 2009 (Martin, Professor of Culture and Organization at the University of Leicester School of Management, “Capitalists in Space,” The Sociological Review, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-954X.2009.01818.x/full)
If we go back to Weber's distinction between technique and value, we can see that it is rather an useful way of understanding these space libertarians. If one were to write ‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Space Exploration’, then value and the technique coincide in the ideology of the frontier. It is the very spirit of the American that is at stake here, and hence constructing the organizational and financial structures that might enable the calling to be met is a task of considerable seriousness. This is not merely about making money, but a reflection of the character of the pioneer, and the freedoms that they require. Such a position also allows NASA to be described as an organization within which such a fusion happened once, perhaps from 1962 to 1972, but that is now merely a zombie bureaucracy that has forgotten why it exists. Its task is to continue existing, a ‘mechanized petrification, embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance’ populated by ‘Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart’ (Weber, 1930: 182). The libertarians are suggesting NASA is all means and no ends, all red tape and no red touch paper. But does that mean that we have to concede that space is the new frontier for business, and the state had better get out of the way?
In response to the 1957 Sputnik furore and the idea that the Soviets were suddenly near to occupying the military and technological high ground, MIT President James R Killian was appointed to the position of Science Advisor to President Eisenhower. The Killian committee's report in March 1958 concerned arguments for a space programme, and it gave several reasons as to why the USA should invest in such a project. First was ‘the compelling urge of man to explore and discover, the thrust of curiosity that leads men to go where no one has gone before’. Second, ‘the defense objective’. Third, ‘national prestige’. Fourth, ‘scientific observation and experiment which will add to our knowledge and understanding of the earth, the solar system, and the universe’ (in Smith, 1983: 193–4). The subsequent formation of House and Senate committees, which listened to evidence from a variety of respondents with a vested interest in a state funded programme, did not prevent expansive declarations about frontiers, pioneers and exploration, yet discussion of commercial issues and inventions was vague (Smith, 1983: 196–7).
It seems to me that this was rather an important moment in defining the terms on which the commercialization of space could be imagined. It was primarily the state which was setting the agenda here, andprimarily in ways that articulated either common human values – science, exploration – or specifically ‘traditional’ US values that were worth protecting.
In many respects the Apollo space capsule was also a time capsule, allowing the nation's Space van Winkle's to carry a vision of the fifties intact through My Lai and Watts, assassinations and campus riots, and the Tet offensive. For many commentators, both friend and foe, the social function of Apollo was to sustain a pre-Vietnam dream of conquest (Smith, 1983: 205).
While it is easy enough to question the content of these values, they are values which are not explicitly concerned with commercial interests. Indeed, as DeGroot argues, many members of the Eisenhower administration were well aware of the dangers of a co-optation by Big Aerospace, and attempted to minimize talk of the Sputnik threat precisely because:
in the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist (Eisenhower's farewell address, in 1961, quoted in DeGroot, 2007: 124).
That term, ‘military-industrial complex’, has rung down the intervening half century, and its condensation of state and capitalist power might lead us to assume that the state is inevitably co-opted in such ways. But perhaps a different sort of diagnosis is possible, one that does not leave space as a battleground between free market libertarians and the Lockheed-NASA-Boeing space alliance.
Leaving space for others
I began with Doritos advertising in 2008, and it seems appropriate that I should end with it, just as spaceflight was beginning. Imagine Neil Armstrong's parents, watching him go to the moon, in July 1969.
Because Neil's parents still had only a black-and white television, the TV networks gave them a large color set on which to watch the mission. On a daily basis, a local restaurant sent down half a dozen pies. A fruit company from nearby Lima delivered a large stock of bananas. A dairy from Delphos sent ice cream. Frito-Lay sent large cartons of corn chips. A local dairy, the Fisher Cheese Co., Wapakoneta's largest employer, proffered its special ‘Moon Cheeze’. Consolidated Bottling Company delivered crates of ‘Capped Moon Sauce’, a ‘secret-formula’ vanilla cream soda pop (Hansen, 2005: 7).
Uninvited or not, business interests will continue to find their way into space. A year before the Armstrongs were watching TV, Stanley Kubrick had placed a rotating Hilton hotel and a Pam Am shuttle plane in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The brands may change, and the future will not happen as quickly as we think, but unless we imagine massive state interventionism on a Soviet scale, capitalism will go into space.
Dickens and Ormrod claim that it already has, at least in terms of near earth orbit, and that the key issue is to engineer ‘a relationship with the universe that does not further empower the already powerful’ (2007: 190). In other words, a Marxist political economy of space would suggest that the military-industrial complex has already empowered the powerful, but would presumably be equally sceptical about the space libertarians' claims to be representing the ordinary citizen. Of course we might conclude from this that the answer is simply to turn away from space. The whole programme has not been without its critics, whether of capitalism, imperialism, patriarchy, techno-fetishism, bad science, bad policy making or even new world order conspiracy (Etzioni, 1964; DeGroot, 2007). Even at the height of space euphoria, in the summer of 1969, we find dissenting voices. ‘The moon is an escape from our earthy responsibilities, and like other escapes, it leaves a troubled conscience’ said Anthony Lewis in the New York Times. An Ebony opinion leader, asking what we will say to extra-terrestrials, suggested ‘We have millions of people starving to death back home so we thought we'd drop by to see how you're faring’. Kurt Vonnegut, in the New York Times Magazine, put it with characteristic élan.
Earth is such a pretty blue and pink and white pearl in the pictures NASA sent me. It looks so clean. You can't see all the hungry, angry earthlings down there – and the smoke and the sewage and the trash and sophisticated weaponry.' (all cited in Smith, 1983: 207)
In summary, the money could be better spent, and we would be better off tending our own gardens.
But even the best, and only, Marxist sociology of space has its authors making claims that go beyond the economic materialism they deploy. They claim that the desire to go into space is ‘cosmic narcissism’, a sort of projection of capitalist individualism onto the universe (Dickens and Ormrod, 2007; Dickens this volume). This is, in Weberian terms, a value, even if it is a value that Dickens and Ormrod dislike. Presumably they would prefer more communitarian or collectivist understandings of human values, in which we look more carefully at others, and not merely our own reflections. I might well agree with their politics, but I think that we should not dispose of a radical imagination so rapidly. In other words, there are ways in which we can think about the future that escape the clutches of Virgin Galactic, and that can still leave us misty-eyed about Armstrong.
Dickens and Ormrod are not keen on science fiction, seeing its utopianism as usually a distraction from hard thinking about the world. But a great deal of SF has been very engaged with the politics of its times, and persistently opened the possibility that the future (often, off earth and in the future) might be different. As a form of speculation suspended somewhere between utopias, fantasy and sociology, one definition of SF is that it involves systematically altering technological, social or biological conditions and then attempting to understand the possible consequences. Though much of SF has involved re-locating cowboy plots into spaceships, or constructing fantasies which re-tell ancient myths, much has also involved political thought experiments. It is hardly surprising that many radicals (whether counter-cultural or political) have found in SF a mirror for their own longings (see Jameson, 2005; Shukaitis, this volume). As Mannheim put it –
Wishful thinking has always figured in human affairs. When the imagination finds no satisfaction in existing reality, it seeks refuge in wishfully constructed places and periods. Myths, fairy tales, other-worldly promises of religion, humanistic fantasies, travel romances, have been continually changing expressions of that which was lacking in actual life (1960: 184).
But, for Mannheim, utopianism was also at the heart of political demands for change
A state of mind is utopian when it is incongruous with the state of reality in which it occurs (1960: 173).
As I suggested at the beginning, the idea that the world could be other than it is must be at the beginning for a demand that it can be different. Constance Penley suggests that the blended cultural text she calls ‘NASA/Trek’ is radical in just this way (1997). The dreams of Apollo, the nostalgia for a space age that never arrived (Benjamin, 2004; Parker, 2007, 2008), the sheer enormity of seeing the earth from space, are all examples of a science fiction that actually happened. To assume that we know, in advance, that the future must be either Big Business, or Big State, is to close down the possibilities that make the future worth spending time thinking about.
For me, there is something nauseating (or saddening) about imagining that the inhabitants of 47 Ursae Majoris would want Doritos, but I don't think that this means that space must be left for the capitalists. I don't share Kemp's craven enthusiasm for ‘Gaia capitalism’ (2007: 249), but I do find the pictures of Armstrong on the moon to be inspiring in ways that make me want the future, rather than being frightened of it. Mailer suggested that Apollo 11's paradox was that:
American capitalism finally put together a cooperative effort against all the glut, waste, scandal, corruption, inefficiency, dishonesty, woe, dread, oversecurity and simple sense of boredom which hounded the lives of its corporate workers (Mailer, 1971: 175).
Apollo promised something else. Not a solution, or a blueprint, though it generated enough of those, but literally ‘something else’. Perhaps even something sublime (Nye, 1994: 237 passim). The idea that our world might be different, both larger and smaller than we normally imagine, and that human beings can do extraordinary things. An idea that makes me nostalgic for the future.