Monday, April 13, 2009

Week 12: Red Mars, part 2

Given the chance, would I choose to terraform Mars? Should the technology come available and I fell into a position where opportunity allowed me to go, would I do it? The fear of leaving a comfortable home put aside, the question is about the creation of a society, the restructuring of a planet, and the shaping of a new humanity. Robinson responded to this question on, ambiguously stating only that the reflection of this question is what drove him to write the trilogy and that he believes we should, in fact, terraform Mars (assuming there is no life there) if we would only leave the higher elevations in their natural state. His response is an environmental one, a comment on the ability to live in a place and not destroy its “sublime” qualities and “its own intrinsic worth,” he says. But the issue, certainly is much larger. The question reminds us of the early North American colonists who, in their own way, terraformed a new land. Of course, those early colonists disregarded the life—the societies and culture of the Native Americans—already existing in this new land, and reshaped a world for both democratic and financial prospects.

When Marian talks to John about the establishment of a Mars treaty under the rule of ‘dictators’ from Earth, John argues that the new Mars inhabitants have the right to frame their world in their own way. Referring to the American Revolution, he says “it may not be 1760, but we have some of the same advantages: we’re at a great distance and we’re in possession” (348). While a major driving force for the establishment of a new land in 1760 may have been for the freedom of religion, it is easy enough to argue that today, should we terraform a new planet and a society were to form, it would be less about religion and more about political, environmental, and moral ideologies. Distance may allow a people to separate themselves from the ideological traditions of the past, but that is a physical separation. When John then states “the important thing is not to fall into their way of thinking, into the same old violent mistakes,” he is raising a much more humanistic question about the nature of the human being. Would we really be able to distance ourselves from the violence and moral and ethical decline of a world fighting between capitalism and communism (and all the other social and political ideologies)?

Sure, with the right people, a generation or two may pass with a new perspective, but hasn’t history taught us that when large groups of people assemble together, governments form, laws are passed, and criminals, dictators and power mongers are born? What is it that a new place would offer? Perhaps, even if Robinson says he thinks we should terraform, we can learn from Red Mars that the grass isn’t always greener (on another planet). Part of the human struggle is battling through opposition that will unfailingly exist no matter where we choose to land. Red Mars shows that humanity, in all its attempts to improve is, after all, still humanity. And in that one very sure thing, nothing will ever change.

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