Monday, 18 May 2015

THE EQUALITY MYTH: OUTDATED IDEOLOGY IN OUTER SPACE

RESEARCH COLUMN

BY: LINDSAY SMALL
              
In a previous article for this blog I discussed some of the implications for museology in outer space. While it is an immensely exciting topic to consider, there are ethical implications to humanity's journey beyond our atmosphere – a journey which shares a legacy with the modern museum. It is my contention that there are three major barriers to an equitable use of outer space:

Explore or die! Source.

1) Space advocacy often calls upon an instinctual need to explore and a reason for these endeavours. There is a biological imperative and the call must be answered. It is part of our DNA and we must seek out new challenges. There is a moral imperative to move forward, a need for 'progress'. This morality is usually framed in a western ideology. It is also predicated upon a fundamental misunderstanding of what progress is. The notion of a straight line to the future needs to be unpacked. Robert Wright has stated that "the idea of progress is a Victorian ideal of moral advancement that has evolved into an ideal of material improvement".

Kennedy's famous Rice University speech. Source.

2) Cold War rhetoric. Believe it or not, this is still ripe in the literature of space exploration. There is a major disconnect here in regards to what is said about current space initiatives. On one side there is a push to view space as a global enterprise; on the other it exists to reinforce American dominance in outer space.

I feel ya' Cap! Source.

3) Frontier terminology. Many view space as the ultimate frontier – or the 'final frontier' if you will. I suppose in America this imagery is used to conjure images of enterprising individuals who strike out into the unknown and build the nation up one railroad at a time. This demonstrates a lack of understanding about what a frontier is. A frontier is a power dynamic which usually does not bode well for marginalized people. Portraying space as bounty of limitless resources seeks to reproduce the same inequities which exist on earth.

By routinely employing these ideologies in discussing space, there is the risk of moving forward uncritically. Here is where I believe museology can help. In discussing what should be done with artifacts or landing sites in outer space the legacies of cultural resource management policies on Earth can provide a back drop for what to do (or not do) in space.  We should be conscious of how we talk about space exploration. We should look at whether private companies will distribute their resources equitably. We should care about how we decide to move off planet. What structural inequities will we bring with us if we continue an uncritical approach to space? NASA administrator Michael Griffin has said that, "I don't know the date - but I know that humans will colonize the solar system and one day go beyond. And it is important for me that humans who carry - I'll characterize it as Western values - are there with them."

The modern museum has faced these issues too: colonialism, nationalism and the privileging of Western values have left their marks. However, it is my hope that current discussions of museum practice can inform and influence the practices of future space endeavours and perhaps vice versa.

Editor's Note: Lindsay Small is a first year MMst Student with a masters degree in Science and Technology Studies from York University. She is currently an intern at the Brantford Flying Club and is looking forward to watching planes take off and land all summer.

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