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The John Galt (Space)Line

Mark Whittington takes a poke at a particularly silly article by one Gerald Degroot in the Scotsman: Enter the ultimate ego trip.

Some points from the article that I found amusing:

“Every child dreams of going into space,” Branson said. Yes, Richard, that?s true. Virtually every child does fantasise about space travel. But most then grow up. Branson reckons he will have no difficulty attracting customers for his space venture. Sadly, he?s probably right. Arrested development is a common trait among the super-rich, a fact which explains the market for Lotuses and Lamborghinis.

So, having big dreams or spending one’s own money on things one enjoys (or, heaven forbid, both at once) is childish? Heaven forbid we all grow up and accept the sort of mundane, joyless existence Mr. Degroot seems to prefer.

I have also enjoyed reading the endless sniping at Branson in the pages of the Guardian – the chattering classes are always so contemptuous of success.

One might be forgiven for thinking Mr. Degroot is speaking of himself in the third person here.

[Earth seen from space is] pretty precisely because you can’t see the hunger, the cruelty, the pollution and the hatred that despoil the planet. Aids, poverty, crowded schools and homeless people – all the problems crying out for money – magically disappear.

But…whatever happened to the view of Earth from space bringing us together, showing us of how we all share one world, reminding us to work together to build a green-hued transnational socialist utopia? Or prompting the viewers to realize just how small and insignificant they are in the great scheme of things? One would think Mr. Degroot would approve of rich people going into space, if only to have their ostensibly immense egos deflated and potentially replaced with a heartfelt passion to support leftist causes.

Branson wants to capitalise on this vulgar obsession with personalising space. His plans have nothing to do with the dreams that inspired Galileo. They?re space exploitation, not space exploration. Virgin Galactic is simply a new type of extreme sport, a carnival ride, a not-so-cheap thrill.

Read: “This is all about big money for big fun — but if I can’t afford to go, no one else should go either!”

I can easily imagine another member of the populist elite, in another time, making similar arguments against jet travel:

But I?m afraid my admiration stops short of {transatlantic flight}. For all {Pan Am’s} talk of liberating {travel to and from Europe} from the clutches of {Cunard} and offering everyone the opportunity to {sun themselves in Mallorca or Miami}, {the jumbo jet} is, in truth, simply an appeal to vulgar egotism. {Pan Am} understands that quite a few of us harbour a desire to rise above the multitude. {The airline is} offering us the opportunity to do so in {an aeroplane}.

What’s harder to imagine is the notion of a desire to rise above the multitude by engaging in something vulgar.

On the bright side, it appears there is more where this silly rant came from:

Gerard DeGroot is the author of The Bomb: A Life. He is currently working on a book about space travel.

I can hardly wait!

6 comments to The John Galt (Space)Line

  • Carl Carlsson

    “Gerard DeGroot, Professor of Modern History at St Andrew?s University, Scotland and author of The Bomb, a Life…writes that human conception takes place when a sperm from the male penetrates an egg from the female. The fertilized egg, a single cell, splits, forming into two cells, then four, then sixteen. Nine months of exponential growth result in the birth of a baby. In physics, nuclear fission takes place when a piece of Uranium 235 (the sperm) enters, at bullet speed, another piece (the egg). Atoms are split, releasing neutrons which then split other atoms ? first one, then two, then four, then sixteen. The chain reaction goes through about eighty generations until it can no longer be contained. A few milliseconds after conception, an explosion is born and 100,000 people are killed…”

    He’s able to stretch a weak analogy into a 432 page book, so he must know what he’s talking about!

  • Does this analogy make NMD equivalent to an abortion?

  • Carl Carlsson

    I don’t think so. I expect that NMD is ideally intended to take out the incoming missiles, well before the warheads detonate. In that sense I think it is much more analogous to the female condom or even the old fashioned “chastity belt”.

  • Ah, but no — the inbound bomb has already been “conceived”, as it were. Analogous prophylaxis would have to take place in the facilities where the material is refined to weapons-grade (such as…breeder reactors) or where final assembly into functioning weapons takes place.

  • Carl Carlsson

    Nope, see above. According to the eminent Mr. Gerard Degroot, the final authority on this matter, “…nuclear fission takes place when a piece of Uranium 235 (the sperm) enters, at bullet speed, another piece (the egg).” So, conception = detonation.

  • I see, so he does. I was reading his analogy as having a broader context than it had (the entire weapons system, rather than just the payload).