I love many sci-fi movies. But too often, battles in space feature explosions that have no debris. Space ships just magically disintegrate while their attackers dramatically fly through the colorful explosion.
This is one thing (among many others) I enjoy about the TV show The Expanse: it portrays the unintended consequences of stuff blowing up in space. Tiny bits of shrapnel continue traveling at incredible speed with no atmosphere to slow them down, penetrating metal and flesh. Blowing something up creates new problems for everyone, and the collateral damage may be you.
Good science fiction and fantasy reminds us that there are always unintended consequences to cool weapons or powerful magic. Actions that seem heroic or impressive (at first) can cause disasters. We often say, “If I could wave a magic wand…” we could make our troubles disappear, but good fantasy reminds us that waving a magic wand creates a cascade of other social or political actions that cause complications for our protagonists. Good sci-fi does the same: there are unintended consequences to inventing time machines, gaining superpowers, cloning warriors, or militarizing space.
Which is why we know that creating a Space Force is just stupid. Military action in orbit is just stupid. And Donald Trump is stupid. He has shown, time and time again, he has no understanding of unintended consequences. One significant military action in orbit could ground humans beings almost permanently, rendering further space travel prohibitively dangerous and expensive. I don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure this out, because rocket scientists are telling us that space junk is a significant problem already. Just like I don’t need to be a climate scientist to understand the logic behind climate change, or a political scientist to understand what creeping fascism looks like. All I need is the ability to read, an imagination, and a capacity for critical thinking.
People who read and tell stories about these things understand them better than wonks who dismiss them as “fantasy.” Communicating ideas and using our imagination is the superpower of our species. You hold a cellphone in your hand, in part, because Gene Roddenberry made a television show about people exploring space and talking on flip phones. The futures we imagine, we have the capacity to build. The problems we imagine, we have the capacity to avoid.
“Space Force” is terrible science fiction. Our policy-makers don’t have the imagination required to appreciate good science fiction or fantasy or anticipate potential problems with militarizing space. They suffer from a stunted imagination and chronic stupidity. This is “vincible ignorance,” ignorance for which there is no excuse.
Or perhaps we are living in great classic science fiction. Perhaps we’re living a farce about the hubris of a stupid president and his stupid supporters doing many stupid things that future humans will regret for decades. Perhaps it’s about how people can hear a story and totally miss the lessons it teaches, whether that story is the Bible or Starship Troopers. Perhaps it’s about how we export human sin wherever we travel, even into space.
Perhaps it’s about how we invent an amazing global communication network called the internet but cannot escape the human tendency to tell lies until we believe them. Perhaps it’s about how we are so good at imagining world-ending apocalyptic narratives that we create self-fulfilling prophecies that kill us, and if only we could imagine a better “apocalypse,” a better revelation, we could imagine our way to a better, more peaceful, more life-giving future. I wish we would imagine and share more and better futures instead of recycling stories of magical explosions and pathetic men trying to be badass.
Lack of imagination is a particular kind of sin. We have a God-given capacity for creativity and imagination. Let us not kill ourselves with vincible ignorance because we simply failed to imagine a better future for ourselves. Let’s imagine a better story than this F-rated flop film we’re watching now.