Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Space capitalism

NewSpace marks the arrival of capitalism in space. While challenging the libertarian rhetoric of its proponents—space enterprises remain enmeshed in the state, relying on funding, physical infrastructure, technology transfers, regulatory frameworks, and symbolic support—NewSpace nevertheless heralds a novel form of human activity in space. Despite its humanistic, universalizing pretensions, however, NewSpace does not benefit humankind as such but rather a specific set of wealthy entrepreneurs, many of them originating in Silicon Valley, who strategically deploy humanist tropes to engender enthusiasm for their activities. We describe this complex as ‘capitalistkind'. Moreover, the arrival of capitalism in space is fueled by the expansionary logic of capital accumulation. Outer space serves as a spatial fix, allowing capital to transcend its inherent terrestrial limitations. In this way, the ultimate spatial fix is perhaps (outer) space itself.

Nature: One giant leap for capitalistkind: private enterprise in outer space, 29 January 2019

William Gibson put these words into his protagonist's mouth in 1986's Count Zero: "And, for an instant, she stared directly into those soft blue eyes and knew, with an instinctive mammalian certainty, that the exceedingly rich were no longer even remotely human." The way to space for the super-rich is one of ease and comfort, and it isn't even financed with personal wealth: instead, it comes from investments that bet on a new frontier of capitalism being opened, one that will remain solely accessible to the rich. Science fiction has predicted what space colonisation will look like based on what the history of colonisation did: the rich continue a privileged life on distant shores, the poor get there through forced labour or indentured servitude. Elon Musk said it in January: those who can't pay their way to Mars will pay off their debts of travel through labour, which is precisely what indentured servitude is, especially when those debts are astronomical and require more than one generation to work off. Decades of union work and labour rights will simply not apply because these are new polities, which is exactly the reason for why Musk wants to go there (also re the Gibson quote, Musk is determined to hold of death with all available means until humanity has reached the future he dreams of, because the scariest thing for a rich person with grand dreams is not to see them realised). I don't think that there's a way to watch Richard Branson go to space, even if it was just for a small amount of time, and to know that Jeff Bezos will go there soon as well, and not see it as the logical extension of David Geffen waiting out the virus on his superyacht: we're witnessing a future being built for people utterly determined not to be part of society. 

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