Andrés Martinez: Good afternoon, and welcome. My name is Andrés Martinez. I am the Editorial Director of Future Tense and a professor at Arizona State University School of Journalism.

Future Tense for those of you who don't know is a collaboration between New America, Arizona State University, and Slate magazine. We look at the impact of technology on society. We do that through live conversations like today's, and also through great published content on Slate magazine. Torie Bosch our fearless editor is looking very embarrassed because I'm calling her out. But I think she deserves a special callout for this event, because if you go to the Slate website and look at Future Tense we have a very robust package of space settlement stories. Everything from how will we work out on Mars, to some of the other themes that we're going to be hearing about today. And so thank you Torie for all of that great content that all of you if you haven't read it it'll still be there.

Tonight you can follow us on Twitter at @FutureTenseNow. And tomorrow night, we're doing one of our recurring My Favorite Movie nights and we're showing Mars Attacks!, and that's at 6:30. I was noticing that the number of RSVPs for both the event and the movie seem to be going in tandem, so maybe a lot of you are doing both. But if you haven't signed up, we do those at the E Street Cinema. So it's a fun movie to see and then we'll have a conversation about the themes in the movie.

I'm very excited for today's event. I'm not a space expert by any means, but it's hard not to be excited about this moment in time, both looking at the history and the anniversary that we're about to commemorate of the Apollo landing. And then also all of the activity that's occurring in terms of space exploration going forward. It's funny how when we think of manned space flight there's a temptation to think of it as history. For those of us who are not in the industry you know, it's fifty years of getting to the moon and it feels a little bit like supersonic flight in terms of some of those cool technological breakthroughs that are all in the past.

But obviously that's a very simplistic read because there's an awful lot of activity, as many of you are more familiar with than I am, in terms of setting up what might be the golden age of space exploration going forward. And at Arizona State University we're very fortunate to have one of the leading space exploration schools, and we have this exciting Psyche mission, which is going to go to a metal asteroid. We have researchers who're collaborating with the UAE's Mars mission. Our good friends Lindy Elkins-Tanton is overseeing a university-wide interplanetary initiative which is multi-disciplinary, and its mission is to build a future of humans in space and thus to make a bolder and better society. And so that is a little bit of the sensibility that informs the conversation we want to have here today. And it's also very much in keeping with the JustSpace Alliance's mission. We're we're really thrilled to do this in partnership with JustSpace, whose mission is to advocate for a more inclusive and ethical future in space, and to harness visions of tomorrow for a more just and equitable world today.

So I think it's important as we are at this threshold of what might be an exciting period of space exploration to take a moment to think about you know, how we want to govern these endeavors, and how we want to have this next chapter of space exploration reflect our better values. And so part of what we wanted to explore here today are some of the things that we ought to be thinking about, including lessons from our history.

So with that, I want to quickly just introduce the first conversation, which as I said will begin with some historical lessons. We sort of cheekily are naming this conversation you know, "What Could be Unsettling about New Settlements?" as we look to the new horizons.

So I want to introduce—Russell Shorto is a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine. He is the author of The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America. I think I first met Russell a New Netherland Society gathering, and that was when he was in the early stages of reporting this book. Russell's going to kick us off with a short talk, so Russell if you want to move up here. And then also why don't the other first panelists join the stage. Bina?

Bina Venkataraman is the Director of Global Policy Initiatives at the Broad Institute of Harvard & MIT. She's a Future Tense fellow. And this is really exciting. I promised her I would wave the book. And she's like, "You don't have to do that." But she is the author of the forthcoming The Optimist's Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age. So, welcome Bina.

And Armstrong Wiggins, who is the Washington DC Director of the Indian Law Resource Center. So Armstrong, if you could also joins us.

So I will now let Russell do our first provocation.


Russell Shorto: Thank you very much Andrés. Thank you all for being here.

When Andrés first contacted me about doing this I said, "You obviously you have the wrong man. I don't know a whole lot about space." But then when he explained it, basically there are no precedents for this sort of enterprise, so naturally people look to history. And then I looked back through the work that I had done on the Dutch founding of a colony in North America that they called New Netherland with its capital of New Amsterdam on Manhattan island in the 1600s, and thought through the whole scope of that enterprise with space settlements in mind. It was very interesting. Because I saw a lot of possible templates or models or…you know, potential parallels.

So, I'm just going to give you some of my reflections and I hope that they will be interesting. And I just learned that this is a provocation so I hope that they'll be provocative.

The controlling notion, the controlling fact about this whole enterprise that I'm going to talk about in the 1660s, which I think is very applicable to the possibility of space settlements—especially given where things seem to be going, is that it was founded under the auspices of a corporation. There were very definite pros and very definite cons as a result of that.

First let me give you a little quick two minutes of background. This is the 1600s I'm talking about and, improbably, in the 1600s, this little country which is fighting for independence becomes arguably for a time the greatest, most powerful nation in the world, the Dutch Republic. And this explosion happens of creativity that is called the Dutch Golden Age. And that is going on while they've found this colony in the New World.

So you know, you have Rembrandt and Vermeer. You have innovations in art. Suddenly they're doing art that isn't just for the church, it's ordinary people and portraits and ordinary scenes. You have an explosion in science and in people looking in telescopes and microscopes and trying to comprehend the world. And that is really centered on these provinces.

And maybe most of all, in commerce. The Dutch at this time founded the Dutch East India Company, which was really the first modern corporation. They invented the notion of shares of stock. They invented the first stock market where people would go and swap these. And along with that all kinds of other things that we think of as very modern came in the early 1600s on the heels of this. Things like short-selling stocks and naked short-selling—all these terms that people on Wall Street use.

The Dutch East India Company becomes the largest corporation in the history of the world up to that point. And they're funding these vast, expensive voyages to what they called the East Indies, so Asia, to get what they called the rich trade; these products that were very very valuable, pepper and nutmeg and silk and things like that; and bringing them back. And it becomes the engine, the economic engine, that fuels all this creativity.

So they're doing that, and then they say, "This is working so well for the East Indies, let's also do the same thing for the West Indies." And the West Indies meant…you know, if you're looking at a traditional map and you're in Europe the West Indies is basically everything on your left. So everything on the other side of the Atlantic. The coastal North America, the Caribbean, South America.

The West India Company then becomes the entity that founds this colony called New Netherland. New Netherland was a large chunk of the Eastern seaboard. You had the New England colonies, the English colonies of New England to the north. And you had Virginia to the south. And basically everything in the middle is this Dutch colony. All are parts of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, a little bit of Pennsylvania.

So a huge chunk of land, founded by the West India Company. And probably the biggest initial issue that they had with it was that this colony was not the main enterprise of the company. And in fact throughout the whole basically forty-year life of this colony, they are saying, "What about us?" Because they're looking—this is a company, and this is again I think potentially relevant to notions of space. If there is a company that is the main concern, and this entity's relationship to the settlers is tenuous, than that becomes very problematic for the settlers. And the kind of upside of this story is that throughout the life of this colony there is this tension, and the colonists themselves realizing the structural inherent problems in this settlement and trying to fix them, trying to make it work.

The West India Company then founds this enterprise. It's for profit, they want to make a profit and it's not making a profit right away. Brazil is doing better, the Caribbean is doing better, so that's where their attention is. They decide that they don't want to do the really hard work of running this entity. So they come up with an idea, which again strikes me as something that could potentially apply.

They go to very wealthy individuals, people who've made this sudden money from the East Indies. And they say, "We'll give you a whole big chunk of this land. We'll give you half of future New Jersey, let's say. All you have to do is settle it. You have to pay for the people. You have to pay for the equipment, the animals, whatever. You do it, and by the way you can do it whatever way you want."

So this gets at this notion of governance. Because there was this idea, which wasn't explicit but you feel it as you're looking at the documents from the period. There was this idea that this is— I mean, North America, for these people was…it might as well have been an area without oxygen, you know. It was this total wilderness. It was there. And there was a sense that it didn't matter what people did. In other words, here in Europe we have certain laws, and we have the morals and the church. But all that doesn't necessarily have to apply over there. So if you…you know, sort of Warren Buffett of the 17th century want to…or Mark Zuckerberg or whoever, want to like, take a chunk of this land and settle it, you can do whatever you want with that land and with those people. So that was a potentially very problematic element. Fortunately, I think, this—it was called the patroonship system and it never really took hold. There was one patroonship that really lasted, but otherwise not.

Another very problematic feature of this being settled by and founded by a corporation was that they wanted a monopoly on the trade. The main trade initially was furs, in particular beavers. And they wanted the monopoly on that. And that was problematic for several reasons. One, it didn't give the people there, the settlers on the ground, a real incentive, a real stake in the place. But eventually this colony did really take off. And about twenty-five years into it, one of the prominent settlers goes back to the home country and he makes an appeal. Because there was a missing piece at that time. And again, it was the settlers themselves would work all this out. And the missing piece was government, actual government.

So what happened was fifteen years into it, after a lot of complaints from the population, this monopoly was broken down. In 1640 they said, "Alright, we'll end the monopoly." And when that happened, individual trading houses in Amsterdam sent one of their sons to New Amsterdam to open up a branch office. And suddenly you get this profusion of economic activity at the ground level.

How this plays out in a space colony is another matter. Because presumably you have to monetize whatever it is. You know, dilithium crystals or whatever it is that you're going for. And the controlling entity then naturally wants to take control. But it's only when individuals have a real stake in things that life begins to happen.

So, once this had been worked out somewhat, one of the individuals, one of the leaders of the colony, goes back to the home country. And he is arguing that the government needs to play a role. And he's pointing out, he's looking over twenty-five years of history, and he outlines several problems that they have had. One of them, the first one, he says is—and he published this as an essay—is bad government. And he actually put it in italics, both words. And he said "The Managers of the Company adopted a wrong course at the first, and as we think had more regard for their own interest than for the welfare of the country." So they were directors of a company and they wanted profits for the company and for themselves, and they weren't truly thinking about the lives of the settlers.

Among the problems, he said, were unnecessary expenses. This was a very top-down entity—the West India Company, from Europe, trying to decide what they need. And so he points to things that—initially, bad decisions that were made. He says that from Europe, they ordered the building of a ship, three expensive mills, a brickyard, and other projects which maybe sounded like a good idea, on paper from far away, but the people once they were there realized they had other needs. And by then they were saddled with all this debt from these projects that they didn't really have need for.

Another problem that he identified was… I guess you would say that the organizers, the directors of the company, had overlooked the role of the human heart in enterprises like this. He said that the company "sought to stock this land with their own employees," who left the colony as soon as their time was over. Instead, he said, what they needed to do was think about how can we attract people who want to call this place home? Who want to raise their children, see their grandchildren grow up, give their land to them, that kind of thing. Over time that is what happened but again it was people on the ground, seeing these flaws and working doggedly to change things.

By the 1650s…so twenty-five, thirty years into the life of the colony, they had something very interesting, a very interesting mix of ingredients, and I will wrap it up by just kind of outlining these.

There was private entrepreneurship. They had broken down this monopoly and so there was this very vigorous trade going on at all levels. And at the same time it was under the auspices of this chartered company that took the responsibility for certain large-scale operations. And, in part thanks to this mission that I was just talking about, there was government regulation. As a result of this mission that he had to the government in Europe, in 1653 this entity on this wilderness island of Manhattan got a municipal charter. So New Amsterdam becomes an official Dutch city, which is still the beginnings of New York City.

That meant they had a city council. The city council as soon as it first sits, they commission a census; they wanna know who all lives where, how much land do you have. Pay taxes. We're getting income. We're gonna do improvements. We're gonna improve roads. We're gonna build a wall. Later they're gonna call that street Wall Street, you know. So it's the city government having that function. So that interplay of those three entities becomes very important. And there was one other, which was a state church, which every nation in Europe had a state church, an official church, at that time. And what the church did was provide an orphanage and poor relief. And what was different in the Dutch context which provided for I think…helped to seed what New York City became, was that in this case, whereas elsewhere in Europe intolerance was official policy. You had to be a member of our church. The Dutch had this official policy of tolerance of other faiths. And that allowed for more people from different backgrounds to come.

So when that happens, and then even though it gets taken over by the English, you have this lively going concern. And when the English take over in 16— And it was in fact because all of these ingredients were in place, and it was this very vibrant city at that point in what would later be New York Harbor, the English by then are very attracted to it, and they invade it and they take it over. New Amsterdam becomes New York after James, the Duke of York. The second city up the river, which the Dutch had called Beverwijk, because it was a beaver town because they traded beavers there, became Albany because James was also the Duke of Albany. And what they had called Pavonia became New Jersey. There was a moment when they were going to call it Albania, also after the Duke of Albany. My little joke there is that there are a lot of New Yorkers who still think of Jew Jersey as Albania.

So the English take over. They take over and they don't understand necessarily this mix of ingredients that had come into being. But it was this hard-fought slog, where you have this…you know, we're all excited about big corporations and this big corporation's going to run this enterprise—wait a second there are problems with that. Let's allow private enterprise. And that's not good enough either, because we as individuals are too vulnerable here. We need government in as well. You can see them over this forty-year period working that out and making something that becomes a pretty successful entity on Manhattan Island. Thank you all.


Andrés Martinez: Thank you Russell. And it is fun­ny. When I first called you I was like, I’m sure you you get invit­ed to tons of space events. Could you do anoth­er one?”

But I think one of the ten­sions that you touch upon in terms of the hubris of the cen­ter, whether the cen­ter is a cor­po­ra­tion with far-flung oper­a­tions every­where. Or you know, a nation that has set­tle­ments some­where else. Or when you were think­ing of space [indis­tinct], the hubris—you see this with you know, ear­ly days and like world reli­gions too, the hubris of the cen­ter feel­ing that it can con­trol 100% what its sub­sidiaries or its rep­re­sen­ta­tives across the world or across the uni­verse are going to do. And that for­ev­er more, the val­ues with which they were ini­tial­ly dis­patched and the inter­ests are going to be pre­served, and over time invari­ably you see that that isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly the case. That’s a real­ly inter­est­ing theme.

And then of course, one of the rea­sons why I think the his­tor­i­cal prece­dent of the Dutch in what became New York is inter­est­ing is that the idea that it was a pri­vate enter­prise. And so you know, this is the— I think it was this week that Virgin Galactic has a list­ing where now, as you could have back in Amsterdam in the 17th cen­tu­ry, you can now buy stock in this com­pa­ny that is gear­ing up to go and engage in space explo­ration. And I think one of the oth­er things that is hap­pen­ing at ASU that I did not men­tion is an involve­ment with Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ lunar ambi­tions.

So putting you on the spot as a this fore­most space expert, if you look for­ward fifty, a hun­dred years from now, do you think that the pri­ma­ry actors in what­ev­er it is that we’re doing in space—which grant­ed is going to look dif­fer­ent than the his­to­ry. Hopefully, espe­cial­ly, that’s anoth­er thing we’re going to get to. But even in terms of the legal frame­work which will be our sec­ond con­ver­sa­tion. But what­ev­er it is that we’re doing to give us a bet­ter future option or to extract min­er­al wealth or what­ev­er it is, do you think the pri­ma­ry actors will be pri­vate, or do you think his­to­ry sug­gests that it might be nation-states? Right now there’s an inter­est­ing mix, right—

Russell Shorto: Yeah.

Martinez: —in this space.

Shorto: Well, I… This is way out­side of my com­fort zone, if that’s okay?

Martinez: That’s why you [indis­tinct] some­thing with full con­fi­dence.

Shorto: Well I think we’re already mov­ing into a very—uncom­fort­ably for most of us, into a place where nation-states, gov­ern­ments, are being forced to cede author­i­ty to cor­po­ra­tions. And that is going to, I assume, hap­pen faster and faster. And if you throw in space, if you throw in the lim­it­less­ness of space, then I mean…the sky’s the lim­it so to speak. I don’t know what the…where that takes us.

Martinez: Armstrong, I want to bring you into the con­ver­sa­tion, because of course this rich his­to­ry that Russell is talk­ing about, it’s real­ly inter­est­ing to think about it from the per­spec­tive of what peo­ple in Amsterdam cre­at­ing these com­pa­nies were try­ing to achieve and how it might have dif­fered from what was hap­pen­ing in New England or Virginia on the English side of the ledger. And there’s you know, from the per­spec­tive of Europeans they were dis­cov­er­ing they were…you know, set­tling and of course there’s a com­plete­ly over­looked oth­er side of that sto­ry which is that well, you know, there were peo­ple already liv­ing in North America who did not refer to their home as the West Indies, which I think Russell described real­ly well the per­spec­tive of Europe. You know, East was to your left and West was to your right or vice ver­sa.

And I think we’re all try­ing to be super care­ful. The roy­al we in terms of like, space is not going to be a do over of our colo­nial expe­ri­ence. And I think even the Outer Space Treaty, which we’ll hear more about lat­er, has that as sort of its ani­mat­ing inter­est. I only know that because I heard Henry say that a few min­utes ago. And we’re gonna get to that.

But, how wor­ried are you? You work very close­ly with indige­nous pop­u­la­tions in the Americas—

Armstrong Wiggins: Peoples.

Martinez: Peoples.

Wiggins: Not pop­u­la­tions.

Martinez: Sorry. That are still strug­gling with some of the lega­cies of…well you know, unin­tend­ed or, in many cas­es very intend­ed con­se­quences of this sort of cav­a­lier atti­tude of let’s explore and dis­cov­er new lands. And how con­fi­dent are you that as we go into space we’re not going to repeat… Or how con­fi­dent are you that we are going to repeat these… What are the cau­tion­ary tales that you would wan­na insert into this con­ver­sa­tion?

Wiggins: Well, I am very con­cerned. Not nec­es­sar­i­ly because— My back­ground is elec­tri­cal engi­neer at the begin­ning. Before I went into polit­i­cal sci­ence and law. And so I do real­ly fol­low John Houbolt’s strug­gle very care­ful­ly, very very close­ly, when he was going through a lot of strug­gle to go to the moon, how to land. And I was real­ly fol­low­ing that because I went to engi­neer­ing school in the 70s at University of Wisconsin. And so I am not just an igno­rant guy talk­ing here as an indige­nous per­son about sci­ence, about tech­nol­o­gy.

Having said that, we are very con­cerned because even when Russell talked, I lis­tened to him and he did­n’t men­tion the human side of it: what the Dutch found here. There were peo­ple here. There were nations here. They had gov­ern­ments.

Shorto: Could I just… The only rea­son I was doing that was because I’m try­ing to draw a par­al­lel with space

Wiggins: There were gov­ern­ments. There were gov­ern­ments here.

Shorto: I was try­ing to draw— Um, God I was provoca­tive.

Wiggins: The Dutch is nev­er explained…

Shorto: Okay, wait.

Wiggins: And the West Indies still exist, but there are—

Martinez: Russell is—

Wiggins: —peo­ple from the Caribbean. They’re from—

Shorto: Armstrong, I…

Wiggins: —Suriname.

Shorto: I could do a whole talk, on that. On that inter­play between the Europeans and the Native Americans. My assump­tion is…

Martinez: Like, we are in the place of the Dutch [indis­tinct]—

Wiggins: And for us…

Shorto: My assump­tion is that, in space we’re not going to find peo­ple when we’re there.

Wiggins: No. We’re still called aliens. We’ve been called aliens.

Martinez: Yeah. [crosstalk]

Shorto: Right.

Wiggins: So you might find aliens up there.

Shorto: Maybe, maybe so. But that’s [crosstalk] too much for me to com­pre­hend.

Wiggins: The Belize gov­ern­ment calls Mayan Indians aliens.

Shorto: Yeah.

Martinez: Yes.

Wiggins: The United States calls all the peo­ple com­ing to this coun­try aliens. So we’re aliens. Think about it. The where the Europeans think. When European [?] get here, our gov­ern­ments, Indian gov­ern­ments, Native peo­ple that exist­ed here, the Mayans, the Aztecs, the Incas… Big civ­i­liza­tions. The build­ings are still there. If you’re an archi­tect, you can look at those build­ings. They’re still there. Built from very good mate­ri­als. That’s why the Mexican cathe­dral sur­vived in El Zócalo, because they used Aztec civ­i­liza­tion mate­ri­als.

Martinez: But that insen­si­tiv­i­ty of this colo­nial expe­ri­ence—

Wiggins: So what I’m try­ing to say is this.

Martinez: Right.

Wiggins: Let me fin­ish this. One con­ti­nent called Europe did all the dam­age in the same world that we live in. When they came to America. When they went to Africa. When they went to Asia or the Arab world. And then lat­er they want­ed us to be like them. Think like them. And that did­n’t work. And look what’s going on around the world today. Because of that think­ing. And that what Russell was say­ing was pri­vate, mixed with maybe some gov­ern­ment after?

Martinez: Yeah.

Wiggins: But this is pri­vate. That’s going to hap­pen. And so what is going to hap­pen to those…maybe aliens they might find down the road? But the species that exist there. Are they going to treat them like that? For indige­nous peo­ple, when we went to Geneva for the first time, I was one of the founders, in 1977. The whole…all Indian lead­ers that came from to the United Nations in 1977, one of the most impor­tant things for us is our land. When we lose our land we lose our civ­i­liza­tion. We lose our cul­ture. We lose our future gen­er­a­tions. And so, what is going to hap­pen… Look what hap­pened when Europeans came into this…they tried to destroy our legal sys­tem. They tried to destroy our civ­i­liza­tion. They tried to destroy… And I can read a line a Supreme Court judge said here in the United States. After 500 years, we don’t have to wor­ry about Indians or Native Americans. They will be all assim­i­lat­ed.”

Today, I can say to you young peo­ple, we’re not assim­i­lat­ed. We’re strong. Our move­ment is com­ing back. Our move­ment is very strong at least in the Americas. And we’re con­tact­ing with all Indian peo­ple, not just in the Americas. But in Asia, Africa, all over the world.

Martinez: So when we think of human set­tle­ments in…whether they’re backed by com­pa­nies or governments…in Mars or the moon. Even short of meet­ing species, are you wor­ried about… You start­ed off by say­ing you were very wor­ried when you project ahead to what’s going to hap­pen. What are some of the things that those explo­rations should be mind­ful of to not repeat the his­tor­i­cal mis­takes. Or…

Wiggins: I’m wor­ried because—

Martinez: Is it inevitable?

Wiggins: The Europeans—and the native peo­ple call them the white folks—never learn. And we’re afraid that they go over there, and if they find that, they will make the same mis­take. Because in this Earth…we call it Mother Earth, there are still indige­nous peo­ple uncon­tact­ed. And nobody knows how to deal with that—they’re killing them. Okay. War hap­pened against Indians. War is a mur­der. If you read about war. And they killed so many Indians. That can hap­pen again, because they’re not still want to earn. Look what happened—and they talk about let’s make America great again.” But they only talk about the United States. The America is the whole con­ti­nent, not just the United States. But they don’t want peo­ple to come through the bor­der. They’re still killing Mayan kids at the bor­der.

Martinez: Bina, I can see you want—

Bina Venkataraman: So I just want­ed to say I think one of the con­nec­tions here that is impor­tant that you’re mak­ing is this idea of unin­tend­ed con­se­quences. Or maybe in some instances they were intend­ed con­se­quences or col­lat­er­al dam­age, from the men­tal­i­ty of the col­o­niz­ers. And I think at one of the things that we do when we think about the future, right, we think that space set­tle­ment is a very futur­is­tic enter­prise, right. We think the peo­ple who’re involved with doing it are vision­ar­ies who are look­ing ahead far­ther than the rest of us.

And I think one of the things we need to be care­ful of is what we’re imag­in­ing when we imag­ine that future. And I’m going para­phrase loose­ly Thomas Schelling, who’s the Nobel Prize-winning econ­o­mist who said no mat­ter how hero­ic a per­son­’s imag­i­na­tion is, they’re nev­er going to be able to think up a list of things they nev­er’ve imag­ined, right. They’ve nev­er thought it, right. They’re nev­er going to have that on their list.

And, I think when we look at what’s being imag­ined right now around space set­tle­ment, we see a lot of exam­ples of the infra­struc­ture, right. We see peo­ple— We see the sort of Matt Damon Martian ver­sion in our imag­i­na­tions. We think about how peo­ple are going to grow food. How they’re going to breathe. How we’re going to deal with the cli­mate on Mars.

And of that cer­tain­ly is impor­tant from an engi­neer­ing point of view if you were actu­al­ly get­ting to the point of doing this. But I think we’re not includ­ing enough in our imag­i­na­tion of that future issues around gov­er­nance, issues around the plan­et we have here. What’s the moral haz­ard of decid­ing to, or mak­ing a clear deci­sion that we can inhab­it places beyond our own plan­et, right. What does that say about what we’re doing to the plan­et today about whether it’s cli­mate change or resource degra­da­tion, or human rights. Are we giv­ing up on those par­tic­u­lar strug­gles and say­ing we’re instead going to pur­sue this utopia abroad. What hap­pens when we think about who leaves and why they leave? Is leav­ing an escape for the elite? Or is leav­ing an evic­tion for the peo­ple who no longer get to use the resources of Earth? And I think these are the kinds of things we need to bring into our imag­i­na­tion.

I also think from a gov­er­nance point of view, there… The frame­work that I’m think­ing of that is in the book that you waved around Andrés, thank you, is real­ly to think about what we have now as an inher­i­tance. And there are, I think as Russell point­ed out, part of the inher­i­tance we have here is that lega­cy of how the col­o­niz­ers thought and also their real­iza­tion that you need­ed a struc­ture of gov­ern­ment. You could­n’t just have a free-for-all-market where cor­po­ra­tions would just take what­ev­er they want­ed.

Wiggins: But you see, the gov­ern­ment [what] they were think­ing was the European type of gov­ern­ment. Not gov­ern­ment that exist­ed here. And the ide­ol­o­gy that they brought from the European side to the Americas is all European ide­ol­o­gy includ­ing from col­o­niza­tion, to cap­i­tal­ism, to Marxist Leninist, to [indis­tinct], to reli­gious think­ing, Christianism. Which we did­n’t have Jesus in this con­ti­nent.

Bina Venkataraman: Right.

Wiggins: So they had to bring Jesus from there for us to believe. And some of them are not still Christians.

Venkataraman: Yeah. So I would say that’s the oth­er part of [crosstalk] the inher­i­tance—

Wiggins: That’s the oth­er part of the inher­i­tance.

Venkataraman: —and that we haven’t actu­al­ly exam­ined the weak­ness­es of that inher­i­tance. I think actu­al­ly right now we’re in a point where we are dis­cussing that more as a soci­ety. People are look­ing at the Constitution and say­ing, Wow, that was real­ly good for gen­er­a­tions of Americans to secure indi­vid­ual lib­er­ties and rights. But it real­ly has­n’t done any­thing about the struc­tur­al prob­lems with cap­i­tal­ism and the fact that there’s gross inequal­i­ty.”

Wiggins: And we just fin­ished a study for young peo­ple… Go the the Library of Congress. We just fin­ished all the con­sti­tu­tions that exist­ed in this con­ti­nent before Europeans came here. Those were Indian gov­ern­ments. Constitutions. But they ignored that, and they imposed their own legal sys­tem. That’s why we call Indian law, which means our law that exist­ed here. Not the European laws that now dom­i­nate over indige­nous peo­ple. When Russell talked about New York, he did­n’t men­tion six—we rep­re­sent­ed six nations. The Iroquois peo­ple. Great, great great six nations. They’re still there as a gov­ern­ment. They’re still there. They don’t belong to the United States gov­ern­ment. They have their own pass­port. The trav­el to Geneva with their own pass­port.

So the strug­gle goes on. So maybe that might hap­pen in space. I think Andrés said that there are no indige­nous peo­ple in space.

Martinez: Well I don’t know—

Wiggins: But you nev­er know. There are…there might be.

Martinez: But I want to get to that.

Wiggins: There might be indige­nous aliens in Mars.

Martinez: And I should men­tion, to be fair to Russell, one of the these sto­ries I men­tion that are in this great pack­age on Slate is Russell writ­ing about this. And he does get at the sort of moral blind­ness and lack of per­spec­tive on the part of the way we talk about this and the way the ini­tial set­tlers did. And he talks about the pre-existing pop­u­la­tions.

I think the point of the talk was real­ly—

Wiggins: No I under­stand.

Martinez: —we are in the posi­tion of the Dutch in this dra­ma. We are the ones who are going to go off and maybe be equal­ly insen­si­tive.

Shorto: I was also being sim­plis­tic because this is a broad enough thing.

Martinez: Yeah.

Shorto: So assum­ing…because I can’t go that far to assume okay, once we have a set­tle­ment on anoth­er plan­et, and there are crea­tures there with whom we inter­act in an intel­li­gi­ble way, then what we do with that? That’s…that’s anoth­er—

Martinez: Yeah.

Shorto: —lev­el of…uh…

Martinez: Yeah.

Shorto: —con­fu­sion or dif­fi­cul­ty.

Wiggins: [indis­tinct] this small, but think about the British. Think about the Spanish that went through Mexico, Central and South America.

Shorto: Yeah, no I total­ly under­stand that. I total­ly under­stand that.

Wiggins: I mean, think about that.

Shorto: I’m just try­ing to con­tain—

Martinez: We are talk­ing about—

Wiggins: …from Europe

Venkataraman: I think— —talk­ing about the moon and Mars—

Shorto: But wait, let me…

Martinez: We’re talk­ing about peo­ple who were vic­tim­ized. And so one ques­tion is, if we could stip­u­late that there are no beings on…you know, no liv­ing crea­tures on Mars or moon, does that mean that every­thing goes? If we’re only talk­ing about the repecus­sions for— I mean I assume the answer is no, and what are—

Venkataraman: Yeah, I was going to say beyond human rights if you can think of space more like a com­mons, it’s more anal­o­gous, right, it’s anal­o­gous more to the ocean, or to think­ing about—

Wiggins: Water.

Venkataraman: —right. Thinking about resources that are shared that have no juris­dic­tion over­see­ing them like you know, at least until the United Nations and then you could argue that there are these enti­ties, mul­ti­lat­er­al region­al enti­ties that sprung up to try to gov­ern that resource. But that space is much more…you know…and the tragedy of the com­mons is this idea that when there’s no sense of own­er­ship that resources will be exploit­ed, that there will be dam­age done, and it’ll end up being to the net detri­ment of all, I think is a very impor­tant con­sid­er­a­tion when we think about space. Because we don’t know exact­ly what all those resources are. We have these treaties, we have these ideas, but they’re not enforcible with­in spe­cif­ic juris­dic­tions yet.

Wiggins: Yeah, and I’m con­cerned because of the legal frame­work. I’m con­cerned because of all the prob­lems that exist, and all the resources they’re going to spend to go to space when the cli­mate sit­u­a­tion is so huge. I’d rather put that mon­ey into cli­mate issues.

Martinez: Although some peo­ple are argu­ing that that’s why we should do it. That it’s a—

Wiggins: But that’s how I feel. That’s as a per­son, yeah.

Shorto: I think maybe…kind of sum­ma­riz­ing what the three of you are say­ing is, in envi­sion­ing this future, what bag­gage of ours do we want to bring with us and what bag­gage do we want not to? And how in the world do we, because if there are—[crosstalk]

Martinez: They’re pri­vate com­pa­nies so they might charge us a lot for the bag­gage.

Shorto: …a dozen dif­fer­ent enti­ties— [laughs]

Wiggins: And that’s anoth­er thing, only the rich rich can make that trip. Not us. We can’t afford it.

Shorto: Yeah. Well, but then again you know, if I’d look back to that Dutch mod­el, times were good in the home coun­try at that time. They had a very dif­fi­cult— They could only get the minori­ties, the kind of lowest…the peo­ple at the bot­tom of the socioe­co­nom­ic lad­der to go. So that’s who were there. And that’s why New York basi­cal­ly became the way it did, because it start­ed off with this mix of peo­ple speak­ing dif­fer­ent lan­guages. So, that’s back to the point of will it be the elites who go, or is it you know, peo­ple who have noth­ing else…have no oppor­tu­ni­ty here?

Martinez: I did see an inter­view—

Wiggins: That’s one of the rea­sons human vio­la­tions against natives were so gross. Because of the kind of peo­ple that came from Spain to the Americas with Christopher Columbus and with oth­ers. Because they were basi­cal­ly butch­ers. Most of them. You know.

Martinez: I did see an inter­view with Jeff Bezos recent­ly where he talked about how maybe we can— This idea of off­shoring a lot of the unpleas­ant activ­i­ties that we have to do on Earth… You know, maybe there’ll be more resources. But it was almost as if you know, I think he had a line where he said some­thing like we can zone earth for res­i­den­tial and like, let’s out­source. And I think this gets a lit­tle bit to the idea of even short of talk­ing about if there are crea­tures out there, that there’s a way in which you might dis­re­spect or abuse the envi­ron­ments there, because it’ll take off some of the bur­den here and it’s this thing—

Wiggins: All the garbage float­ing up them.

Shorto: And that gets a lit­tle bit to what England had in mind with Australia as this okay, we’ll [crosstalk] put our pris­on­ers there.”

Martinez: Right. It’ll become our Dumpster.

Shorto: Never mind the fact that there are peo­ple liv­ing there, too, but we’ll just out­source our pris­on­ers over there.

Martinez: Well Bina very quick­ly because as we feared, this has flown by and I feel like we’re we’re just get­ting start­ed and so thank­ful­ly we have two more con­ver­sa­tions. And I also want to— I should’ve men­tioned this at the begin­ning. After the three con­ver­sa­tions we will have a recep­tion so hope­ful­ly some of you can stick around and we can con­tin­ue talk­ing.

But Bina, very quick­ly. Your fan­tas­tic book, which is com­ing out in September. Or is it late August?

Venkataraman: Late August.

Martinez: Late August, but you can prob­a­bly order it already on Amazon. You posed a ques­tion as to how do we acquire the wis­dom to pre­vail over reck­less­ness on behalf of our future selves. It’s so…beautifully word­ed, first of all. But I think it’s very à pro­pos of when you think about the chal­lenges of cre­at­ing struc­tures that are going to work a cen­tu­ry, two cen­turies from now as we enter this new space. Why does it seem like our soci­eties and our democ­ra­cies strug­gle to think beyond and to plan for any­thing beyond the next you know, bud­get cycle. And you were in the White House, the pre­vi­ous admin­is­tra­tion, work­ing on cli­mate change, which is a sim­i­lar kind of chal­lenge. I mean I think now we’re get­ting more and more aware, thank­ful­ly, of the urgency around cli­mate change—but it is anoth­er one of those things that often to just seems very abstract in terms of the sort of long-term nature of it. And how can we change that, in a cou­ple of min­utes?

Venkataraman: Yeah, how long do you have? So, to give the very highest-level… So our eco­nom­ic struc­tures and polit­i­cal struc­tures are not well-suited to these long-term prob­lems. I think that’s pret­ty obvi­ous. The elec­tion cycles, the way that cor­po­ra­tions report their prof­its. But I think that it’s a sort of…it’s a myth that this is just human nature, that human nature is inca­pable of think­ing ahead. I think peo­ple actu­al­ly do think ahead. Look at all of you in this room think­ing about space set­tle­ment when we have real issues that are imme­di­ate as well. And I think that this kind of think­ing, right, can be enabled by cul­ture we put our­selves in, envi­ron­ment we put our­selves in, and exer­cis­es we use to inhab­it our imag­i­na­tion about the future.

And that’s… I guess the con­nec­tion I would make to this con­ver­sa­tion, because there’s so much more I can say about that, is that what I find most inter­est­ing about talk­ing about space set­tle­ment is what it does for us to help us imag­ine and envi­sion the future soci­ety on this plan­et regard­less of where soci­ety is. So it helps us under­stand both what we’ve inher­it­ed, both the ill and the ben­e­fits of what we’ve inher­it­ed from the past, but to under­stand like what’s miss­ing in that inher­i­tance and how do we shape that so that it’s a bet­ter heir­loom for the future. And that means we have to be think­ing about if we think about gov­er­nance or a new con­sti­tu­tion of the future we have to be think­ing about the indige­nous rights that were left out of that. If we’re think­ing about the fail­ures of cap­i­tal­ism we should be think­ing about build­ing in anti-corruption and eco­nom­ic rights into future char­ters for these set­tle­ments.

But that imag­i­na­tion of using space as a place that’s eas­i­er to sort of let our imag­i­na­tions wan­der to should also help us to think about the future here on Earth more prac­ti­cal­ly. And so I think there are a num­ber of tools that we can use to do that, and part of it is allow­ing our­selves to embrace that way of think­ing and not to allow the imme­di­ate mea­sures of what we’re doing inter­fere with a sense of being able to imag­ine that bet­ter future.


Martinez: We have a couple of minutes for one or two questions. And I apologize I haven't left us that much time, but sir. If you could wait for the microphone and introduce yourself, since this is being livestreamed.

Aaron Oesterle: Aaron Oesterle with National Space Society. I have a quick question that I'd like a one-word answer for from everybody. Accepting the premise that if we can retain…you know, the knowledge, the wisdom, of doing things better, respecting human rights, respecting indigenous…etc., etc., etc…is space settlement something we sh— That is fundamentally beneficial, or fundamentally bad? At a very base level. And a second part. Again: yes/no. Can space settlement help solve major problems we're facing right now, or in the near term?

Martinez: So basically, should we try to create space settlements for [indistinct], yes or no.

Shorto: I think it's a start. I think its value-neutral. It depends on us.

Venkataraman: I was going to say the same thing. [laughing] You stole my answer!

Martinez: Oh come one, it's a yes or no.

Shorto: Okay, I'll say yes. I changed my answer.

Wiggins: It's hard to say yes. Just that, if we can learn from our past mistakes and try to do the right thing, I think because I am also a scientist, you know, I think it's important to understand space. But I'm fearful because we have so many problems here on this Earth. The Earth is upside down right now, and we need to think about that.

Oesterle: I guess my second question is to your point. Yes/no: can settlement help us solve these problem?

Wiggins: I'm not sure.

Martinez: So I'd be curious Armstrong, just given what we've been discussing and your enthusiasm around the moon landing and Apollo 11, and with your background as an engineer and scientist. And now on the other hand, your historical knowledge that we've been talking about. When that happened, did you feel a trepidation of "oh my gosh, we might be starting something that could go awfully awry?" Or were you as enthusiastic and bullish on that moment as a lot of the country was, particularly given what else was in the news. Was there part of you that was like [sucks air through teeth]

Wiggins: Yeah, sometimes I had sleepless nights…

Martinez: But in that moment too.

Wiggins: Yeah. Because all the mistakes we're doing here… You know. We might not even see the result of space exploration. Because this Earth might disappear.

Martinez: So when Armstrong "small step for—" you were like [sucks teeth] "I've seen this."

Wiggins: Yeah.

Martinez: Ok.

Wiggins: That is a long-term project.

Martinez: Yeah.

Wiggins: It's not a short-term project.

Martinez: So, in deference to the next two conversations I should cut this off. But again, we're going to stick around and we're going to be around at the reception, so feel free to approach us.

Starting off with the historical discussion is always a lot of fun and it can often be…unwieldy, but I hope you found it as interesting as I did and worthwhile. And now we're going to segue into a focused conversation on sort of the legal framework. I do want to introduce my partner in crime for this event Erika Nesvold, who is an astrophysicist and a developer at Universe Sandbox. She is the cofounder of our partner for this event, The JustSpace Alliance. I should also mention, another thing I neglected to mention at the outset, is that Lucianne Goldberg, who is the other co-founder of JustSpace Alliance and was going to moderate the third conversation unfortunately couldn't be with us today at last moment, so—

Wiggins: And I want to thank you and Lucianne and you for inviting us.

Martinez: No, thank you. Thank you. So if you're in the second conversation, come on up. Thank you.

Further Reference

History Lessons for Space by Russell Shorto, at Slate/Future Tense

How Will We Govern Ourselves in Space? event page


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