Does a trip to Mars offer the kind of freedom that a lot of the Mars One candidates seem to crave? It would kind of make sense, in a way. Once we land on Mars, we can pretty much thumb our noses at Earth-based governments and say, “If you want us, come and get us.” And that’ll work until somebody decides to call the bluff. It won’t be complete freedom, but it will be a lot more freedom than so many people have on Earth.
What if one particular nation decides to flex its muscles before we even launch? If they only have a few candidates involved, they might not even bother because the government figures, “What the hell. It’ll just be a good propaganda thing if they make it.” It’s a little more tricky if the nation is a major source of funding or has the rockets we’re going to use. That government could make our lives miserable by putting up all kinds of hoops we have to jump through before we can launch. Would Mars One want to compromise safety or scrap the entire mission for the sake of political correctness, or could we afford to move operations to another nation who might develop similar capabilities?
I asked about this back in August at the Million Martian Meeting, and Bas Lansdorp seemed a trifle dismissive of the idea that the United States of America might get cold feet when they see that we could really launch a manned Mars mission before NASA does. I’ll allow that it’s unlikely when the government sees what a good economic boost that Mars One can be when our rockets are made in America. They might just tell NASA to lease us one of the launchpads in Cape Canaveral for cheap. However, this is the same government that very nearly turned all Gestapo during the recent government shutdown and made a lot of vacationers’ lives miserable when all they wanted to do was visit some national parks. We can’t always count on national leaders to be reasonable even when they would look much better simply by letting things happen. That means working a little flexibility into our plan so we can actually get to Mars.
Once we are actually set up and reasonably self-sufficient on Mars, the nations of Earth will begin fading into the background. Our descendants, if we have any, will probably hear stories about the old world from their parents but the idea of an ocean probably won’t click with them without the opportunity to visit one. We will pretty much have to make our own rules of conduct, because travel from Earth is expensive enough that very few nations are going to send a warship to pick up somebody that said something they didn’t like.
Those rules will pretty much have to include a certain level of freedom so that individuals can express an opinion or discuss a problem without fear of retribution from his peers. Some people have suggested that we have weekly meetings in which we hash out problems, and the one with the stick can speak without being interrupted. This has the benefit of encouraging those who have a bit of a temper to cool off a bit before his turn comes and also lets others who might otherwise hesitate to speak up have their turn. In a circle where everybody is equal and the nearest police force is millions of miles away, you can speak your mind without worrying that someone in the group might report what you say to a shadowy authority figure who can haul you off to jail for it.
Will that level of freedom cause culture shock for some people? Well, it’s possible. If Davy Crockett was alive today, he would probably wonder why we aren’t on Mars now so he can claim his much-beloved elbow room. You could plunk people like him down somewhere on Mars with the knowledge, supplies and habitat they will need to survive and they’ll take it from there. He disliked the wave of European expansion that threatened his elbow room so much that he took on Andrew Jackson over the fact that they were pushing out the Native American, and this speech was part of it:
Then there are the people who sing and dance about how “With a little bit of luck, I won’t have to work,” not realizing that the dependence on welfare takes away their freedom to truly make something of themselves. I very much doubt that the fellow singing and dancing to one of the tunes in “My Fair Lady” in the below video would like Mars very much.
Some people who have lived most of their lives under an oppressive regime will have the most to get used to in the freedom department. I’ve joked about keeping people in line with a beaning pillow, but I know that if I move fast around certain people, they will just cringe and maybe not say what’s on their mind. And that can really hurt the group if their information is critical to our survival. So they will need all the encouragement they can get to become accustomed to the fact that they can speak their mind without much more consequence than maybe sparking a lively debate. Realistically speaking, those who have lived in a country without much personal freedom might go one of two ways. They might not be so well-suited for Mars because someone who is afraid to speak up could cost us the seconds or minutes that could make a difference between life and death. However, if they can adapt to the idea that they are responsible for their own fate, they might find the incentive to become more self-confident about bringing a matter to the attention of the group for discussion.
It won’t be complete freedom. In fact, every indication is that successful Mars One applicants will be working hard at menial jobs for effectively the rest of their lives. The people who freak over the fact that McDonald’s workers are making minimum wage will be completely baffled by the fact that we are quite willing to give up our right to move up to a cushy office job for one that is difficult and risky with all the discomfort of being confined to a small space with a few other people and no more chance to make a trade-in for a shiny new car when our rover becomes a little rattletrap. However, the ability to have a heated debate without being called racist just because you disagree with somebody (Americans, you know what I mean) or being hauled off to jail for participating in a rally, or even just being able to go about our daily business without rampant government regulation getting involved, will be a relief for a lot of us.
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