From chapter "Earth-Hating Madness"
In the rest of the interview [Elon] Musk talks about his plans to get a million people to Mars in the next hundred years on 10,000 space ships (presumably built by his company at taxpayer expense), shooting these transports into space at rates “that would convert Earth’s launch pads into machine guns, capable of firing streams of spacecraft at deep space destinations such as Mars.” He talks about mining Mars, like this culture has mined the earth. He talks about how the entire universe might be a giant computer simulation.
It’s all nuts. And it’s nearly always couched in terms that are Biblical, magical, childish, or all three. The journalist repeatedly talks about the “sacred mission” of space colonization, and he describes Musk’s “cathedral-like rocket factory,” then finishes his description by saying, “The place felt something like Santa’s workshop as re-imagined by James Cameron.”
The Biblical/magical/childish imagery continues, as here we go again with the Noah metaphor: “It’s possible to read Musk as a Noah figure, a man obsessed with building a great vessel, one that will safeguard humankind against global catastrophe [except, of course, that only humans will survive, but then again, “Fuck Earth”]. But he seems to see himself as a Moses, someone who makes it possible to pass through the wilderness— the ‘empty wastes,’ as Kepler put it to Galileo—but never sets foot in the Promised Land.”
The article concludes: “He is a revivalist, for those of us who still buy into cosmic manifest destiny. And he can preach. He says we are doomed if we stay here. He says we will suffer fire and brimstone, and even extinction. He says we should go with him, to that darkest and most treacherous of shores. He promises a miracle.”
All this talk of miracles and preaching and fire and brimstone and sacred missions is not coincidental. The technotopian vision is just a secular version of the same monotheistic conceit that life on Earth is a vale of tears and the real glory is in heaven. It doesn’t much matter whether you believe the only meaning comes from a God who looks like an old man with a beard, or the only meaning comes from things created by man, you’re still saying that the earth is meaningless. You’re still showing contempt and hatred for the earth. And it doesn’t much matter whether the God you created tells you that you should have dominion over the earth, and all creatures on earth should fear you, or whether you believe it is human’s manifest destiny to convert the earth into machines and pollute the earth (cuz that’s what intelligent beings do), and you not only make all creatures fear you, you drive them extinct, you’re still destroying the place. It doesn’t matter whether you have the God you created tell you that you are the Chosen People (or Chosen Species), or whether your own delusions tell you that your vast intelligence is “a single candle flame, flickering weakly in a vast and drafty void,” you still think your chosen stature allows you to exploit and/or exterminate all those you perceive as lesser than you, which is everyone. And it doesn’t much matter whether you believe heaven is way up in the stars where God lives, or whether you believe heaven is way up in the stars where you want your space ships to go, you still don’t believe that the earth is a good place to live.
There are some differences though. One is that it used to be that at least God was more powerful than Man. Now, though, we’ve gotten rid of that silly God talk and it is we who are on the path to becoming godlike in our capabilities. Another is that in the olden days the Heaven to which the hell on earth was contrasted was at least marginally pleasant, so long as you like harps, and petting zoos that contain both lambs and lions. This new heaven on Mars promised by Musk sounds more like hell: “If you were to stroll onto its surface without a spacesuit, your eyes and skin would peel away like sheets of burning paper, and your blood would turn to steam, killing you within 30 seconds. Even in a suit you’d be vulnerable to cosmic radiation, and dust storms that occasionally coat the entire Martian globe, in clouds of skin-burning particulates, small enough to penetrate the tightest of seams. Never again would you feel the sun and wind on your skin, unmediated. Indeed, you would probably be living underground at first, in a windowless cave, only this time there would be no wild horses to sketch on the ceiling.”
It gets even better: “Cabin fever might set in quickly on Mars, and it might be contagious. Quarters would be tight. Governments would be fragile. Reinforcements would be seven months away. Colonies might descend into civil war, anarchy or even cannibalism, given the potential for scarcity. US [sic] colonies from Roanoke to Jamestown suffered similar social breakdowns, in environments that were Edenic by comparison. Some individuals might be able to endure these conditions for decades, or longer, but Musk told me he would need a million people to form a sustainable, genetically diverse civilisation.”
So basically the heaven he’s promising us is worse than the worst prison cell in the U.S. penal system. At least those in solitary confinement get an hour a day to walk in a walled-in exercise area where they can see the sky and breathe outside air. At least there is outside air.
But from the perspective of capitalists—and more broadly, that of an authoritarian technics—this really is heaven. Recall that a central point of agriculture has been to make people dependent on those in power for their food: if you control someone’s food, you control their lives, which means you control their labor. The people in Musk’s heaven would be dependent on those in charge for the very air they breathe. The God of capitalism/Authoritarianism is smiling.