A Tale of Two Worlds
by Robert Zubrin

Consider the probable fate of humanity in the twenty-first century under two conditions: with a Martian frontier and without it.

In the twenty-first century, without a Martian frontier, there is no question that human cultural diversity will decline severely. Already, in the late twentieth century, advanced communication and transportation technologies have eroded the healthy diversity of human cultures on Earth. As technology allows us to come closer together, so we come to be more alike. Finding another McDonald's in Beijing, country and western music in Tokyo, or a Michael Jordan T-shirt on the back of an Amazon native is no longer a great surprise.

Bringing together diverse cultures can be healthy, as it sometimes results in fusions that produce temporary flowerings in the arts and other areas. It can also result in very unpleasant increases in ethnic tensions. But however the energy released in the cultural merger is expended in the short term, the important thing in the long term is that it is expended. An analogy to cultural homogenization is that of connecting a wire between the terminals of a battery. A lot of heat can be generated for a while, but when all the potentials have been leveled, a condition of maximum entropy is reached and the battery is dead. The classic example of such a phenomenon in human history is the Roman Empire. The golden age produced by unification is frequently followed by stagnation and decline.

The tendency of cultural homogenization on Earth can only accelerate in the twenty-first century. Furthermore, because of rapid communications and transportation technologies "shorting out" intercultural barriers, it will be increasingly impossible to obtain the degree of separation required to develop new and different cultures on Earth. If the Martian frontier is opened, however, this same process of technological advance will also enable us to establish a new, distinct, and dynamic branch of human culture on Mars and eventually on more worlds beyond. The precious diversity of humanity can thus be preserved on a broader field, but only on a broader field. One world will just be too small a domain to allow the preservation and continued generation of the diversity needed not just to keep life interesting, but to assure the survival of the human race.

Without the opening of a new frontier on Mars, continued Western civilization also faces the risk of technological stagnation. To some this may appear to be an odd statement, as the present age is frequently cited as one of technological wonders. In fact, however, the rate of progress within our society has been decreasing and at an alarming rate. To see this, it is only necessary to step back and compare the changes that have occurred in the past thirty years with those that occurred in the preceding thirty years and the thirty years before that. Between 1906 and 1936 the world was revolutionized: Cities were electrified; telephones and broadcast radio became common; talking motion pictures appeared; automobiles became practical; and aviation progressed from the Wright Flyer to the DC-3 and Hawker Hurricane. Between 1936 and 1966 the world changed again, with the introduction of communications satellites and interplanetary spacecraft; computers; television; antibiotics; nuclear power; Atlas Titan, and Saturn rockets; Boeing 727s and SR-71s. Compared to these changes, the technological innovations from 1966 to the present seem insignificant. Had we been following the previous sixty years' technological trajectory, we today would have videotelephones, solar-powered cars, maglev (magnetic levitation) trains, fusion reactors, hypersonic intercontinental travel, reliable and inexpensive transportation to Earth orbit, under sea cities, open-sea mariculture, and human settlements on the Moon and Mars. Instead, today we see important technological developments, such as nuclear power and biotechnology, being blocked or enmeshed in controversy -- we are slowing down.

Now consider a nascent Martian civilization: Its future will depend critically on the progress of science and technology. Just as the inventions produced by the necessities of frontier America were a powerful driving force on worldwide human progress in the nineteenth century, so the "Martian ingenuity" born in a culture that puts the utmost premium on intelligence, practical education, and the determination required to make real contributions will make much more than its fair share of the scientific and technological breakthroughs, which will dramatically advance the human condition in the twenty-first century.

Excerpted from THE CASE FOR MARS, available at Amazon.com

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