Saturday, April 30, 2022

Mars Sucks

We are not going to colonize other planets. Here's why: they suck.

Mars sucks. The Moon sucks. There's nothing there. Not "nothing" like Elizabeth, NJ is nothing. Really nothing.

This is ridiculously obvious, yet space nerd tech billionaires - mired in the petty business decisions of daily life and yearning for outlets for grandiose broad-strokes rumination - don't seem to grok the fact that other planets totally suck.

You know what a drag it is to spend time at the DMV? Uncomfortable chairs, harsh lighting, stale vending machine candy? Everything run via strict protocol with no consideration whatsoever for "chill"? Life on other planets would be like that, only 10,000 times worse.

It's not just the lack of breathable air or soil or whatever. If, after 5000 years, we managed to drop a layer of top soil and a ribbon of oxygen on Mars, it would still suck. Earth's air isn't nourishing and salubrious because we're so into a certain oxygen/nitrogen ratio. It's because of the subtleties.
If subtleties could be formulated and simulated, McDonald's would offer the scrumptuousness of a four-star Michelin meal.
The stale shitty dry air on your airplane flight is far more delicious than what you'd breathe indoors on Mars. And if centuries of miraculous tech advancement allow us to imbue outdoor Mars with a breathable atmosphere, it will still be much less enjoyable to breathe than the air on a jumbo jet you can't wait to exit. It took a billion years for Earth to co-evolve the myriad subtle factors that let us inhale without our amygdalae firing off dire warnings. It ain't gonna happen on another planet. Ever.

Mars sucks. The Moon sucks. Even Ganymede, with its familiar-seeming reserves of liquid water, would suck even in the unlikely event we could manage to shield people from its frigid temperatures and deadly radiation. Ganymede water is not going to be "nice" water, because our notion of "nice" is unimaginably narrow; specifically locked to the stuff flowing out of your sink (which many of us spurn, opting to up-pay for Poland Spring).

You know how animals wither in zoos, even if they're carefully catered to? It's not because they yearn for an abstract notion of "freedom". Animals don't do abstract notions. It's because while a koala may be happy to be given eucalyptus leaves to munch, and be protected from predators, and have the temperature in his habitat adjusted to the ideal koalic range, those are all coarse adjustments, and it's the fine-tunings and subtly aggregated factors that make a koala feel at home. And a koala locked in a cage in Cleveland feels 10000 times more at home than you would in a base on Mars or the Moon.

Fast-forward 10,000 years through a series of terra-forming miracles, and we still wouldn't be close to a confined Koala scenario. We might (might!) be able to walk outside without dying, that's all.

We'd still be considerably less comfortable than at a DMV. It took eons for the Earth to produce a DMV office. It's sensationally hard to match the heady comforts of a DMV. That would be the impossible aspiration of millennia of Martian terraforming.

Even with deforestation and global warming and mass extinctions and air pollution and light pollution and acid rain, when you step outside in Queens or Akron (let alone some sweeping Colorado ranch), that merely "normal" feeling is something you'll never experience on the Moon or Mars. Never!

"We'll adapt!" you say. And yes, we will. Just like the captive koala, who loses weight and suffers high stress levels ("Something's just, Idunno, off!") for its entire unnaturally shortened life, we won't PERISH. And, if we're lucky, our females will, with some frequency, manage to carry a baby to term. That's what adaptation looks like. 1. Not dying and 2. Not completely failing to reproduce. Low bar!

So, yeah, it'll suck. It'll suck worse than the DMV, and worse than a caged koala. Way, way, way worse than both.

I say all this as a person in the top percentile of space nuts. I actually would volunteer to sail on a generational ship to a distant star. I'd join a first-wave Mars colony. Shoot, I saw "Encounters at the Edge of the World", Herzog's film about McMurdo Station in Antarctica, and thought it might be cool to spend a dark winter there. I often remain indoors on sunny days and would likely do ok in a Supermax solitary block (I'd eagerly teach the other prisoners to meditate).

Mars would still suck for me, but I'd be excited, because I'm excited about such things and have an unusual level of chipper resilience that doesn't evaporate after twelve seconds. And, frankly, I'm not particularly well-adapted to the daily grind and self-generated tedium and phony drama most of my friends and neighbors deem "normalcy". So I'm an edge case; precisely the sort of guy who should be pushing for space colonization.

But I see what my fellow geeks somehow miss: humanity would not enjoy space colonization. Our experience would be vastly worse than mere unease or displeasure. We would yearn for an Earthly DMV or jail cell. Day to day life would be tantamount to torture.

And "adaptation", again, is not what people think it is. Eskimos, after millennia of adaptation, can be happy at twenty below. But the most savage white-out wintertime Alaska moment still feels like home in a way that the lethal blank vacuum of another planet (or even the canned environment of highly functional sealed buildings thereupon) absolutely would not.

Visualize the short-lived, fraught, atrophied koala in its cage, and know that you'd never come anywhere close to its wellness level. As you hear talk of space colonization, never lose sight of the koala.

Why is it so hard to anticipate the awfulness of life in an off-planet environment? It's because we're so jaded; so loathe to appreciate our on-planet environment. We feel entitled to luxurious perfection as a baseline, and have lost all gratitude for the love implicit in the perfect match of our exceedingly narrow comfort requirements with precisely what we've been given right here/right now.

It's part of a greater jadedness. Our lives feel like turds as we enjoy vastly greater comfort, security, health, and general coddling than any previous generation. We pray that each coming new year will be better than the excruciating suboptimality of the previous one. Optimality is a human right!

As I wrote here:
We humans shuffle through our blinkered existence, lost in mental drama, amid this gorgeous paradise planet, a miraculously lush sanctuary in a coldly inhospitable universe, blessed with trees (if trees had never existed and sprung up overnight, people would be driven insane by the beauty) and life-giving oxygen and sunshine and delicious food and refreshing water and all the immersive storylines we could dream of, all of it tailored to our every need (including our need for challenge, violence, and heartbreak) and permeated with heartbreaking love. Yet we scarcely notice. We're jaded, bored, and impatiently awaiting Something Better. We live in eternal anticipation - of our next big win, of momentary gratification, and of the arrival, finally, of "The Answer". We pray for help and then spurn the responders. We even actually have the gall to demand a messiah.
We can't grasp how bad Mars would be because we can't grasp how fantastic this is.

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