Elon Musk’s Space Capitalism: Reason 1 of 1000 why I can’t sleep at night

04/06/2021

I wish I knew really powerful words to express my distaste for this man. 

I have written about him before in Reality Check: Elon Musk is not our Lord, or Savior and said,

This: Musk has auspiciously branded himself as an environmental savior, despite living a life thoroughly out of sync with any notion of sustainability.

This: Musk has proven time and again that he is only devoted to one thing: himself.

And this: I am quite certain the only thing worse than a greedy, ecologically unfriendly billionaire is one that masquerades as an environmental hero.

Unfortunately, as goes with monsters, they always return. 

And this time, he is rearing his unusually square head to talk about the future of humanity: space. Moreover, his vision of space capitalism. 

 


 

If you haven’t heard, Elon Musk, via his private spaceflight company SpaceX, is seeking to make life multi-planetary. Notably, he aims to enable the colonization of Mars. 

Now, before any die-hard Elon fans get all uppity, yes, I do believe space exploration is a significant (yet existential) thing to do. But if I were to pose a thesis to you, it would be this:

The collective interest of humanity is served by learning more about the universe, but the goal of such missions should be driven by the goal of gaining scientific knowledge and enhancing global cooperation, not nationalism and profit-making.

 

The privatization of space and why little old me is stressing:

Outer space has been considered a global commons since the 60s. But, if we’ve learned anything from history, it repeats itself, and the white man cannot sit long sharing anything that he could claim as his own. I won’t bore you with the history of documentation on space, but the long of the short is: 

In 1967, the UN General Assembly wrote the Outer Space Treaty, stating that space is for all humankind, weapons of mass destruction are a no-no, and the area should only be used for peaceful purposes.

Then, cue Trump era (the gift that keeps on giving), space is quickly recast as a private good or space for private property with a bill introduced in 2017. A devout Trump supporter who also happened to be the executive director of the National Space Council, Scott Pace, publicly reiterated the bill’s sentiments that “outer space is not…the ‘common heritage of mankind’, not ‘res communis’, nor is it a public good’”. 

 

Musk’s vision: 

In 2016 Musk outlined his rationale at an international conference in Mexico: 

“History is going to bifurcate along two directions. One path is we stay on Earth forever, and then there will be some eventual extinction event…The alternative is to become a spacefaring civilization and a multi-planet species, which I hope you would agree is the right way to go.”

So, seeing as Earth is supposedly unsalvageable (scientists everywhere are screaming), there must be a realistic plan to get the general population to Mars…

 

Luckily, Elon is a Man of the People and understands that “you cannot create a self-sustaining civilization if the ticket price is $10 billion per person”. 

He instead suggests that “if we can get the cost of moving to Mars to be roughly equivalent to a median house price in the United States, which is around $200,000, then the probability of establishing a self-sustaining civilization is very high. I think it would almost certainly occur.”

As if we needed any more proof this billionaire is out of touch. $200,000. Are you kidding me? There’s little I wouldn’t do for $200,000. (I hold my readers in high enough esteem to not be gross here). But I would go to such depths as ‘taking up running’ or smiling at Mitch McConnell. Which is to say, sell my soul. 

 

Also Musk’s vision:

He has an addendum! If you cannot afford a $200,000 ticket, in other words, if you are 95% of the world…there is always the option of Martian indentured servitude. Unfortunately, this isn’t a joke. Musk tweeted a plan for such servitude wherein workers would take on loans to pay for their tickets and pay them off later because “There will be a lot of jobs on Mars!”

But that’s not all. 

When asked whether a Mars colony would end up being an escape hatch for rich people, Musk responded: “No. Your probability of dying on Mars is much higher than Earth” and further, that the first mission would “be basically, are you prepared to die?” (This is a direct quote).

The man really struggles to pick a lane…

 

The Hypocrisy of Musk’s vision. More. Hypocrisy: 

I’m sure you’re all aware of Musk’s other sideshow. It’s called Tesla. I fussed all about this in a previous article, but to recap: the company purports a false vision of sustainability that only serves Musk himself, all the while capitalism continues to drive our climate system toward a cliff edge. 

SpaceX and its raison d’etre is, in turn, that humanity’s sole options are space colonization or extinction. In other words: colonizing space is the obvious and necessary choice. 

 

Following Elon’s logic: 

Tesla is necessary to create a sustainable and inhabitable climate for years to come, but in actuality, near extinction is an inevitability and we must colonize Mars or risk obliteration.

We are working with an oil in water scenario – the proposals clash. These framings, of course, serve only the interest of our billionaire friend. He ignores personal culpability and the role of the capitalist system he seeks to reproduce, which is what continues to cause the problems we are told we need to flee in the first place. 

 

Elon v Bernie:

A couple weeks ago Bernie Sanders, as per, took to Twitter to do God’s work. 

Sanders tweeted: “We are in a moment in American history where two guys — Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos — own more wealth than the bottom 40 % of people in this country. That level of greed and inequality is not only immoral. It is unsustainable.”

Musk responded: “I am accumulating resources to help make life multiplanetary & extend the light of consciousness to the stars”

To which Bernie said: “Space travel is an exciting idea, but right now we need to focus on Earth and create a progressive tax system so that children don’t go hungry, people are not homeless and all Americans have healthcare. The level of inequality in America is obscene and a threat to our democracy.”

 


 

If I were an English Lit professor, I would say something embarrassing like, let’s unpack this

For one: During a devastating global pandemic (in which he wrote “the coronavirus panic is dumb”), Musk made a profit of USD$118 billion and counting… and thinks it his moral duty to save all that money to “extend the light of consciousness to the stars”?

(For context, if someone gave you one billion dollars and you spent $1,000 each day, you would be spending for about 2,740 years before you went broke).

For two: Musk railed against stay-at-home mandates and reopened Tesla’s factory in defiance of local orders, arguing that Tesla should be allowed to continue building cars during California’s shutdown. This has nothing to do with the aforementioned tweets but is a testament of character. 

For three: Mars is the reason Musk can be a billionaire and “actually a socialist” at the same time.

 

He still doesn’t know the difference between socialism and capitalism:

This one gets me. The man genuinely thinks that he is a socialist because the funding of his Mars project is for the greater good. I repeat, his justification for accumulating billions of dollars of “assets on Earth” is a selfless act because he is pouring it into his own company

And to prove this is an ongoing issue, this gem lives in the backlog of his twitter:

Marx was a capitalist. He even wrote a book about it.” 

Yes. Das Kapital, the book in which socialist Karl Marx details how capitalism will destroy itself. 

***This man. Is the second richest person. On planet earth.

 

Dinner and a show:

In December, SpaceX launched its 8th Starship prototype. 

After successfully launching, hovering, flipping, and returning to Earth on a 6-and-a-half-minute flight, the vehicle didn’t quite stick the landing – ending with an explosive crash on the ground.

Apparently, this was a success? I’ve never claimed to know anything about physics, much less aerospace engineering, but I am well-equipped to recognize a show when I see one. 

Every SpaceX launch is a quasi-religious spectacle, observed by millions and capable of producing a real sense of wonder to create collective effervescence.

The spectacle, as is its tendency, masks what is malevolent. That humanity’s future in space will not be ‘ours’. Rather, it will be the result of particular capitalists toiling to bring space’s vast domain into the fold of capital accumulation. Just as past capitalist expansions have come at the expense of the poor and working class to enrich a small elite, so too will this one. 

It is predicted that the domain of space is likely to produce the world’s first trillionaires. 

 

TRULY GALACTIC INEQUALITY:

If the year 2020 brought about anything constructive, it was a universal awakening to an intrinsic inequity rooted in every degree of political, economic and social life. 

The notion that this man who grew up in apartheid South Africa and possesses more money than God will be leading humanity’s movement into space is catastrophic at best. 

(As a young boy, he even confessed to Business Insider about his struggles:
“We were very wealthy. We had so much money at times we couldn’t even close our safe.”)

That’s the thing about people who win in a rigged system: they don’t want the rules to change. And in this case, Mr. Musk is laying the groundwork for true galactic inequality. 

 


 

After reading all of my gibberish (if you’ve gotten this far – love you), I implore you to read this 1978 speech by Murray Bookchin. It is worth it, at the very least, for its unnerving relevance. 

“The simple fact is, I just don’t believe that we have to extend the present into the future. We have to change the present so that the future looks very, very different from what it is today. This is a terribly important notion to convey. So a lot of people are walking around today who sound very idealistic. And what do they want to do? They want multinational corporations to become multi-cosmic corporations [laughter from the audience]—literally!”

 

 

[laughter from the audience].

 

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