In recent weeks, we talked about the Canadian government’s unwillingness to structure the response to the pandemic in a way that ensures a better future.
But it’s not just a problem at the government level. In his 2009 book Capitalist Realism, the late writer Mark Fisher asserted that it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. As it stands, the visions of the future dominating media coverage and public conversation are still those by and for the billionaire class.
Many people have been fooled into believing the claims of billionaires such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos when they promise green futures that require no changes to how we live, or space futures where we take to the stars. Sadly, too many reporters also get distracted by the flashy presentations and fail to think about what they’re being sold and how it fits into all the problems of existing society. But a critical reading of these futures finds that they’re designed to allow those billionaires to assume more power.
Take Musk’s environmental future — a true “green dream” if there ever was one. The only thing he wants to change about the present is how it’s powered — by electricity instead of fossil fuels. We’ll still live in suburbs and drive cars everywhere. But those who can afford them will drive Teslas, have solar roofs on their homes and gain access to a series of underground car tunnels linking up key elite destinations — the first tunnel will conveniently connect Musk’s homes with his workplace.
This plan ignores the vast mineral wealth that would have to be extracted in order to supply car batteries, which would have a terrible impact on workers and communities in the Global South. It would also further enable the environmental racism that places polluting industries near poor neighbourhoods.
The authors of the 2019 book A Planet to Win write that a vision like Musk’s would be little more than “resource-intensive solar separatism for the rich.” The self-contained renewable and tunnel infrastructures, paired with existing gated communities and vehicles such as the Cybertruck, which have an unprecedented level of security features, makes it even easier for the billionaire class to seal itself off from a society falling into climate chaos.
The inequities in these futures are also present in billionaires’ visions for space colonization.
Both Bezos and Musk are pushing for humanity to return to space and establish colonies in orbit around Earth or further afield on Mars.
Bezos argues that going to space is essential for a good future, but his words betray him. When he says we doom ourselves to “stasis and rationing” if we don’t move into space colonies, he reveals his plans aren’t for us, but to ensure the continuation of a capitalist economic system and its requirement for constant growth.
Bezos says space colonies will allow us to grow the population to a trillion people, allowing for a “thousand Mozarts and a thousand Einsteins.” Yet Bezos has little to say about what everyone else will do. Most of those trillion people aren’t going to be living fantastic lives in the space colonies; their role will be to buy and consume in order to keep the system alive. They will not be in the reconstructions of lush, Earth-like environments, but rather in the tunnels of spacecrafts, if not staffing the factories in orbit or the asteroid mines providing the resources that make it all possible.
Musk’s vision isn’t much better. While his bold claims to intend to colonize Mars have captivated imaginations, he’s been clear that tickets won’t be cheap, with his estimates ranging from $100,000 to a million. Yet the colony will still need workers. Musk says they’ll be able to get loans to purchase tickets, then pay them off with Martian jobs, which is effectively indentured servitude in space.
But one of the most troubling aspects of Musk’s vision was put on full display this past week when SpaceX became the first private company to launch astronauts into space. United States President Donald Trump was on hand to tie the launch into his broader political project, declaring, “Today we once again proudly launched American astronauts on American rockets — the best in the world — from right here on American soil.”
As Trump promotes the notion that is “making America great again,” space is becoming a key piece of the American neofascist agenda. He’s launching a Space Force, pushing the privatization of space, promising to get American astronauts back to the Moon and then to Mars, and by extension embracing Musk’s vision in particular.
Musk is not shying away from that opportunity. In recent months he’s echoed Trump’s response to the pandemic with misleading information and calls to give people back their “freedom.” Cozying up to Trump could mean billions in additional public subsidies to help him further his elite vision of space colonization.
It’s imperative that we reject visions of the future designed for billionaires to extend their power and wealth for decades, if not centuries, to come. We need visions that bring us back down to Earth, and put the well-being of the many before the self-interest of the few.
In the coming weeks, we’ll start examining some ideas to remake our institutions and societies in service of that goal.
Perspectives from around the world
Sandy Hudson, co-founder of Black Lives Matter – Toronto, argues we should defund the police.
Linda McQuaig, author of The Sport & Prey of Capitalists, argues the Bank of Canada’s response to the pandemic could usher in a new economic orthodoxy.
The mayors of Edmonton, Toronto and Gatineau make the case that municipalities need more funding to deal with COVID-19’s impact.
Adam Weinstein, national security editor at The New Republic, argues what we’re seeing in the United States is fascism.
Kathryn VanArendonk, staff writer at Vulture, looks at how police procedural TV shows affect public perceptions of cops and the communities they police.
David Dayen, executive editor of The American Prospect, explains how the U.S. Federal Reserve bailed out the investor class.
The folks at Alberta Advantage, a fantastic left-wing podcast, lay out the deadly problems with long-term care and why we need a public system.
Sick days update: Canadian premiers are pushing back, arguing workers should join a union if they want sick days. In New Zealand, unions are pushing to double guaranteed sick days from five to 10. In Australia, full- and part-time workers already get 10 paid sick days, and a new ruling could extend that to casuals.
This week on Tech Won’t Save Us, I spoke to Nika Roza Danilova, a musician who performs as Zola Jesus. She talks about the “Silicon fascist privilege” in tech and the impacts of AI and streaming on music.
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