To Whitey on the Moon – (An Open Letter to Elon Musk)

Dear Mr. Musk,

First of all, kudos to you for acquiring so much knowledge, money, and power! And luck had nothing to do with it; you focused and worked bloody hard, and it paid off big time.

I’ll bet you’re really excited about the future right now. You probably feel like you’re standing on the brink of a world bearing such a startling resemblance to Star Trek that it makes you shiver. You must have dreamed for years of a human race so godlike, so serene, beautiful, brilliant, and powerful they could safely explore and settle other planets!

Just a reminder: Star Trek was just a television series, and it wasn’t really about the technology. Yes, some of the technology they foresaw, like handheld communication devices, actually were invented, but they now do as much harm as good. Warp Drive is impossible. So is time travel. So is teleportation. So is the Easter Bunny. They’re all fun to think about and watch on television and get chocolate eggs from, but they’re not and can never be real.

Star Trek, like all good science fiction, is allegory. It uses a hypothetical future to pose questions whose answers have a bearing on our understanding of our present reality and to model the highest ideals and values to which we as humans can aspire.

For example, the Star Trek characters (the good ones) were highly cultivated individuals of sterling character. Quitting a needy planet because something more exciting and potentially lucrative was happening somewhere else was just not an option? as it shouldn’t be for you either, Mr. Musk.

Besides, it’s not like your plans can come to fruition now. The Enterprise had a multicultural crew, whereas travel bans threaten to keep American tech companies from continuing to hire the world’s best minds. Kind of throws a wrench into the works, doesn’t it?

But don’t let all this make you sad for even a minute! There’s more than enough adventure to go around right here on terra firma, at bargain prices, to boot. If you confined your explorations to your home planet, your money could be put to excellent use, and you could use your experiences to gather scientific data.

Think of what a hero you would be if you chose this route instead of continuing to launch polluting rockets and trying to send pioneers to Mars where, let’s face it, the colonists are just going to end up killing each other like cowboys gone stir crazy after having been shut up in a cabin together all winter.

Consider Antarctica, for one. Figure out how to save the krill population. Help manufacturers develop light, cold-resistant clothing. Design biodomes so spacious and beautiful they prevent cabin fever. (You won’t have to worry about providing oxygen!) Study the effects of solitude on the human psyche and then, when everything is ready, bring in more people. Find new uses for snow and ice. Study the effects of your rocket launchings on global warming.

But don’t stop there. Build enclosed settlements in Death Valley or on Iron Mountain. Biodomes in every uninhabitable place on earth would be far less expensive than settling a small patch of Mars. Consider underground settlements, or floating colonies suspended from air balloons. Population explosion? Bring it on!

Even better, go to an American ghetto. Lots of adventure there! Do research on how to keep yourself safe from drive-by shootings, how to engage in successful community action, how to protect your rights from negligent landlords, how to ensure your children get a good education and stay off drugs, how to find a safe place to sleep every night, how to survive without a stable source of income, and how to live with the symptoms of PTSD?both in yourself and from the people you encounter every day.

You could even go create a settlement among Trump’s supporters in the Deep South! Go to Harlan County, Kentucky, and figure out ways to live without professional medical treatment, how to stay calm during debates on call-in radio, how to improve literacy, how to grow enough food to live on. You could teach the locals to vote in a way that furthers their real interests, and you could find a way to keep meth labs from exploding.

Sure, you’re standing on the brink of something new and amazing. But there are elements of this new and amazing picture that bear a startling resemblance to the world confronted by Gil Scott-Heron in the early seventies when he wrote these lines, from his poem “Whitey on the Moon:”

A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Her face and arms began to swell.
(and Whitey’s on the moon)
I can’t pay no doctor bill.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
Ten years from now I’ll be paying still.
(while Whitey’s on the moon) . . .

You describe your space travel ambitions as humanitarian, but which humanity are you talking about? If it’s the same race and gender that’s been imperializing, colonizing, and cruelizing the world for the last six hundred years, maybe y’oughta step aside.

And if you think you can make a pact with the devil for the good of humanity, think again. Trump’s interest in space travel is tainted by an urge to compete with Putin, and if Putin takes the bait the Russians will starve, just like they did during the Cold War. Now is the time to tell the past to lie down and shut up. The Cold War is dead and buried in the ground. Let’s leave it there.

Sincerely,

Whitey on Earth

Wanda also writes the blog The Mindful Bard:The Care and Feeding of the Creative Self.

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