American Spaceman, Body and Soul

pirate wires #48 // bernie sanders vs. apollo, bluecheck anti-moon crew logs on, billionaires in space!, and the slow redrafting of our heroic history continues

Bluecheck anti-moon crew reporting for duty. There’s a brief, throwaway scene in 2014’s Interstellar that accurately predicted our entire world. In Christopher Nolan’s not-too-distant dystopian future, Tom Cooper, an engineer-turned-farmer in the middle of an apocalyptic global crop failure, is called into his daughter’s school. The problem is she brought an old textbook to class depicting the American moon landing, and in the year 2067 educators have determined the Apollo program was only ever propaganda designed to bankrupt the U.S.S.R. Humanity, the teacher explains, has never left Earth. Cooper, an ex-pilot with dreams to enter space — a feat he accomplishes over the course of the movie as he journeys across the galaxy to save the world — stares aghast and helpless at the blinded “expert” with his daughter’s future in her hands.

It always struck me as unnerving, but not until my recent re-watch did I realize the extent to which this moment between Cooper and his daughter’s teacher was also prescient. Sure, I thought, ‘our schools are bad,’ and ‘just imagine how much worse they’re going to become.’ I get it. But back then I genuinely believed it was no longer possible to forget the past. Hadn’t the internet liberated information, and eternally preserved our history? I have probably never been more wrong about something so important.

The present malleability of information, and the speed of its generation, fundamentally degrades our collective knowledge, erodes our shared sense of the world, and calls into question every digital record of our past. This collapse of consensus reality is something I wrote about extensively in Tether, Part I and Tether, Part II. Among many things, current information technology at scale appears to make history impossible, and this is just the ground floor. In a little over two minutes, the Nolan brothers called everything: a once-unthinkable acquiescence to our crumbling world, an essential unseriousness of our most serious institutionalists, the authoritarian demand for submission to shocking misinformation, an unbridgeable reality gap between Americans in disagreement, and the minds of our children shackled by warped ideologues. But nothing in that schoolhouse scene so accurately predicted our future as the “myth” deemed unspeakably dangerous by our rusted founts of power: Man is a creature that goes to space, and our destiny is in the stars.

This month, “the moon is bad, actually” became an entirely new genre of media. But the attack has been coming for years, and it began most earnestly by Bernie Sanders back in March.

The position that our space industry isn’t doing anything for people here at home, published to Twitter from an iPhone connected to the internet via satellite, is not just wrong, but counterfactually wrong. It’s also a kind of criticism that doesn’t die. I’ve been getting it myself since the release of Anatomy of Next: New World, a podcast I produced for Founders Fund in which I explored every aspect of building a new human world on Mars. In everything from altering our planet’s climate to advances in travel, energy production, materials science, chemistry, genetic engineering and biological building — factories, crops, medicine — the development of technology necessary to accomplish our ambitions in space has a profound impact at home. As we progress, all of our lives will continue to improve, and also in ways we can’t imagine, as no one can imagine the very specific problems we will undoubtedly face, and triumph over, on a hostile alien planet. But the notion space is in some way preventing us from spending on anything else is also itself an incredible lie.

Our global space industry is valued around $420 billion dollars. That’s something like one half of one percent of global GDP, or a tenth of a tenth of 1% of total global wealth, 75% of which accounts for the satellite infrastructure atop which functions our entire civilization. In America, NASA just secured $24.8 billion dollars of the White House’s most recent $6 trillion dollar budget. That’s less than half of one percent. Lifelong bureaucrats in Washington D.C. absolutely have a spending problem, but they’re not buying rockets.

At first, the media mostly ignored Bernie’s clenched-fist grumbling at the stars. This is probably because an overwhelming majority of Americans have until very recently believed our space industry an incredible national asset. But the far-left’s fixation with space has since evolved. Earlier this month, the position was linked to billionaires. When questioned on Jeff Bezos’ then-upcoming trip to space, Elizabeth Warren had this to say:

“[it’s] being financed by all the rest of the U.S. taxpayers who paid their taxes so that Jeff Bezos didn’t have to. And Jeff Bezos kept all of his money and used it on a space ticket. Uh-uh.”

None of this is true. According to the ~ explosive ProPublica piece ~ fueling the present talking points, Bezos pays around $100 million dollars a year in income tax. The average American household with income less than $75,000 dollars is projected to have no tax liability in 2021. Then, Bezos didn’t buy a seat to anything. He traveled to space on a rocket his own company built. But the Warren Variant nonetheless took hold: space billionaires are eating the poor.

The media loved it.

From the Atlantic, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson shouldn’t be going to space; from the Guardian, Space-sized egos, tiny tax bills… Billionaires should be jettisoned (!!!); also from the Guardian, How the billionaire space race could be one giant leap for pollution; from Boston’s NPR affiliate, WBUR, Billionaires In Space Are Costing Lives On Earth (???); and from Jacobin, favorite journal of the guillotine left, The Billionaire Space Race is the Ultimate Symbol of Capitalist Decadence.

Warren, who mostly lost her natural home among the socialist left after she tried to destroy Bernie Sanders with unsubstantiated allegations of sexism back in early 2020, sensed an opportunity to win back the hearts and minds of Antifa baristas across the country. She doubled-down.

Now, if we can ignore the many points where the media personalities and politicians driving this new anti-space narrative are factually totally wrong, I think we can, and really should, admit they touch on something important — if even by accident. Trump and Bernie rode the same, hugely-popular wave to political fame, and it wasn’t optimism: wages are stagnant, the cost of living has skyrocketed, and the middle class is eroding. More succinctly, “the elites are doing this to you,” and I also think there’s something worth addressing in the technology industry’s insistence over the last decade that we’re changing the world. Well, here we are. How has it changed?

There are many things technology workers can be proud of, but we are not living in a techno utopia. More importantly, is that even our ambition anymore? Because mostly what I’m hearing these days is a lot of shallow bullshit about SPACs and SaaS and your million dollar digital cat, which is fine, I guess, whatever. But let’s not pretend we’re all building rockets that land.  

Another Nolan film comes to mind. In the Dark Knight Rises, it’s Selina Kyle, masked at a ball in Bruce Wayne’s stolen pearls:

“There's a storm coming… you and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you're all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”

It doesn’t matter whether the technology industry, the only relevant growth sector in the country, is the reason America is starting not to work. The question is, what are our leaders doing to help? It’s a good question. It’s also not the question animating Twitter’s Bluecheck Anti-moon Crew.

The pieces linked above, and all the surrounding arguments on social media, were woven almost entirely from the same tortured logic of Sanders and Warren. First, we should be spending the incredible resources we aren’t actually spending on space… on welfare programs that aren’t working. Second — the variant — wait wait, come back, this isn’t really about space, this is about billionaires, who are evil, and evil billionaires are why you can’t afford a house. If you’re waiting for some self-reflection concerning the other six trillion dollars our government will be spending in 2022, or the fact that every billionaire in question is legally following tax laws written by the people driving this entire narrative, you will be waiting forever. Because this isn’t about billionaires.

If my intention were to dramatically improve our country, I wouldn’t focus on the ultra-wealthy at all, I would focus on improving our cash-flush failing public institutions. But sure, some people probably do believe further tax revenue from billionaires is the only thing preventing our new dawn of functioning public infrastructure. So let’s say demonization of the ultra-wealthy for “not paying their fair share” is a necessary first step to correcting the ills of society. Are there not easier targets than the historically beloved ambition for space? Off the top of my head, it seems it might be easier to pin industrialists with hurricanes and wildfires by way of global warming. Nike’s slave labor problem isn’t going anywhere, and I hope I don’t need to remind you this would also be a justifiable line of attack against tech. Then, is no one interested in touching the Jeffrey Epstein rape island? Really?

Never?

In the above 7-part viral thread Anand, my favorite rich kid grifter, critiques the human ambition for space, pairing such sentiment with misleading stories on workers and wages written by activists in media who are currently at war with the technology industry, which they perceive to be the physical incarnation of capitalism — their ultimate Big Bad. Directly after Anand finished the thread, he took a step back, and weakly hid his earlier honest opinion behind an argument in favor of space. Or at least a version of it:

Here, in a much less viral tweet, Anand links to a very brief post implying the real problem with billionaires in space is the unsavory individualism of it all. He’s sure to include a beautiful picture of New Yorkers watching the moon landing in 1969, which proves he cares, before linking to a far longer interview that has nothing at all to do with Apollo.

Elsewhere, Oscar Mayer was more honest.

The joke is the ambition.

Were the problem merely wasteful space tourism, we would presumably also hear arguments from space tourism’s greatest detractors on behalf of Elon Musk, or at least on behalf of a well-funded NASA. We hear no such arguments because the Bluecheck Anti-moon Crew’s problem is not space tourism. Their problem is the vision itself of an expanding, growing, heroic human civilization, a vision that by the way once captured the imagination not only of America, but of the world.

Fifty years ago, even our communists were better.

In comparison to such vision, and to men guided by such vision today, our leaders in government, and our most influential figures in media, undoubtedly feel a tremendous sense of inferiority. How could they not? Does anyone believe our government could today accomplish something so incredible as the Apollo moon landing? I live in San Francisco. We can’t even keep our schools open, and the problem isn’t money. It’s will.

In order to justify our present stagnation, and the committed failure of almost every person in a position of influence and authority, it must be argued there are no good men doing hard good things. And give it a minute, in the next chapter of this story you’ll be told your history books are wrong. No such men ever existed.  

But they did exist.

They do exist.

Amidst our vanishing God and country, and even of our population now in such a stark decline, the zombies at the gate have come for the last thing that binds the modern world, the last piece of reverence in us, the last thing we all agreed was good — our human potential. It’s a tremendous spiritual rot, and for such an existential pain there are only two balms: dramatic self-improvement, or destruction. Destruction is, as it has ever been, the simpler path. But that doesn’t make it right, and that doesn’t mean there’s not another way.

For me, it’s still endless growth, and an ascendant, expanding America. For me, it’s the utility of individualism by way of exceptional leaders working in the service of a common good, a belief that we are good, and a belief that when we work together we can do good things — great things. Heroic things. I believe that story precedes destiny, and the future we value is the future we’ll build. I also believe anyone who cares about wages and housing and public infrastructure should at least be curious about the failure of our government to productively spend our $6 trillion dollar budget on solving these problems. It would maybe also be worth asking why our media has failed to hold our government accountable for such relentless waste.

Body follows soul, and the question of space is absolutely a fight for the soul of America. I believe in a great America.

For me, it’s still the stars

-SOLANA