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I just finished reading these books for what seems like the millionth time, and Mr. Musk hasn't even begun to answer the questions they raise. What is the legal structure going to be on the 1MM person colony? Who gets to go? What are the transplants allowed to do there? Who rules? Who do the rulers answer to? Are we going to Terraform Mars? If yes, under whose auspices and with what restrictions?

FTR: this is Elon Musk's show and I don't trust his ability to keep his pet project from turning into a corporate dystopia.

Edited to add: Guys, I'm not against Mars exploration and colonization at scale -- I just want us to put our best foot forward. That means not rushing the process, and doing it in a democratic and non-chaotic manner.


> I just finished reading these books for what seems like the millionth time, and Mr. Musk hasn't even begun to answer the questions they raise. What is the legal structure going to be on the 1MM person colony? Who gets to go? What are the transplants allowed to do there? Who rules? Who do the rulers answer to? Are we going to Terraform Mars? If yes, under whose auspices and with what restrictions?

Musk has basically stated that he has no interest in being involved at that end. He has said SpaceX is making the transport, it's other peoples' job to figure out what to do what we get there. He likens this to building a railroad into a new frontier. California was barely populated when the Union Pacific was built, and yet it was not the railway's job to govern the colonies that popped up alongside it.

Now it'll obviously be more nuanced than that, but if there is a viable sustained transportation strategy to Mars, you can bet a lot of people


> Musk has basically stated that he has no interest in being involved at that end.

I don't think you get to control all transport to an isolated colony and disclaim all responsibility for the social cohesion of said colony.


Disclaim all responsibility, or decline to unilaterally impose your own?


> Who gets to go?

According to Musk, whoever pays.

> Who rules?

Not to be flippant, but who cares? The worst case scenario is that we repeat British colonialism and the martians overthrow the despotic earth government in a few generations. Same as always, the colony is too far away for the motherland to effectively maintain control. The important thing is getting humans to Mars; all the short-term stuff is important, but it's just small beans in the long run.

> Are we going to Terraform Mars?

Musk clearly wants to. It is not clear how feasible this is with current tech.


I imagine Musk understands the likely timescale realities of terraforming and is looking to 'light the fuse'.


> Whoever pays

So Mars is going to be a colony of the developed world elite.

> Who cares

A million people generate is not short term or small scale. Property rights, criminal law and all of these other things that make civilization civilization will need to be hashed before we get out there.

> Musk clearly wants to

This is pristine, unspoiled nature we're talking about. There are immense ecological concerns here that aren't simply mitigated by Musk throwing cash at the problem.


> So Mars is going to be a colony of the developed world elite.

Sounds awesome! Decreases the chances of them being politically abused.

> will need to be hashed before we get out there.

They probably will be for the most part, but why do you say "need" to? Should we screw around here on earth until we figure out some utopian system that's going to make everyone happy (good luck), or should we accept that it's OK to be adaptive and figure some things out as we go?

> This is pristine, unspoiled nature we're talking about.

That's one way of putting it. Another is "lifeless, barren, frozen, useless desert".


> Decreases the chances of them being politically abused.

Isolation and distance do terrible things even to supposedly well educated people. I wouldn't count on people to not drop straight into barbarity after prolonged exposure to the truly alien environment on Mars.

> Why do you say "need" to?

Because the first time someone murders another person in a tent city of a million people with no air, you want to have some way of prosecuting and punishing that doesn't involve sectarian violence and lynching.

You vastly underestimate the social aspect of this endeavor.

> lifeless, barren, frozen, useless desert

I'm impressed: in this short internet exchange, we have pretty much rehashed the entirety of the conflict Kim Stanley Robinson sees playing out on Mars.


While I wouldn't personally mind a "corporate dystopia" (or at least a sci-fi version of such) on Mars at all, it seems exceedingly unlikely, even conditional on the success of the whole enterprise -- for one, there wouldn't be any actual profits to be made there for a very long time :)

BTW, I haven't read these particular books, and perhaps they are different from other KSR stuff that I've seen, but at this point I would honestly take pretty much anything over what he would consider an ideal or even a good society. It kinda puzzles me why people who value things like caution, leasure, and social cohesion above actual progress so insist on calling themselves 'progressives' -- they certainly have a right to their opinions, but couldn't they have picked a term that was less of a misnomer?


Not all progress is technological.


Does Mars colonisation increase the chances of Earth becoming (more of) a corporate dystopia? If not, then if there is a chance of a Mars colony which supports your values what are you losing by the attempt? [edit: this is awkwardly phrased ... it is like a free roulette shot, it may or may not pay off, but if it's "free" the net value is positive.]

And I also think if colonisation ever was big enough to absorb a significant (i.e. 5%+) portion of Earth gross product (i.e. the sum of GDPs) then it could also improve life on Earth by improving the effective ROI of the capital deployed elsewhere.


The scenario in which the bet does not pay off results in 1 million people and their descendants being stuck in a terrible situation, with distance making aid or relief impossible at scale. This is something that could be mitigated by making sure that the first planet we colonize isn't some kind of unregulated fief belonging to the first person who threw enough cash at the problem of getting people to Mars.

Which is a long way of saying that I may not be one of them, but I sure as hell will feel sorry for them.


That is true, if it succeeded for a while and then failed it could produce a casualty count on the order of Gulf War 1. Not doing it could result in civilisation extinction via nuclear war or asteroid strike. I still favour doing it, but I see how reasonable people could disagree.

I believe Elon said it would take 40-100 years for the population to reach that point, and he is saying that there will be a return mechanism, and a probably an extreme labour shortage which favours a strong bargaining position for both the entrees and the Mars local population. Ideally I'd like to see the return ticket + life support until the next return flight provided as part of the entrance fee to minimise risk, but there is still the problem of enforcing the contract.

[EDIT: I don't consider this a "fair" argument so I left it out, but as an aside, if minimising pain is your goal then mass sterilisation is the optimal strategy IMO -- there is no reason to continue the human race which will certainly produce millions of people in pain -- and if you have another goal which requires human existence to fulfil, then decreasing our extinction probability should be a huge priority]


> The scenario in which the bet does not pay off results in 1 million people and their descendants being stuck in a terrible situation, with distance making aid or relief impossible at scale.

We accept that in Syria already, and the potential upside's a lot bigger for Mars (survival of the species if Earth gets clobbered).


fwiw I found Red Mars to be a pretty boring, badly-written space soap opera (and murder mystery for who-knows-what-reason) with caricatured ethnicities.


Having read the trilogy (as well as "2312"), I must agree that it was poorly written, with some very poorly constructed characters. Having said that, and despite my distaste for and disagreement about the political outcomes, the technical vision was very interesting.


Any recommendations? I am about to finish Red Mars


In terms of expansive universes, I would recommend the "Revelation Space" series, though it is much higher-level than the Mars trilogy. I am also a big fan of the action-oriented "Expanse" series (by James S.A. Corey), as well as the crowd favorites: "The Martian" and the "Foundation" series.


Left field suggestion: The Honor Series. Start with "On Basilisk Station".




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