Space: The Birth of a New Culture?

Matthew Tannam-Elgie daydreams about establishing a brand new culture in the most unlikely of places

Ah, yes. Veteran actor Tim Curry could barely contain his laughter while delivering his lines as a Soviet Premier in 2008’s Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3. That now-obscure video game had some ridiculous plot twist in which the Russian villain decides to flee the battle and travel into space, “the one place that hasn’t been corrupted by capitalism”. It’s a scene that’s been parodied and ridiculed to a considerable degree of hilarity over the past few years.

 I know nothing about space, having been more interested in  the earthly topics of film, literature and history. When I start to bring it up in a column such as this, the piece needs to come with the forewarning that I’m going to discuss it from a fantasist’s point of view; as someone who holds haplessly romantic notions about the final frontier, its possibilities and everything unscientific about it.

 From taking a brief, lazy glance at space while “researching” this article, I gathered that not many countries have actually set about exploring the place as of yet. India plans on building a station there in the next five years or so, Russia’s Soviet-era stations are long gone and the International Space Station remains the only proper, functioning station floating around up there for the moment. Apparently, this station represents a tiny gathering of nations sharing their presence in space, including Japan, Canada and the USA.

 The USA... That amalgamation of cultures which still coalesce to form the nation some call the land of opportunity. To describe it as an empty wasteland prior to the Europeans’ arrival would be to ignore the existence and plight of Native Americans, something I am not going to do. But, aside from America, if we look at the formation of colonies and communities in other lands over the following centuries, we find that opportunities arose to establish not only buildings and infrastructure, but also a particular way of thinking.

 Anyway, back to America; by hook or by crook, its culture grew right through the colonial period, into the Revolution and up to the present day with its impressive literature, its disconcerting poverty and its sexist military. That is not to generalise and associate all Americans with any particular mode of thinking, but to point out that the country’s administrative system does generalise its own population, resulting in some of the things I just mentioned. This is not particular to the current American government; it has occurred, uninterrupted, under every President since Washington.

 So, what should be done with an empty void of darkness dotted with planets and stars? For those with the capability, it would arguably be worth their while to build the foundations of the way they want others to think. It might be a bit hasty to claim that any country has already done this, but such a course of action could easily be taken when technological advancements permit it.

To describe what particular opinions would be preferable when a new way of thinking is born would run the risk of sounding totalitarian. But I think we can all agree that equality would be a prime necessity, as would other qualities such as peace, intellectualism and aesthetic appreciation. My thoughts are becoming slightly anarchic since the death of my father, so I’ll leave the rest of that debate to you. In fact, intellectualism could be thrown out of that clump of preferable qualities altogether; MTV has shown that the stupid can be just as fascinating as the ingenious.

Few people will take this column seriously, and seriousness is not my intention here anyway. The point is for people to recognise the value of emotions, daydreams and visions regardless of whether they give them serious thought or not. Presumably, art would stem from that, as would everyday acts of kindness. So, with the final frontier in mind, let’s sit back and dream of the foundations that could be raised before someone else raises them instead.

As for who that could be, we’ll have to wait and see. But it would be interesting to see if a culture exclusive to space could be built up from scratch, as opposed to one particular culture expanding into it. Inevitably, there are those like me who would want their priorities to be introduced into the galaxy. However, what remains far more likely is that the values will correlate with whoever dominates the space scene.

Within the next three decades or so, the world will probably become a better place. The level of technological advancement to implement a culture into space will almost certainly come decades after that. For the moment, I suppose we should take the time to implement our values onto the world around us. At the same time, however, the vast void of darkness above our heads beckons further cultural consideration. It’s a small world, after all.