José Gabriel Barrenechea.
Translated by Ariadna Barrenechea.
The more reduced the space one lives and the greater the human accumulation, the more inevitable it is to establish an increasing number of regulations that help to maintain coexistence and at the same time to preserve the shared environment as habitable. The man who lives next to ten other people in an apartment of fifty square meters does not enjoy the same freedom as the one who lives alone, in a château in the middle of the countryside. In the first case, promiscuity forces us to establish an enormous number of coexistence rules; in the second case, these rules are minimal, in any case that leaves us with the ones he must follow in his occasional encounter with the newspaper delivery man, with the woman who cleans once a week, or with the neighbors of the distant properties that surround his own.
Humanity lives piled up in an increasingly limited space: The Earth. A space, or rather a surface, in which resources are increasingly scarce, and in which even small actions can alter the precarious balance between humans, the biosphere, the atmosphere, the soil and the oceans. That is why the regulations increase, especially those aimed at limiting what the owner can do with his or her property. Which is completely paradoxical, since it turns out that our mercantile economic system cannot live without growing, and in our current planetary confinement we have not found another solution than promoting the individual compulsive consumerism from small bubbles of negative freedom.
In other words, on one hand we are obliged to limit these spaces of negative freedom, above all to establish control of increasingly scarce resources, and on the other, we are obliged to encourage them, so that individuals can promote economic growth from those spaces.
However, the solution is not as obvious as supposed by the bitter enemies of the market. It is true that the mercantile economic system cannot live without growing, but do not hurry in charging against growth and claiming for a bucolic sustainable development. In the first place, the Second Principle of Thermodynamics emphatically prevents this impossible as impossible as the perpetuum mobile: no development will ever be sustainable, “friendly” with the environment in which it occurs; in second place, the mercantile system´s need for growth ultimately responds to a deeper human need: Humanity cannot live without constantly growing in all senses. Intensively and extensively.
It is indisputable that Earth urgently requires to abandon the dominant mercantile system, and at the same time to establish a single world government. To meet two circumstantial needs we require: To strictly control our interaction with an increasingly fragile environment; and to secure the destiny of our resources towards the great jump outside the limits of this planet.
The latter is incomparably more important than the first, and that priority explains, in the end, the circumstantiality of the abandonment, or the establishment, mentioned in the first sentence of the paragraph above.
Even if we were able to establish a strong world government in time, and even if it were really democratic and inclusive for all humans beings, with access to decision making power as equal as possible –equal for an Indian, a Cameroonian, same as for an American- the human society enclosed by limits, especially those marked by economic planning, can only languish, quickly or little by little, to return to social conditions that will reduce world population, or its capacity of consumption, until they reach numbers that will be very far from the terrestrial limits.
It has already happened with the first societies of the Neolithic, settled on the margins of the great rivers. Contrary to the general public criterion, the fact that these societies for one reason or another remained isolated resulted sooner or later in a decline, saved only by the arrival of some nomadic people. Constrained to their small spaces, these societies were loaded with regulations and stratifications that weakened them to the point that any small catastrophe, or tiny band of free foreigners, made them fall.
Another good example is the Soviet case. The USSR grew, it is true, but only because of the external stimulus that represented the need to compete and defend the Free World. If the Red Army had succeeded in moving beyond Warsaw in 1920, until the entire world was converted to Soviet “socialism” before 1925, there is no doubt: Sputnik would never have risen beyond the earth’s atmosphere.
Many reasons lead to that Humanity, locked permanently on the planet Earth, moving towards this inevitable involution. We will only point two facts here:
1-The very increasing nature of the necessary control to maintain coexistence. There is a critical moment in which so much control necessarily begins to feed itself, even beyond the real needs of control of the moment, to degenerate into the inevitable totalitarian state. The balance of order and freedom is very precarious in human societies, and only the relapse into the totalitarian and stratified structure is avoided with the existence of areas that escape from any control, where the individual can be free, and give the example of that freedom even to those who, being at the very center of society, can only experience freedom in a very limited way. Without these peripheral areas of freedom, as it will necessarily occur in a Humanity locked in the Earth, the abundance of norms will end up empowering the unique world government to the detriment of individuals until infinity; and this involution is inevitable, no matter how democratic that government was at the beginning.
2-In a human world that resembles more a panoptical prison than the home from which window we observe as children the wide and unlimited world that opens before our illusions, the absence of horizons to focus the imagination will end up stagnating it. In fact, that is what is already happening today, in this world in which the lack of real expectations for imaginative individuals has been creating this current state, in which we consume from cubicles than get smaller and smaller, and in which growth and development are not the result of the occupation of new extensive spaces, but by the meticulous and intensive economies, more concerned with superfluous details than with real human issues. A world in which fantasy, dying gradually, does nothing but recycle again and again the products of much earlier generations. Those last fantasies in which that epitome of the individual man – the explorer- could use his abilities and face by himself the wonders that always inhabit beyond the oppressive horizon that keeps the social man locked, crowded in the center of his society. Today the imagination has become that mechanical state in which children repeat the same operations again and again in their virtual games, safe in their security bubbles; different from the supreme resource that it really is to face the unexpected, and not be terrified by the marvelous.
The development only serves to allow us to supply our main need: to become freer, freer not in terms of the number of roads open before our feet, but in terms of the resources to jump over what constrains us today, and leave the next generation with their own constrictions . It is a perversion to believe that development serves to make us more and more comfortable in our limited corral of negative freedom, when this limited corral really gets smaller and smaller every day, in a surface where billions of people share a few square meters of space.
Human society must always have a last frontier. Among strict external limits, which multiply the inter-human regulations to infinity, humans will suffocate from claustrophobia; and above all, because of the limitation of our creative nature and our insatiable desire for freedom. Not to say that it is illusory to expect that an authority such as the one we are obliged to establish will not eventually become the worst and most totalitarian dictatorship that Humanity has ever lived. No wonder such a conspicuous totalitarianism lover as Fidel Castro found it so impossible that we ever managed to leave the Earth: In reality it was not that he did not believe it, but that the alternative was so appealing to him that he repulsed with disgust the possibility of abandon a pressure boiler in which Humanity could be molded to the taste of individuals like him.
On the impossibility of long-distance travel in outer space it is good to bring up a familiar anecdote: In his last years one of the brightest minds of the nineteenth century, William Thomson -Lord Kelvin- claimed that it was impossible for man to fly some day in a machine with higher density than air. By the way, that happened only a couple of years before the Wright brothers fully demonstrated the opposite.
The solution to our needs at the moment is the world government established with a priority, and circumstantial purpose: to concentrate our resources to begin the conquest of the vast spaces outside the surface of the Earth.
Once established the first colonies, these will avoid the totalitarianism that looms over a society too regulated and not only by the cult to the state, but even by the gold corral consumerism. They will achieve this with their constant reflux of “outsiders”, of settlers, who, because they live in the less regulated periphery, will constantly introduce new values that avoid the processes of terrestrial decomposition in totalitarianism -perhaps they will have at first more natural constrictions, given by the need to take the atmosphere with them, for instance, but without any doubt they will be more on their own than what any contemporary Earthling could ever be-.
The most important ones in this task will be the explorers. Like the Westerners who traveled the world in Modernity- the Stanley, Magellan, or Cook- whose role in European evolution has not yet been sufficiently recognized, the first explorers will be vital for the world that remains behind does not end up becoming that which Marx called Asian Despotic States. They will be the ones who revive the fantasy, not that synthetic electronic substitute we have today; they will come true our children’s desire for ample real grasslands, beyond all horizons, which is the only true school of freedom love: the highest human aspiration, the one that makes us what we are.
It is a simple calculation of investing today to collect tomorrow: First we will limit the liberties to the present, liberties such as possession. We will replace the current economic based on growth model through the promotion of consumerism by individuals from comfortable bubbles of negative freedom, for a planned centralized war economy, in the efficient Anglo-American model of the last World War, in order to be able to launch a similar program to the Apollo of the sixties of the last century, only with a thousand times more resources. A program- or a set of them- that lead us to colonize Mars, to experience planetary engineering on Venus, to establish large mining-industrial colonies beyond the orbit of Mars … even to try with our current means to send centennial missions to the closer stars.
All this will allow us to live more humanly here on Earth, between the constraints and controls that may never leave the earthlings, but with the freedom that is always obtained from having a place to go, where man can play again his function as an explorer, as colonizer, if the comfortable corral is already suffocating him.
For this it is required that political classes of the last century- from the times of the Cold War- abandon power definitively. It should take place at least in the three great global powers: USA, Russia and China. Above all, it is necessary that the future American political class understands that the times in which their country generated half of the world’s GDP have already passed definitely, and that they alone are not enough for the enormous challenges of the future.
As for the business class, and that “International” of the Transnationals that form many intellectuals related to it from their “thinking tanks”, it is imperative that they finally understand that if they want to return at some future time to enjoy full freedom of possession, and a have a free market that tend to elevate the ridiculous category of ontological truth, it is necessary to abandon certain human rights for the time being, and return to the growth demanded by the times: the extensive ones.
As for the public, it is nonsense to expect absolute security. There is no such thing as a right to life, such a right is a human construct, the result of our ability to transform the environment we live in and depends on the willingness of certain women and men to put their lives at risk for the general good. Putting women and men in space will always be a considerable risk, and not one, but many missions will end in the failure and death of its members. But this should not lead to suspending projects, stopping tests. What must be done will cost lives, because that is what living is like, and those losses should not impact us so deeply because ultimately for those who enlist in such missions life is not something that should be kept in the safety of any bubble, but a good to spend on what must be done.
Let us always remember that the last words of the pioneer of aviation, Otto Lilienthal, shortly before dying as a result of a plane crash, were: “Sacrifices must be made.”