Religion and Space Settlement, Part II

Now that we know religious sentiments will be the only rationale for space settlement, how can we expect space settling to unfold and what will space settlements look like?  Here are some initial thoughts.

1. Space settlements will be founded by colossally wealthy individuals

As we discussed previously, the costs of space settlement will be extremely high in the near term. At $400K to put a person on the Moon, and assuming a person requires 10x his mass in initial infrastructure and 1x his mass in replacement infrastructure every year, a lunar colony of 150 people would cost $660 million up front and $60 million every year.

In the farther term, even though the absolute costs might drop thanks to nanotechnology or the like, the relative costs (in a purchasing-power-parity index) will remain very high. So only very wealthy individuals will have the money to pay for these costs.

Given that individuals who amass immense wealth tend to be committed to their work and immune to fanciful, fanatical ideas (e.g. Henry Ford, Sam Walton, Warren Buffett), few of the founders of space settlements will be first-generation billionaires. (Bill Gates is one of the few to walk away from business and devote himself to charitable work). More likely, second- and later-generation billionaires, with inherited wealth, without the pragmatic business-building drive of their ancestor, and a craving for meaning in their lives, will be the primary population of space settlement founders.

1b. …not corporations or governments

Although these entities have the colossal wealth, they lack any religious motivation. Corporations are driven solely to profit. Governments are driven solely to amass the social capital equivalent of profit–support from the powerful, acquiescence from the masses, and deterrence of potential foes. (Government space programs are the equivalent of Mayan stelae, ostentatious displays designed to show foes the power of the government so the foes don’t challenge it).

While both classes of entities are willing to use the religious sentiments of their customers/subjects, they themselves are immune from it. They would still have roles to play in the space settlement process. For example, corporations may profit by providing transport for space settlements, on the principle of “in a gold rush, the only man who gets rich is the shovel salesman.” Governments may provide the impetus for space settlements–consider local governments in Illinois and Missouri supporting vigilantism against the Mormons, or the French government’s alliance with anti-Semites during the Dreyfus Affair as reported by Herzl.

2. Most space settlements will be undertaken by Westerners

There are two reasons why. First, in the near term, most billionaires of the recent past have lived in the US or other Western/Westernized countries, so most of their heirs will too. For the foreseeable future, the world’s new billionaires will come disproportionally from these same regions. Amassing great wealth requires a large number of prosperous customers, which in the near term means Western/Westernized countries. Developing countries may have faster economic growth rates then the US and EU, but the developing countries are starting from a lower base and will have slower growth as low-hanging productivity fruit are picked. Thus, the West will have the lead in large numbers of prosperous consumers for many decades yet.

Second, Western cultures seem more susceptible to intense religious fervor than many others. Perhaps this is a product of the West’s greater individualism and loss of faith in traditional things-greater-than-oneself. The US has long held the lead in inventing new religions (the Great Awakening, the Latter-Day Saints, Scientology, UFO cults, etc.). Europeans spent a century and a half, from the French Revolution until the fall of fascism, devising secular ideologies that filled the same psychological need. The West also has had decades of a high material standard of living, with resulting