July 18, 2018


For the Love of Mars : Why settling the Red Planet can lift us from our antihuman malaise (James Poulos, New Atlantis)

Since at least Dante, the poetic vision of destiny in the West has bound up together love and the heavens. In this sense our highest poetry worked to reconcile and harmonize the personal at its most intimate and the natural at its most cosmic -- in Dante's case, through the Divine. That sort of poetry could be described as a practice of the art of humanism, properly understood. Yet strangely, despite remarkable leaps forward in spacefaring technology that promise to unite the personal and the cosmic in an epochal way, today's Western vision of destiny has become fractured and contested. It is no longer accepted belief that poetry, divinity, destiny, and the personal love of being human are all constituent parts of a harmonious experience of being.

This problem -- and it is a problem -- is encapsulated in the uncertain place of Mars in the human conversation today. That conversation is dominated by matters of politics, science, and economics. Though it is obvious that these things should play a role in how people wrestle anew with the age-old question of our relation to Mars, something is badly and historically amiss in the absence of love, humanism, and poetry from these conversations. It is no excuse that ours is a time of fantastically powerful governments and technologists, one in which money, moreover, threatens to become the measure of all things. If the public imagination regarding Mars has been dimmed in the West, it is on account of our failing memory of the ancient role of the cosmic in practicing the art of humanism, and the failure of our poets to access and rehearse that role anew, amid conditions that ought to be recognized as hugely favorable.

The difficulty is not just one of disenchantment, although a disenchanted and unpoetic view of Mars will pose great difficulties. The disenchantment of Mars signals a deeper and broader disconnect with, and alienation from, the humanist wellspring of poetry: the love of being human. The antihumanism welling up in today's utopian and dystopian visions of technological destiny not only pulls our view down from Mars, the cosmos, and the heavens; it turns our view against ourselves. Our technological destiny shifts from one in which human life radiates outward from Earth to one wherein humanity is so rotten that our future must cease to be human at all, whether by becoming subhuman or superhuman.

Western poets have drawn upon love to teach by example the art of humanism. They have used love to help us make sense of our place in the world -- longing for home yet eager to wander -- and in that way, of the whole physical reality that surrounds us and situates our life, on Earth and beyond. Since Mars is part of that landscape, restoring a truly humanist vision to the question of our Martian destiny means regarding Mars in terms of love. Rather than limiting ourselves to the political, scientific, and economic questions about the use and advantage of Mars, we must also ask the poetic question about the presence of love in our relationship to Mars. Is not Mars so special and so ripe with specific possibility, waiting for us and the fast approaching moment when we might settle it permanently, that we are obliged to speak of Mars with love, in love? Would we not speak wrongly, even falsely, if we spoke any other way of the only place available to us to make our first home away from our home planet?

Posted by at July 18, 2018 4:33 AM