Friday, December 2, 2022

Mary-Jane Rubenstein's "Astrotopia"

Mary-Jane Rubenstein is professor of religion and science in society at Wesleyan University. She is the author of Pantheologies: Gods, Worlds, Monsters; Worlds Without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse; and Strange Wonder: The Closure of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe, and coeditor of Entangled Worlds: Religion, Science, and New Materialisms.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Astrotopia: The Dangerous Religion of the Corporate Space Race, and reported the following:
Nicely done, Ford Madox Ford.

Turning to page 99, I am dropped onto the apex of an escalating critique of the billionaires currently jockeying to conquer the cosmos. In particularly impassioned prose (I hope it’s less jarring when you reach page 99 more organically), the first paragraph summarizes the socio-economic ruse of the “astropreneurs.” Claiming to devote their obscene fortunes to the “salvation of humanity,” Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and a burgeoning throng of space-mining CEOs are decimating wetlands, polluting the skies, surrounding the earth in a corona of space trash, exploiting and intimidating workers, and competing for enormous government contracts. “Honestly,” the author quips, “it’s as if Americans are paying taxes directly to Bezos and Musk.”

However appalling, the situation is more intensified than it is new. When Neil Armstrong proclaimed his first step a “giant leap for mankind,” he encapsulated JFK’s baffling insistence that the US had to get to the Moon first for the sake of all humanity. And of course, the 35th president had hardly invented the strategy of cloaking imperialism in humanitarian garb; such was the founding dissimulation of the American nation itself. From the moment Pope Alexander VI “gave” the New World to Spain for the salvation of human souls and the building of the kingdom of God, the distastefully economic project of taking land has always required more ideologically palatable glazing.

In US history, such glazing has been dutifully administered by an imperial form of Christianity—first officially, institutionally, explicitly (“Christ has given the Pope dominion over Turtle Island, and the Pope now gives it to Spain”), and then more subtly, as it was when the crew of Apollo 8 read the first chapter of Genesis as they watched the earth rise over the moon, or when Donald Trump called outer space America’s “Manifest Destiny,” or when Elon Musk proclaims that this world is coming to an end but that with faith and hard work, we can build a new New Jerusalem on Mars.

So that’s the point of the book: the new space race is replaying the old, messianic drama of earthly imperialism. The question is whether there might be other ways to go about things. Can we explore other planets without ransacking them? Can we build a society that would be genuinely new—which is to say, peaceful, just, and kind? And can we remake ourselves into cosmic citizens without destroying our Earth in the process? I actually think it’s possible. Just not in the hands of the astropreneurs.
Visit Mary-Jane Rubenstein's website.

--Marshal Zeringue