Saturday 23 August 2008

Life on Mars- Part Two

I'm not going to give any introduction this week. For those who are interested, the first part is here.

Otherwise, this piece can still be read on its own.

Wednesday, Week 5, Quarter 3, 2208

Well, it's sundown now on my second full day on Mars.

And it's been tiring.

Yesterday, George and I took the chance to go out and about in Lowell. Lowell is exactly the sort of city you'd expect George to settle in, and as he pointed out it's not exactly a typical Martian city, in many ways. Not of course, that one should necessarily expect there to be a typical Martian city. Oh, I guess they're all different to Earth cities in ways which mark them out as Martian cities, but each one of course, has its own peculiarities.

Some say there is no such thing as a picturesque Martian city. That each one looks as if it was built in a day. That's not true of course and the Martians take pride in their history, in a way that sometimes seems amusing to us. Because two generations to a Martian, is ancient history.

Lowell, of course, has history. How many millions have been enchanted by it's name?

George explained that the bulk of Martian cities are much more utilitarian developments, having grown as they did out of early mission settlements, or having grown out of the mining of raw materials. We still have Viking and Beagle to see, but from the images I have seen, I know to expect cities of steel, plastic and concrete, cities designed according to the needs of administrators and scientists, cities where at least in the beginning, people were an afterthought.

Not with Lowell. Lowell stands out as a city founded by people, for people. It represents the hopes and beliefs of mankind in their future.

I think it's hard for Earthlings to appreciate just how not being bound by history has enabled Martians to design cities that suit the way we live today. Lowell truly is a Garden City in many ways, to be sure, the industry and the infrastructure are there, but the city has been planned with human aesthetic considerations foremost.

The centre of the city may best be described as a vast domed artificial parkland, interspersed with buildings. It is a work of art in itself. One cannot help feeling that every mythical Paradise image from the subconscious of man was used in it's creation; it is Eden, it the Elysian fields, it is Asgard, it is Shangri-La.

Waterfalls. Roaming cows, imported of course, from Earth (and still something of a novelty to the residents). The parkland at the centre of Lowell stretches for miles. The chief buildings of the city nestle amongst its flowing rivers and its verdant slopes, looking almost as if they they are hollowed out hills.

Which they aren't of course. But it's hard to conceive of just how many people are actually busy working, planning, organising, doing here in what looks like a few square miles of Paradise.

Because this is, in fact, one of the busiest and most important cities of Mars, capital of the Cydonia Region.

Lowell has always been at the forefront of Martian cultural change- I guess Cydonia has always had that magical feel- it's attraction was never it's raw materials, or features of obvious use to mankind- more it was somewhere new, somewhere faintly mythical and it is here that the dissatisfied of Earth have come.

And it strikes a delicate balance. On the one hand, it has opened it's doors and welcomed with open arms every group and belief system that has felt caged and lacking in oxygen enough to flourish on Earth. Lowell has possibly the largest trans-sexual culture orbiting our star, for example. And yet here too, is to be found a substantial Mormon community, with a temple larger than that to be found in Salt Lake City.

But by the same token, Lowell guards its free living culture well. Reason, Tolerance, Co-operation. There are rules here, definite rules. Fit in, get on, live your own lives, harm nobody, but do your bit. If you can't do that, we don't want you in Lowell.

Cydonia has an amazing set of laws the reason and tolerance of which is something that should perhaps be looked at on Earth.
You are free to do pretty much what you want. All that matters is how that impacts on the environment around you.
Cydonia tells you what it wants from you, what you are expected to give to get back. And it really is up to you how you do that. Cydonia offers the social contract in simple terms. The only thing anyone needs to worry about is; Do you owe Cydonia, or does Cydonia owe you?

And it is testament to just how well this works, that most people really strive to go to bed every night knowing that Cydonia owes them, not the other way round.

The Martian culture is built on people feeling that they give more than they take, that sense that progress is only possible when as many people as possible do that, is an ingrained part of the thinking of Mars.

Martians really seem to have simplified their political processes to ultimate simplicity. They do not talk so much of 'Freedom ' or 'Equality', but more of 'Fairness'. Is something fair? All a Martian wants to know, is whether something creates a fair social contract. Everything, everything here is a contract between the individual and the communal infrastructure. On Earth, though we do now govern ourselves and every effort is made to ensure that no decision is made without total consultation of the people, certain archaic ideas such as people who 'govern' and people who are 'governed' still remain.

The Martians are less tolerant to that idea.

It's interesting as well to see how native Martians view things we would see as ordinary. After all, Mars is a processed world. The Martians have no reverence for Mars itself, the rock, as some on Earth do for Earth, the rock.

Mars the rock was conquered by Man. The Martians have no second thoughts about what the greatest thing in the universe is; they are. Because they're human.

And everything around them, everything they touch, everything they feel, everything they eat, everything they enjoy, it was all created by man from basic raw materials.

You will never hear a Martian complaining about messing with nature. Martians find the concept of 'natural' in the way we see it, as profoundly alien. On Mars FOOD isn't natural.
And this certainly affects the way they think. To a Martian, there are only two great things to be admired in the universe, the nuclear reactions which created elements, and the human mind which knows how to use them.

As we saw the sites in Lowell, George explained to me that the name of the city itself is almost symbolic. It is no accident that the city is renowned for it's water features. Because Lowell, a centuries old astronomer, was perhaps the founder of the Martian dream. Percival Lowell, it seems, was an astronomer who believed that a non-human Martian race kept their dead world alive by covering its surface with canals.

It wasn't true.

But now the human race have given life to this world and perhaps it is only fitting that the city which makes real that which Lowell dreamed of, carries his name. Because though his dream wasn't true, we made it so. And perhaps that dream, of a Martian race striving to make their planet live, was an early chapter in Man's dream to give life to this world.

Today we went up Face Mountain. This Mountain was a symbol of the New World for early settlers, and it still holds that awe- aside from Olympus Mons, it is maybe one of the best known Mountains of Mars. George tells me it got its name because early images suggested it was artificial, indeed, that it was a carved face.

Yet now it is home to rolling pine forests, and if ever it's dusty slopes showed a human face, it would be covered today by a carpet of greenery.

Sitting on the slopes of the mountain looking up at the red sky, a kind of permanent sunrise, I reflected that in so many ways this was a beautiful world, beautiful in its naked rawness, in its youth, and the sense that it was free from the corruption, free from the ossification, free from the stultifying routine, the conformity of Earth. This does not feel like a dead world, it is a living one, one where life feels colder, yet sharper, where it feels like an enervating breeze, more uncertain, yet freer.

I looked down at the orderly sprawl that is Lowell, and realised that actually its edge is so clearly demarcated. Where Lowell ends, it ends. And beyond that is the developing zone, the tracts of land that ripple outwards to the still red rock. Eastwards, one will reach another such city, Sagan, but here on Mars, there are cities, and there is the barrenness, and not really that much in between. This is an urban world.

As we walked down the slopes to get back in our plane, George shared with me some of his thinking since he had come here.

Mars is now home to half a billion people. It still imports about a quarter of it's needed materials, and still exports very little, but it COULD survive on it's own now, if it had to. It COULD cut the apron strings.
If Earth pushed it.

But what good what that do? Earth needs Mars as a friend. We're all human beings and our future as a species is linked. A hostile unilateral declaration of independence and complete cutting off of contact between the worlds, is a damaging division of human labour. It would be bad for Earth too, because the two worlds would compete, not co-operate in the further aims of the species, competing for the energy of the Gas Giants, competing in the exploration of the Kuiper belt, competing ultimately, for control of this star system. And it is easy for Earth with its eighty billion inhabitants, its natural bio-system, its vast infrastructure, its vast technological capacities to think it could, if it wanted to, swat the red planet into oblivion as it would an errant comet.

But that isn't the response of a rational species. That sort of thinking belongs back in the barbarous days of twentieth century thinking when human beings pointed missiles at eachother and thought that was a safe way to live.

To Martians, its all about the social contract. And to them, its about the biggest one of all; the contract Mars has with Earth.

Mars knows it's not yet the equal of Earth. A hundred years of history have not yet given it that. But nor is it a child any longer. What Mars wants to be is Earth's junior partner now.

Mars has needs that can only be dealt with by Mars having full control of itself and by it also having a voice in the decisions of humanity as a whole. When dealing with issues affecting the human race as a whole, this needs to be done by dialogue BETWEEN the UN- or what would now become the United States of Earth- and the Government of the Martian colony- Or the Republic of Mars, as it would now be.

And Martians believe that together, the two planets should work towards common human aims, and, yes, together bring Venus up to join as a third partner too. In fact Martians seem to have more enthusiasm for the Venus project than is found on Earth. I guess they feel that if they, the Martians could do it, they wish the Venutians well too.

As we flew back, George said 'It's actually about Earth. It's about whether Earth can cross that threshold of realising that her child has grown up. It happens time and time again in human history- the mother culture not seeing till it's too late that it's child has grown up, like the father who does not want his little girl to become a woman- he knows she will one day, but he'd rather it wasn't today. And today will never come, deep down. Earth can't afford to do that.'

And I realised then, that that was what it was all about. When we have children, we spend so long with them under our rule, that a part of us starts to see it as a right. Those primitive cultures with their 'honour thy father and mother'. It's not actually healthy. Because it just aids a flaw in human character- the refusal to accept adulthood in those who once depended on you- but are now your equals. We as humans fight to cling on to when they were our dependants, not our equals.

Britain did it with America, the twenty first century west did it to its economic dependencies across the globe, we are doing it now to Mars.

Do we grow up when we can stand up and say 'We are not any longer your children, but your equals'?

Or do we REALLY grow up when we can say 'YOU are no longer our children, YOU are our equals'?

Maybe humanity the species is finally leaving adolescence.



Anonymous said...

Are you on fucking mars!? BIG DEAL! I am up your anus.

Anonymous said...

crushed, I was watching a show on the Australian sixty minutes last night and they were talking about how scientists are trying to grow vegetables in the soil in Mars...and how next year they are sending out an aircraft/spacethingmidgee to find other earths, with water and stuff.

I guess your writing is a bit far fetched at the moment for people to understand and comment on but I think you've got on the right track and that our future as a planet involves a lot of searching for other planets to conquer and invade!!

Anonymous said...

Interesting and I guess a good deal of thought must have gone into it. When I look at where it looks as if you would like to end up it looks strikingly similar to what many people, from lots of different political persuasions, seem to want.

A strange thing that we often seem to want to end up at the same place, but disagree so much on how to get there, of course some routs may be better than others…