I was, as you know, quite impressed by the actual lectures in the Humanities given during this program–so much so, as a matter of fact, that I opted to join the Space Humanities department during my two weeks of independent study. So far, I must admit, I’ve been terribly disappointed.
The first genuine day of Departmental Activities was on Wednesday; it was given-over to an industry representative who told us to design a technological concept for an asteroid mine. Now, if you are like me, you are probably wondering what the hell this has to do with Humanities. Indeed, I asked this very question, and was informed that because it was Humanities because it was “a creative activity.” In fact, as I later learned, it was the exact same “creative activity” that the Engineering Department had been tasked to perform the day before: we had literally just been given a recycled Engineering assignment. Because Humanities is basically just non-technical Engineering, am I right?
Oh, but it gets even better! Because you see, the reason we were given this task was because of a contract the University had signed with some private-sector start-up whose business model was based upon harvesting resources from asteroids, and then selectively releasing them to the public as a means of keeping supply artificially low; indeed, all work we did on the project was their intellectual property. And as part of our briefing, we were treated to a lengthy advertisement for this company, extolling the virtues of unconstrained growth of the consumer economy. Our Industry Representative enthused about how harvesting resources from the moon would make someone into the world’s first trillionaire, and talked about how much money there was to be made by private industries in transmitting solar energy back to Earth. At no point was there any discussion about whether any of these things were desirable; whether artificial scarcity was ethically defensible, whether privatizing the collective inheritance of Humanity is a moral thing to do*, or whether maintaining an economy based upon crass consumerism into the indefinite future is actually something worth doing. But of course, as we all know, the proper role of the Humanities is to unquestioningly serve as the handmaiden of the dominant politico-economic ideology!
The whole experience was profoundly dispiriting; I came away with the impression that I’d fallen into the world of Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy. It’s one of the few things that I haven’t enjoyed about this place. You see, the stated ideology of this institution is an almost Utopian Star Trek-style vision of peace and international cooperation through science and exploration; and yet there is a fundamental disconnect (which seems to go largely unexamined and uncommented upon**), with the industry element who seem to care only for carving up the final frontier for their own personal wealth, and exporting the same shitty neo-liberal ideology that has so recently destroyed the Earth’s economy into space. But if we can’t have this conversation in the academic Humanities of all places, then where the flying fuck can we have it?
If anything though, this experience has redoubled my personal inclination to study the Humanities, because I’m becoming increasingly convinced that more Humanities is what the world chiefly needs right now—whether it realizes it or not.
*Surely to God if it would actually be possible to provide civilization with unlimited free energy from space-based solar sources, we at least be having a conversation about who ought to own it, rather than just hearing vapid speeches about how whoever figures-out a way to commercialize it will “become the next Exxon.”
**Except, of course,by the curmudgeonly Hawaiian lecturer of whom I was so fond.