Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sex and Space: Contrary Imperatives

So I just read another article by a space enthusiast. And yet again, it ended with a declarative statement about how the American public must understand the importance of space exploration. And yet again, it ended with an impassioned exclamation point. It is as if that explanation point was going to make people realize in a single split second that they had missed the boat all their lives. Now they understand. Now it is clear. Space is the most important thing in their life. How could anyone have missed that?

For all the space enthusiasts of the world, and I count myself among them; here is something you need to know. Space exploration is not the most important thing in the world. And if we are talking about America, there are a whole lot of other things our fellow countrymen and women spend their time and money on. And you guessed it; sex is right up there at the top of the list.

Extraordinary when you think about it. The simple biological act of sex occupies more of our thoughts, time, and money than politics, religion, education, or (of course) space. Is it fun? Yes, of course. But so is flying to outer space. In fact, a majority of males interviewed by Futron Corp. would travel to space on a sub orbital launch if given the opportunity to do so. Perhaps it is because sex is important for the continuation of our species? But then I could offer the same rational about space colonization, environmentalism, or clean energy. And you don't see advertisements for those things in every subway car, magazine, all over the internet, men's bathrooms, etc.

Sex vs. Space

So what is the logic of asserting there is a choice space vs. sex? I mean, obviously there are two very different things. But we would get a relative understanding of the value of each, just as it could be done between space and sports, movies, NASCAR, etc. Any endeavor in which a democratic society spends its dollars, privately or through taxes, is a valid means of determining the relative values of that society. So a simple look at American's expenditures should be a representation of the values of our nation. Now, this is where it can get depressing.

So for all my fellow space geeks let's take a minute and look at what America finds really important. What do they spend their money on? Don't shoot the messenger but much of the answer seems to be in attracting a potential mate, keeping one, or ensuring one's own standing in society. Certainly this appears to be the case given how much American's spends to look good. Each year, Americans spend over $250 billion on fashion (including accessories). Separate to that, Americans spend about $7 billion annually on cosmetics. (Just, FYI another $7 billion is spent annually globally on organic and natural cosmetics.) And how could anyone be attractive without the $10 billion spent annually in the United States on cosmetic surgery? Approximately $1.5 billion is spent on breast augmentation, $1.3 on Lipoplasty, $684 million Abdominoplasty (tummy tucks), etc. And just to top it off, the American online dating industry has 40 million users and has $1.9 billion in annual revenue. If you were the only person on the planet would you spend even a nickel on this stuff? Of course you wouldn't. But I think you get the point. We Americans spend a hell of a lot of money to date, mate, and look just good. I haven't researched the figures but I'll go out on a limb here and say the amount of money we spend on entertainment probably competes with trying to achieve beauty at nearly any cost.

So who are we anyway?

My fellow space enthusiasts should consider the question "Who are we?" Well, a distinct answer can be found in every society, because every society raises people to serve its needs. This process has proven true throughout human history (cavemen, ancient Egypt, Nazi Germany, etc.) Every society raises its population to serve its own needs. And it is the owners of that culture who decide what is needed in society. Range of thought is limited by the dominant values of that society.

In the United States we are lucky that the national culture is quite fractured. There are different and competing value systems. There is a dominant Judeo-Christian religious backbone but even that value system is not only changing, but also has a wide range of liberal to conservative intepretations. If the expenditures on fashion are any kind of statement (get it? fashion statement) then the liberal side appears to be winning. Other owners of our cultural value system include government, business, media, and education. Simply put, all these institutions create an environment. And the environment creates people. Change the environment and behavior changes. Remember, all these institutions created and maintained by society compete for our attention, time, and money. We elevate one at the expense of another.

How we CAN change the future

People can change the dominant value in a society. But ranting and raving in Op-Ed pieces won't do it. To move a society towards increasing its investment in space exploration requires a well-planned and coordinated strategic plan that systematizes the process of galvanizing to action policymakers, stakeholders organizations, and citizens towards a common objective. This strategic education and outreach effort includes the citizenry, government officials, non-government organizations such as academia, trade associations, media, businesses, and the aerospace industry.

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