Humans tend to think in narrative terms. We have told each other stories since we were huddled around campfires, worrying about the shadows flitting about in the dark. Now we live in boxes made of steel and glass, but our underlying needs remain the same.
Right now there isn’t a unifying story to latch onto about why we are here and what we are aiming at. A giant national crisis can provide such a meaning. Older people in the UK talk about “Blitz Spirit,” and many Americans felt energized by a sense of collective struggle against communism.
Those things are long gone now. Furthermore it’s doubtful that uniting in a heroic struggle against a foreign enemy is a pretty toxic way to forge national unity. After all, it was fascist dictator Benito Mussolini who said “War alone brings up to their highest tension all human energies and imposes the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have the courage to make it,” and he is hardly a model to follow.
Given that the fascist route is a non-starter, what other grand national missions can foster a sense of shared purpose, wonder, and glory.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), reminisced about America’s glorious past in putting a man on the moon, in a tweet longing for America to regain that sense of shared purpose and achievement.
Author James Poulos shared the sentiment in a piece for The New Atlantis “For the Love of Mars,” in which he argues the pursuit of colonizing the red planet can “lift us from our anti-human malaise.”
In aiming at colonizing fresh planets, we can create the narrative of excellence, optimism, and relentless pursuit of the boundaries of possibility which sees mankind at its absolute best.
This week NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine hailed the department’s new budget as being sufficient for the first time in decades to allow manned missions to the moon. Eventually the goal is the red planet. This lofty vision is shared by titans Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, who are pouring their private wealth into interplanetary travel.
By providing a grand prize to aim for, the Quest for Mars can reignite a sense of shared destiny.