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A game of consequences

There's an old saying that only two things are unavoidable: death and taxes. I think this is wrong—the two unavoidable things are politics, and it's seldom-admitted offspring, bureaucracy. (Their Titan) parent is of course economics.)

Politics: you may not like it but you can't ignore it because whenever two or more people have ideas about how to do something requiring the participation of two or more people there's going to be an argument about how to do it. Bureaucracy: because once the argument is settled you need to coordinate the tasks, and once your community exceeds Dunbar's number you need to develop mechanisms for managing work and social relationships between people who don't know each other.

It's fairly obvious that technology affects the implementation details of politics and bureaucracy (and there's feedback involved too, via market regulators and command economies). And there are scale issues too. Back in the 1670s and 1680s century when Samuel Pepys served as Secretary for the Admiralty, administration for the Royal Navy ran on a handful of staff and relied on disbursement of funds—in cash—to ships' captains to see to their maintenance and the pay of their sailors. Today it's hard to imagine a modern defense ministry running on cash-in-hand: even Da'esh have accountants and an org chart. But the ability to run a modern bureaucratic defense procurement and supply organization is required due to the capital-intensive nature of modern warfare (you try buying an Aircraft Carrier with cash) and relies in turn on availability of modern tools: not just computers, but accounting procedures, project management, quality assurance, process control, and a host of other specialities that simply didn't exist back in the age of sail. On the other hand, back in the 17th century ships and squadrons might be commanded by officers weeks or months from the nearest political point of control and operating on the basis of orders which, although obsolete, had not been countermanded (and it wasn't just at sea: for example, the Battle of New Orleans took place in 1815, weeks after the treaty ending hostilities had been signed).

So. Taking the space cadets seriously for once ...

What are the political problems that would arise from the extension of an Earth-based political framework to governance of off-world space colonies? And what kind of bureaucratic mechanisms might be developed to deal with the arising issues?

Most SF centering on near-future space colonization is regrettably polluted by rose-tinted libertarian bullshit. Let's face it: in the really short term, outposts like the ISS or a near-term return-to-Moon or expedition-to-Mars will be governed by existing legal arrangements made by the national government with jurisdiction over the crew. In practice this means the 1998 ISS agreement, the Outer Space Treaty, and customary international law. And the "colonists" aren't; they're typically highly trained middle-aged scientists, engineers, and bureaucrats-with-other-skills (note how many of NASA's retired astronauts go on to careers in space program senior management or even seats in the Senate or Congress).

Looking further ahead—by which I mean out past 2030 at the very earliest—we might see encampments with a handful of people living and working off-planet semi-permanently, along the lines of an Antarctic research station (albeit in a vastly more hostile environment). "Law enforcement" overlaps messily with psychological healthcare, and generally is a matter of shipping the unruly home for treatment and diagnosis (and, optionally, restraining them en route). Money? Hah! While informal economies eventually emerge once you have a population in double or triple digits (things like trading extra shifts worked, or food, or homebrewed moonshine) it takes a long time to get to the point where "money" is internally useful for anything other than keeping track of interpersonal exchanges of obligations. And as for "no taxation without representation", that's a really long way in the future, and becomes highly problematic when the polity of 3000 who are objecting to remote governance and taxation is reliant on a distant polity of 300,000,000 who built the metal world they live in.

But by the time we look as far as self-sufficient comet-mining or terraforming colonies, a century or two in the future, the questions of political coordination and local vs. remote administration will become pressing. And these questions also apply to long-term colonies and generation ships. Assuming the (huge) obstacles to these are overcome (notably: deleterious medical radiological and microgravity effects of long-duration spaceflight; economic framework for repaying the cost of foundation; ability to maintain a large-scale closed cycle life support ecosystem; ability to replicate all necessary infrastructure components and consumer goods; ability to care for, educate, and train new members of the population and to sustain those who can no longer work or who aren't suitable for work at core survival tasks) ... what, realistically, happens?

I have some starting assumptions. Notably: the traditional right-wing American vision of settlers in space is utterly untenable because it assumes people can "walk away" from local market failures, and that individuals are solely responsible for their own errors. Libertarianism won't fly in space where any "market adjustment" is likely to prove lethal to a significant proportion of the population. Indeed, the American formulation of rugged individualism is horrifically dangerous in such a setting: imagine the mind-set that gives rise to schoolyard shooters, and put it in an environment where the only things holding in the atmosphere are the walls.

Secondly: in the absence of magical scientific breakthroughs, getting home from a fucked-up colony will be hard to impossible. If you colonize the Gobi desert or Phoenix, Arizona, you can probably escape if you have a gassed-up SUV, some cash, and enough water. If you colonize Mars, though, you're going to need a spaceship capable of reaching orbit and at least three months (more likely 18 months) of air and supplies. That's a whole different ball game, and once you realize you're living in a failed world, you're going to be far too late: it makes the plight of the people in the European migrant crisis today look trivial. Space colonies exist, of necessity, in a kind of liminal Gene Cernan voiced "failure is not an option" territory: and this is not a good place to live, much less to raise a family and expect a peaceful retirement.

So I don't see our contemporary interpersonal or cultural relationships working. Some sort of tribal organizational structure might work, by which people could work with distant or unrelated "relatives" within a web of familial obligations; it's a way of diffusing relationships to allow larger groups to work together for joint survival. Look at parts of the middle east for cultures adapted to that way of life ... or better still, don't (if you're attached to the idea of personal autonomy, choosing your own sexual partners, and deciding whether or not to have children or how to work for yourself). I'm only half-kidding: obviously iron-age tribal practices won't help cultures in brittle, high-risk environments mediated by high technology survive ... but neither will what we've got now on the sleepwalking, neoliberalalism-dominated west.

Nor are our current political representative structures, adapted to heterogeneous nations sharing an open, relatively resilient world, necessarily going to work well in a closed system. A space colony can't afford to be governed by ideology in the absence of feedback from instrumentation. But technocracy isn't the answer either; technocracy has nothing to say by way of answering the core questions of human existence, such as "what is best in life?" much less "what is right?" And a space colony probably can't survive a revolution that turns violent.

Any workable form of government for such a fragile environment is going to have to provide mechanisms for prompt and non ideologically-biased responses to deviations from the baseline. It's going to have to provide solutions that work for everybody, because the environment is a lifeboat and if you give up on someone they will die (or worse, having no expectation of living may choose to take everybody else with them). It's going to have to provide a framework for settling arguments where there is no obvious "best" solution without pissing off one faction or the other, and a framework for orderly and non-violent transfers of power (because shaved apes are addicted to up-ending their social hierarchies). The bureaucracy it comes with is going to have to offer mechanisms for delegating authority across vast gulfs of space and time, be relatively lightweight (at least in the early decades of a colony), and should arguably satisfy Rawls' philosophical notion of justice as fairness and provide distributive justice, lest it give rise to grievances leading to instability or revolution. (As a propensity for fairness seems to be wired into primates at a very low level, running on an administrative system that optimizes for fairness seems like an appropriate way to minimize friction.)

Anyway. What other angles am I missing here? You, too, can help design a constitution for a space colony! Just remember two things: it has to be somewhere you'd be comfortable living the rest of your life as an ordinary citizen, and if you get it wrong, you can't walk away.

307 Comments

1:

Brainstapling seems to be a rather useful tool for someone running a space colony.

Sorry, I meant neuroadjustment.

2:

Some initial thoughts:

Dependent upon the level of AI available - you might expect some form of "arbiter AI" apparatus set up. This wouldn't necessarily need to be of the Strong AI variety, perhaps a fairly comprehensive collection of algorithms for risk and resource management.

The precise weighting of value within those algorithms, well, you can imagine there's scope for conflict there - imagine, for instance, a corporate-biased machine that strongly favours saving infrastructure and key workers over serving the needs of the general population. Nation-states, NGO's and Corporations might have distinct arbiters, with distinct rulesets.

In terms of social relationships, I'd imagine that, given the fragility of these sort of environments, some form of military-style hierarchical structure would be the safest for the collective population - justice would be summary, subject to AI approval, and enforced with severe brutality.

I'm not entirely sure I'd want to live there, now I think on it; I do think that any early space colony would necessarily want to highly prioritise group security, with everything (nasty) that implies.

An interesting point for a sci-fi writer might be the point at which terraforming starts to make the strict rules governing the colony less necessary - at what point in the process of making the colony more resilient do you decide it's time for liberal democracy?

3:

given the fragility of these sort of environments, some form of military-style hierarchical structure would be the safest for the collective population - justice would be summary, subject to AI approval, and enforced with severe brutality.

Welcome to North Korea in space, comrade!

I'd like to note that severity-of-punishment is a lousy enforcement tool; if it wasn't, the USA would have eliminated all criminal activity by the 1990s (with the ramp-up of mass incarceration). What seems to work best is probability-of-apprehension ... and also prevention-by-design. Part of prevention by design is to simply not criminalize stuff that is irrelevant; a space colony's survival isn't enhanced by enforcing sumptuary laws or making Church attendance on Tuesday mandatory, or prosecuting citizens for swearing in the presence of their elders. But another big part of it is to ensure that law is reasonably understandable and that where possible obviously stupid things should be impossible by design, not by relying on judgment: for example "no detonating bombs inside the pressure hull" should be enforced by not keeping explosives indoors and storing gas bottles outside or in compartments with overpressure valves.

To reiterate: the challenge isn't to reinvent the military command hierarchy; it's to invent something more humane and not significantly less effective or much more oppressive.

4:

While not an answer this is why I'd volunteer to go to orbit or the moon in an instant.

But to Mars? Only if I have less than 2 years to live. In the back of my mind I keep thinking that a trip to Mars is more like jail than adventure. And no way to deal with re-supply when things break.

Think of all the tech we use now but treat as disposable. How many spare trackpads and/or mice do you take. Because when the last one breaks you're really really hosed.

And if you don't see my point about mice, how about flush valves for the toilet? And 3D printers are still a long way from printing out everything you might need on such a trip.

As to governance, how do you deal with adolescents. The way we have allowed them to behave for the last 100 year or so (in the industrial western cultures) will just now work in such environments. Playing a joke by stuffing the toilet full of TP rolls is just not an option that can be tolerated.

5:

But another big part of it is to ensure that law is reasonably understandable and that where possible obviously stupid things should be impossible by design, not by relying on judgment: for example "no detonating bombs inside the pressure hull" should be enforced by not keeping explosives indoors and storing gas bottles outside or in compartments with overpressure valves.

As someone who has raised children and gotten to interact with other children as mine grew up I not so sure such an environment can be designed. Immature "shaved apes" seem to see continually inventing ways of bypassing the safety protocols as the point of life.

6:

Really interesting post. Accepting the assumptions you made allowing the colony to exist in the first place, how about something along the lines of social contacts written in Etherium with approved methods of negotiation when they break down. As a slight tangent how do you feel about Etherium when compared to the AI owned future you discuss in Saturn's Children and Neptune's Brood? Feel eerily familiar?

7:

I have no idea about Etherium. Not terribly interested in blockchain-mediated contracts, either: it looks like one of the more stupid efflorescences of decadent, late-period neoliberal dogma, and that's not where my current writing interest is leading me.

8:

Severity is, indeed, useless for fairness. Reliability is.

My guess is the system would need to be run by an AI designed to optimize things, but there would need to be human figureheads who would be periodically replaced. Sort of like modern bureaucracies without the self-serving bureaucrats. And we seem to be edging towards that as a structure, though unfortunately those retaining the most power are those most self-serving...so we may not get there.

Actually, what we need to remember is that the planet Earth is also not guaranteed to not become a "failed colony" that you can't walk home from. Given the powers that modern technology confers upon current civilizations, we need that optimizing AI at home just as much as we'd need it in space. My guess is that without it showing up we'll be quite lucky to survive to the end of the century. (Of course, there were a couple of times in the last century that I was surprised we survived.)

So your question isn't only vital for colonies in space, it's equally vital back home.

9:

Extrapolating from the history of desert civilizations, you want to have a broadly spread religion. Judaism and Islam in the Middle East, Buddhism in Central Asia, Mormonism in the American West. It takes a huge amount of cooperation to establish and sustain a community. Even then, droughts happen. Farms fail. People end up homeless and on the road. When that happens, you want to know there are strangers whose kindness you can depend on. And maybe they need a hand maintaining the irrigation ditches. One can always hope.

10:

What seems to work best is probability-of-apprehension ... and also prevention-by-design.

Re North Korea in Space,
I expect that the future of policing will be much more proactive, and will involve drastic improvements in predictive modeling (and causal analyses) to detect probable incipient undesirable singleton and subgroup behavior. It won't be perfect (and won't involve causality violation like Minority Report :-) but it will be able to detect problems before they are fully formed, albeit with plenty of false positives and false negatives, that will both be endless fodder for angsty debate.
It is not clear to me how political systems will evolve to embrace the capability of identifying the possibility of disruption before it happens; there are many plausible but very different directions, and we might manage to avoid some of the worst of them. I do expect that such a system would be mapped to small colonies.
One concern mentioned in an earlier thread is that predictive models of individual human behavior facilitate manipulation of people into doing and believing things, so there would need to be strong new institutional checks and balances to prevent such manipulation, e.g. an ambitious police investigator could create incipient crimes (at least scholastically) then prevent them, and rapidly build a glowingly-good-looking career doing so. At a higher level, dissent could be suppressed proactively in a similar way.
Also, the arms race involved will foster the development of interesting ways for conspirators to mask the emergence of their conspiracies until they are ready to be exposed.

11:

I think we should clear something up.

There's going to be a huge difference between the Earth-Moon System (including any NEO's when they are within the system) and the rest of the Solar System.

Taking Space Cadets seriously means taking them seriously that Space Tourism is going to be a thing. However, I'm not enough of a Space Cadet to realize that most tourists will be anything other than very rich people with money to spend to ensure that any bureaucracy doesn't interfere with their enjoyment (goodbye planetary protection protocols).

In my opinion, the Earth-Moon system will be governed by the same regime that currently governs earth orbit (with the Moon's surface being a GEO analogue).

The rest of the solar system is another kettle of fish.

12:

I am wondering about Quakers in Space.

For long term allocation of resources, tasks and risk I think a society that has a strong ideological committment to dialogue and deliberation democracy, egalitarianism, deep, slow thinking, and tries to balance eudaemonic happiness with hedonic happiness has a good chance of not leaving anyone out of the material goodies, the opportunities for a Good Life or participation in the political process.

I'm not sure how a Quaker model would deal with short-term emergancies where a more top-down and directive response is needed. Perhaps by having a nominated short-term dictator who becomes active when an emergancy happens. Or placing responsibility for short term operations with a Ships' Captain appointed through a deliberative process.

13:

So what do these space colonist do with sociopaths. Especially the ones who are born there or move to the site at a young age?

Serious re-working of our current philosophies of justice and moralities may be needed.

14:

Until your colony is big enough, I can't see summary justice by execution being likely - how many people do you kill before it becomes non-viable? So that makes crime and punishment interesting. I think you might need to go for a system loosely like a commune crossed with a submarine so there's little or no concept of personal possessions and little or no idea of personal space: this gets rid of a lot of the crimes we currently have. Suspension of access privileges (no Netflix for 12 months!) or whatever could be minor punishments, up to indentured work for a period for more serious crimes. Revolution with combat is likely to break the system fatally anyway so you don't need to worry about that level of things.

Then you need to think about how long your mission is going to last. Military discipline, even though I've never lived under it, worked for multi-year journeys under sail with a high success rate. We know the stories of Bligh and the Bounty and the like because the spectacular failures were rare enough they're memorable. They were generally hugely over-crewed because they expected casualties and to be able to resupply. They could afford really harsh discipline. But the navies of the world still send submariners out on multi-month missions with less harsh discipline these days, and less over-crewing.

I never tried living on a Kibbutz but lots of people do and enjoy it. I think the precise balance is going to be really fun but you want a meritocracy with the best parts of commune life combined with the more sensible and life-preserving parts of submarine-living discipline.

And as others have commented above, you want every mechanism possible to make it really hard for even fairly groups of people to blow shit up and damage things drastically.

15:

I suppose I ought to get this out of the way: perhaps an anarcho-syndicalist commune, where they take turns acting as a sort of executive officer for the week, but all the decisions of that officer must be approved at a bi-weekly meeting by a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs, but a two-thirds majority . . .

Bloody peasant!

But to go back to something completely different (the OP), there will likely be several stages of permanent habitation in space before we get to the point of requiring self-governing polities.

The first stage is the ISS - a small number of hand-picked scientist/astronauts who reside for six months to one year in orbit before returning home. Their habitat is paid for and maintained by a coalition of national space programs, and the residents of the station are employees/officials of the sponsoring governments, hence no self-government or internal administration.

The second stage is the proliferation of LEO space stations, both governmentally sponsored and potentially corporate (see Bigelow), with Lunar and Martian expeditions. These would not be fundamentally different from the ISS in terms of sponsorship or administration, with populations probably in the low to mid double digits, well within Dunbar's number, and still reliant on supply, administration and legal responsibilities to terrestrial governments and/or corporations. Mars One is an edge case of this phase. Note that in this phase the people in these habitats are still hand-picked individuals with extensive psychological screening, except potentially any early orbital tourists.

The third stage is permanent, largely self-sustaining settlements on the Moon and Mars, and potentially the first orbital habitats. This is the first instance in which we would likely exceed Dunbar's number and have the possibility of a refusal of terrestrial authority. These habitats are probably still relatively small (less than 1000 persons), and probably not completely self-sufficient. As they are also most likely still sponsored and supported by a coalition of governments and/or corporations, their administration and organization will probably be imposed by the sponsoring entities. Administration is likely to be bureaucratic and imposed by the sponsors, with the possibility of individual democratic voting on internal matters (what movie is showing in the theater tonight).

Our best models for these phases are Antarctic research stations and nuclear submarines. We're still talking about people with very high intellectual abilities and extensive prior psychological screening, but in the hundreds of people, you're likely to start to have some instances of sociopathy and other variations in behavior. The operational and medical (as opposed to scientific) staff would have to be empowered to restrain persons who are deemed a threat to themselves or others.

Only in the fourth stage, permanent, self-sufficient (or nearly) habitats of over 1,000 persons, do you get to the point where there's a real possibility of an independent colony. Depending on the stated purpose of the habitat, there's likely a mix of scientists, operations, maintenance, commerce and family members, so you're basically talking about a village. Even at this point, these habitats were probably founded by terrestrial entities, so the first question is why a habitat would want to break ties with its founders? Is there a change to the status of the sponsors (war, terrestrial revolutions, etc.) or is there some political movement in the habitat itself? The circumstances are going to greatly affect the political and legal choices the members of the habitat make.

The easiest case to imagine is a variation on "2010", where an internationally-sponsored habitat has to deal with war between two of the sponsors. If the inhabitants decide to reject direction from the sponsors, they may decide to declare themselves neutral in the conflict and declare independence. Given that these are intelligent, educated, largely rational persons, they will likely look in the directions you have, and try to select other examples of political philosophy and policy. They may look in the direction of the key sentence in the American Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

They may also look to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Declaration_of_Human_Rights )

As to governmental structure, a highly educated group with a very effective communications infrastructure is likely to, indeed, look at a popularly elected temporary governor with decisions endorsed by democratic vote. The danger of this approach is if you have a fundamental issue with two relatively equal, diametrically opposed views. If bargaining fails, the habitat itself may fail.

Hmmpf . . . brain out of gas. I'll have to add more later.

16:

Three words: Socialism in space!

No, really: while reading the blog entry I waited for this to come up; could be bring together the positive sides of techno- and bureaucracy with some sort of societal commitment/ideology. (What is "gemeinschaft" in English?) And no need for money, either.

17:

We normally translate it as "community".

18:

So this goes back to the earlier discussion of hive-minds right?

You need an infalable system to tell you when someone has gone or is going off the rails. Telepathy hands you that.

Punishment is handled by something equivalent to The Cultures slap drones. People around you check up on you constantly to stop the bad behaviour until the habit of conforming kicks in.

You can tell when a leader is being self serving and get rid of them.

Lethal descisions could still get made but at least not on purpose and not by a secret few who think they know best.

19:

John Barnes wrote a pretty good novel about this process, "Orbital Resonance". It takes place in an asteroid outfitted with engines to make the Earth-Mars loop, and is mostly about the ways that the adults try not to visit their mistakes on the children, but don't do all that well at it. One of Barnes's more hopeful and less violent novels...

Semi-unrelated point: "teenager" is a 20th century social construct. There's no particular reason to think that we've got an optimal solution currently. Perhaps a space colony would prefer to assign the status of adult in a more formal fashion, or a more graduated set of roles.

What does a society look like when the boogeyman is verifiably real and right outside any airlock?

20:

So what do these space colonist do with sociopaths. Especially the ones who are born there or move to the site at a young age?

Well, for starters, we aren't going to get any space colonies without a bunch of medical breakthroughs. So some sort of medical system for mitigating sociopathy is a likely part of the package. (Think in terms of a brain implant designed to replace or augment the underdeveloped amygdala behind the symptoms of sociopathic behaviour. Or whatever underlying neurological cause(s) turns out to be behind it.)

For seconds, adolescents ... the modern "teenager" is largely a social construction of the past century; prior to the industrial revolution teenagers were basically young adults, usually working an apprenticeship. The issue of keeping them in line socially can be addressed in various ways, but probably there's some scope for building a "safe" sandboxed virtual world in which acting-out and rebellion can't damage the polity as a whole. (Added bonus: if they're really good at shooting shit up in MMOs, they'll also be pretty good at driving mining drones with long signal latency.)

Prison ... prison is a terrible way of dealing with criminals; expensive, frequently doesn't reduce recidivism rate, wasteful, and so on. Execution is both inhumane and excessive (and excessively wasteful of human capital). Fines, community service, compulsory cognitive-behavioural treatment, are alternatives, as is house arrest, geofencing enforced by location-aware tracking manacle, and so on. But the most important thing of all will be medicalized and outcome-directed treatment of those behaviours that are highly undesirable but questionably voluntary, such as impulsive pleasure-seeking, gambling, excessive consumption of intoxicants, and so on.

"Safety" also needs to be kept in perspective. If you can avoid having teen-age/adult males explode messily and vent an airlock at irregular intervals by providing a venue in which they can (with prior consent) punch the living shit out of one another, then institutionalized zero-gee cage fighting might be a necessary compromise in order to reduce the risk of spree killings.

21:

On the subject of letting an AI make the decisions, I'm reminded of Elizabeth Bear's Carnival. If you have an AI with actual, reasonable rules, it's going to make some surprising decisions.

I have no faith that humanity would build an actually fair AI. For the bleak end of that, check out Peter Watts' Chimp from his short stories.

If I wanted to make sure a space colony stayed properly managed in the way to my liking before they left Earth, having their decisions filtered through an AI written by my rules sounds like a good way to do it. Then I don't have to use ugly consequences like cutting off supply shipments to enforce compliance.

Having the AI involved doesn't solve the problem of making good decisions, it just front loads them into making decisions about AI design.

22:

They were generally hugely over-crewed because they expected casualties and to be able to resupply. They could afford really harsh discipline.

Life was dirt cheap in the navies of the 15th-18th century; I've seen figures of 30% mortality per voyage cited for sailors on some of the Portuguese/Spanish trans-Pacific trade fleets, and in the Nelsonian era the Royal Navy lost more dead to cirrhosis of the liver than to combat.

Oh, and the definition of an offense was different, too. In a navy today, being drunk on duty more or less means failing a breathalyser test. In the RN, being drunk on duty warranted being flogged with the cat -- a violent, painful and potentially lethal punishment. (A vindictive, sadistic, or angry captain could order a man to be flogged "until the ivory shows" -- meaning, until the rib cage was visible through the wounds. Not many sailors survived that.) However, the Navy issued a daily ration of half a pint of cask-strength rum to all sailors! It was a major energy component in their (dismal) diet. The accepted standard for "drunk on duty" was, "sailor is insensible and fails to attempt to stand when ordered to do so three times by a superior officer".

Finally: sailors could blow off steam when on shore leave. Space colonists, not so much.

23:
I expect that the future of policing will be much more proactive, and will involve drastic improvements in predictive modeling (and causal analyses) to detect probable incipient undesirable singleton and subgroup behavior. It won't be perfect
No kidding, given how poisoned with confirmation bias our current training corpus is. There are already concerns about Chicago's attempt at predictive violent crime prevention.
24:

So following on from my previous

How much Bureaucracy can you loose with telepathy? (OGH has given us brain implants so I'm guessing that's how it's done)

Credentialing of all kinds isn't needed.
Inspections are now constantly performed by the staff and customers (for want of better terms).
Laws are written to actually solve problems that people actually believe exist, without scare-mongering. A lot fewer need to be written.
Intent can be verifiable and therefore part of law making for fewer, simpler laws.

Of course anybody who can game the telepathy tech gets an “I Win” card.

25:

This might be more of a severe problem for free-"floating" habitats than surface-side colonies off-world. The proposals I've seen for early Mars colonies are essentially sets of hab modules, each with their own life support systems, connected together - and presumably with programs designed to seal the connections in case there's breach in one of the habitats or failure of life support.

That limits the damage that individuals can do to the system (and thus dampens some of the need for tight social controls), and also gives people some breathing space from each other. It's not Libertarianism-in-Space, but still somewhat loose.

26:

I'd like to note that severity-of-punishment is a lousy enforcement tool; if it wasn't, the USA would have eliminated all criminal activity by the 1990s (with the ramp-up of mass incarceration). What seems to work best is probability-of-apprehension ...

Forgive me, I was assuming a panopticon-style setup - I should have been explicit.

I agree severity of punishment is a poor tool - human history is replete with examples to back that up (relatively recent British and American history, not to mention classical civilisations). I guess my point was human beings would be more likely to revert to type and re-use old social arrangements, even deeply flawed ones, rather than attempt to invent new ones for novel scenarios.

The fact is, when the failure states flowing from individualism/libertarian ethics are unsurvivable for entire communities, then severe restrictions on personal liberty and/or privacy will be the first thing people try, not the last. The only alternatives that I can think of would involve total surveillance (which is ultimately what you're talking about with group-minds/telepathy - no privacy even in your head), along with some sort of "Nanny State" variation on the AI concept I mentioned above - preemptively smacking your wrists/"nudging" you when your behaviour or thoughts moves out of bounds.

That, or the internalisation of group ethics through some engineered form of organised religion designed to increase survival chances for groups. Or perhaps a combination of those with authoritarian social structures.

I'm thinking that the Age of Colonisation Pt.II is probably going to be deeply unpleasant for a great deal of people. Of course if we invent Banks-style benevolent AI to manage the process we might fare better, but I'm sceptical we'd survive the attempt intact.


27:

I thonk you end up with actual, fully functional, honest-to-goodness communism. Somebody asks for something, you _know_ they need it more than you do, you give it to them. If you don't everyone knows and you're a pariah.

It should work at every level. Small groups submit requests to larger groups with command over more resources, this keeps going up to the level you need. At every point each group is informed and has to be honest.

The Red Flag flies above our Bluetooth enabled brains!

28:

"no detonating bombs inside the pressure hull" should be enforced by not keeping explosives indoors and storing gas bottles outside or in compartments with overpressure valves.

It wouldn't necessarily take explosives to do a whole lot of damage. With big delta-Vs between vessels/settlements, a handful of children's toys flushed out in the wrong place could inflict a lot of damage.

They may be rare, but something would need to be done to protect against lone nutters. Assuming the fragility of these environments cannot be dramatically improved; then perhaps:

  • Strong levels of security controlling travel outside a settlement's hull. (Possible parallels to airport security, though perhaps with security theatre replaced with actual security.) (Possibly difficult given that maintenance needs of an artificial environment may lead to needing a number of people going on regular EVAs.)
  • Mental health monitoring of people within the settlement.
    • How invasive would it be?
    • How likely would it be to overreact/mislabel people?
    • What happens to those identified as a danger? therapy? sedation? imprisonment? ankle monitor? ...
  • Cultural changes to reduce chances of people acting outside the interests of the group? e.g. a collectivist rather than an individualist culture.
Though these wouldn't protect against being attacked by someone from the badly managed settlement in a neighbouring orbit.


In a time when a significant number of people live in space, similar concerns would exist for the space around a planet. The 9/11 scale attack of that era might be intentionally causing Kessler Syndrome

29:

You want to re-introduce religion?
Oh noe!

What about the Pacific trans-island migrations as a model for the societies?
Problem there is you are often dealing with people-numbers not too far away from Dunbar's number ....

30:

It strikes me that Sharon Lee & Steve Miller have been exploring one possible social derivative of a ship board structure in a wider context in their Liaden Universe novels. See "Crystal Dragon" for the back story of the social contract. Oh of course it's a space opera setting. :-)

31:

Hello Charlie,
as a double bachelor on economics and business administration, with an MBA and Master on finance i believe i have, at one point or another, read each and every definition of "economics" (acording to the subject branch of choice) there "officially" exists...

But Im actually curious on your definition of the Titan father of politics and bureaucracy.

Care to give it to us here?

Best Regards
Weakly-Anon

33:

Bugger
I meant Annares, of course, sorry about that .....

34:

Excellent post. Rawls is a must any space colony that I would ever want to live. Religions or ideologies seem incompatible with happiness in space, though I can easily see how moving to Planet Utah could work for some, so long as no one wanted to jump the crazy ship.

35:

If there was sufficient automation in place around obtaining and processing resources (mining/farming/manufacturing/...); and assuming settlement populations reached sufficient size that they could afford to shed people; and assuming close enough distances that travel between settlements was possible, then perhaps the key release valve to social disasters would be the ability to walk away.

I'm not necessarily talking post-scarcity, ask for it and you get it, level of availability of resources; maybe you have to wait some time to get an offer of residence in another settlement, get on the queue to be allowed to exit (if you don't have a ready understudy for your job within the settlement), or get on the exit queue because your share of resources is invested in a large project and can't be 'cashed out'.


Of course, this doesn't work so well if your settlement is too far from other settlements. But, if the settlement was distant but large and resources were abundant, then perhaps allowing a group to secede to form an autonomous/semi-autonomous settlement would serve a similar purpose.


This is all built on the assumption that:
1. resources are plentiful enough that the settlement won't lose from not having your resources in its pooled resources.
2. you're not vital/important to the success of the settlement you're leaving.
3. creation of stable societies was well enough understood that you could be trusted not to go and create a new settlement that was doomed.

36:

I think there are two problems here. The first is that we haven't reached anything resembling the "age of sail" where our presence in space is concerned. We're still in the "dugout canoe" stage of things. We've got a couple cultures which are capable of building kayaks and sending a couple highly trained individuals from Greenland to Nova Scotia, but that's it. We need multiple, fundamental scientific breakthroughs before we can build the equivalent of a Viking longship or a Chinese dhow - that is, a ship capable of making long space voyages which is generally reliable, reusable (with refits every couple years) and available to a medium-sized company.

People who talk about colonizing Mars in the next century are imagining that we're going to send a thousand people to another planet - one requiring massive life-support - riding the equivalent of an outrigger canoe! Two words for those folks: "Fuck" and "Off."

Second, we're going to bring racism, sexism, religion and sociopathy into space. Some idiot racist programmer is already working on the software which sends more oxygen to people named "Kathleen" than it sends to people named "Shaniqua." Count on it. ("We can't change the software to send you more oxygen, we don't have approval from NASA.")

The government will hire careful, prize-winning sociologists and science-fiction writers to design the perfect space society and the Republicans (or Tories, or whoever) will screw it up by insisting on:

...law-and-order: Hispanic Martian colonist with multiple doctorates shot by cop who graduated from the Police Academy.

...freedom of religion: "Martian bacteria are demons. It says so in the Bible."

...and corporate control. "The Mars colony cafeteria is run by McDonalds. "We-don't-serve-salad-do-you-want-fries-with-that?"

Welcome to the future. It's worse than you think!

37:

I'm not sure how a Quaker model would deal with short-term emergancies where a more top-down and directive response is needed.

Wikipedia has a pretty good article on consensus decision making, with lots of detail and references. (Notably the Quaker subsections look reasonable to me.) I don't see a discussion on the handling of short-term emergencies though. One model that might work is assigning a pool of competent people to each category of emergency, and the first one in the pool to be aware of an emergency in a category that they've been assigned to takes initial action while summoning the others.

38:

What does a society look like when the boogeyman is verifiably real and right outside any airlock?

John Varley tackled that one in one of the later Eight Worlds stories -- I think in "Steel Beach"; kids get weaned on evil fairy stories about the Breath Sucker, how to tell if it's out there and what to do to avoid being Got. Later you teach them about vacuum (balloon in bell jar time: "your lungs are this balloon"). Key factor is to start them really early, for do-not-stick-fingers-in-electricity-socket/do-not-run-into-the-highway values of early.

39:

Assuming the (huge) obstacles to these are overcome (notably: deleterious medical radiological and microgravity effects of long-duration spaceflight; economic framework for repaying the cost of foundation; ability to maintain a large-scale closed cycle life support ecosystem; ability to replicate all necessary infrastructure components and consumer goods; ability to care for, educate, and train new members of the population and to sustain those who can no longer work or who aren't suitable for work at core survival tasks) ... what, realistically, happens?

well, assuming you have a motive that is not a) having all the eggs in one basket, b) leaving the cradle beacuse you f*ing can, c) bragging rights or d) vagely pure basic researchy (becaise i fail to see how the economics of e) mining and shipping in bulk would make sense without teleportation...) as you said it actually depends on the details of the available technology.

Assuming that you need as a minimum (for the result to be a not deeply undesirable way of living... or dying much faster than (now 1st world)usual):
-AI that shines on deep/specialist tasks but is non self upgradeable and dimly/flawed-humanlike (no singularity, no cybespace takeover from humanity by the aforementioned dim AIs, no post-human uploads, no internet-to-brain augmentation implants, no headcheese, hiveminds or whatever Peter Watts or you have nightmares about...)
- Functionally infinite, compact, manageably clean, Fusion (for example, change it with whatever magic you want zero point energy anyone?) power
- Drexlers bushbots and general nanite assemblers/disassemblers (no gray goo scenario)
- Vast advances on the understanding on the genome/prteome/metabolome; and on the prediction power of the models based on that knowledge; and everyday medical applications of it

(well... if you had all that... why would you want to go to mars then in the short-medium term except for the aforementioned bragging rights? and wouldnt all that end a lot of the fucking problems that staying has?)

Secondly: in the absence of magical scientific breakthroughs, getting home from a fucked-up colony will be hard to impossible. If you colonize the Gobi desert or Phoenix, Arizona, you can probably escape if you have a gassed-up SUV, some cash, and enough water. If you colonize Mars, though, you're going to need a spaceship capable of reaching orbit and at least three months (more likely 18 months) of air and supplies. That's a whole different ball game, and once you realize you're living in a failed world, you're going to be far too late: it makes the plight of the people in the European migrant crisis today look trivial. Space colonies exist, of necessity, in a kind of liminal Gene Cernan voiced "failure is not an option" territory: and this is not a good place to live, much less to raise a family and expect a peaceful retirement.


im personally inclined to foresee the kind of society predicted on "The Circle" by Dave Eggers, with Elon Musk as the mastemind / founding father and president-for-life of the colony (But now powerless and swallowed by its creation, a Mage of Oz like figuere only IN SPACE!)

...
damn i had a geeckgasm
...

40:

Care to give it to us here?

"Allocation of resources under conditions of scarcity" -- i.e. where demand (potentially) outstrips supply, or where infinitely replicatable resources such as information are artificially constrained by law (see also "intellectual property").

Do we need to get more specific than that?

41:

I did quite explicitly go on to say I didn't want to adopt all of their systems but the old naval model did work for quite prolonged expeditions so bears looking at, at least.

And a space colony/prolonged expedition would need to remove a lot of the poor nutrition deaths if it's going to be successful.

I also opened with saying why you can't afford a punishment system that kills people, at least not routinely, so the era of flogging people to death and the like is just not going to be acceptable. That doesn't mean there aren't parts in the system from then and through to the modern submarine service that you're not going to want to extract and use for your space colony.

Sleeping and working in watches for example. Regular emergency drills. Everyone knowing how to do basic damage control, first aid and the like.

If you have a short mission, the Navy forbids fraternisation. No sex on board ship, even if a married couple is serving on the same vessel. That might make sense, however unpopular it is. For a colony though, it's not going to work. If you institute hot-bunking to increase the sense of communal property rather any sense of "mine" perhaps there have to be rooms you can book for conjugal visits with your sex partner(s). Babies go into creches rather than traditional families.

42:

Babies raised in creches do very poorly. However, if we only sent people into space who came from families which did "best practices" in terms of child rearing, that would be very, very helpful. (And if someone didn't do best practices despite having been raised that way, you'd have a pretty good diagnosis of some kind of mental-health issue.)

And what are best child-rearing practices? How kind of you to ask. Senator Reverend Billy-Bob will be writing that into the enabling legislation for our Mars Colony!

43:

> So some sort of medical system for mitigating sociopathy
> is a likely part of the package. (Think in terms of a brain
> implant designed to replace or augment the underdeveloped amygdala
> behind the symptoms of sociopathic behaviour. Or whatever underlying
> neurological cause(s) turns out to be behind it.)

Wow! That'd be -- different.

"Sociopathy" may be **officially** defined as a "-pathy", but an
alternate view is that it's just a another variant in the human population
that makes hay when the sun shines -- just like any other
varying trait acted upon by Darwinian selection.

In modern technological societies, so-called sociopaths are
enormously over-represented among all the "best people" -- CEOs,
politicians, entertainers, star academics, even religious leaders.
The crème de la crème, as Miss Jean Brodie would say.

Say, do you think Steve Jobs was a sociopath? Ya think?

Now don't forget to take your etracine.

"If you feel you are not properly sedated,
call 348-844 immediately. Failure to do so may result in
prosecution for criminal drug evasion."

44:

People who talk about colonizing Mars in the next century are imagining that we're going to send a thousand people to another planet - one requiring massive life-support - riding the equivalent of an outrigger canoe! Two words for those folks: "Fuck" and "Off."

YesNoMaybe.

A thousand people on Mars by the middle of this century looks quite possible, on current developments. (Elon Musk just set a deadline for the first boots on the Red Planet: an unmanned Red Dragon landing in 2018 with NASA cooperation, and Musk wants to send a crewed vehicle by 2026. And the tech roadmap looks sound, if optimistic (it doesn't include downtime due to failures on the critical path).

However, a thousand people isn't a self-sufficient colony. It's a high-end Antarctic base camp. And it's inevitably going to be filtered by the high price of entry; Musk thinks he can eventually get the price of a one-way ticket down to the equivalent of $0.5M/person, but that's a lotta cash if you want to up sticks and take your family to homestead in the middle of a nearly airless radiation-drenched desert with no way home. By the time we're talking about serious law enforcement and social problems we're probably going to be into space elevators/fusion reactors/advanced biotech territory, and our current formulation of racial/social/case discrimination will seem hopelessly 21st century -- what if the first real colony is 100% ethnic Han Chinese, or Malay?

45:

Ok was originally writing a much longer diatribe trying to define the different styles and models of colonies and how they evolved, eg. pure plunder like early Mexico versus Portuguese trading enclaves versus NE religious colonies (some of which were communes), etc. But there's a clear interesting model to work with.

Jamestown, the colony is a settlement to get claims and to find a workable trade good (especially gold/silver). Virginia is notable due to the failures like the starving time, and how pretty much everyone was planning to leave when the relief fleet show up. Honestly a great model for how bad a private venture goes. Poor planning, like depending too much on resupply, not planning their water supply, not under standing how to grow crops in their new soil, a focus on short term profits, and requiring extensive resupply after cannibalism had set in.

The company went under, despite finding a trade good in tobacco due to heavy debt and embargo with the dutch. After the company folded, when there was roughly a thousand colonists, they created the House of Burgesses, first legislative assembly in the Americas.

46:

I don't see a discussion on the handling of short-term emergencies though.

Presumably they'd handle it the way civil agencies do so today: prepared disaster plans, the first responder on scene takes point, reports, and calls in backup, coordination is pre-arranged, and the first responder is Incident Commander until someone better equipped for the job turns up and is up to speed and they agree to hand over the baton and step back.

There's no need to have a separate military hierarchy and presumably an equivalent of martial law; on a space colony, crises are either going to be fast and deadly (over in seconds to hours) or so long-drawn-out that there's time for committee meetings and analysis. And as for the aftermath, that's a job for an Accident Investigation Board to investigate and make remediation recommendations for, not a crime investigation ... because the enemy is almost certainly not human, and everybody has a common interest in fighting it together.

(Exception: a spree killing. But I suspect that in space those are mostly going to end with the death of the spree killer ...)

47:

Functionally infinite, compact, manageably clean, Fusion (for example, change it with whatever magic you want zero point energy anyone?) power

Thin-film solar is dirt cheap, light, and highly efficient these days; JUNO -- arriving in Jupiter orbit next month! -- is solar powered due to efficiency improvements since Galilleo was designed in the 80s; per NASA, "Juno benefits from advances in solar cell design with modern cells that are 50 percent more efficient and radiation tolerant than silicon cells available for space missions 20 years ago."

That won't help much past Jupiter (which already gets only 4% of the insolation you get at Earth orbit) but it's an interesting sign of the way things are going. Meanwhile, nuclear reactors need radiator panels in order to reject their waste heat -- remember, vacuum is a very good insulator, even though there's a 2.3 Kelvin heat sink out there? -- so even lightweight aneutronic fusion reactors aren't going to be a get out of jail free card.

I'd love to see bush robots, advanced nanotech, and so on. I think we're more likely to get really good synthetic biology first, though.

48:

I suspect you're going to have in vitro screening for psychopathic tendencies and a wide array of other birth defects, with mandatory abortions.

Re: AI moderation-- you may end up with the plot of Harlan Ellison's "I, Robot" screenplay, where you find out [spoilers below]
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that the leader who led Earth into a golden age until they were ready to run it themselves was a disguised robot.

49:

Babies go into creches rather than traditional families.

Kibbutzim did this. As I understand it they tripped over an unexpected failure mode; children raised in the same collective nursery related to one another as siblings and picked up an incest taboo, so they almost all ended up marrying out, resulting in an effective fertility crash 20-40 years after founding.

50:

"Sociopathy" may be **officially** defined as a "-pathy", but an
alternate view is that it's just a another variant in the human population

Yes, which is why you only want to "treat" the outliers -- those in whom the trait is expressed to a degree which is detrimental to the good order and running of the colony, and then only as an extreme measure (an alternative to jail or execution).

Medicalization of the normal range of human variation is a very dangerous trend: ask Alan Turing's ghost if you want more evidence.

51:

And shows an important note. One human society for space risks failure. In the longer run, the societies will need to experiment. Some will have odd trip ups like this. Making something that works for a generation ship will be pretty dang hard.

52:

...I think for handling people who can't cope or who won't reform that you're going to need some sandbox technology to give them their own reality or a mediated reality.

Peter Watts has some stories where people toggle consciousness for work. That type of thing could be an outlet for grunt work or socially tense and unavoidable situations. If I can't have a physical escape I need a mental one.

Toggling conscious existence might be extreme, another outlet could be shared consensual reality overlays. I'm trying to remember the name of a novel where there is a college in a space station and the protagonist's dad lives in his own reality and relates to people from inside it.

There are novels where people experience time in different ways, with living in shifts, or suspended time (like the technology in The Peace War) and only waking on certain conditions (like in The Culture).

I could see one failure mode of a system might cause extreme inequities in the amount of conscious time a person is able to claim. which leads back to Peter Watts's version of this where impoverished people sign up to be meat robots to take care of their families.

53:

The Quaker thing, I like. Building a society around consensus, or empathy in the absence of agreement.

I have a sneaking suspicion, however, that we should forget our expectations of success. We should instead assume that most such expeditions will fail, messily and fatally - either in the short term (anything from John Franklin / Robert Falcon Scott / Roanoke to the Donner Party) or long term (Easter Island). Just to rub it in, the successful, or least unsuccessful, groups will avoid failure by luck rather than judgement [1].

Our attitudes would seem hilariously risk-averse to a 19th-century explorer [2]. Much like internet startups, new restaurants, and the film industry, you send out a hundred expeditions, expect a handful to succeed...

The issue with "military discipline" is of course that it varies according to scenario.
- Externally-imposed Discipline In a situation where there is a huge staff turnover (to accident, illness, or war); or a rapid expansion of the organisation size; then you probably have people who don't want to be there (impressment or conscription) and you tend not to have enough people who know what they're doing - so the boss knows best, things are directive, hierarchies and symbols emerge to deliver structure amid the chaos (and provide structure for inexperienced and over-rapidly-promoted leaders).
- Self-Discipline In a situation where things are more stable, and the staff are volunteers, the character of the organisation is far more cooperative than coercive. The organisation can be more selective; people have the time to learn their jobs, so the boss might not know best; responsibility can and should be pushed down as low as possible. The informality that characterises Tier 1 SF units just wouldn't work for line infantry or conscripts.

[1] Of course, history will insist that it was excellent judgement / manifest destiny / divine right, and not sheer fluke...

[2] Consider Shackleton...

54:

I think you might be understating just how much of a difference there can be between the appearance of a political state and the reality. Stopping colonists from destroying colonies requires quite drastic limitations on those colonists, unacceptably so to most people here. However, those limitations can be covered up by ever-more advanced bullshit.

Let's look at previous colonies for an example. How about California? That exists in a delusionary state and always has. It started as a free and bounteous land to which settles came joyfully (ignoring the genocide of previous inhabitants). It became the Salad Bowl of the World (ignoring the depletion of aquifers). It created Silicon Valley through brains and hard work (ignoring the massive defense spending over more than fifty years). And now it is disrupting business models to create a new economy (ignoring the horrific meat-grinder as the world's bright young things move to SF to work 90 hour weeks in the hope of becoming a billionaire unicorn but most likely to be spat out at the age of 40 having worked themselves into sickness with nothing to show for it but worthless shares in dead start-ups and huge rent bills).

Each of these cases I'd describe as bullshit. There's an underlying political problem with unacceptable solutions but that problem can be ignored so long as there is sufficient input of resources to refocus the problem as an opportunity. And at each stage of development, the bullshit has become more sophisticated and pervasive. California no longer employs militia to shoot Indians, instead Thiel just sues Gawker into irrelevance.

Thus I can imagine a space colony continuing in this vein - of good marketing, great marketing, covering over pervasive social control, unsustainable resource exploitation, and paternalist military Keynesianism. And if those colonies arise from California, as it looks like they will, then they're already on that path.

55:

Medicalization of the normal range of human variation is a very dangerous trend: ask Alan Turing's ghost if you want more evidence.

Or ask Alan Tudyk's ghost about Reavers.

56:

The government will ... screw it up by insisting on:

...law-and-order: Hispanic Martian colonist with multiple doctorates shot by cop who graduated from the Police Academy.

Why assume a USAian approach to law and order (on a UK blog)? It's not as if it's a particularly successful or effective model, given the comparatively high rates of incarceration in the US, allied to an apparently willing self-separation of the police from society in general (e.g. referring to non-police as "civilians"). Put bluntly, police in the USA may vary from scarily bad to awesome at a tactical level, but they are a demonstrable failure at the strategic level.

Better to stick with the Peelian principles, namely "policing by consent". It looks like a decent set of governance principles...

57:

I don't like doing this much but I will look backward.

All the stuff in the old testament about wasting unruly children makes sense in terms of dealing with sociopaths in a resource poor environment.

It clearly describes people who have terrible impulse control and are unable to accept correction, and then points out that in the long term society is better off without them.

Tolerating sociopaths is a luxury. We can afford containment, hopefully space colonists will be able to fix cheaply.

If it is expensive then education is a sunk cost and there is always recycling.

I would expect for an environment that treats people who contribute well, looks after or fixes the sick and destroys threats if they can't be fixed. Anything less is suicide.

58:

yup,
any univerity professor would insist on adding "thew science which subject matter is..." before, then go to the resources and scarcity bit and then ramble on regarding its specific narrow branch of knowledge subject
;D
then is when it gets messy and flawed no matter what...

59:

A space colony can't afford to be governed by ideology in the absence of feedback from instrumentation.

This takes care of the first two elements of "lies, damned lies and statistics". It still leaves the possibility to be governed by ideology in the presence of feedback from instrumentation. And leaving out ideology out of the interpretation of the data is the really hard part: Often you use (at least implicitly) a model; You have to make sure your data is correct and not biased in some way; Sometimes you cannot prevent the bias even under the best circumstances, so you need a model to correct for the bias; You see the correlation, but not necessarily the causation; ... and all the assumptions/missing parts are susceptible to ideology, even more so if the data supports the ideology.

Any workable form of government for such a fragile environment is going to have to provide mechanisms for prompt and non ideologically-biased responses to deviations from the baseline.

Because of the problems with the data, I would say, that there is no non-ideologically-biased response to deviations from the baseline. The definition of the baseline alone is probably susceptible to ideology. How is it defined? Which variables are used? How much of a deviation can be tolerated? This alone probably introduces an ideological bias into the data, unless there are lots of very carefully designed experiments measuring the success of a space colony under wildly varying parameters.

60:

I can see a couple of things that you'd probably need to make a space colony viable; first, the end of privacy. Everything possible is recorded, and that recording is useful in evidence (probably with an AI flagging the "interesting" bits of the recording for police checks). You need a social change here, to accept that what Charlie said 3 years ago is not guaranteed to be representative of what Charlie thinks now, along with an acceptance of "experimentation" which makes this one challenging.

Second, a criminal system focused the way air crash investigation is focused; yes, sometimes it ends up spitting out blame, but the target is to find out why things went wrong, and to make any sensible changes that stop things going wrong in future - ideally before the accident is serious. Thus, when young Greg opens an air bottle while he's entering the airlock, thus causing it to not seal properly first time and forcing it to cycle again, we investigate, we work out why Greg thought that was a good idea, and we fix the causes so that people like Greg don't think it's a good idea. Similarly, if young Greg gets in a fight and cuts a hole in the side of the vessel, we look at stopping future young Gregs from doing the same damage - we don't care so much about punishing this one.

61:

why just tolerate them... make them owners/management (at least the functional ones) that is the time honored tradition right now

62:

Because you want everyone to live.

63:

At one point I started on a piece of Laundry fan-fic in which the ghost of Alan Turing possesses some piece of historic computing gear at Bletchly Park and Bob Howard has to fix the problem. Eventually Bob invites Alan to possess his Jesusphone and takes Turing to the wedding of Pinky and Brains, at which point Turing's issues are solved and he can go to his eternal rest.

Lots of fun, but I never finished the piece!

64:

do you?
on principle im sure...
(except for sociopaths, and well feel free to add anyone which drift too much from your standard)
but to the point, just try to make them step off the position of power, see how does it fare...

You would need Culture like IAs, which has the problem of how do you bootsrap one with exactly the right qualitys (if you bootstrap any of the other self upgrading kind with autonmomy of motive (and that other kind is a vastly huuuugely bigger pool than Culture like one), then you just have woken Ctulhu)

Damn even the IAs from the culture would courtail the freedom of the individual and the species in very specific and subtle ways, no human being nor the human species (or something we could identify with) would be in control anymore after that...

(Anyweays it seems that, if the species manage to survive for long enough, it is headed to change into something we would not recogince as human aymore ...)

65:

"What is best in life"
Ctrl+f crush Not found

Ctrl+a conanquote.txt
Ctrl+v
tab
tab
enter

66:

The California example you give is complicated and has flaws in your own statements.

Why people came:

Most of your examples come from after actual colonization. Early colonization was the Spanish, first making resupply/repair ports for their treasure fleets which tended to land near near Mendocino. Those were pretty temporary, with the first colonies coming from the Missions. These missions traded hands as they became more important for Spanish Claims to keep out the British, resulting in more funds from the crown. Eventually they formed a loose coastal network for European control. The natives were used as slave labor, with soldiers being brought in to secure the natives compliance. The missions mostly made money off ranching, while eventually a settler population established Ranchos. The big change was the small scale mining for stuff like quicksilver that led to more interest and eventually the gold rush.

"the Salad Bowl of the World" for and empty aquifers: The places where California grows salad veggies is quite different than the aquifer sucking areas. The salad bowl is specifically the Salinas Valley, which is fed by basically two coastal mountain ranges, and flows north from Southern California. Due to the geography, the northern end is cool coastal, while it gradually warms on the Southern end which is more like LA, giving a massive range of climates. However, its coastal mountains means it is fed directly water, not requiring massive aquifer tapping or pumping in water from other basins.

67:

Derp, I hit Ctrl+c instead of typing it after the Ctrl+a line.

68:

North Korea in Space isn't particularly attractive. What happens if the Grand Poobah is a madman?

Amish in Space requires some amount of social consensus. It's something of a Prisoner's Dilemma in that the model works only if everybody's on board with it. Once you get dissent, you've got problems.

Some form of Democracy in Space seems attractive, insofar as it's the the worst system known except for all of the other systems. You could imagine applying all of the various structures that happen in Congress or Parliament (e.g., subcommittees that hold hearings and pass draft legislation up to the entire body), but you still need a way to deal with dissenters who don't want to play the game or who just want to Burn It All Down. It's way, way too easy for one grunt with an electric drill to cause everybody else to have a Very Bad Day.

I figure, the only way you'd be able to establish a real Civilization in Space would be if the underlying technology / physics of the situation was tolerant to failures. Like, one guy with access to standard tools can't manage to take out enough people to make a difference. That implies that either you've got a lot of diversity (e.g., thousands of disjoint settlements) or you've got a hell of a bulletproof design for your one singular settlement. This boils down to something of a numbers game. If 3% of the population die per year due to whatever, and you're growing at 4%, then you're net growing and you're sustainable (modulo availability of underlying resources to support that growth).

69:

Can't remember where I read it, but the genesis of Iain Banks's Culture were fragile space colonies who fell out with the societies that created them and whose inhabitants banded together into highly egalitarian societies. The reasoning being that all the colonies that didn't/couldn't ended up literally self destructing due to internal ructions.

70:

Peelian Principles ??
Much more honoured in the Breach than the Observance I'm afraid, mostly because the politicos & the ignorant public want it so.
See Hillsborough, Rotherham, Avon & Somerset police, etc ....
But at least we pay lip-service to it, unlike the USSA, I suppose.

72:

There are some interesting parallels to how superpowers have implemented strategic submarines.

USA went with a model where no nukes are launched unless a duly authorized order to do so arrive from outside the submarine.

USSR went with a model where the submarine had multiple independent command structures, one nautical, one political and at various times also a semi-religious "ideological".

I suspect the idea was to "seed" the boat with seedlings of the "powers that be" and expect them to work as clones of their parent organizations.

(If USA tried as similar thing each boat would have its own judge and sheriff)

Until the telegraph made instant-ish communication possible, similar models were used by various colonial powers by "planting seedlings of the mother government" as a way to cope with the RTT.

I can see this general model be useful, or at least attempted, with respect to space colonies.

Part of the baggage will be the Earth-appointed "Ethics and Compliance Officer" with his power to veto decisions until Earth can be asked for advice and consent.

Of course you would have to continually "refresh" these civil servants if you want to avoid them "going native" and regulatory capture is a certain thing in such a situation.

73:

"everyone" should have been in quotes.

Obviously everyone living is desirable but not always possible. You certainly don't want sociopaths making them though.

Remember 99.9% of the time you don't get Hannibal Lecter on side, you get an idiot with poor impuse control. The rest of the population can't afford that shit. A well meaning incompetent* is a far better bet.

*for unimaginative but actually competent values of incompetent.

74:

Minor unrelated side comment: it's not terribly accurate to call the Westermarck effect a 'taboo'. Taboos are cultural: you, at some level, have to consciously decide not to do whatever it is the taboo decrees. The Westermarck effect doesn't seem cultural to me: you can still see that any siblings of the opposite sex are attractive (assuming they actually *are*), but there is simply no desire there, regardless of how many opportunities there might seem to be. I can see how you could produce an emotion with cultural imprinting, but not how you could produce the *lack* of one otherwise present, or the lack of a drive (romantic love being, neurologically, more like a drive like hunger than an emotion).

(I suspect the revulsion one feels at the thought of having children with siblings is also hardwired, but obviously cultural programming can cause revulsion at all sorts of things, so this may not be so.)

75:

Please finish that story!

76:

Note: 'The Slow Train to Arcturus' by Eric Flint may be a good read for people here, its on the free Baen CDs. The entire concept of the book is a series of self supporting colonies designed for isolation breaking down. The specific colonies are a mix of self selection and exile, including racial separatists, Amish, the core of the DPPK, and a few others.

The end theme of the book was each of the societies was breaking down, partly just from their social focuses losing skills not valued in their society. (like one society produces skilled biologists, but lacks skilled mechanical engineering talent, etc.)

Cause a monoculture doesn't do well when the optimal conditions no longer exist.

77:

Basically HR for a large company, where the HR at a branch is outside the normal org chart and has duties including acting as the agent for the corporate offices.

78:

Interesting...

Honestly, the first thing that this post brought to mind was decades-old Canadian literary criticism.

No! Wait! Hear me out!

There's a concept in Canadian literature (originally formulated by Northrop Frye and elaborated by Margaret Atwood) called the "garrison mentality."

In a nutshell, the garrison mentality is the propensity of characters in Canadian literature (as well as, to a lesser extent, real life Canadians) to literally or metaphorically wall off the outside world. It's the result of living in an uncaring environment that will kill you if you look at it the wrong way - you shut it out, huddle by the fire, and put into place rules that ensure the walls stay up. If anyone breaks the rules, they're punished, because they imperil everyone else. If you break the rules, if you put the polity at risk, you're out. Because if everyone got to do whatever they wanted, the whole town freezes to death.

Or, well, the whole colony runs out of air.

This is contrasted with the American "frontier mentality," which we're all familiar with - set out for the wilds, rugged individualism, always pushing deeper and deeper into the unknown. No one to say no! I can do what I want, and just leave if I can't! Always a new life over the horizon!

It's the difference between the American "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" and the Canadian "Peace, order, and good government."

Now, where it gets interesting for me is looking at science fiction through this lens. Like it or not, most space colonization fiction is written by Americans. So the metaphor that appears most often in such fiction is the frontier mentality. Which means the way that we're taught to think about such things is in frontier terms - that is, the yeoman space-farmer, libertarian view that Charlie talks about in the post.

Seems to me, though, for all the reasons pointed out in the blog post and more, the frontier mentality isn't terribly useful when thinking about space colonization. It makes assumptions about the environment and society that just don't hold. A different metaphor, like the garrison mentality, seems to make more sense to me. When you need to keep the walls up to keep the air in, coming up with rules that keeps the air flowing starts to sound pretty good. (Though, in reality, spacefarers would come to their own understanding of the world and society - I'm just talking literature)

If nothing else, having more space-set science fiction that relies on other ways of thinking about the world than the American frontier mentality (say, the Canadian garrison mentality or the British island mentality) would give us new ways to conceptualize things. It would break us out of the assumptions set by a group of American science fiction authors in the mid-twentieth century that still seem to hold.

At the very least, it might make for more varied reading.

(Coincidentally, if anyone is interested in reading about these things, especially the garrison mentality, I'd recommend Atwood's Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature - frankly, I think the parallels between the way Canadian authors view Canada as an indifferent but hostile environment, and space as an indifferent and hostile environment are fascinating)

79:

I'll agree that it's complicated, but:

1) The vast majority of people came after the drop-off of the native popluation and their eradication as a controllers of the land. But yes, a major factor delivering resources to the early colony was the military competition between the Spanish and the British, for reasons that had little to do with the colony itself.

2) No, the Salinas aquifers are a very good example of my point here. 99% of the water used for agriculture in Montery County comes from groundwater. It is in a a state of "long term overdraft" due to groundwater extraction for agriculture since the start of the Twentieth Century. The aquifer levels are no longer decreasing, but that's because the aquifers are so low that seawater is intruding. (Central Coast Groundwater: Seawater Intrusion and Other Issues)

The political problem here is that the water is over-allocated to farmers and used for uneconomic activities. So the Californian response is not to address the political problem, because that would require taking on politically powerful groups. Instead, there's a technological fix that uses huge resources, namely to throw a huge amount of money into recycling waste water for irrigation. This equates to a massive wealth transfer to people trying to grow water-hungry crops in pretty arid conditions.

I think my key point is that any political system can be stable if you throw resources into it from outside. See also Cuba under Soviet support, North Korea under Soviet support, and assorted British colonies. When outside input of resources ends, colonies fail. That's why we don't have a solution to Charlie's original question - we don't know what political systems will work for self-sustaining colonies because we cannot build self-sustaining colonies, even on Earth.

80:

Having been a victim of Quaker process more than once, I can tell you that this absolutely would not work. They would put off creating the emergency dictator system because they wouldn't be able to agree on the principle or the particulars of how it would happen. The first big emergency would be the last.

81:

Kill them.

A true sociopath cannot be bargained with and cannot be made useful. Even a dog can be reasoned with in good faith; sociopaths cannot.

82:

Religions or ideologies seem incompatible with happiness in space, though I can easily see how moving to Planet Utah could work for some, so long as no one wanted to jump the crazy ship.

You have a pretty limited definition of "religion."

Hint - Abrahamic religions erupting out of the Middle East to fuck up the rest of the world is a relatively recent phenomenon in the history of human events. Even today there are forms of organized faith which don't involve much if any of the typical antithiest boogie-men that are in vogue today among the "skeptic" community.

83:

Just like autism, sociopathy is not an either/or condition. It's a spectrum.

We now have the decency to treat people on the autistic spectrum as something other than broken and we recognise the value in people who are not entirely neurotypical.

We're slowly getting to the same point with sociopathy, but statements like yours sound just as ignorant as Bruno Bettelheim did when he was writing about autism in the 1960s.

84:

I've seen several people poo-poo "ideologies" in this thread. Guys, everyone capable of making decisions has an ideology. The sneering at the concept of ideology is itself an ideological stance. Of course there would be an ideology in a space colony, and if you leave what that shakes out to being up to chance you might as well flip a quarter to decide if everyone should eat a bullet.

85:

We're slowly getting to the same point with sociopathy, but statements like yours sound just as ignorant as Bruno Bettelheim did when he was writing about autism in the 1960s.

My standards for sociopathy are set by the friends I've had who were raped by their parents. If you're interested in empathy and understanding for people like that, be my guest but I won't join you. Past a given point, I'm not a real cuddly gal. Feel free to bask in your moral superiority, though. I'm sure it feels delightful.

86:

if you get it wrong, you can't walk away.

The reverse (more or less) is also true: if you get it wrong no one can come and help. If you are far enough away, no one can even give advice.

So you need lots of redundancy and the bureaucracy to maintain that redundancy. Not only for the technical systems but also for the people who operate/understand those systems. You need enough specialists so that you are not only able to operate under normal circumstances, but under the worst case scenario (that you want to survive).
I think that this leads to a rather different way of working in the space colony compared to our society: Under normal circumstances there is only a rather small amount of work (in the sense of operating and maintaining the colonies systems, ...) for every specialist. A significant part of the remaining time is probably training. The rest might be free to choose.
But it also means, that the area in which you primarily specialize might not be up to you, but is chosen for you according to the needs of the colony (and depending on the required training at a rather early age).

87:

Three notions I’ve been thinking of while reading this thread.

1. Reputation Economy - This is an important one. Politics is only half the equation. You need economics to put the political decisions into motion. (And vice versa, sometimes.) Money is backed by social convention, not gold, so let’s make that explicit and get everyone on board with agreeing that the money supply is something that should be managed and engineered just like any other critical system. And let’s see if we can use that to incentivize good behavior and possibly create a prosthetic enhancement of Dunbar’s number in the bargain.

You’d want it to be designed to avoid giving GamerGate control of your finances, of course, and probably set up with something that encourages a moderate, steady spending pattern. Perhaps your social points have an expiration date that’s distant enough to let you save up for things, but close enough that you’re not tempted to hoard. You’d also need this to be combined with a form of UBI. Everyone should be provided for with a basic level of subsistence, but excellence and/or hard work should still be rewarded and incentivized. Command economies don’t work, but an economy that ensures you’ve literally always got money in your pocket might. And if the best way to get that money is to do something people note as socially useful, all the better.

Failure mode: more folks decide to go into professional cat meme production than sanitation work. Not sure how to get around that.

2. Hedonism Ethos – As long as you’re not abandoning your responsibilities or engaging in harmful or threatening behavior, it is not the governing body’s business how you seek pleasure. In fact the seeking of consensual, socially healthy pleasure should be a social priority. The more enjoyable life is, the more people will be invested in the system, the less likely they are to want to burn it down. Variability of human behavior suggests that this will require a certain amount of space for ascetic or challenging lifestyles, as some folks just are not happy unless they’re struggling. That’s good—you let them do the shitty stuff and pay them well for it with reputation points.

Failure modes: sooner or later, someone will always ruin a good time and then get self-righteous about how they were right to ruin it since they were only trying to have a good time and shit everyone else should lighten up. Meanwhile, something very, very dark has happened that nobody wants to talk honestly about because it could bring entire social structures into question. See above, re: euthanasia of sociopaths.

3. School is Bullshit – Modern education in the west is basically a warehouse solution to childcare that allows the adult workforce to be away from the home all day. Secondarily, workforce training is forced onto the children. This is why teenage rebellion is a thing: at that age a lot of kids know their being wasted, but aren’t experienced enough in the world to perceive or articulate what’s wrong. Additionally, by segregating teens from their elders except in the pseudo-adversarial sense of a teacher-student relationship, they learn to despise their elders who “don’t know anything” and “aren’t cool.”

In the age of sail, young boys would join sea going vessels as a kind of apprenticeship program. It’s kind of hard to have contempt for the ignorance of the older crewmates who are very visibly keeping you alive, and I think that’s why we don’t hear a lot of stories about 17 year old midshipmen telling the captain (ie, their father figure) where he can stuff it over some trivial nonsense.

You’d want kids to be tracked into productive career fields from an early age. Identify strengths, interests, and aptitudes, and then put them into a program that will prepare them for a variety of jobs within that field. So at around eight, a child gets noticed as always taking on the playground mediator role. When he turns ten, it’s time for him select his preparatory school for eventual career selection, and he’s steered into the social labor academy, where he can explore various sub-fields and a few years later start an apprenticeship and be given increasing degrees of responsibility as he grows into adulthood. (Years later he decides against being a shrink or a police officer as he initially thought he would be and becomes a sex worker instead; it’s a prestigious and demanding field which he excels at.)

The most important and potentially dangerous jobs would be reserved for persons over 21 (or later, if new science pushes the final brain development date back even further) but by the time someone is that age, they will have been trained for their career for ten years. It gives them identity and purpose.

Failure modes: economic changes render entire job fields redundant, but now it’s even harder to retrain and start a new career.

88:

And that's exactly what I mean - this belief that all sociopaths are child rapists, just like all autistic people are Rain Man.

Humans are great at using black-and-white thinking to create out-groups. Examples include the communist scare in the US in the 1950s, the homosexual scare in the UK intelligence services, and Trump blaming Muslims. The source of these scares can be based on some actual risk - there were a small number of Soviet spies in America in the 1950s, Guy Burgess was pretty flagrant, and a tiny number of Muslims are terrorists. But in each of these cases, the response to the risk was dysfunctional and excessive because people are crap at dealing with shades of grey. Or rather, demagogues are effective at taking advantage of black-and-white thinking.

There's your failure mode for a space colony - McCarthyism.

89:

initially, governance will be inherited from and imposed by whomever establishes the colony. It will likely be semi authoritarian in nature, given that most organizations currently interested in space colonies are authoritarian (governments, militaries, corporations)

The speed by which the colony acquires any kind of self governance depends a lot on how self sufficient it becomes coupled with the distance from the sponsoring organization and the cost of exercising force over the colony

For orbitals and possibly Luna, I would imagine the colony will be effectively ruled from Earth for a long long time

For more interesting cases, Mars, the Asteroids, it depends a lot on the details of what "self suffecient" means, but I imagine you end up with a polis where everyone is tightly coupled in order to survive and a region with loose couplings. Mars as example, specific settlements are tightly couple, all the settlements on Mars are loosely coupled.

I think the government would most closely mimic city-states, one of the oldest and most enduring of human governmental forms.

I would not look at North Korea, I would look at Singapore for inspiration

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytMXSLeqFMY

90:

And that's exactly what I mean - this belief that all sociopaths are child rapists

I don't believe that I made that claim. I said that's what my standard was, ie someone who could do something that heinous. Not necessarily that. Don't put words in my mouth.

91:

Re creches, the Spartans solved the "can't sleep with my siblings" problem by getting them at 7 and keeping girls and boys separate, and not letting them meet until adolescence. I've seen claims that they deliberately had the girls and boys exercise naked where they could see each other in adolescence to encourage sex, but I've not seen proof.

That said, I think the obvious people to look at here are the Inuit; the Arctic is a pretty punishing environment. It's pretty collectivist. I 100% agree that the 1950 style American "wild west in space" is just ludicrous.

92:

"My standards for sociopathy are set by the friends I've had who were raped by their parents."

You said that a true sociopath cannot be reasoned with and should be killed.

Am I mis-interpreting your statements?

Can we at least agree that human behaviour exists across a host of different spectrums? And that behaviour at the extreme ends of those spectrums can be troublesome, but there are advantages and disadvantages wherever people end up on those spectrums? And that deciding to kill people based on how you think their brains might work is a morally risky approach to take?

93:

Sorry Bill, I don't think it's going to happen.

94:

I can buy the idea of sending a manned expedition to Mars. Our kayak-equivalents are capable of doing that. We might even be capable of getting the people back home. But a thousand people? We can probably get them to Mars. What we can't do with our kayak-equivalents (we're centuries away from the equivalent of a sailing ship) is get everything else to Mars. If we very conservatively assume that each individual will need a ton of supplies while they boot up a working society we end up with two-million pounds of stuff we've got to get to Mars... not counting whatever is carrying the cargo and spacecraft are expensive.

Does anyone have decent numbers on this? I've seen estimates (based on the Falcon Heavy) of around 18,000/pound to Mars. On the other hand the Mars One people are estimating one-billion/person to put someone on Mars, but I don't know how much equipment they're planning to send with each person.

This is not economical.

95:

There's also the consideration that interplanetary technology is dangerous. A colony on Mars wouldn't be much danger to Earth, but anything of consequence capable of moving about the solar system and using resources is extremely dangerous. So there would need to be a lot of layers of control.

If that control fails, we could get some interesting societies. Perhaps a small group of people or even a single person controlling the automated production power that's equivalent to a large nation today.

Or a sort of feudalism where everything is owned by an aristocracy or nobility, and the layers of society have various rights, duties, and privileges.

Or insane solipsistic hermit-kings cocooned in stealthed asteroid palaces waiting for any signs of someone else so they can launch a barrage of relativistic kinetic weapons at them....

96:

Psycopathy seems to have a heritable component. Might be time to put genetic cross-over on hold for a while. Find a genotype that tends to be mentally stable and clone it (Cyteen-lite).

Would not expect this as an immediate solution, but after a string of lost habitats over several decades it might become appealing.

A habitat can phone home for creativity if it needs it. It's not like these habitats will be cut off from communication.

Maybe they shouldn't even be in the business of making babies for some centuries, just like other "vitamins" (to borrow a word from Seveneves).

97:

Ii>Even today there are forms of organized faith which don't involve much if any of the typical antithiest boogie-men that are in vogue today among the "skeptic" community.
Show, please - don't believe you.
See also ancient post by Charlie on what happens when bhuddists go bad ....

98:

First, not all Buddhism is the same so toss that canard right out. Second, what exactly about the existence of a higher power is inherently incompatible with spaceflight or colonial living? Note, not the practices of right wing fundamentalists of the Abrahamic religions, I mean just basic faith in a higher power, or even simply a spiritual connection with the Universe? What makes religion so uniquely dangerous?

99:

@Charlie at 50:

"Medicalization of the normal range of human variation is a very dangerous trend.."

Oh wow. Can I vote for you as Lord Protector? I'd like to see this trend stomped.

A friend whose brother is a top Japanese translator tells me that a melancholy has always been a part of that culture. Mono no aware, lacrimae rerum, which is close to the Portuguese soudade, German weltschmerz. Not at all the same thing as clinical depression, which I know is serious bad news.

The Heian noble or samurai, whom I know from primary sources, was always blubbing into his sleeves, and the reverse was considered reprehensible insensitivity unbefitting a gentleman. The reverse of our "Real men don't cry" schtick.

Along now come American pharma companies, he says, and define mono no aware as a medical condition requiring their products. Intensive advertising.

Pohl & Kornbluth rule...

100:

@Whomever 91:

Yes, the classical Greeks exercised naked, which gives us our word "Gymnasium", or place of nakedness (go on, thou fashionable gym, I dare you) and the Spartans were unusual in having girls do nude sports too, but I never heard that they stated any rationale for this, least of all to overcome the whatsit effect and encourage sex. And they would have to state it, and the Spartans were not much into leaving us written sources; even if Plato gave us a reason, which he doesn't in "Republic", that would be biased speculation. If you can prove otherwise I shall listen with great interest.

101:

While searching for examples of stable microsocieties in somewhat hostile regions it seems to me that the monasteries of the middle-ages were somewhat stable. Although there were of course differences in the different orders. Some depended on external labour of serfs, other took "ora et labora" seriously and used it to build new colonies in undeveloped land. e.g. the Cistercians.

Of course monasteries leaned on influx of new members from the outside and had no family life on the inside. Maybe that could be integrated, Kibbutz-style. And the big question is the one of the adherence of ideology. Monasteries had one in Catholicism and the Order of St. Benedict. I don't see a modern equivalent, apart from a religious like devotion to life support systems.

102:

A habitat can phone home for creativity if it needs it. It's not like these habitats will be cut off from communication.

Not necessarily. If you are in the Orbit of Earth, yes. If you are on the other side of the moon you need a relay. If you are going farther out, at some point time-lag becomes a problem, so that - at least in the case of an emergency - you cannot rely on communications. And you also implicitly assume that there is a (almost?) identical copy of your spacecolony on/around earth, so that the problem can be reproduced and the solutions can be tested, before they are send to the colony and implemented.

103:

@Schattenrein 101:

The Benedictine vows are often misquoted: not poverty, obedience and chastity but poverty, obedience and STABILITY. Chastity is taken as read. St. Benedict's "school of love" aims to create love (caritas) towards those you are bloody well stuck with. No cherry-picking: a monk told me you gotta learn how to love the most absolutely annoying member of the community. This is the opposite of the frontier mentality discussed above, no riding off into the sunset. Then you were a girovagus, with lots of bulls and decretals cracking down you, not entirely non-comparable with the outlaw.

So, given the resource shipping problem, the necessity for a code other than our current "fuck you, I can do as I like" and the impossibility of going anywhere else, the original Benedictine vows are actually pretty Martian.

The main purpose of the monk was to save his own soul and pray for everyone else, let us call that demon interdiction or air defence services. If you posit some sort of dinosaur-killer warning system out on Mars, that would be quite similar. :-)

BTW, yes, the Cistercians did more with their own hands than the Benedictines, but NB they soon developed a corps of lay-brothers (conversi) to do the grunt work.

If I can be pedantic again, our image of the nunnery comes from the Counter-Reformation, which was extremely hard-assed about sex. In the period I know best, the 12th, the point was to stop spare aristo women _breeding_ and messing up the inheritance, so nuns could be quite the party girls. There is a reason Shakespeare used "nunnery" as slang for brothel. Not so relevant to the Benedictine-Martian equation perhaps.

104:

Well, that's how it ought to work out.

Now let's consider how it actually will.

One sociopath, or a handful if you're settlement is big enough, will remain unmedicated; and they run the place. They are in charge of medical management, dose compliance monitoring and mass surveillance. They always have been and they're very well positioned to ensure they always will be.

Posit a society where this is in the open, or one where it is not; take care to keep your distance from anyone who makes a noise about it in the latter.

Meanwhile, is it just the unwanted sociopaths who get the enthogens? Is there a docility effect upon the merely troublesome?

Me, I work with high-functioning sociopaths; and yes, you can negotiate with them. Providing you have something that they want or need, and they can't set you up in a destructive competition with equivalent providers, they are your bestest best friend ever.

105:

This ramblesa bit, but there's a point to it...

SORRY hout-out to Greg, who mentioned Annarres, the anarchist colony with a rigorous collectivist ethos - no personal possessions, and all work for the common good - in Ursula LeGuin's The Dispossessed.

That society existed on a hostile planet, right on the edge of habitability: the accumulation of resources by one individual or class would not only push an underclass of the less-fortunate into poverty and death, it would doom the entire society.

The Inuit, as mentioned by @Whomever, are indeed 'pretty collectivist'. They vary in the degree of collectivism, but the settlements and hunting bands of the very far North, right up at the limit of where mammals can exist, have a 'take what you need' approach that differs markedly from Western preconceptions of 'my property'.

In a less-hostile, but still difficult environment, the Kibbutz movement founded self-sustaining settlements by collectivism (including the famous collective creche arrangements that freed up labour that tgey really, really needed).

And I've seen multiple mentions of Quaker collective decision-making and consensus: a necessary condition for collective labour an the embrace of common property.

My point? Consider how far the rugged individualists of Elon Musk's Silicon Valley elite will travel down that road.

I think that they would rather die than give up *any* personal possessions; and if I'm wrong I doubt that they'll go all the way to 'all in common' - not far enough, anyway, to survive in that environment.

I do not think that Elon Musk and his would-be fellow colonists can embrace a society where no one individual can 'own' the tractor and the Air Plant and impose a rent for using it.


106:

Most minor of quibbles: the phrase "Failure is not an option" is attributed to NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz, not Apollo 17 Commander (and last man on the moon) Gene Cernan. In fact, it was not uttered by anyone in the context of any of the Apollo missions (13 or otherwise), but rather was created by the "Apollo 13" screenwriter Bill Broyles. This hasn't prevented NASA from slapping it all over everything from coffee mugs to baby clothes, of course. It is awfully catchy...

107:

predictive text had a whale of a time with that... I'll repost it.

108:


This rambles a bit, but there's a point to it...

Shout-out to Greg, who mentioned Annarres, the anarchist colony with a rigorous collectivist ethos - no personal possessions, and all work for the common good - in Ursula LeGuin's The Dispossessed.

That society existed on a hostile planet, right on the edge of habitability: the accumulation of resources by one individual or class would not only push an underclass of the less-fortunate into poverty and death, it would doom the entire society.

The Inuit, as mentioned by @Whomever, are indeed 'pretty collectivist'. They vary in the degree of collectivism, but the settlements and hunting bands of the very far North, right up at the limit of where mammals can exist, have a 'take what you need' approach that differs markedly from Western preconceptions of 'my property'.

In a less-hostile, but still difficult environment, the Kibbutz movement founded self-sustaining settlements by collectivism (including the famous collective creche arrangements that freed up labour that they really, really needed).

And I've seen multiple mentions of Quaker collective decision-making and consensus: a necessary condition for collective labour and the embrace of common property.

My point? Consider how far the rugged individualists of Elon Musk's Silicon Valley elite will travel down that road.

I think that they would rather die than give up *any* personal possessions; and if I'm wrong I doubt that they'll go all the way to 'all in common' - not far enough, anyway, to survive in that environment.

I do not think that Elon Musk and his would-be fellow colonists can embrace a society where no one individual can 'own' the tractor and the Air Plant and impose a rent for using it.

109:

Falcon Heavy is far too small; SpaceX's focus for Mars, after the initial plant-the-flag run, is something called the Mars Colonial Transporter -- semi-reusable, with a design payload of 100 tons to the Martian surface (and Cthulhu knows how much to LEO: if you want to build orbital solar power sats, this is the booster you want).

They've been working on an engine for it since 2014, but it's not going to fly until the mid-2020s at the earliest, if everything goes smoothly: they're apparently planning to go fully public on their Mars colony transport infrastructure in September.

What we know is that the Raptor engine allegedly runs on methane/LOX and is credible enough that the USAF is putting some money into development of an upper stage version of it; the implication is that a single Raptor should produce as much thrust as all nine of the Merlin engines on a Falcon 9 first stage, and MCT will use a cluster of nine of the things burning in parallel, and per published figures it should produce about a third the thrust of an F-1 off the first stage of a Saturn V (but with an Isp at sea level of 321, rather than the F-1's frankly poor 263 -- in other words, it's significantly more efficient).

Later versions proposed will cluster two MCT first stages (nine Raptors each) as strap-on boosters for a core, so 27 Raptors burning = about 8-9 times the thrust of a Rocketdyne F-1 = about two Saturn V-equivalents on the pad. So 100 tons to Martian surface landing isn't totally implausible (although this thing would be a total monster -- the largest launcher ever assembled, dwarfing Saturn V, Energiya, and the N-1).

Vapourware status: about as vapourish as the Saturn V was in 1961, i.e. a lot of paper studies and a road map but not much bent metal (yet).

110:

@Nile at 108:

I like your reference to rent-seeking at the end, that key feature of the modern economy. Yes, I get the feeling that the Heinlein libertarians' attitudes to that are, shall we say "visceral". They strike me as wanting to get into space primarily BECAUSE then they can charge us for breathing. It's not a regrettable necessity for them, but a consummation; what is regrettable is that on earth, there is all this air about that no one has yet managed to monetise. Make sense?

111:

Of course monasteries leaned on influx of new members from the outside and had no family life on the inside.

Riiiiight. (Which is why there are all the scandalous pre-reformation tales of boisterous monasteries and nunneries as seething hotbeds of vice, monasteries run as luxury hotels with attached breweries for the second sons of the nobility, nunneries used variously as jails for uppity/unwanted women or as brothels ... nope, no sex here, no pope ever plotted to pass on the papacy to his son, none of That Sort of Thing ever happened.)

And that's before we get into the bloodstained history of the Nichiren monasteries in Japan.

...

If you want "no family life" you might do better to look to the Shakers. Good luck finding any Shaker colonies that are still in business, though.

112:

Gene Kranz, not Apollo 17 Commander (and last man on the moon) Gene Cernan

Brain fart (and I didn't pause to fact check it). Sorry!

113:

I think the discussion of legal issues and systems is paying too much attention to the tail and not enough to the dog: It focuses on criminal and quasicriminal aspects, and not enough on resolving disputes between "colonists" (using the term just as convenient shorthand) short of bloodshed.

In most of the Western world, the attempt to unify civil and criminal law has been an utter failure, and is largely adhered to out of misplaced loyalty to tradition. Ironically, this is even more apparent in the civil-law nations, with the distinction between inquisitorial and umpire-like judicial functions, than in the common-law nations... but that's an abstract argument for another time. Nonetheless, a coherent bureaucracy and legal system is going to require noncriminal means to resolve disputes concerning:

* agreements ("contracts") between colonists, or between colonists and third parties (e.g., Earth-bound contractors); dealing with the space equivalent of force majeur is going to be especially interesting

* injuries caused — by some standard — between colonists that do not rise to whatever level of fault or seriousness the criminal system requires

* business practices other than contracts, whether we're talking about the equivalent of "false advertising" or usury or whatever

* reputational and personal rights that are outside the scope of the criminal system (imagine "Gawker in Space" for a moment...)

* regulation of "family" structure — there will be divorce lawyers, guys, and therefore it will be ugly

* intellectual property rights... and corresponding obligations, which will be magnified in an isolated and ultrahostile environment

Analogues of existing criminal-justice systems are extremely poor models for dealing with any of these issues. They're all necessary consequences of any bureaucratic system that does not enforce syndicalist collectivism for everything, however, and I can't see even that being accepted without question.

Of course, hypothetically there need not be a "civil" law system at all; there need only be a regularized method that (a) minimizes bloodshed and (b) is accepted as a reasonable parallel of justice/fairness for the majority of disputes.

114:

To my mind, one of the things that is needed before we can write the rules of society is a basic understanding of what the structure of the economy/support system is.

1) How is the colony put together? Something like a 1950's ring colony is going to have a much lower tolerance for eccentricity than a bunch of family-sized linked habs. (if you're tinkering with the only atmosphere plant, you will be spaced. If you tinker with your own Atmo plant, you will be watched, but tolerated)

2) Does the colony trade, or is it entirely self sufficient. If it trades, what is the nature of the trade? I suspect Ceres-Iron will end up with a different social order than University of Vesta.

3) how much of available labor is necessary to fulfil basic survival needs? Assuming the colony can trade, this is also broken into "how many people do I need here?" vs "what do I need to buy from back home?"

Some ways I could see this shaking out: (mix & match, not all or nothing)
Colonies form in clusters, each with very different social expectations, and youngsters get shuffled around to the place where they best fit in.

Colonies have a custom of decadal constitutional conventions. But only the social underclasses get to have a say. Own more than the median net wealth? no vote for you!

Monks of the Circadian Order: Maintaining the lifesystem is a holy task.

communism/communalism for certain commodities: Everybody gets 1.1 person-days of air, every day. You can't save it, but you are guaranteed air to breathe. Luxuries are still traded.

I definitely feel like the social structure will place more value on Japanese-style slow, steady improvement than silicon valley-style "blow up the boxes"

115:

Sex life and reproduction are of course different things.

Uhm. Why do you think that I advocated "no family life" if I wondered in my post how it could be integrated? (And why the harsh tone?)

116:

@Zen Accountant, 114:

I really like your idea of 1.1 days air plus tradable luxuries.

It reminds me of the citizens' wage concept or whatever you call it in the Anglosphere. The Swiss have just voted on it, negatively, but in my experience people don't know much about it. It replaces means-tested benefits, thus saving admin, and if you want more, you have to work for it; if not, you won't actually starve or freeze to death. Not quite.

Speaking of the Japanese, I guess they would make the best habitat colonists, what with their being used to small space and thinking of themselves as their brothers' keepers.

117:

@Schattenrein at 115:

"Sex life and reproduction are of course different things."

Indeed, and to repeat myself (103) on 12th- century monasticism: "the point was to stop spare aristo women _breeding_ and messing up the inheritance, so nuns could be quite the party girls."

I have come across references in the _Heike monogatori_ to medieval Japanese monks being married.(But as OGH says, also militaristic nutters)

The whole hands-above-the-bedclothes-or-else obsession is 19th-century, AFAIK not earlier.

118:

Air:
I've been thinking for a while about the transition to a post-scarcity economy, and I feel like some commodities will go non-scarce before others do. Necessities will hopefully be among the first, but not necessarily. If we had our economics revamped, we could possibly make some foods post-scarcity in the US, but not others. (Plus, we have to find a way to charge environmental externalities back to the producers before we make it happen.)

Japanese:
Some of their social norms are well-suited for space colonies. Others are not. I assume that it's possible to create a variant on japanese social norms that would exclude many of the incompatible ones, but don't know enough about designing cultures instead of evolving them.

Ideally, we'd have a finished science of organizational behavior, but I think that's about as likely as Hari Seldon's Psychohistory. As it is, I suspect that the early LEO colonies (where people can run home after failures) will serve as testbeds until we find an potential organizational culture that works for a space colony.

119:

I think a lot of this conversation is way too focused on the most temporary sort of emergencies. That is, a teenager opening both doors of the airlock, blowing a hole in the pressure hull with a bomb from chemistry class, that sort of thing.

I think we can take it as a given that any sort of functional space colony, whether it's on Mars or in orbit, is going to be built to easily handle problems like this.

The initial development base won't (like ISS, only the most qualified personnel will be sent) but once the colony has a significant number of the hoi polloi, especially including children, you can take all of this sort of thing as a given:

  • All pressure walls in the civilian habitat section will be double-hulled. The maintenance space in between will be jam packed with every sort of alarm and camera, and strictly off-limits to children and anyone questionable.
  • Airlocks will be even more off-limits and alarmed.
  • Habitat modules will be in independent sections, where each section (and each living area, possibly each bedroom) will have an airtight door which gets inspected regularly, and an emergency air supply good for a week.
  • Citizens will be well trained in how to reach a safe place in case of some emergency, and emergency personnel will actually exist.
  • Critical systems (e.g. the nuclear reactor, farms) will have redundant backups capable of keeping things going for months or years, plus spare parts and machine shop capabilities.

In other words, teenagers will find it impossible to randomly kill everyone. Criminals or the known mentally ill will similarly be constrained, and something like a small bomb or poison gas might kill a family or two but otherwise not kill everyone.

The real risks in a colony like this aren't going to be the sort of "teenager opens both airlocks" sort of thing.

There will always be the possibility of a lone lunatic getting into some sort of critical role in power or life support, and irreparably damaging the nuclear reactor or something. Even this shouldn't be immediately fatal though, since redundancy can also be taken as a given: if the reactor is offline, you can always run life support on solar power, and so on. And after that, nuclear techs always work in teams of three...

So basically, what I'm saying is that the real risks are not these sorts of things. They're social problems: the government is incompetent and neglects all those basic survival things above. Neglect isn't a short term problem, it's a long-term one. The colony doesn't fail because one pipe broke: it fails because the pipes keep breaking until society can't afford to fix them any more.

So the question isn't "how can people live in space with teenagers" -- if you can't solve that, you can't live in space at all. It's "how can your administration be trusted to keep society running when failure to order enough sewer pipe solder 3 years in advance could be lethal."

120:

First, without reading any of the other posts.
Models already exist for government at all scales, from tiny villages to vast empires. Ideally an American founded space colony would be set up as it's own US Territory, old west style (other countries would have other native models). It would have it's own governor, courts, marshals, and colonial council. As for distributive justice it would have to ensure everyone had a basic level of needs met: there would have to be a safety net. But total equality of outcome might not be necessary, or even desirable, for stability. Just as long as the game seems fair and there's hope of social mobility, and above all as long as everybody at least gets fundamental needs met, it shouldn't be important that some have more luxuries. The exact form taken would depend on economic details. If the colony is totally dependent on shipments from Earth then you basically run it like a military base. If the colony actually produces much of it's own needs from big infrastructure--like power plants, mines, and factories--then it might be best to run them like co-ops. Rural models already exist for these. Cottage industry should be encouraged and regulated. So there's the base nuclear power plant, and everybody gets a ration of power, but if you build your own solar panels out of local stone and start trading to your neighbors, more power to you.
As for paying back the home planet, nobody expects to get profit from a space colony. You set it up so your grandchildren can migrate there, not so they can squeeze it. That's the first thing that has to be accepted to make one work. If it can be made self sufficient, and welcoming to immigrants, mission accomplished.

121:

I'm assuming we will cover the solar system in relay satellites in short order.

There will be no homesteads cut off from word from outside for months at a time.

122:

@RD South 120:

" You set it up so your grandchildren can migrate there, not so they can squeeze it."

And capitalism is sooo in practice at thinking that way. Right?

Among this-planet multinationals, repatriation of profits is the core value, so that countries who hinder it get the smackdown. I believe it was the same in the days of the VOC and John Company.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but my impression is that grandchildren migration was not really what the first American colonies were about, but rather making a quick doubloon.

India was all about graft and extortion from a then functioning economy, which we wrecked, and insofar as we exported people, it was a temporary export of crooks and scam artists, who came back as "nabobs" and built the National Trust stately homes with their loot. None of this is relevant to Mars, is it?

123:

Interesting thoughts about education. I've always thought each stage of education should be structured to lead to a marketable skill. Graduation from secondary school should require qualification in some trade such as auto mechanics or plumbing. Then post secondary education should be a series of increasingly advanced qualifications. The first year of a medical doctor track, for example, would also involve qualification as an Emergency Medical Technician, the second would qualify you as a paramedic, the fourth would qualify you as a Registered Nurse, the first or second years of medical school might also qualify one as a Nurse Practitioner. Just as an example. So nobody college tracks then major's aimlessly in Art History only to work at Starbucks. Every step of education is structured to be a step toward job qualification. Maybe not suitable in civilization, but on a space colony...

124:

I see that as a really stupid idea in our current civilisation, but you might be onto a better idea for a smaller space one. Think of Delaney's Job 1 (superscript 1, or Job 2 (superscript the 2, no I don't know how to do it) thing in "Stars in my pocket like grains of sand". So you'd end up with a primary job and some secondary ones.
Which presumes that your primary job doesn't require many years of concentrated study and practise to be any good at it. Are you sure this is likely to be the case in a space ship/ station?

I mean it might well be that most jobs will be automated so they can be done by a minimally trained crewmember, but on the other hand maybe not, and anyway as has been discussed here before, there is a certain basic level of expertise required to run a civilisation, and by extension, a space colony.

125:

Historic models won't apply. There are no natives to exploit, no lucrative tobacco to send back. Perhaps colonies will be founded for many reasons, which would dictate how they should be structured, but profit is unlikely to be one simply because barring an unusual turn in the path of technological development space isn't likely to be profitable in the conventional sense. Groups will band together to go there, but not because there are spices.

The US evolved from colonies founded for a variety of reasons. For one, it was sold as a place to come turn a profit, if you bring skills, courage, and hard work,

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Smith_(explorer)#Promoter_of_American_colonization

but the underlying motive of those doing the selling was something else. The profit was a bait, but perhaps the real goal was to open up new lands not subject to the relics of feudalism. The germ was already there. Others were religious migrants.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilgrim_Fathers

And then there were those who wanted to just get to be lords, which they could never be at home. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plantations_in_the_American_South

The John Smith model is the likely one for space. The investment is up front. A group finds they can mine gold on the moon, they raise the money to found a colony, they ARE the colony and they OWN the colony. It's a corporation and the workers (inhabitants) are the stock holders. Essentially a co-op. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cooperative

126:

What makes religion so uniquely dangerous?
The ingrained belief that a pre-set collection of "rules" written before the event are a compete, total & inerrant guide to ALL circumstances, no matter what, coupled, always with a vicious set of punishments for "transgression".
Rather than, err, looking at the actual evidence ....

127:

No
&
No
Try reading some history, not fantasies

128:

To which, add universal national service (conscription) for late teens/young adults. But it won't be into anything we'd recognize as a military: it'd be into a civil defence corps, with basic training in essential survival skills followed by duties relating to infrastructure maintenance and pre-emptive repair -- spotting leaks, rust, damage, applying the sort of fixes that a conscript can be trusted with and calling in the NCO-equivalents for anything more challenging. Evacuation drills, first aid, space walks, lots of exciting stuff with a low-key agenda of polity-building. It provides the social integrative benefits of conscription without all the drawbacks (ahem: state-directed mass murder) and ensures that in event of a real disaster, all able-bodied adults know what to do.

129:

After spending a year at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, and doing my normal thing of absorbing institutional knowledge, my enjoyment of most all space opera was ruined by extrapolating from by experience to that. SPAAAAACE doesn't compute as "Star Wars" or even "Star Trek" to me anymore, it looks a lot more like "Dark Star" (traditionally watched every August at South Pole) and "Outland". I think the two most salient points I took home, which apply to near future space work, are the horror of Colony-Metropol dynamic for the powerpoint age and the unintentional cultural seeds your founders establish/your founders may not be who you think they are.

I regret that Nick Johnson's blog, Big Dead Place, has disappeared since his death. It was the best chronicle of the fundamental mismatch of expectations from the corporate daily/weekly/montly/quarterly management drivers vs. living in/coping with a place that was actively trying to kill you. The desire to fulfill the demands of people asking the equivalent of "Did you get the TPS report?" when you have a 1km walk in the snow, in the -65C dead of Antarctic winter, to a remote building, to see if this particular piece of equipment procurement bought but was never intended to deal with these kinds of conditions can be fixed, is pretty damn low. While revolution is not in the cards when you have total dependence, there is fundamental resentment at the home office's seeming utter inability to even imagine what life at the remote site is like. The callousness of sending a reminder to attend the company picnic/potluck/ice cream social/office inanity just highlights how remote you are and that your managers back home don't even try to care.

This starts to creep into you thoughts that your management doesn't care, doesn't understand. That you know better. You know how to take care of things, not them. In Antarctica, people acculturate to this *fast*. If Apollo 13 happened with this mindset, there's a good chance the recommendations that came in the wake of Cernan's "Failure Is Not An Option" speech would be humored by the astronauts, ignored, and they all die trying to be on-the-scene competent.

When people think of Antarctica, they normally picture Shackleton and the Brave Gentleman Explorers stage of the continent's history. However, they never really stayed and thus never built continuity of culture. That didn't happen until after the International Geophyical Year in 1957. That's when year long habitation on the continent began and all the governing international bodies were established. But the culture on the ground isn't established by Antarctic treaty, nor the first explorers, not even the transitory researchers. For the American program, the foudning culture are the 1950-1980s enlistedmen of the Seabees of the US Navy.

Please allow your imagination to go wild with the Venn diagram of Navy, inventive construction workers, in their early to mid 20s. Accordingly, the base culture of Antarctica has a firm fraternity-like stamp. SEE ALSO: the 300 Club, the Polar Plunge, and caches of decades old porn buried in the snow.

130:

@Greg Tingey 127:

No what?

My Benedictine monastic points? The VOC? The Raj?

I have spent most of my life reading serious history on the 12th century, though early-modern is not my particular expertise, nor the 19th.

Try acquiring some manners.

131:

...how to work for yourself...

An extension of this. For a very long time, there are going to be a limited number of types of jobs, and need to fill those appropriately. The system has to deal with the need for -- just to make up an example -- a dozen programmers to produce new code, and maintain old code, to keep things on an even keel. So Sam gets aptitude-tested at some point and is potentially the best coder the colony has. But Sam wants to brew beer and run the colony's bar, a job that Susan has had for the last 20 years, and Susan has no interest in giving it up.

I used to manage a group of prima donna technical types, and keeping everyone happy while doing all the jobs that needed doing in the time available to do them was far and away my biggest/hardest task. Running a colony is going to be a whole lot harder.

132:

> So nobody college tracks then major's aimlessly in Art History only to work at Starbucks. Every step of education is structured to be a step toward job qualification. Maybe not suitable in civilization, but on a space colony...

On any colony large enough to be self-sustaining (and thus fit for permanent habitation as opposed to semi-permanent shift work ala Antarctica research stations) you would need some kind of Humanities track. Historians are important. So are art historians. If you wanted to control the ratio of STEM to Humanities you could do worse than by making the Humanities an extremely demanding course of study that has a limited number of slots allocated to it. Making it prestigious and competitive and acknowledge that it's both a critical enterprise and also one that is secondary to immediate survival needs sounds about right. Maybe add in some mandatory cross training for them in STEM fields, and for art courses for STEM sorts to avoid over specialization and contempt for other fields.

The current trend of dumping on liberal arts degrees as somehow inherently worthless would not be a sustainable practice--is not a sustainable practice here on Earth, even! Just look to any random Silicon Valley horror story where some CompSci grad thought he could Revolutionize The World just by applying some basic algorithmic thinking and an app to a social or economic problem that had bedeviled us for centuries and oh man why hadn't anyone thought of that before?

Except lots of people had thought of it before. Any given problem probably has a historical antecedent. Who's to say it's not an art historian who will have the training and the knowledge to raise her hand and point out that the Engineering Council's cool new idea for a social integration app will lead to very unpleasant results?

Lemme put it this way: one of the major markers in the historical record of when humans became different from other animals is the emergence of art. It's fundamental to who we are as a species. Having people who study it is important.

133:

As far as looking to the Antarctic example for law enforcement I, umm, don't recommend following the American example. Making your station managers special deputy US Marshals for contingency purposes, without much in the way of training how to do this properly, with a supporting legal framework similar to the Wild West and hot pursuit rules into tribal lands, is not ideal. It all really revolves around "Exactly how quickly can I get an emergency flight to get actual law enforcement from the FBI down here to get this all worked out?" and that *really* doesn't fly for the offworld colonies.

Let's not get into the ugly international treaty stuff for Antarctica, the US selectively asserting sovereign authority over operations at their stations, and multinational personnel at these locations who no one properly has sovereignty over thanks to the said treaty. What is crime if there are no applicable laws by virtue of location?

TL;DR answer: you are bound by contract law from the employment contract you signed. The life and trials of Weyland-Yutani Corporation personnel starts looking verrrrry familiar.

134:

The ingrained belief that a pre-set collection of "rules" written before the event are a compete, total & inerrant guide to ALL circumstances, no matter what, coupled, always with a vicious set of punishments for "transgression".

That's not religion. Like, that's really obviously not religion. That's how religion manifests sometimes, but not all times. Nor is that kind of behavior unique to religion. What you're talking about is dogma which sometimes comes with religious faith, but that isn't a prerequisite for it. You're clearly speaking from ignorance.

135:

Me, I work with high-functioning sociopaths; and yes, you can negotiate with them. Providing you have something that they want or need, and they can't set you up in a destructive competition with equivalent providers, they are your bestest best friend ever.

I was having a pretty horrible day yesterday, so I'll own up to saying some things I don't want to stand by after a good night's sleep.

Still, my basic question remains: why oh why would you ever want to share a closed ecosystem with someone you couldn't trust? And from what you're describing, it sounds like trust is not something you can safely extend to someone like that.

136:

Actually, small (Dunbar's number) societies aren't a bad idea, but you need tech that's very different from the current level. Among other things you need AI's handling all the messy details.

Do remember, however, that tribal societies are frequently quite intolerant of all their neighbors, and warfare isn't rare. So while I think you *might* be able to construct such a society and have it viable, the people would essentially be pets of the AIs, even if neither of them realized it.

OTOH, I think societies with optimizing AIs (see, e.g., Alan Dean Foster's Collegatarch in "The I inside") are more plausible, more stable, and less expensive to run. Also that more of the people would be happier. This does require an approach to a panopticon, but not based around the model of a prison, but rather based around the model of the servants of an aristocracy.

137:

You might want to look into the history of the children of the Kibbutz. Communal raising of children is not a good idea. Not long term. But communal child-care works well...or can work well.

This is a bit peculiar, since in many tribal cultures there is a lot of communal child raising, but perhaps children can detect who their relatives are. Or perhaps the Kibbutzes just got something basic wrong.

Please note: The problem is that the children raised in Kibbutzes didn't want their own children raised that way. So it's not stable. It did, as you suggested, strengthen their ties to their community.

138:

Universal conscription for habitat maintenance and emergencies makes a lot of sense.

Add to that: being drummed out of the civil corps for bad behavior would essentially make one permanently unemployable. After all, we can't have someone who failed basic safety service working on a farm, or driving a mining robot by remote control... And you wouldn't want them to work with children now would you? And everybody will know, too.

This does seem to point to one way an underclass of disaffected people appears. In a larger colony, there would be more jobs for such people, but in a small colony you'd be a social outcast. Shape up or you won't be happy.

139:

@Charles H 137:

Just an idea, unlike with medieval history I am a fantasist not an expert here (cf 127):

Might it be something to do with the communal raising being by non-kinsmen? My understanding, see caveat, is that in tribal systems they don't really care whose children are whose, as they are all related. That would not be the case with the early kibbutzim. The shomeret laila is not literally your auntie.

140:

Yes, Art History has a valuable place in society. You just shouldn't drift into it accidentally because it seems cool. It should be part of a track to a Museum Curation job, and if you drop out after two years you still have your qualification as a docent or restorationist or whatever focus you chose for the practical side of your first two years (which was accompanied by theory etc...).

141:

Beer is a luxury. The bar should be a sideline, not anyone's main job. It should be clear to Sam that as a star programmer he will be able to afford plenty of beer and brew it himself as a hobby, but as a bartender he will not be able to afford to sample his own product. And it should be made clear to Susan that she needs to take care in case of an accident. Bars are dangerous places. Things happen, equipment malfunctions.

142:

I like the idea of a religious community where the religion is something like “Cosmism”, and the place is a commune of space freaks who are on a sacred mission to open the High Frontier. Ever hear of the Overview Effect? The whole community would be high on that. They would talk about the Cosmos like theists talk about God. Imagine a bunch of Carl Sagans, but a bit more wacked out, and you have the idea.

143:

Discipline would be strict with the space cultists. Eskimos supposedly pushed sociopaths off the ice to solve that problem. Space cultists could send their anti-socials into the Void via the nearest airlock.

144:

It makes perfect sense: I chose not to make a long reply about rents and rent-seeking, and restricted my answer to the general concept of individual and communal possessions.

But you've raised it, so let's start with an economist's definition of a rent: the extraction of value created by others.

This simple definition implies a question that 'free market' fundamentalists refuse to discuss: why do rational actors enter into economic exchanges in which there is an inequitable distribution of value?

The answer is that one or other party is compelled to enter into the transaction on whatever terms are offered by the rent-seeker. It's not a free exchange, it's not a 'market', it's an exercise of power: someone needs a place to live and the supply of housing is constrained so that a narrow class of landowners can charge a rent that drives the other party into penury; someone owns the only tractor (or historically, the horses and the plough) and you cannot farm without them; someone owns the air plant (historically, the water mill) and there is some structure in society enforcing their sole ownership and their ability to charge a rent.

Historically, this leads to the extraction of value from productive citizens that could and should have been reinvested in improvements to production; and every society that has ever made the leap from subsistence and mass poverty, to productivity and prosperity, has done so by the benefit of some event that weakened or destroyed or bypassed the existing structures of restrictive rent-seeking.

Where is this relevant in science fiction?

Annarres. An environment so hostile, so marginal for the sustainable survival of humans, that an economic structure of rents diverting value from essential work - and everything's essential there, they have no 'slack' at all - will kill them all.

We could propose that the owner of the tractor or the air plant on 'free market Mars' is an enlightened citizen who reinvests the rent in education and environmental maintenance, applying rational self interest; but that's 'enlightened aristocracy', not a free society, and possibly a benevolent dictatorship.

The economic life of citizens - or denizens, or slaves - in such societies consists entirely of coerced transactions where the value they create is largely taken from them. Need I point out that such societies - and any economy dominated by rent-seeking - tend to have abysmal productivity and chronic underinvestment?

...And I will return to the point about 'Enlightened aristocracy' and benevolent dictatorship. In practice, it's dictatorship: that 'reinvestment' into education and environmental management, in a Libertarian utopia, consists of asset purchases and an extension of rent-seeking ownership. Eventually all economic power becomes vested in one individual, or class, and they dictate the terms of all transactions and the economic lives of every serf.

However it plays out, it is just as inefficient as the worst of Soviet 'Collective farming' and their centrally-planned economy, or more so; and it isn't good enough to build a survivable, sustainable community in an environment with no air and no existing biosphere.

145:

I like this idea.

The concept of 'National Service' for all citizens works very well: consider Annarres the limit case for that - the citizens' entire lives consist of labour for the common good in an environment so harsh that there's no 'slack' for a diverse economy of leisure.

The initial phase of a Mars settlement will look like that, if it succeeds at all.

Now fast-forward to the future in which space habitats and planets can be rated on the duration of their 'National Service' obligation.

There are failure modes: a brief mandatory year might mean that it is a successful and luxurious habitat, with all the systems built and self-sustaining, attractive to the Earther emigrant who wants a life of ease when they have served their year. Or it might represent mismanagement, a lie about the quality and safety of the habitat, decaying and declining while they skimp on maintenance.

A twenty-year indenture would imply a harsh environment, a colony in early-stage establishment, or a habitat out at the edge of human exploration...

...Or it might imply that someone profits inequitably from the coerced labour of the service corps: they are useful, and a sociopath would see that as a resource for exploitation.

What mechanism could exist, on interplanetary scales, for disenfranchised service graduates to get their benefits if they are simply bundled onto the next freighter or told 'Serve another decade'?

Conscripting criminals and debt defaulters into extra years of service is a very bad idea, but I'm sure it would be tried.

Finally, what do you do with people who are too stupid, or inept, or reckless to graduate from basic training and put in x years of satisfactory service?

A society with mechanisms for creating non-citizens - denizens, or felons - has failure modes that play out very badly in space habitats.

146:

You set it up so your grandchildren can migrate there, not so they can squeeze it
No
Because the ethic & objective(s) are different, OK?
Some of your intermediate points may be & sometimes are correct but:
India was all about graft and extortion ....
Also no.
There was a lot of it, but that wasn't what it was about.India has a common language, it no longer has thuggee & suttee & the "Western" legacy of the enlightenment is still there, though it's struggling with the disparate sex-ratio these days - it's changed for the worse since approx 1980/90.
You are concentrating ONLY on the bad aspects & pretending that the good ones didn't exist, I'm afraid ...

147:

Not even wrong.
Do I really, really have to spell it out?
Look around the planet, right now, never mind the almost-numberless historical examples to show that religion behaves & has always behaved in the past, if not exactly, then "close enough" to the model I have posted to show that it is the case.

You said: That's how religion manifests" & then claimed that it wasn't religion.
You what?
It walks like a duck & it quacks, what is it, then?
And dogma only sometimes comes with religious faith ... really?

148:

@Greg Tingey 145:

"You set it up so your grandchildren can migrate there, not so they can squeeze it
No
Because the ethic & objective(s) are different, OK?"

Your 'No' there is no skin off my nose, because the grandchildren bit wasn't me, and I was negative on it too.

Do get it straight whom you're trashing.

149:

As for community ties, there seem to be a lot of bad stories based on growing up and living in small communities where everyone knows each other's business and people who stand out can have a bad time of it. Not to mention it being okay to predate upon out of towners who are just passing through.
So really your small space community needs also to be part of a wider network of habitats, which have some sort of enforced rules between them all.

150:

Presumably recovering the body for materials-recycling after the event, I assume?

151:

Or people who are very very bad at "obeying orders" unless & until they have learnt to respect & those giving the orders as both competent & honest .... [ like me ]
Who will then balk & refuse & behave like Kipling's mules unless & until they are given good solid reasons for respecting authority & I don't mean obey purely out of fear.
Could have some really serious failure modes there, I think.

152:

Regarding kids, kibbutzes and conscription, probably there would be some kind of intermediate solution like the Boy Scouts organization.

153:

Beer is a luxury. The bar should be a sideline, not anyone's main job.

Disagree strongly, at least once we get past societies limited to less than Dunbar's Number.

Put it this way: "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" isn't just a proverb, it's an iron law. Humans didn't evolve to fit a life of 80 hour working week drudgery, and recreation is important to us. As is socialization. I know in the USA, thanks to Prohibition, the tradition of bars/saloons as social hubs has been broken and for the most part bars are places you go to get blitzed, but in those cultures that retained the appropriate social tradition pubs (or bierkellers -- think Germany) are a secular venue for the sort of cultural mingling and interchange that Americans seem to associate with church-going -- with the added bonuses of no dominant ideology and a mild CNS depressant that reduces emotional inhibition.

On a space colony you don't want people wandering off and getting blitzed on moonshine at home or in small groups in inappropriate/unsafe places; you want a safe space for controlled social interaction and relaxation, with a trained supervisor on duty who can spot someone who's had too much and cut off the flow until they've drunk some water: and who can also put up with semi-incoherent drunks emoting volubly at them and has enough training to tell when someone really needs a referral for psychiatric counselling rather than just a chance to get a buzz on and vent for an evening.

154:

It needn't be a bar either, it could be any socially sanctioned method of relaxing, whether sex or weed or lsd or rhythmic dancing to music.

Reminds me, one of the less human things in Cherryh's 2nd Foreigner trilogy was the endless ship walls without decoration or much colour at all. The ship humans seemed to be missing a big chunck of what we regard as normal humanity, and had been bred and brought up to be more machine than human. Which might be necessary for living in space long term, but I think not, and it certainly can't be asserted as being necessary given the complete lack of information about long term societies in space.

155:

Now fast-forward to the future in which space habitats and planets can be rated on the duration of their 'National Service' obligation.

Note that national service is never free. If you approximate a working life to 40 years -- call it 50 years if we postulate treatments for most of our existing ailments but no cure for old age -- then a 12 month period of universal national service sucks up 2-2.5% of your labour force. If it's "guard labour" -- that is, defensive/curatorial rather than primarily productive -- then that's, if not wasted, then at least a drain on your productive capacity.

Mind you, if it's for civil defence on a space colony you could argue that the work would need doing anyway and conscription spreads the pain around.

You could even take a leaf out of Heinlein's book -- specifically "Starship Troopers" -- and make completion of your national service/civil defense period a prerequisite for voting. That way, you've got an electorate who are at least minimally aware of how fragile their polity's infrastructure is, and what it takes to keep everything running. As long as it's universally available -- and people who flunk out of it in their teens are allowed to re-try later after a timeout, and there are provisions for people of limited ability to get their ticket by doing as much as they can -- then that might be a useful long-term survival mechanism for a space colony.

(A huge issue is infrastructure decay, when the folks passing legislation are so divorced from day-to-day maintenance that they don't bother funding essential works. Ahem, road/rail bridges in the USA ...)

156:

Ahem: there's a historical argument that suttee was largely a response to British colonialism (patriarchal society tightening control in the household when denied control outside it; also arrangements to prevent inheritance of assets by the Wrong People, i.e. the widow, in the course of resisting British encroachment). And it is worth noting that India's total fertility rate is dropping below replacement in parts of the country and is converging with replacement in the big cities; only a few provinces still have high TFR, and they're dropping too.

157:

Blind reliance on received wisdom happens in religion, sure. But it also happens in other human social structures.

So, it's not a flaw of religion, but of human beings & human society. Releasing a powerful viral meme which instilled atheism in 100% of humanity would not make humanity behave decently towards each other. It would just change the tune that people are marching to, and the person in front playing the tune.

158:

Not even wrong.
Do I really, really have to spell it out?

Did you know that needlessly being an asshole doesn't make your argument stronger?

Look around the planet, right now, never mind the almost-numberless historical examples to show that religion behaves & has always behaved in the past, if not exactly, then "close enough" to the model I have posted to show that it is the case.

I'd suggest you do the same since history is very much not on your side, but it's pretty clear you'd cherry pick and claim victory.

You said: That's how religion manifests" & then claimed that it wasn't religion.
You what?
It walks like a duck & it quacks, what is it, then?

Yes it's easy to make someone incoherent if you chop of their quotes and then respond with mock confusion, so very easy. It also shows you're arguing in bad faith.

And dogma only sometimes comes with religious faith ... really?

So, hi. My name is April, and I'm practicing pagan with sincere faith in a higher power, and I don't have a religious dogma. I'm far from the only person I know who has a similar experience with their faith. My faith is far from the only faith that has this as a feature. Which you'd know if you bothered with literally an hour of reading on the subject that wasn't written by someone out to "disprove" religion or whathaveyou.

You're a bigot, Greg. You obviously have no interest in learning about the lives of the people you sneer at, except to selectively remember choice bits of rhetorical ammunition. After this post, I'm going to stop talking to you about this because life is too short.

But don't worry, there's hope. I used to be an atheist, too. Someday you too might grow out of it.

159:

Given the necessities of distant space colonies, and the high liklihood of most of the founding generation having an engineering background, it seems pretty likely to me that colonists will think of their governing institutions in systems terms: they have inputs, throughputs, outputs, and feedback. Of course, any governing process can be assessed in those terms, even ours, but they aren't designed that way.

As systems go, space colonies will of necessity be highly distributed ones. There will be no strong center holding the colonies together, no "Federal System" (as the term is used today) is practical across distances that require months or years to cross. Yet colonies will almost certainly be dependent upon the importation of people and resources to maintain viability, either from the home world or between each other.

In a highly distributed system in which there is also a high degree of interdependence, a strong centralized government will not be sustainable (ask Imperial Britain). The solution is that every "unit" within the network (colonies in this case) operates according to more or less the same programming instructions (a charter or constitution). In other words, there's a "standard set of practices" for governance that everyone understands. So, when a supplier arranges for delivery of goods from colony A to colony B, they can know, more or less, what barriers might exist to entry and how to game them.

The situation would be quite similar to the New World in the early 18th century. The colonies themselves will likely start out quite small, village size, and therefore informal control mechanisms will be strong and effective. Unlike the New World, this is likely to remain the case even as they grow- space is limited, and you cant just walk off into the wilderness to escape from conflicts and problems. If you want more living space, you have to build it, and that isn't an individual affair, it requires the collaboration of large numbers of people. Singapore is more likely to give us a model of life in the future than, say, the American Colonies.

The greatest conflicts are likely going to be in terms of the relationship between the colonies and the home world. Over time, solutions to problems that are unique to life in space will begin to deviate from the standards set by Earth, and that will lead to a sense of independence. A major source of friction could be those loyal to a particular nation back on Earth, and those who begin to feel that the colonies should transcend all that. Ethnicity, race, religion, language and social class will all play into the melange of competing interest groups. Again, much like the New World. And like that time, social divisions cannot be allowed to undermine group survival. Within each colony, value frameworks are likely to be quite homogenous (at least compared to what we are used to). Extreme deviance is likely to weeded out quite brutally. You don't do the work assigned to you by the community, you don't eat. Steal, injure, kill, and it's out the airlock. Adapt or die.

The problem is that approach doesn't scale up. As Charlie pointed out, as numbers increase, you need formal political processes to resolve disputes between groups of strangers. And bureaucracy to administer the solutions. But this time, everyone has life experience living in artificial environments, and I think that introduces a unique and all-encompassing change. As colonies grow, they will surely try to devise a distributed, high interdependence system within the colony just as they had one between them. The reason we didn't do that in our own history is because of the room to expand provided by the wilderness. In space, there is no "wilderness", no frontier in that sense. So a weak administrative center that loosely couples disparate semi-independent groups within the colony. Something resembling the "hub and spoke council" system you find in contemporary protest movements, except the community retains the power to impose consensus on all parties (they will have graduated to forced labor as punishment by this time).

No polity has ever been able to enforce a single, coherent ideology on a human population of any reasonable size in a sustainable way. So, it's doubtful that they will develop a single belief system based on anything one set of principles. They cant afford wars among themselves, so tolerance will have to win, or they go extinct. That means they have ways of patching up differences in values and mental frameworks. Formal conflict mediation processes exist that rely on neutral third parties taking each sides position statement and reformulating them until common ground is reached. This has a long track record of working here on Earth (See here/a> , also Google/Scholar: "Conflict Management Research"). In space they have the added incentive that they must all learn to collaborate or die. The high stakes, counter-intuitively, means that coercive methods of enforcement will often be uneccessary.

The main problem here is that the folks back on Earth wont understand any of this. The new approach to governance will appear subversive, and yet may start propagating back into the homeworld. Because something similar may be happening back there- as the environment collapses, agriculture breaks, and the population declines, new forms of governance and problem solving will be needed there too. People on Earth will be open to new ideas, and receptive to anything that is perceived to "work". The former colonies could stage a cultural reconquest of the home planet. We may need space settlements not merely as a source of resources or as an alternative place to live, but as a free space in which new ideas can percolate. We all end up becoming "closed ecology engineers".

Incidentally, I'm writing a series of short stories based on these ideas. Sorry for the wall of text.

160:

Complete with the bullying & the paedophiles, I presume?
Yes, that was a nasty snark, but I think it was justified ... given my experience of the former ( for about 3 weeks before I got out) & many tales of the latter ...

161:

( & #154 as well ...)
Maintenance on US MEtro-systems is difficult to get money for, & when it does break the response is: "You broke it (they didn't of course) why should we give you more money?"

India.
Agreed re re-placement-rates dropping - excellent, but the treatment of women in many parts of India is now significantly worse than even 20-30 years ago, the revolting Delhi bus-rape is not the only case ... all down to selective infanticide etc.
Disagree re. suttee, but I think we'll just leave that for now?

162:

That really was a vicious & personal attack, wasn't it?
Your hypersensitivity to my pointing out that religions are shite (Including communism, of course) was ever-so-slightly over-the-top. And tells us, the readers, a lot about you, too.

with sincere faith in a higher power, and I don't have a religious dogma
Er ... so where is the basis for your "faith" in a "higher power" then?
It's no more grounded in actuality then any other BigSkyFairy meme.
Oh, & I hope you did notice the total & utter self-contradiction in that sentence?

You're a bigot, Greg. You obviously have no interest in learning about the lives of the people you sneer at, except to selectively remember choice bits of rhetorical ammunition.
No
I'm a mocker.
I poke really sarcastic & admittedly rude remarks. If you can't tell the difference between that & a bigot, it's a bit sad.
Oh & in case you didn't realise, I'm an escaped christian ... I know almost all of their lies & tricks, which play across into the other major religions, too.
As for the "lives of people I sneer at" ... I'm profoundly sorry & sad that they delude themselves with such destructive lies & blackmail, to which they willingly submit.

OK?

163:

> What are the political problems that would arise from the extension of an Earth-based political framework to governance of off-world space colonies?

Thinking about it, I think this is at the root of the problem with the original question. The real question is not 'how to extend our frameworks to off-world colonies', but rather, how to form working and resilient frameworks right here, now.

Let's face it, what we have doesn't work, doesn't have the confidence of anyone, puts forward a bunch of failed lawyers not fit for middle management, is totally corrupted, and is sliding further down with each passing year.

And companies aren't any better, with the dictatorship like structures that will shoot an employee for 1p extra profit, and thus have no loyalty or trust.

Forget off-world, they are relatively small and easy in comparison. Instead you need a framework that can work at the 10s of millions level, against a background of rising unemployment and collapsing ecosystem.

164:

I've been reading The Expanse books lately, and the things mentioned in this post are the ones that annoy me the most. (I still like the books.)

165:

Given the necessities of distant space colonies, and the high liklihood of most of the founding generation having an engineering background

Stop right there.

A key point to notice is that, for first generation colonies at least, the founders are effectively not the people who live there but the institutional administrators back on Earth who pay the bills. Yes, the residents/crew are going to have a much higher proportion of engineers than you'd get in any terrestrial polity other than a military detachment like a nuclear submarine, but the people who pay the bills? Bureaucrats, or bureaucrats in the pay of entrepreneurs.

Now go back to Funranium's comment (around #129) and re-read, carefully. (He's someone who's been there and seen how that particular structure works.)

In a highly distributed system in which there is also a high degree of interdependence, a strong centralized government will not be sustainable (ask Imperial Britain).

So this explains why the British Empire disintegrated within a generation, rather than lasting roughly 350 years? (I'll notice that the revolt of the New England colonies was not the only colonial revolt the empire faced; it was just the biggest one that succeeded. The vast majority failed. It didn't hurt the revolutionaries that the UK had a less-than-competent government at the time and had just fought a gruelling world war with a rival world-empire.)

If anything, dependence on the home world for critical specialized supplies will keep the space colonies "in line", for some value of "in line", for quite a long time. If you have a population of 100,000, and a life-threatening but treatable medical condition with a prevalence of 1 in 100,000 hits one of your citizens, it's more sensible to import the special medication they need than to set up a pharmaceutical plant to manufacture it locally -- multiply by 100 for small, highly specialized, life-critical items.

No polity has ever been able to enforce a single, coherent ideology on a human population of any reasonable size in a sustainable way.

Oh, I dunno.

There are some nearly universal belief systems that are endemic among iron-age or subsequent populations. Belief in some sort of justice system and the desirability of fairness in the application of law is one of them; law has a lot of the trappings of religion (in some cultures it is religion). Mind you, there's some evidence that a propensity for fairness is hard-wired into primate nervous systems at a low enough level that all primates we've experimented on so far, from humans through the great apes to macaques and other monkeys -- share it. (It may be a necessary adaptation to living in tribal groupings larger than one family.)

Belief in money seems to be another of them, even though money itself seems to be a relatively recent invention (per Graeber, it originated circa 3000BCE in pre-numerate temple accounting processes akin to abaci; it's modern form is considerably more recent).

And if you put "fair dealing" and "money" together and you get a low-level platform on which to build contract law, which can be elaborated in a variety of directions (the Anglo-American model is far from inevitable) but which generally offers a low-violence way out of the "why don't I just kill you and take your shinies" problem in social organization ("what can I give you in exchange for those shinies of yours that I want, without risking my neck in a fight?").

And, speaking of energy, that brings us to another unpalatable aspect of space colonization: war. It's infinitely easier to totally destroy a rebel colony habitat than to occupy and control it. And because of orbital dynamics, any colony outside a planetary gravity well is going to have the ability to make devastating kinetic energy weapons (take random space rock 10 metres in diameter, strap low thrust/high efficiency motor to it -- or even just paint one side of it black and the other side white and adjust it's spin -- and you have a megaton-yield nuke-equivalent).

This makes a revolt against remote/Terrestrial assertions of sovereignty a very dangerous, high-stakes game of MAD. So I'm guessing that rather than a "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" scenario, the road to independent colonies would be very slow, very cautious, and a lot like the way Canada and Australia are no longer ruled by British governors-general. (There's still a G-G in Canada; they're a ceremonial post that acts as a proxy for the Head of State, which is also a ceremonial role, and spends most of her time living in London -- actual power lies with the Canadian government, and nobody apart from the USA gives Canada any shit for being a time-share monarchy.)

166:

Let's face it, what we have doesn't work, doesn't have the confidence of anyone, puts forward a bunch of failed lawyers not fit for middle management, is totally corrupted, and is sliding further down with each passing year. And companies aren't any better, with the dictatorship like structures that will shoot an employee for 1p extra profit, and thus have no loyalty or trust.

We didn't get there overnight, and any fix is going to have to be organic rather than revolutionary (unless you're in favour of building gigantic pyramids of human skulls).

I think part of the problem is that representative democracy tends to suffer from a democratic deficit once the number of representatives exceeds Dunbar's number (high-end estimate -- political reps tend to be people-people) and constituency populations exceed some higher threshold after which it is no longer possible for all politically engaged constituents to personally know or interact with their representative. My guesstimate for this population limit is somewhere between 2 million and 6 million people.

You can make it work a bit longer by piling another Dunbar Level talking-shop on top of these mini-talking-shop populations, but that only takes you into the 100-500 million person range at best, and by the time you get to the high end signals from people at the bottom of the pyramid are swamped in the media noise.

(Actual existing example of this breakdown: in the USA there are 2 senators per state, for 50 states. Population is ~325 million, so roughly 3.25 million constituents per senator. That's far too many people for any individual to have a hope of getting a direct hearing, absent special connections. Yes, senators have staff to help them interact with their constituencies, but they're more likely to deal with political structures at the next level down: a US state averages 6.5 million people and has it's own legislature, and that's where a citizen might have at least some hope of knowing their local representative, but it's already perilously close to blowing out Dunbar's number if each rep in a 100-seat state senate has to rep a population of 65,000.)

And of course another huge part of the problem is that the USA effectively gave artificial intelligences citizenship rights without most of the responsibilities back in the 1890s, and they're better than humans at lobbying for attention and getting what they want and they've largely infected the rest of the world with a framework they can thrive in at our expense.

167:

The Internet Archive seems to have at least part of bigdeadplace.org. How does the blog differ from the book version?

Also, thanks for the perspective.

168:

It seems to me that a legal framework would become part of the substrate on which a colony runs. Isn't it therefore quite important to get rid of the privileged status of AIs in the law that applies to the off-world societies? Otherwise the same failure states that have been attributed to sociopaths in this thread would seem to apply to emerging multi-agent systems in such a society. And I cannot see how one could prevent such systems from arising, whether they are called Thursday Movie Club or Domination, Inc., in any group of even slightly autonomous humans.

169:

but the treatment of women in many parts of India is now significantly worse than even 20-30 years ago, the revolting Delhi bus-rape is not the only case ...

Are you sure of this. In many cases of these kinds of things it seems to me that better reporting is a major cause of apparent increases in activities.

When the only source of getting news into our out of an area is walking out and telling a story, many things "never happen". Especially compared to how information spreads today.

170:

Isn't it therefore quite important to get rid of the privileged status of AIs in the law that applies to the off-world societies?

Yes.

And this is one of the obvious failure modes of near-future attempts at space colonization: the entities most likely to want to create them are governments running on the (neoliberal) Washington Consensus model (state/corporate symbiosis with a puppet-show democracy up front) or, worse, uber-capitalist entrepreneurs. And while I don't think Elon Musk is a sociopath -- founders are generally obsessive but if they're building stuff they're not purely in it to maximize personal gain -- he, and anyone else in his position, is used to swimming with the sharks. Which means baby sharks might not be noticed entering the new fish tank ...

171:

Perhaps defining self-sufficient/sustaining in the context of a space colony will be interesting. Here goes:

At the level of the settlement, there would certainly be a high level of equipment redundancy, and it would be spatially distributed. This is already the case for life-support equipment in dependent outposts in hostile environments. It seems reasonable to say that later phases of civilisational infrastructure must also be both redundant and distributed.

It's a really long way from, say, Ceres, to anywhere else at all. You aren't, as you say, walking home. But perhaps part of what it takes for Ceres, as a body, to be self-sustaining is for there to be somewhere to walk to. For there to be multiple, sustainable settlements within reasonable survival reach. Distributed redundancy, at the level of polities.

This suggestion brought to you by the Inverse Conway Manoeuvre; Conway's Law asserts that organisations are constrained to produce systems which are congruent with their organisational structures, and the Inverse Conway Manoeuvre suggests that organisational structures be revised to be congruent with the technical systems they create or maintain.

172:

If you take Dunbar's Number as, say, 128, and split it in half so that each node sees 64 peers that they are representing and 64 peers in the next level that they are working with, you can organize your structure all the way from neighborhoods up to full colonies.

Neighborhood: 64 people
64 neighborhoods: 4096 people, a village
64 villages: a city of 256K
64 cities: a county of 16 million

Your neighborhood rep knows everybody in the neighborhood and everyone in the village council. The village mayor knows all her reps and everyone in the city council. The master of the city knows everyone in the council and everyone in the county legislature.

Three steps from people on the street to the top of the chart, with everyone at a given level able to form community bonds with everyone else at that level plus the entire group they represent. One more step gets you quite close to the current population of the US, and another comfortably exceeds the likely Solar System population of the early 3000s.

173:

FWIW I remain an atheist, yet I agree with April here.

Many atheists seem to be constantly making a category error on this topic and deeply misunderstand the history of ideas, missing the importance of continuity with the tradition in arriving at the rational/empirical toolkit we actually have. And that for most people religion isn't a belief system, but a cultural practice and venue for social expression. Consider the community songsters of Aldous Huxley, who clearly saw its forms as irreplaceable components of social life.

I've said before here that if you believe in something so strongly you're ready or even eager to kill people in the cause of promoting it, then the problem most likely isn't with the thing you believe. There's a rapaciousness we all seem to possess that forms of organised belief, particularly forms that encourage Othering people seem to trigger. But I like to think that while we are all as bad as that, so too we are all better than that and have the capacity to (falling back on old fashioned existentialism for want of a better way to put it) transcend the constraints on our situation and see things as they really are, at least if we have the information available and a willingness to see things from a range of perspectives. There are no privileged viewpoints, but we can learn our own biases to a limited extent. That is not the same as saying all ideas are equal, though.

Look by way of contrast many Christians seem to believe that because they are saved, and their version of salvation downplays "good works in this world", they are under no compulsion not to behave like arseholes. But their existence doesn't invalidate that the Christian tradition and study of ethics led to Kant.

174:

I am perhaps a first-time poster, but a long time reader of your blogs and books.

Concerning this post in particular, and the comments in general, I have the impression that an habitat is supposed to adopt american norms and laws, and be created by the USA.

But, I see other possibilities : perhapsEuropean Union effort. i will propose one society created on french laws. The constitution has in its article 74 the following text :

The Overseas territorial communities to which this article applies shall have a status reflecting their respective local interests within the Republic.
This status shall be determined by an Institutional Act, passed after consultation of the Deliberative Assembly, which shall specify:

- the conditions in which statutes and regulations shall apply there;

- the powers of the territorial community; subject to those already exercised by said community the transfer of central government powers may not involve any of the matters listed in paragraph four of article 73, as specified and completed, if need be, by an Institutional Act

- the rules governing the organisation and operation of the institutions of the territorial community and the electoral system for its Deliberative Assembly

- the conditions in which its institutions are consulted on Government or Private Members' Bills and draft Ordinances or draft Decrees containing provisions relating specifically to the community and to the ratification or approval of international undertakings entered into in matters within its powers

The Institutional Act may also, for such territorial communities as are self-governing, determine the conditions in which:

- the Conseil d'État shall exercise specific judicial review of certain categories of decisions taken by the Deliberative Assembly in matters which are within the powers vested in it by statute ;

- the Deliberative Assembly may amend a statute promulgated after the coming into effect of the new status of said territorial community where the Constitutional Council, acting in particular on a referral from the authorities of the territorial community, has found that statute law has intervened in a field within the powers of said Assembly ;

- measures justified by local needs may be taken by the territorial community in favour of its population as regards access to employment, the right of establishment for the exercise of a professional activity or the protection of land ;

- the community may, subject to review by the central government, participate in the exercise of the powers vested in it while showing due respect for the guaranties given throughout national territory for the exercising of civil liberties.

The other rules governing the specific organisation of the territorial communities to which this article applies shall be determined and amended by statute after consultation with their Deliberative Assembly.

Excuse me to cite this long text, but it gives several basics points (and I will add other linked to basic constitutional and administrative law).

0. Before, one argue that, the Deliberative Assembly mentioned, would be created by a prior law, perhaps after a modification of the Constitution, no creation from the roots.

1. The Authorities of the State : a) A representant of the State : Prefect/High commissioner named by the Government and replaceable at will b) Police under his authority c) Judiciary independent of him, but the judges would be named by the government with the advice of the CSM (High Council of the Judiciary) and would be not lawyers (judges and lawyers are educated differently) d) A Rector or its representative directing the Education sector (no elected council e) Sectorial heads under the authority of the Prefect : Industry, Civil Security, Housing, Social Services

2. Elected Council : For example Municipal Council elected by all adults electing its mayor. Their powers : the MC has general competences on its affairs. The mayor has two functions he is the executive of the commune and he is the agent of the state witnessing weddings and deaths. All their act could be either subject to the approval of the prefect or he could demand their modifications or removal.

3. The Judiciary : Two sections on station civil law and penal law. NB No jury except for crimes.
Appeals would be treated by earthside courts at first. Administrative Law has different judges.

I am tired and will stop to precise the rules for the habitat. But I must insist on one point, the life onboard will be prosaic, no great heroic feats.

175:

Other than leaving room in each nodes dunbar list for family, friends & former co-workers, I like this. (say, reduce it to 32 from 64) With space colonies, you are probably also able to tailor your cell sizes to the social structure. Meaning, your basic hab module will either hold, or combine with others to hold, your smallest cell.

On the higher cell levels, I would probably cut down the span of contact even further. If it takes hours to visit a nearby city, I don't know if you could effectively maintain Dunbar connectivity with 63 other cities without some fairly forced social rituals. (it's the 57th of the month, time to call Mayor FitzRodriguez of New Sheffield... God, I hope he doesn't natter on about his ambulatory rosebushes for the whole hour again.)

176:

The old Big Dead Place blog had so much more content on it than the book. The book was a fairly cohesive tale going back and forth between big picture structural insanity and the personal scale of "normal people don't go to the Ice". The Frontierwatch section in particular had been the best and most unflinching clearinghouse of information about what was going on down on the continent, between ALL the Antarctic programs and latter day explorer types, and whatever bullshit may have been happening at the corporate contractor level and the governement program level.

Many people hated his site for "making the Program look bad" or "this is the kind of stuff that gets our funding cut by the assholes in DC who don't get what it's like". The Antarctic program has absolute control on access to the continent and thus who gets go there and report as well; this tends to paint a rather rosy picture of the Ice, focusing on the beautiful environment and Sober Scientists to Scientific Things in a Difficult Circumstances. In short, they make sure that the propaganda line on what life is like in Antarctica is like goes out, not the day to day madness and structural, decades old problems. They aren't fond of a counter-narrative.

My POV on this has always been that if you don't like what you see in the mirror perhaps you should get to work on that instead. On deeper reflection, you might not like how and what they try to fix what they see and don't like.

177:

I don't think the future contains politically independent entities in the free-floating parts of the solar system. Ever. Because anyone running around out there doing free maneuvering is inherently playing with wmd's, and worse, they're playing with wmd's popularly recognized as such. So basically, if you want a rocket-ship, you are going to have to be accountable to the people at the bottoms of the gravity wells, because if you are not, they just will not let you build it. The people who live downside on Europa or Mars or whatever, can negotiate their independence, but the belt? Forget it. This only way this doesn't hold is if the planets have a death ray capable of blowing up any asteroid strike.. which, okay, they might.

I mean, if beamed power and beam riding becomes important enough, the earth adjacent solar power satellites and laser systems could easily become quite ridiculous even without any explicit military intent.

178:

That only works if the distribution of ideas and action works primarily from the bottom up - if the top level of the hierarchy is empowered to impose on the lower levels rather than act on the directives that bubble up, then you have a system that encourages rule by disconnected elites.

The closest analog that I've experienced is the party caucus process in the US. My caucus this time around had around 20 people, for a precinct with roughly 1500 registered voters. There was time spent voting our preferences for candidates and forwarding party platform ideas. We sent 4 delegates to the county convention, the next level up, where there were roughly 500 precinct delegates that voted again on candidates and platform notions. 133 delegates went from there to the state convention, rinse repeat, and 77 will then go to the national convention. At each level there are local organization duties that are more or less carried out by the same pool of people that were delegates.

The candidate nominations are a function of math - add up the votes and in the end somebody wins. The creation of the platform is more nebulous, but amounts to a glorified suggestion box, that higher levels of organization can ignore at will. To a large degree the options for which candidates are available on the various ballots are also a result of recruiting and selection by higher levels as well. This year, the Democrats' national bureaucracy had a few moments of disquiet, but things finally look likely to tick along as expected. The GOP got owned by the Trump phenomenon, but it was unusual in that the national party was OVERRULED in a process that was supposed to theoretically be a honest reflection of the electorate and directive to the party's voters.

The species historically (and perhaps innately) really likes to settle into hierarchies, even in situations that have mechanisms to establish broad consensus. If a member of the Pan-Planetary Council has more authority and autonomy than Edna, the local alderwoman, then there will necessarily be an increasing disconnect in governance.

179:

> A thousand people on Mars by the middle of this century looks
> quite possible, on current developments. (Elon Musk just
> set a deadline for the first boots on the Red Planet: an unmanned
> Red Dragon landing in 2018 with NASA cooperation, and Musk
> wants to send a crewed vehicle by 2026. And the tech roadmap
> looks sound, if optimistic (it doesn't include downtime due
> to failures on the critical path).

No doubt any participants in the Mars expedition will have to sign
a draconian Non-Disclosure Agreement before they're even allowed
to **see** the Non-Disparagement Agreement they'll subsequently
be required to sign.

Hush hush, sweet Martians. ;->

180:

{166} Not to be overly pedantic or anything...

I think Our Gracious Host's closing comment is referring to Santa Clara Cty. v. Southern Pac. R.R. Co., 118 U.S. 394 (1886), in which the Reporter of Decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court — not, to be excrutiatingly and pedantically overexplicit, the Court itself — declared that as a matter of law:

The defendant Corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which forbids a state to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Id. at 394–95. Justice Harlan's decision itself does not discuss this particular predicate issue, merely assuming it as a the equivalent of the Parallel Postulate; neither, for that matter, do the briefs of the government entities, and the railroads' briefs mention it only in passing. (This was during a period in which the written briefs were treated as mere previews of what would happen at oral argument; the dominance of the brief over oral argument began a couple of decades later, and by 1916 greatly exceeded anything found in UK practice even today. No transcript of the oral argument in Santa Clara Cty. has survived.)

The "artificial intelligences" in question are corporations, and the bad-schoolboy-Latin translation of "incorporate" is "to give a body." From a theoretical perspective, I'm much more interested in a coordinate question that the courts have evaded every time it has been before them (which, admittedly, is not many, because lawyers are scared of the question): If corporations are persons under the Fourteenth Amendment, how do we reconcile share ownership in corporations with the prohibition of ownership of "persons" under the Thirteenth Amendment? And one can only imagine the civil rights struggles lurking behind "Mike" Holmes/Wintermute-Neuromancer etc.

This is an example of what I was getting at in {113} above: The means we choose to resolve private disputes short of bloodshed eventually dominate those we choose to resolve state-versus-individual/entity disputes short of bloodshed.

181:

Successful political structures will be strongly shaped by the industrial structure. A post-scarcity AI world is more likely, and probably more likely to colonize successfully. It is less interesting.

Colonists are assumed to be significantly radiation resistant, generally immune to the effects of microgravity, (possibly excepting pregnancy) and genetically modified to present minimal levels of mental illness and a calm disposition. Traditional humans simply aren't adapted to live off of Earth and the required genetic modifications seem likely to be possible well within my lifetime.

Habitats are assumed to not require politics during construction.

Habitats are assumed to be extremely redundant and, where possible, failure-adverse. Eg, on a planet or a largish asteroid, living quarters are > 20 m below the surface, with multiple access points and redundant airlocks. Many small fission piles provide backup or primary power. Means of production will be maximally decentralized, with the probable exception of advanced electronics. For underground construction, they can most likely be made sufficiently safe that any one person will have difficulty doing significant damage. Orbital habitats will be less secure owing to materials constraints. Edible food will be available from vats. Tasty food will be a luxury item, available from centralized manufacturing. Significant chemically powered environmental backups will be present. They will sometimes be poorly maintained. Feel free to quibble, but I'm not willing to live in a glass bubble with vacuum outside or hope that the local fusion plant doesn't die. Besides, radiation resistant is different than radiation immune.

Privacy rights will be largely dead - with pervasive home automation and monitoring bracelets/cellphones linked to a wide network. The freedom to stockpile wall-damaging weapons or flammables will be absent. The mentally ill will be identified and treated in secure locations. And, yes, if you're having trouble managing with Prozac, you're in the secure location. There may be a tradition of infanticide for children who fail screening for nontreatable ailments. Having poor impulse control will rapidly land you in either a secure location or the toxic people group.

A representative democracy appears most suitable to arrange for periodic transfers of power. Organizing group size based on some fraction of the Dunbar number is tempting, but is limited by overly long hierarchies. 3-4 levels is likely to be the most a colony can sustain effectively. It might be best to organize the bottom layer in groups of 64 families, each electing 1 representative to the local council and to then send representatives to the area and colony councils. Those can scale as the cube root of the population.

Social cohesion is likely to be important for safety. So, the option of being groupless will probably not exist. (ie, if your local group hates you, either you move in with your in-laws in another group or get assigned to the toxic people group. And yes, you have to live with them. And, not coincidentally, the commute time from the toxic people group to anywhere else is unusually long.) Life there is just good enough to be better than execution-equivalents. (the risk/reward ratio for releasing someone potentially dangerous will be skewed towards safety, so crashing a train deliberately will probably get you either a 60-70 year sentence or execution.)

People will, by preference, move really rarely. (Underground housing is expensive to build.) So, status-related structures will be even more related to location. Over time, structures will end up really old with 'amusing' but too expensive to fix quirks.

The economic structure will probably be currency-based and run by constrained free-market capitalism. (There won't be enough redundancy in terms of things like iron mines to permit arbitrary pricing, but there are efficiency advantages. The lack of redundancy will result in conflict, probably economic in nature.) Trade with Earth, such as it is, will probably consist of leveraging significant off-Earth industrial capacity in exchange for advanced electronics. (Solar cells aren't that hard...so various satellites will be practical. Steady income may be derived by placing mirrors between the Earth and the sun to reduce the effects of global warming. jk?? Well, maybe, but also a USDOE suggested solution.) A basic income sufficient to survive is provided, as is a 'colony-maintenance fee'. Interestingly, the net productivity of your group is used to modify the basic income for all group members, resulting in 'strong' social pressures. (and maintenance costs are a negative...this may result in significant amusement) Old people without relatives may fare poorly. Significant advantages will accrue somehow to people who get there first. Those advantages may be bound as much to a location as to a person. Retraining and infrastructure expansion will essentially guarantee employment. I'd guess that colonies will have their own currency. Colonies which lose sponsorship may have interesting failure modes as resources run out. One failure mode is North Korea.

While the standard habitats will be pretty safe, people will push the envelope by expanding before the resources are in place to really build something sufficiently redundant to be safe. In those areas, there will be relatively high risk. Successful expansions (eg, on Mars) will significantly reward pioneers. A lot of pioneers will also die. Some incentives, legal and extralegal, will be in place to encourage failed groups to set up pioneering ventures. This may result in amusing situations.

Transportation will probably be foot-related, with trains for longer distances and cargo transportation.

The executive, legislative, judicial branches, and journalistic is a reasonable division of powers. Minimization of government effectiveness and a clear rule of law are probably better. Government action should probably be closely monitored and highly transparent for stability, but it probably won't be everywhere. Strong, institutionalized journalism might be a good idea.

Conflict will probably tend towards the covert, with occasional outbreaks of extreme brutality towards much weaker parties. Kinetic weapons are practically indefensible, so the tendency will be towards extreme politeness towards outwards entities, alternated with extermination of habitats displaying unlivable behavior. Unlivable behavior is essentially defined of the use of kinetic weapons on other habitats. And yes, this is unstable and likely to blow up.

I'd guess that colonies split off relatively rapidly into a EU or USA nation/state level arrangement. Given the emphasis on redundancy, the colonies will become mostly self-sufficient more rapidly than you'd expect. Biotech may eventually be used to fill in gaps relative to shipped electronics. Also, there'll eventually be suppliers on the Moon, which will probably be a center of trade. The concerns of colonists will just be too distant from the earth-bound to foster direct administration.

TLDR: Personal life is a lot like living in a rent-controlled apartment, next to your mother-in-law, with no windows, decent public transportation, and nosy neighbors.

182:

Colonists are assumed to be significantly radiation resistant, generally immune to the effects of microgravity, (possibly excepting pregnancy) and genetically modified to present minimal levels of mental illness and a calm disposition. Traditional humans simply aren't adapted to live off of Earth and the required genetic modifications seem likely to be possible well within my lifetime.

A modification I'd like to see -- for space-dwelling humans -- would be decidedly non-trivial but a huge potential life-saver: dual two-chambered hearts and a modified version of the mammalian diving reflex.

Right now, a human being exposed to vacuum loses consciousness in 10-20 seconds, although they can be revived after some number of minutes. The reason for this is that the left side of the heart beats constantly in time with the right, but while the right ventricle pumps blood around the general circulation, the left is responsible for lung perfusion. The lungs are a gas exchange membrane with a huge surface area, and they're permeable in both directions: normally carbon dioxide diffuses out of the blood (from a high concentration to the much lower partial pressure in the inhaled atmosphere) and oxygen diffuses into the blood.

This breaks down if you expose a human to vacuum. Assuming they don't try to hold their breath and rupture something, you suddenly have a giant gas exchange membrane with highly oxygenated blood on one side ... and vacuum on the other. So the oxygen (and CO2, and nitrogen) diffuses out of the blood very rapidly. And because the left ventricle keeps on pumping, it's effectively pumping gases out of the blood stream.

Postulate a human being where the four-chambered heart is split into two separate organs: a right heart (general circulation) and a left heart (lung circulation). Now add a modified MDR that in addition to the usual effects (peripheral vasoconstriction, reduced pulse, and so on) drops the left heart's pacemaker rate right down to about one beat per minute. Your lungs are still going to leak oxygen from the bloodstream ... but at a much lower rate. It might be possible to extend the window for conscious directed activity up to several minutes in event of sudden depressurization -- long enough for a space-born person to make a determined attempt at summoning help or getting into a Personal Rescue Enclosure.

Another desirable side-effect would be that total coronary arterial occlusions wouldn't automatically be fatal: you might lose one heart to a massive infarction, but be able to survive temporarily -- albeit with a considerable degree of cardiac insufficiency -- by relying on the second heart. It wouldn't be good but it'd be better than dying on the way to the hospital to be fitted with a ventricular assist device.

This qualifies as an advanced genetic engineering application -- vertebrates don't have multiple hearts, although some amphibia have three chambered organs and when you get down to cephalopods, octopi have three hearts -- it'd require a degree of understanding of tissue structure differentiation that we simply don't have right now (although we know roughly where to look and it's an area of active research). But it'd be desirable right now; the reason coronaries and CHF are so lethal to us is because we don't have redundancy in this vital organ, unlike our kidneys, lungs, and many other organs: and in space, if it means the difference between ten seconds of consciousness and ten minutes during a life-threatening emergency ...

183:

Edible food will be available from vats. Tasty food will be a luxury item, available from centralized manufacturing.

Nope, not gonna happen. Having tasty and interestingly textured food (even if it relies on artificial flavourings) is going to be seen as a very high priority once core survival requirements are met. Otherwise you don't have a colony, you've got a crapsack people will pay to escape from.

Privacy rights will be largely dead

Disagree, with nuance. The current conception of privacy will be untenable, especially the insistence on the absolute primacy of territorial property rights: maintaining collective life support integrity will trump trespassing rules every time, and be seen in much the same light that we see firemen breaking down doors and stomping inside burning houses to rescue people today -- why would you even question that?

But by the same token, mental privacy is going to be even more important in an society where people can't simply walk outside and go somewhere where they can't see anybody else to get away.

The economic structure will probably be currency-based and run by constrained free-market capitalism. (There won't be enough redundancy in terms of things like iron mines to permit arbitrary pricing, but there are efficiency advantages. The lack of redundancy will result in conflict, probably economic in nature.)

Free market capitalism is a disaster in a brittle/fragile ecosystem: market failures here on Earth are bad enough even when they don't kill everybody, and furthermore, the pursuit of capital accumulation doesn't provide any incentive to preserve environmental safety (or indeed do anything except rent seeking). Also: a model based on continuous exponential economic growth is not sustainable in the long term even here on Earth, never mind on a much smaller/resource poor world with no easily accessible additional resources.

I'm pretty sure that before we see any borderline self-sufficient space colonies we'll have gotten as far past today's model of neoliberal capitalism as today is past early 19th century mercantilism.

The executive, legislative, judicial branches, and journalistic is a reasonable division of powers.

How 18th century of you! (Speaking as someone who once worked as a journalist, you realize that fluid communications media are inimical to the kind of information asymmetry that the traditional press relied on, right? Which is why journalism as we know it is dying.)

184:

Biosphere project may be of interest: http://archive.bio.ed.ac.uk/jdeacon/biosphere/biosph.htm#2. Human and social problems

185:
I don't think the future contains politically independent entities in the free-floating parts of the solar system. Ever. Because anyone running around out there doing free maneuvering is inherently playing with wmd's, and worse, they're playing with wmd's popularly recognized as such.

I think you're over-estimating the WMD potential of more realistic space technologies.

Earth (and to a lesser extent, Mars) has a pretty effective shield against relatively small and low-density things like space ships: the atmosphere. For the most part they (or a small, boulder-size rock they can manage the delta-V to push) will just burn up with relatively limited or no damage to the surface.

Note that a certain famous Heinlein book got this wrong: there wasn't enough KE to cause appreciable damage.

The Chelyabinsk meteor, at about 10,000 tons was probably on the high side of what you might imagine someone being able to push here and it was hardly a city killer.

If you're imagining a city or dinosaur killer being thrown down the gravity well, the thing is that the object needs to be mostly heading towards Earth already, and the orbit needs to change quickly for this to be effective. Obviously in such a future, people will be watching any sufficiently dangerous rocks and even going near one will raise eyebrows. If you then start applying delta-V to one using some sort of reasonably efficient ion drive or similarly plausible rocket, the process will take years: more than long enough for someone to lob a few nukes to scrape you off the side, followed by a space tug to fix things up. The longer the lead time, the less of a problem it is.

The really dangerous scenarios here seem to show up with more implausible scifi WMD drives: for example, giant fusion torch drives from The Expanse and the like, which could move huge amounts of mass in a very short time.

However, there is indeed a WMD problem inherent in having a space ship. It just goes in the other direction (mostly): any sort of space colony, station, or ship is going to be pretty susceptible to being smashed by small, low-ish density objects. And note that the range is essentially infinite: all you need is a projectile with a solar panel and a little bit of rocket, and you can lob it from the other side of the solar system.

The risk is a bit higher for satellites and stations at the bottom of a gravity well -- the extra KE plus the likely Kessler Syndrome makes for an ugly combination. But there's a big difference between blowing up some of Earth's space assets, and blowing up someone's home.

So my point is that the people who will have the most to lose from orbital terrorists aren't the planet dwellers: it's the people living in space themselves. Independence or no, every orbital asset with a rocket is going to be closely watched, with strict restrictions on the flight plan and much fraught diplomacy if things seem risky. That cargo ship from Earth momentarily crossed the colony's orbital exclusion zone during a course correction? Colonists will still be complaining to their representative about it five years later and filing lawsuits.

186:

Hmmm... You've got the left and right sides of the heart the wrong way round, and various other bits that wouldn't work.

The pulmonary and systemic circulations are in series, so turning the "pulmonary heart" right down won't cut out the pulmonary circulation. It'll keep right on going - assuming the "systemic heart" has enough wellie to pump through two sets of capillaries in series, and that the increased pressure required to do so doesn't burst the vessels on the upstream side. Which is unlikely, as the main reason we have two pumps (in one unit) as standard is to get around those problems.

Similarly, one half-heart standing duty for both in the case of the other one conking out won't work (noting also the contradiction between this idea and the "turn one heart off" bit).

What you want is some mechanism for re-establishing a fetal circulation pattern in the event of exposure to vacuum. In the fetal circulation, the lungs are mostly bypassed, because in their un-inflated state they present a tremendous resistance to blood flow, plus without them being used as lungs they don't need much. This actually makes things easier as the structures required already exist during fetal development, and indeed in some pathologies persist into adulthood. Simply prevent the ductus arteriosus (output-side shunt) from atrophying after closure so that it can be reopened in the postulated emergency. Probably don't need to bother about the foramen ovale (input-side shunt).

Of course this doesn't get you the redundancy to survive heart attacks, but since that wouldn't have worked anyway it's no great loss. For that you'd need what I presume is the Time Lord setup. Again I think - though not so sure on this one - that some extremely rare pathologies do actually provide that, so it too is possible using standard parts.

187:

This is what comes of relying on 35-40 year old memories of anatomy rather than looking it up.

But I still maintain the problem of lung perfusion continuing after vacuum exposure is a big one, and mitigating it somehow would be a very useful adaptation to space-dwellers.

188:

Human societies in harsh and unpredictable environments often organise in hierarchical command-and-control structures. I wonder whether that's what we are going to see during space colonisation rather than elaborate consensus-seeking political systems.

189:

Perhaps your solution could be set up to work mechanically without genetic modification. Give spacers an implanted artificial heart. When exposed to vacuum a valve cuts in and cuts off blood flow to the real heart. The artificial heart starts working and circulates blood everywhere except the lungs. This is probably easier than building a secondary heart genetically.

Alternately, once pressures equalize between lungs and vacuum we simply block the airway. The heart and lungs can do whatever they want and nobody pops like a balloon. This probably wouldn't give the poor spacer as much time as the other solutions, but it might give them a minute or two.

In fiction, this is history, right? The first solution used is "block the airway." The next generation is an artificial heart. The third generation is genetically enhanced. If you're planet-bound and join the spacers, your new hearts are grown from your own tissue and implanted.

190:

I've been involved in several technical projects that went bad, and this thread brings back memories.

I'm hearing about a bunch of pyschological and sociological constraints that are pulling in opposite directions. The economic and biological/ecological constraints haven't really been addressed, but I suspect that a moment's thought about such matters would make us all powerfully nostalgic for the problems that we've been floundering with so far. And a number of intractable biophysical problems have been handwaved away by fiat.

These are usually signs that a project just isn't going to work. If someone was planning on building this sort of colony, I would advise them to be a lot more modest in ambition. We haven't even established any particularly good reason to do it in the first place.

On a fiction level, the story is probably "what went wrong?".

191:

On a fiction level, the story is probably "what went wrong?".

Yep. We're not there yet and won't be there for a century or two. Outside the real world, I'll grant a science fiction author a couple uses of handwavium or unobtanium, and just enjoy the story.

192:

That's a hugely expensive and dangerous option. Constant use of anti-rejection drugs, intricate open-heart surgery (which is not side-effect free; you might want to google on "pump head"), possible need to replace worn or faulty devices, the whole question of how you power it, and so on. Against the risk of an accident, it looks like a bad investment. Coming up with a hereditable bug-fix for the failure mode in the evolved system seems more effective in the medium to long term.

193:

I wonder whether that's what we are going to see during space colonisation rather than elaborate consensus-seeking political systems.

You didn't even read the OP, did you?

194:

It's hard for me to imagine that vacuum hazard is very common for spacefarers. I mean, in the history of space travel so far, I only seem to recall it being an issue once with Soyuz 11. Other kinds of atmospheric problems (Apollo-Soyuz N2O4) and spacesuit leaks (Luca Parmitano) seem just as risky.

If there's a hole in your pressure vessel, you probably won't lose atmosphere so fast that you reach the Armstrong limit in a few seconds. With good hab design, the howling alarms and flashing arrows pointing towards the proper airtight door ought to help a lot. Plus, a self-deploying rescue suit doesn't seem too hard to design (given a simple shape, anyway).

Perhaps something simpler, like the ability to smell certain dangerous gases and sense small constant pressure drops in time to run away would be simpler and just as valuable?

195:

My solution definitely presumes advancements in medicine! But this is not difficult in a science-fictional context.

196:

I'm assuming vacuum hazard is a low-frequency/high-lethality risk of living in space. Consequently, it only makes sense to look to fix it this way if you're also looking to fix a bunch of other medical issues arising from microgravity -- fluid retention (another circulatory issue), retinal issues, osteoporosis, and so on.

I can see it being rolled out as part of a complex patch/upgrade for kids born in a space colony, decades or centuries hence, to reduce the frequency of medical conditions. Not as something that's going to be developed in isolation or indeed in the near future.

197:

Indeed it would be; what I'm basically saying is that standard humans already do have a mechanism for doing that during fetal development, so with a bit of luck it'd be a very simple tweak to implement. The switchover from fetal to standard circulation is very rapid, and is triggered by the baby's first attempts to breathe (though I'm not sure exactly how that bit works). So - thinking optimistically - it might just be a case of making persistent ductus arteriosus a standard feature, which should be a doddle, and (this is the bit I'm not sure on) ensuring that the trigger mechanism is reversible, so that not being able to inflate the lungs causes the ductus to re-open.

198:

Before having read all the comments, here are a few thoughts. An interstellar polity would face these challenges:

Sparsity - a few dense settlements (outposts, maybe terraformed worlds, generation ships with 100 mill. people) and lots of nothing in between
Delay - information can take decades to reach one nd of the realm from the other, physical goods centuries ore more
Safety - every settlement will be highly vulnerable to catastrophies, safety and redundancy of vital functions will take a prime seat
Long term planning - starting a ship to another planet in the same system will commit and the people aboard for it's course for years, an interstellar journey will take decades plus. You don't make these choices for yourself and your kids lightly
Socialism - markets will likelyplay a very marginal role and be seen like weird high risk sports for eccentrics by most (ht KSR)
Life support - a lot of work and effort will be neccessary to do what until now ourt ecosystem on ewarth did for free: providing food or a least a working substrate to grow it on, oxygen, friendly gut bacteria ... Will all be done by us in some way and I don' see a way this could work safely over long time as a marketed service.
Scarcity - something will alsways be scarce. We're in space, every gram counts. And far away in space means far away in time + cost in delta V.
All new - It will take centuries to a millenium or so till w can really speak about an interstellar political union. Organistaion existing today will have morphed strongly and may be unrecognizable.

I think a central conflicts will play out beween the poles commune - democracy - technocracy:
Commune - There will be outposts and ships with crew number Democracy - the sphere where public discourse and voting etc happens, to make decisions. I could imagine a resurgence of the party. Right now we are used to electing one of several flavors of neoliberalism. Without lates-stage crisis capitalism holding everything hostage, we will have more choice. Central questions will be ressource distribution (do we produce luxury goods or have rather more leisure time? Are opiates luxury goods? Who gets an extra steak on friday?) and grand strategy for a settlement: Do we choose cycling orbit x or Y? Do we terraform or continue oliving in underground bases? The choices made will have long term consequences, forget the 5 year plan and welcome the 50 year plan. So long periods of deliberation are in order - the 50 year plan gets implemented that gets a majority 5 years in a row. So I see scope for political parties that develop long term visions and strategies for their settlements - programs. A program can at least in theory be communicated long distance and be implemented elsewhere. Another question that should be part of such a grand visions is how much and which modification of humans is allowed or even mandatory.
Technocracy - bureacracy etc. doing all the implementation. Likely several branches competing in absurd power plays, likely lots of weak AI somewhere.

I'd expect conficts along these broad lines: Which decisions should be met democrtatically, which should be left to the technocracy? How closely are small ship and crews and other isolatred communes monitored and controlled - do they do their actual job, do they treat their members well? How close must the pioneering communes stick to the grand plans voted on in a remote generation ships 40 years ago?
I'd also expect a revolving door between political parties and the technocracy.

199:

If you are positing that low-probability fatal events are going to be given any reasonable priority, then you are probably also assuming a society where most medium-probability debilitating events have already been dealt with, and possibly even most high-probability injuries. It seems important to avoid low-probability extinction events, such as losing pressure in a large hab or an outbreak of a new strain of E. coli, but if leaking spacesuits are a big focus then I think the society must be pretty advanced and stable, with long term radiation damage or prevalent depression contained, unless spacesuit leaks kill people daily as a matter of course. In short, the shape of the expected loss curve largely determines the kind of story you can tell.

200:

@Jaws 180:

"If corporations are persons under the Fourteenth Amendment, how do we reconcile share ownership in corporations with the prohibition of ownership of "persons" under the Thirteenth Amendment?"

I thought that sounded neat, then a Murrican friend I shared it with pointed out that the Thirteenth Amendment makes no mention of "persons", but says "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist...."

201:

Yes, so much.

Althusser, I think "Ideology is the imagined relationship to the real world", my interpretation: How you think the world works

Compare/contrast with the idea that everybody is the hero of their own inner story.

202:

I'm honestly not certain what anyone is thinking of when they talk about genetically modifying humans to be radiation resistant. The idea of having humans that are as radiation resistant as cockroaches fails to take into account the fundamental biological differences between an adult cockroach and an adult mammal. I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that they're thinking along the lines of "effects of chronic exposure to MUCH higher fields than terrestrial background do not cause the same acute radiation sickness(ARS)/sterility/death with similar dose" rather than "my skin now has cosmic ray and gamma attenuation equivalent to 6' thick of lead". Concern about cancer induction and the hope to be able to reverse that is one biomedical holy grail is nice, but won't solve the ARS issues since those are cellular death issues, not damage with replication errors.

Most actual human cells are pretty radioresistant, as long as you squint to consider nerve cells and spermatocytes to be about the same from a distance. But as mentioned in the the previous Cytological Utopia post, you are a commensual organism, an ambulatory reef. You need most all of your different organsims to live and you die when your gut biome is sterilized, some which is waaaaaay more radiosensitive than the average human cell.

We do have methods to make people more radioresistant, and more radiosensitive for that matter, but they are chemical in nature to either retard or accelerate radiolytic reactions in cells. These are the ancillary chemotherapies we administer in association with radiation therapy for cancer treatment and I'm pretty sure we don't want to be loaded with them all the time, every day.

This doesn't even taken into account cockroach physiology and biochemistry that makes them radioresistant compared to humans. Further reading left as an exercise for the student: what is the radiosensitivity of a cockroach over the entirety of its lifecycle?

203:

Yeah and by making that duct reopenable you are probably increasing the chance of heart failure caused by a malfunction of that duct way beyond the probability of the problem you are trying to solve.

204:

Yes, really sure.
Someone I "know very well" went to India in the early 80's & worked in rural location, visited Delhi & then on to the Tibetan plateau (Kashmir) She would not care to do it now - & she follows goings-on there much more closely than I.
The sex-ratio & brutalisation of women is really bad in some places, unfortunately

205:

> We do have methods to make people more radioresistant. . .

I'm kind of surprised that after 200+ comments the Usual Suspects haven't
weighed in to point out that in a few decades we'll have AIs (not as
in corporations, but as in the Ray Kurzweil, Ben Goertzel, Hugo de Garis
sense of the term), so of course all this talk of sending HUM∀NS into
space is ridiculous on the face of it.

The AIs will be Rational(TM) and Friendly(TM) dontcha know, so they
won't be plagued by primate dominance-seeking, personalities on
the sociopathic spectrum, and so on.

Who knows, maybe it's even true. (I'm not holding my breath, but still. . .).

At the very least, I can imagine Musk (or somebody like him) sending
**endless** unmanned trial missions to Mars (finances permitting)
before risking a human crew. The legal/public relations liabilities
(back home) alone. . . Can you imagine the PR nightmare of a
particularly grisly-ending manned space mission?

206:

Don't forget that AI will save us from ourselves, just like Jesus, Buddha or Cthulhu but with prettier blinking lights, and everything will be perfect forevermore!

207:

I jumped too far (I blame the antibiotics, yeah, it's their fault), Ludvig. The text of the Thirteenth Amendment doesn't mention persons; but the bills to adopt the Thirteenth through Fifteenth Amendments do, as do the legislative histories and debates (not to mention the state-legislature debates) and the very, very slim case law.

One of the "fun" things about researching American law is that we don't have a true equivalent of Hansard; about a third of the battle in finding "legislative history" and/or context is knowing where to look, and when (because it varies tremendously).

All of which feeds back into my original point...

208:

As I understand it, roaches are relatively insensitive to radiation because their shells stop low-energy radiation and they're small enough that most high-energy radiation just passes through. The first adaptation we copy when we put on clothes, but the second one we just can't copy.

No gene sequence is inherently less susceptible to radiation than any other. At the energy scales of nuclear radiation, the subtleties of genetics become irrelevant. The make and model of a car don't matter when Godzilla steps on it.

209:

Well, I'm assuming that Charlie is right that exposure to vacuum is going to be a significant hazard. One incident (according to Elladan) in the really very limited total time humans have spent at risk of it so far, and that in the comparatively well-controlled environment of a spaceship, suggests to me that with hundreds or thousands of humans living full-time in a vacuum environment we probably would see quite a few such incidents. Especially if those people are working on a Lunar/Martian/etc building site in spacesuits. Unless you put everyone on the site in armoured suits - which would pretty well ensure they never got anything built - I reckon you'd just have to accept that people would get a puncture every now and then, and be ready to deal with it.

Persistent ductus arteriosus is a known pathology, and while it obviously does cause problems with oxygenation, they are often nothing like as serious as you might imagine. People can survive for decades with it untreated and even undiagnosed. A few are asymptomatic. To be sure, having had it from birth they are adapted to living with a patent ductus, but even so, if someone modified according to the proposal had it open suddenly under normal conditions, they would not suffer heart failure. You'd see instead something on a scale between breathlessness, and going blue and passing out; immediate treatment would be to give oxygen - and if punctures are likely enough to warrant the modification then emergency oxygen supplies will be readily available already. As for chronic problems (leakage or whatever), the colonists' regular medical checks - which in this case would be looking for it - would pick that up so it could be treated.

210:

Humans' "shells" stop minimally-penetrating radiation: alphas don't make it through the outer layer of dead skin. But cloth does not stop betas, though it may attenuate them somewhat; carrying a high-activity beta source in your pocket will give you a beta burn on your leg...

More penetrating forms of radiation such as gammas and neutrons are so much more penetrating that (excluding such cases as therapeutic irradiation) you can regard the field as uniform throughout the volume of the body, and the dose absorbed by any particular small volume of tissue is a function of the intensity of the radiation and the absorption coefficient of that kind of tissue. Whether that small volume is on the weather or lee side of the body makes little difference. So differences in absorption between humans and cockroaches are down to differences in the absorption coefficients of human and cockroach tissues, not body size.

Where humans do have a particular disadvantage in dealing with radiation below the acute damage threshold is in longevity. Shorter-lived species generally manage to have reproduced successfully, and then get eaten by something else, before the long-term effects show up. So the exclusion zone around Chernobyl is a haven where wildlife thrives, even if you do get the occasional rat with two heads.

I tend to regard engineered tolerance to acute radiation exposure as being much like engineered tolerance to shotguns, and think of other measures being used to mitigate such events, while the engineering of tolerance is applied to dealing with chronic exposure from the increased background levels you get without an atmosphere. So it's basically beefing up the EDC mechanisms for DNA to cope with higher error rates and to detect valid but pathological genetic sequences. At which point my knowledge of biochemistry runs out and I leave it to others to figure out how to do it.

211:

It depends on the energy and type of the radiation. Our dead skin layers will stop alphas. Betas and gammas come in energies from ones that are stopped at the skin level (there are gamma rays that have energies as low as an eV, which makes them ordinary blue photons), through ones that will penetrate a few cm and deposit nearly all of their energy in a human body, to ones some that will mostly pass right through the human body as if it didn't exist. Neutrons usually stop when they hit water (hydrogen, really).

The fact that we have calcium-rich endoskeletons does significantly increase our radiation absorption cross-section relative to a cockroach, but the rest of our bodies are pretty comparable to a cockroach's in that respect.

And yes, short lifespans make a difference, but I don't think we want to try to engineer those either.

212:

Space suits, even the fancy futuristic skin suits and the like, are hardly a recipe for efficient labor. They're far worse than working in scuba equipment, for example.

In addition, a decent space suit is a pretty advanced piece of kit: you need many layers of advanced synthetic fabrics, precision constructed not just to be air tight but also to have constant volume joints, insulation, a refrigeration solution, air mixture controls, electronics to run everything, comms...

For light duty, you can simplify it somewhat by using piped-in air tethered to your vehicle, and I imagine for most purposes this is what people would use when necessary. But ultimately, think of it more as a piece of specialist equipment: the fire department will use them, and some other specialist fields, but I don't think you'll have construction workers riveting girders in space suits if there's any way they can avoid it.

Instead, there are two styles that seem logical:

A) Robots. Not autonomous, but rather the remote controlled waldo kind. Where outside operations are necessary, people will simply drive them around from the comfort of their office. Note that a mature colony will have copious people available to drive robots who aren't physically able to work in a suit.

B) Mobile habs. Where you need people to work on site, simply drive a mobile shop to the location. Robots and various sorts of waldos, glove boxes, and the good old airlock will make working on equipment possible in a shirt sleeve environment. For major building projects, you might see large temporary inflatable habs, or more likely, the projects themselves are assembled in a factory and then transported to the work site.

Basically, I think that the first step in any sort of space project is to figure out how to do as little of the work in a vacuum as possible. You design the building procedures around being able to build and maintain them using robots and mobile habs, instead of doing things the way you would on Earth.

To a large degree, this is how the ISS works today: lots of exterior work is done using the robot arms, which can be controlled from the ground while the astronauts are asleep. Going outside in a suit is something they try to avoid, and astronauts will train for months on how to do specific jobs that are planned years in advance.

Even an emergency spacewalk takes all day, since the astronauts have to breathe pure oxygen for hours to prep themselves for the low pressure of the suit... and a high pressure suit would make the technology that much harder.

213:

Back to the OP, I suggest you check out Fukuyama's Origins of Political Order. It won't answer your question, but it will help explain why so many of us don't think the question can be answered in the way that you want.

214:

Couple of Earth analogues, both from the first decade of the 21st century:

  • For revolution in space, we have Flight 93; two groups of people physically fought for control of an airliner. There were no survivors.

    On a space station the crash would probably be in life support or something, rather than a physical "unscheduled lithobraking" one, but the principle will likely be the same, including the use of vital controls to throw off the other group.

  • On Pitcairn Island, a substantial fraction of the population were convicted of crimes (of power). One of the concerns with sentencing was that if they're removed from the society (into jail, on-island or off), there will no longer be enough suitably qualified people to form a team to operate port equipment.

    To complicate discussion, there were some suggestions that they may have been deliberately avoiding spreading the qualifications, as an ongoing power play.

215:

Your latter metaphor is apt for high dose rates and the incredibly high energy particulate radiations you just can't shield worth a damn, like interstellar cosmic rays. But that is not why adult cockroaches are less radiosensitive.

Pigeon is quite correct that longevity makes a difference for cancer induction but for any near term space colony acute radiation syndrome is what they have to worriy about; on short, acute exposure timescales, adult arthropods win most of the time. The Law of Bergonie and Tribondeau is something everyone should keep in mind when thinking about ionizing radiation and what tissues you expose with it. The most radiosensitive tissues have cells that:

1) Are rapidly dividing
2) Are undifferentiated
3) Have a long dividing future

Adult insects, in short, don't really have any of those three. Humans always do.

216:

I wonder what social signals are going to develop.

Here, of course, many signals are about access to luxuries: when the workers are out in the fields all day, pale skin means you don't work out there. When the workers are all in office buildings, a tan means you get to go out to the beach when you want to. Long fingernails mean you don't do anything that would break them. Hairstyles which are difficult to maintain mean regular expenditures on hairstylists.

What signals evolve in space colonies? I've seen writers propose things like artistically painted space suits, indicating not just who you are but that you care enough to maintain an individual piece of art; or facial tattoos that can be easily recognized through a helmet. Perhaps impractical jewelry?

217:

Neutrons bounce when they hit hydrogen, giving up excess kinetic energy to it as they do so. When water is used as a moderator in a fission reactor, only about 1 in 57 collisions results in neutron capture by hydrogen. The first 10 or so collisions of a fission neutron will be energetic enough to disrupt chemical bonds. Water's use in neutron shielding is partly by way of scattering some of them back where they came from, and partly by way of slowing them down so the ones which do come out the other side are easily captured by a thin layer of boron. You're generally looking at several human bodies' thickness worth of water to make this work.

218:

Sure, but it depends on your setting. Maybe some good old space opera cliché is in operation, like a very flarey sun creating electromagnetic storms that play war with any electrical equipment. Maybe some prolific local rodentoid discovers that the material your inflatable domes are made of is the ideal thing to gnaw bits off and make nests with :)

On the bioengineering front, your last paragraph reminds me that a very useful modification would be to build more efficient lungs that can function at lower pressures. Spacesuits become easier, leaks leak more slowly, stresses on pressure walls are reduced, even manufacturing atmosphere is less of a task. Though it has to be said that having to use a pressure chamber to make the tea in would be a bit of a bummer.

219:

But humans wouldn't live fulltime in a vacuum environment. They would live in a space colony which would be much less fragile than the spaceships of our time. And if it is a genetic tweak, you would need to tweak the whole population or determine before birth who gets to be a vacuum worker.

As for the medical side: yes, I know that people live with it. I don't know the effect of this condition on their life expectancy. But the main difference I see between the condition of these people and the tweak is, that the tweak is designed to open wide under certain conditions, otherwise it would not have the necessary effect in vacuum. So from a mechanical viewpoint it seems that this mechanism is weaker than a persistent ductus arteriosus. Additionally as far as I know, working without gravity/ in low gravity (and inside a spacesuit) is really taxing and not something for people with a known circulatory deficiency.

Also, if it opens suddenly, the best case is breathlessness as you said, but the worst case is not just going blue and passing out. It is going blue and passing out and then dying, because no one saw you passing out and could give you the oxygen or could prevent (if even possible in zero g) you from choking on your own vomit. Or ...

220:

No, because, not even in The Culture was that the case, was it?

221:

It probably was for a bit, but then one of their AIs caught an alpha particle.

222:

So it's basically beefing up the EDC mechanisms for DNA to cope with higher error rates and to detect valid but pathological genetic sequences.

Congratulations: to do this you have just invented radiation-proof error detection mechanisms. (Has it occurred to you that maybe a chunk of the damaging cytological effects of ionizing radiation isn't simply down to direct DNA damage but down to screwing up the transcription, copying, and error-correction adjuncts that service it?)

I will note that if you had some sort of advanced synthetic biology that relied on higher bond energy than hydrogen bonds or Van der Waals force for conformational control it would probably be much more resistant to radiation -- but at that point we're getting into magic nanite pixie-dust territory, because we're asking for nanoscale replicators with fundamentally better performance than anything that has evolved naturally ...

223:

Assuming we're talking about the solar system, the time-lag for communications is not significantly different from mid-late 19th century global empires with telegraph. The time-lag for physical intervention is an order of magnitude longer, maybe, months-to-years rather than weeks-to-months. Think South African War, with the Buller getting updates on the opening moves over the wire only as his ship put-in at ports en-route to Capetown, and later finding the War Office looking over his shoulder at Colenso.

So I would think that bureaucracy would operate much as it does now, but without real-time operational oversight when things go kenetic, but the locals would only have there own resources available .

224:

Although, (waves hands) 3D printing allows for sort-of matter transmission for spare parts, a limited form of direct intervention over astronomical distances is possible.

225:

Congratulations: to do this you have just invented radiation-proof error detection mechanisms.

No: as usual, Nature got there first. Highly radiation-resistant organisms do exist—the best known is Deinococcus radiodurans (the clue's in the species name...)—and they do achieve this by having much improved DNA repair and error correction mechanisms. But, as far as I know, all the really radiation-resistant organisms (D. radiodurans and T. gammatolerans make cockroaches look like wimps) are prokaryotes, and whether their systems could be integrated into the very different transcription apparatus of eukaryotes I really don't know (I am not a biologist!).

226:

Economics as Cronus, consuming bureaucracy and politics - that sounds like the present to me. One definite characteristic of economics as currently applied is the treatment of externalities, most prominently what are beginning to be called "ecosystem services". In environments where there are no waterways to move sewage, no atmosphere to provide a convenient source of oxygen for combustion and sink for waste gases, what happens to an economics of growth which has until now relied on them?

It's possible to see the first glimmers of this in the attempts to organise some sort of collaborative effort over space junk to avert Kessler Syndrome, which you might call the first offworld instance of the tragedy of the commons.

Some sort of response to this is likely to play out on Earth, where states continue to be able to exert their will on multinationals. But the current state of sovereignty over celestial bodies, let alone the space between them, doesn't suggest that there is likely to be any body capable of making or enforcing equivalent law from LEO on out any time soon.

227:

Sure, but what's the outcome? Where is the tension?

Between private ownership and collective responsibility. I'll venture to say that successful space settlements further from Earth would be ones with a strong sense of collective ownership, which is not necessarily disjoint from the set of colonies with a strong executive function exercised on behalf of a remote owner.

Then you have two camps; one, the post capitalist, basic-income colonies, where the citizens know they have enough to breathe and drink, and the old and less able are doing what they can. Second the late-capitalist predator colonies, state funded developments where the private part of the public private partnership is still there, carving out a profit from functionally indentured workers, or has defaulted on the contract, leaving the carcass to one picked over by the vulture funds. BHS in space.

228:

In terms of social relationships, I'd imagine that, given the fragility of these sort of environments, some form of military-style hierarchical structure would be the safest for the collective population - justice would be summary, subject to AI approval, and enforced with severe brutality.

I beg to differ in this matter. What I think will happen is that the children raised in those enviroments will grow up to become adults that can't even think about damaging lifesupport equipment without becoming nauseous. They will see it as such a hideous act that it's unimaginable to them that anyone would do such a thing.

229:

@Ro67 at 228:

...become adults that can't even think about damaging lifesupport equipment without becoming nauseous.

Like the way people can't even think about shooting teenagers on an island or in a night-club without becoming nauseous?

Well, most of us can't, but there is always at least one. I don't see why the heinousness of making a hole in a habitat is any worse than what people are actually doing every day, somewhere in the world.

230:

Only in the fourth stage, permanent, self-sufficient (or nearly) habitats of over 1,000 persons, do you get to the point where there's a real possibility of an independent colony.

1000 persons isn't anywhere near self-sufficient. Tokio isn't self-sufficient.
The country I live in isn't self-sufficient.
"Wanna buy a fab to produce your microprocessors? That'll be $15 billion please.
For your fab to become profitable we advise a production volume of one million processors a day."

My uneducated guess is in the 100's of millions before you can go your own way as an Earth seperate entity.

231:

"Congratulations: to do this you have just invented radiation-proof error detection mechanisms."

I haven't; I've just come up with the idea, then handed it off to the biochemists to work out all the messy details while I get on with making my hair grow in two points on either side of my head. The organisms Susan mentioned ought to at least give them some useful ideas, and there's that fungus that lives in the ruins of the Chernobyl reactor and eats gammas too...

232:

Depends on what kind of life your colonists want.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tristan_da_Cunha
(saw it mentioned on Orphan Black, so I looked it up)
is essentially self sufficient, population of a couple of hundred.
They import a doctor. If you want a society with enough population to support a medical school I figure a couple hundred thousand, based on a lot of assumptions: lifespans in the 70s, economy can support one doctor per hundred people, doctors have 40 year careers. So, how much population do you need before your turnover of doctors is high enough to support a full time medical school and it's a couple of hundred k. If you want microprocessors you might need a much larger population, or maybe just a printer.

233:

There will also be a class of colonies whose export is immigration. Basically retirement communities. For a bundle of money you can migrate here and live in a dome with us. Set up with that business model as the goal from day one. You would want it to produce enough for itself that import costs would leave plenty of room for profit. It wouldn't have to mine gold, just make it's own air and food.

234:

@229
Let's speculate a bit on your comment: Today people are manufactured without quality control. In future societies that will be completely reliant on technology in difficult environments there will be genetic screening before people are even allowed in. Mental instability, psychopatic tendencies and all sorts of other genetic defects will be weeded out. Every pregnancy will have a check somewhere in the first few months, Go / No Go to delivery.

I suspect that this will become the norm on Earth in the coming decades in some places. 'We want the best for our children so screening for defects is the right thing to do.' It's already happening here (Holland). Parents that are know carriers of severe defects such as Cystic Fibrosis can request a check to see if the fetus is ok. If not abortion usually follows.
With prices falling and rapidly increasing ability to read the genome I can easily see that screening will become the norm. There is already discussion about carrying a Down-syndrome baby to term. The discussion revolves about the matter whether society should pay for the lifelong care or not when people choose to have such a child.
In the days when nobody knew what would come out when a baby was born and it was handicapped to the point that it needed lifelong specialized care society provided help to do that, a good thing IMO. But in the last few years the capability became available to see what's coming in that regard. Should society still carry the burden when that handicapped child is a choice parents make? Enough OT talk for now. :)

235:

St Kilda got by with even fewer, until they were shafted by too much contact with the mainland...

236:

@232
I guess we understand self-sufficient in a different way then. The way I understand it self-sufficient means that you don't need the outside world for any of your needs, including doctors.
Tristan da Cunha also has the benefit that it exists in a biosphere that provides the basic necessities of life. Put the inhabitants of Tristan da Cunha on Olympus Mons and it won't take them long to realise that they need some extra equipment, preferably soon, to keep things going. That requires a significant manufacturing capability. You are not going to MacGyver your way out of that one.


or maybe just a printer. The supplies for your MCU printer come from... ?
Sure, the 3d printer fad made it into space. Will it become a replacement for the many hundred of other ways to manufacture things. No! And definitely not for something as complex as a microprocessor.

237:

@Ro67 at 234:

Today people are manufactured without quality control.

Yeah, and no product recall either. :-(

But do we really know that a Breivik is genetically determined? If it turns out to be so that would be interesting, but there is a pitfall here. You ever read Chesterton's comments on 19th-century criminology?

238:

I think your assumption about doctors and their working life are wrong. It takes education to bachelor's degree level plus three years as a house officer or equivalent to make a junior doctor, and another 5-10 years to make a general practitioner, surgeon, or specialist: and by the time they hit 50 surgeons are on the slide due to declining hand/eye coordination, and by the time they hit 60 GPs are being eased out due to declining memory retention/ability to stay current. So a doctor's career duration can be as short as 20 years (some surgical specialities) or as long as 30-35 years (a GP who stays sharp longer than most) but virtually never 40 or more years.

On the other hand, the ratio of patients to doctors is measured in thousands to one, not hundreds to one. Although some of the specialities are in considerably higher demand than you might expect -- a neurosurgeon may not be someone you need very often, but they can only operate 200-500 times a year, so if 1% of your population need them at some point and they can operate 4000-10,000 times in their entire working life you may need more than one if your colony has more than 100,000 bodies.

Your takeaway from this is that estimating the number of people you need to fill niche specialities in a self-contained colony is a highly deceptive problem.

239:

Where it comes to the genes involved in psychopathy upbringing of the child determines the outcome.

Read about James Fallon, a neuroscientist who discovered in his own research that he is a psychopath.
He grew up in a loving family and turned out ok. Put those genes in an environment of abuse and neglect and ugly things happen.

240:
1000 persons isn't anywhere near self-sufficient. Tokio isn't self-sufficient.

For the purposes of this topic, it seems necessary to differentiate between the different grades of self-sufficiency.

A colony can be self-sufficient in a lot of ways:

  • Financially self-sufficient. They produce enough of something other people want (e.g. gizmos, entertainment, software, research) that they can pay the market rate for their supply lines.
  • Materially self-sufficient. They mine their own raw materials, refine and manufacture their own bulk goods, grow their own food, make their own rocket propellants, and so forth. Long distance supply and trade is required for special items like computers, seed stock and biome inputs, etc. If the supply lines disappeared, the colony would keep going -- for a while.
  • Technologically self-sufficient. They can manufacture all the basic industrial items needed to run the colony locally. That includes basic computers, motors, robots, and so on. Trade is required for apex technologies like advanced computers, but also notably for information: engineering designs, science, expertise, and so on. If the supply lines disappeared, the colony might become totally self-sufficient. But probably not.
  • Totally self-sufficient. The society can design and build anything they need, and the rest of the universe can cease to exist for all they care.

In the modern world, nobody is totally self-sufficient. It just isn't a thing people need or want: why would you want to isolate yourself from all the good ideas and cheap stuff available elsewhere?

In some sort of amazing space story, the only time total self-sufficiency becomes a thing is if we're looking at interstellar colonization or a colony struggling on after Earth gets eaten by a grue. Otherwise, there's always going to be trade in knowledge, ideas, engineering, and so on.

So anyway, what sort of independence might you have with only 1000 people? Well, I suppose you could have financial independence somehow if there was something out there that people really wanted, but nobody's really found such a thing.

More likely would be material independence: the colony can manufacture all its basic needs, and the supply ships generally carry important things like computer chips, fancy robot parts, better seeds, whisky, and so forth. All the heavy lifting for engineering problems is still done on Earth, of course.

Could 1000 people keep the mining robots running, operate the necessary mining and machine shops (including fixing the tools when they break), run the farms and reactors, and so on? Well, maybe.

Anyway, I seem to recall that our generous host considered this question at length already. However, for this topic it seems notable that the cost of the supply lines is necessarily ruinously expensive, so whatever organization is setting up these colonies will be very interested in the colony achieving some form of self-sufficiency as fast as possible. Whatever government form the colony has, one of its primary missions early on will be to import less and manufacture more.

241:

Ro67 at 239:

Read about Fallon, thank you very much for that.

My Chesterton parallel, which I haven't really thought out, concerned the then hot science of phrenological criminology. GCK pointed out that if you are going to correlate head bumps with criminality, it behooves you to have both a population of bumps and an objectively arrived-at population of criminals. Not just a tabloid (yellow press) hate-list.

He was one of the first to complain of how an essential part of the then "scientific" collection of criminal specimens was poverty. They were measuring the bumps only of street thugs and not of equally nasty people who made good and sat in the House of Lords. Or maybe, dare I say it, classifying the noble lords as ex officio non-criminals.

So we have this-Fallon who is a neurosurgeon, a jerk but not in jail, and an altero-Fallon who is a jerk and in jail for battery or rape. Ho-kay. Regarding Breivik, what we know of his parents is not very inspirational, you can see how it may have gone down. But my interest is a third angle, in people like Curtis LeMay, who seems to me like a very dangerous loony. Are we going to scan his brain on an equal footing with Bubba the Street Punk, and if not why not? How about Tony Blair?

This may relate to an astonishing but probably true comment somewhere upthread, that if we had a medical system devoted to identifying psychopaths, it would very soon be run by the psychopaths. The economists call it regulatory capture...

242:

I don't know... even the old space operas tended to have people flitting around in pods and using waldos. Sure, some stories set steelworkers in space wearing beaten up old space suits and eating their space lunch on a girder, but it's hard to take that seriously.

You might do better assuming that a solar flare scrapped your supply lines and 9/10 of the robots, while the space suits were safely stored underground with the people. But then why the genetic engineering? This seems like a problem better solved by stockpiling computer chips for bad weather years.

Anyway, as for lungs: there are already some groups of humans who are well adapted to high altitudes, and most people can acclimatize pretty well. So that's certainly possible. Certainly Apollo used a low pressure O2 atmosphere to save weight.

I think the bigger issue though is insensitivity to changes in pressure and gas mixture. The problem for astronauts is that they'll get the bends unless they prep extensively for a space walk. But consider a working colony: the living space is just a small portion of it. For cost reasons, you can probably imagine the more extensive farms operating in a low pressure CO2 environment, some engineering spaces might use inert gas, and so on. After all, a breathing mask is hardly an inconvenience at all compared to a vacuum suit!

This will all be a lot harder and more dangerous if those pesky humans keep dropping dead due to a little problem with the O2 mixture, though. Being able to tell that you're breathing the wrong sort of colorless, odorless gas and take useful action would be worth a lot.

243:

In the modern world, nobody is totally self-sufficient.
Except N Korea of course .....
Not a pleasant prospect, is it?

244:

During the construction of the Victoria line of the London Underground there was an incident somewhere around the Euston/King's Cross area, where a section of the works was left shut off and unventilated over the weekend. This allowed it to fill up with "air" that had percolated through the ground and lost its oxygen on the way, so it was more or less pure nitrogen. The first guys through the door on Monday morning just fell over, kerplunk, just like that. Fortunately the ones following them realised what had happened and managed to drag them out. (Google these days sucks too badly to find the reference to this which it found easily 10 years ago. Maybe Greg knows more.)

I'd guess it ought to be reasonably straightforward to patch an oxygen sensor into the sense of smell, but you'd have to be jolly quick in reacting to it. It'd be a useful backup, but you'd still want machine sensors installed to give more warning, plus some kind of going-around-in-groups precaution similar to what chemists working with things like cyanide vapours do.

The bends might be quite an easy problem to address with genetic engineering. Apparently one of the mechanisms that whales use to avoid the bends is to have deposits of fat with an affinity for dissolving nitrogen that can get it out of the bloodstream. So a wee bitty genetic transfer and make sure McDonald's has a franchise in the colony... :)

245:

It would be a lot simpler to have multi sensors (oxygen, toxic gases, pressure, radiation etc) built into a watch with a vibrate signal as a warning. Today's technology could do this. However it would also be cheap to have these sensors in every room and linked to a net. We've gone past 1970s technology. Even today's sensors are eminently portable. Biology is not the solution to every problem.
The skintight spacesuit is not too improbable. It's being worked on now.

246:

> Read about James Fallon, a neuroscientist who discovered in his
> own research that he is a psychopath.

There is also "M. E. Thomas" (a pseudonym), a self-aware high-functioning
sociopath who wrote _Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding
in Plain Sight_.

247:

Getting here really late, but I generally turn to the Polynesians when I try to figure out the minimal toolkit for settlement. After all, they were using local resources to terraform islands, and that's basically what we're going to be doing in space.

It's also worth noting that it took thousands of years for the Lapita to get their act together, even though they were an oceanic people. The basic lesson there is that, just because we can go to the Moon, it doesn't follow that we can colonize another planet. People got to Papua New Guinea around 50,000 years ago, over water, but they got to Hawai'i around 1500 years ago or more recently. A lot of that interim was tech development.

For voyages, presumably we'll need some sort of hierarchical command structure, the demonstration being that no egalitarian group has done long distance over-ocean colonization, to my knowledge, but a number of hierarchical groups (from Brendan's monks, vikings, Seychelles, Madagascar, Melanesian, Polynesia) have made it. Knowing who's in charge makes decision making faster.

The two huge problems are how much craft specialization is required, and whether ordinary people can master all or most crafts. Things work better if there's minimal specialization and ordinary people can learn their roles, because then there are fewer critical failure points. If we need a boatload of fusion engineers, high level computer scientists, doctors, and test pilots to fly a starship, it's going to be really hard to train all their kids up to the standard of their parents, and the thing falls apart.

I'd finally point out that, were I granted one magic wand wave, it would be for a jumpship, even if the thing is a lightspeeder (it jumps at C or slower), rather than an FTL drive. Space is a dangerous place, it gets more hazardous the longer you're out there, and getting around space makes colonization a lot simpler, even if each jump blows through centuries.

248:

Seven headed dragon, seven headed Dagon, what's the difference?

249:

HERE WARNING - difficult to read properly, I could only get to the abstract & then the second page wouldn't load - try different browsers ...

250:

Perhaps your expectations about how doctors (and everybody else) would work—and be trained for their work—in a self-sufficient colony are too high?

For me there is no prima facie reason to assume that in a self-sufficient colony everything would work exactly as on Earth in the second decade of the 21st century. Of course in a smallish colony there wouldn't be a medical school and a huge system of teaching hospitals, but instead the doctor would have an apprentice. Or perhaps two of them. Just like all other professionals would have apprentices. Yes, the level of what the apprentice learns wouldn't be the same as what you'd expect from the top experts in a narrow field here on Earth. But he'd probably be as good as your average doctor in Edinburgh.

This also means that if you absolutely, positively need a certain type of neurosurgery for your survival, you'll probably die. But that's not different to the vast majority of people throughout history—hell, it's not different to the vast majority of people here on Earth in 2016! And it's why in your own profession you'll have an apprentice who will take over your own work, and will as soon as possible take on another apprentice for training.

To me this seems far more likely as a scenario for a colony than aiming for an exact replica of the current state of things on Earth—and actually not even on Earth, but only in the very highest developed places on Earth.

251:

We have an actually-existing example of an isolated economic system that can produce nuclear reactors and spacecraft. (Yes, it's based on resource extraction, but so would be a space colony.) The example is, of course, Earth today, and it puts a ceiling on the size a colony with loadsa accessible resources would have to be to produce, e.g., things the size of ITER or a space program and a higher education/research system. And I would estimate that less than 10% of the global population is directly involved in supporting the cutting edge of this enterprise—we've got a lot of peasant farmers and telephone sanitizer salespeople.

The point is, total isolation (with a big enough population base and a not-too-badly collapsing biosphere) is sustainable at at least our current level of comfort. The big question is whether we can design a framework to allow polities one to three order of magnitude smaller and living in an artificial biosphere to duplicate or improve on the experience.

252:

Yes, but it's scaling thing. A very small colony (6-200 people, probably a research base or resource extraction outpost on the Moon or a near earth asteroid) is going to rely on importing skills from Earth. A mature colony (five million people farming the roofed-over floor of the Vales Marineris on Mars) is going to have a medical school. The problem is what happens in-between (outpost with 1000-10,000 people a long way from home, e.g. a small generation ship).

And an interesting point is that the way the medium-sized/long-range outpost falls between stools makes this size of operation more brittle/fragile. Big polities can cover all the bases, small outposts send home for help, the in-betweeners are SOL ...

253:

In the modern world, nobody is totally self-sufficient.
Except N Korea of course .....

But even they are not. Unless you consider counterfeiting US (and maybe EU) currency a valid means of producing product for export.

254:

For outposts within the solar system, the example of the medium sized islands illustrates the model well enough. Not populated enough to constitute a civilisation individually, places like Iceland, New Zealand and Hawaii undoubtedly make use of surgeons and steam turbines, without being able to meet their own needs for these systems and products of systems. That doesn't prevent them from being successful settlements.

I think your example of a small generation ship illustrates what you're really concerned with, here, and that's the situation of total isolation. I suggest that that places a lower bound on the size of the population, let's say for the sake of argument North Korea if run along the same lines, or several times that when designed to encourage the finer aspects of human existence.

To loop this around to your earlier post, http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2016/06/cytological-utopia-and-the-rap.html, I might even claim that minimal generation ship is not in fact tin can with ten thousand primates, a composting toilet and a nuclear greenhouse, but a fully living Earthling super-organism; it takes however many million primates to constitute a civilisation, and they cannot exist in that way separated from the 10 to the whateverth power other parts, from the viruses and the archaea on up.

255:
So anyway, what sort of independence might you have with only 1000 people? Well, I suppose you could have financial independence somehow if there was something out there that people really wanted, but nobody's really found such a thing.

To be fair, you wouldn't really expect to find it while all the experiments are designed and prototyped on Earth. If you can design and prototype it on Earth, you probably don't need space for it.

To find a uniquely space-based product, you probably need people living in space for a number of years, with enough resources that they can do experiments and follow hunches that weren't conceived Earth-side. Grad students goofing around in the lab. Quite the speculative investment...

It's been observed that products like contact lenses are sufficiently valuable per gram that they'd be worth shipping from space, so in principle such a thing could exist. We just haven't found it, and aren't currently configured to find it.

256:

It's been observed that products like contact lenses are sufficiently valuable per gram that they'd be worth shipping from space

Have you got a source for that? Because on the face of it it sounds absurd that an orbital contact lens factory (with all the associated costs of construction, maintenance, shipping to and from) would be cost effective. I did a bit of googling but nothing jumped out on this topic.

257:

Quick estimate:

contact lens mass: 15mg

cost to orbit on mature Falcon 9 as estimated by Musk in 2004: $1100/Kg

So the cost of getting materials up to orbit is roughly 67 cents per contact lens.

Retail prices for contact lens are $1-2 apiece for daily wear, suggesting that it will not be economical to make contact lenses in orbit until all the materials are available from low-gravity-well sources.

258:

Contact lenses weigh 10-30mg each. Cost, retail, in the UK, is on the rough order of £1 per pair. Let's approximate that to £1/50mg, or £20 per gram, giving us £20,000 per kilogram. (Admittedly, 1Kg of contact lenses is 5-10,000 units by weight.)

Cost per Kg lifted to LEO is as low as $2000 to as high as $13,000 depending on the launch vehicle you want, off the shelf right now.

So yes, the price curves overlap; if someone could find a way to manufacture really good contact lenses in microgravity, it'd be economically plausible to do so.

259:

We have Deinococcus radiodurans, tardigrades (and more) as examples of just how radiation-tolerant organisms can get. I'd say there is room for significantly improving human radiation tolerance.

260:

I assume that's for disposable contacts? Older contacts could be worn over and over for 5-10 years, though they also had significant disadvantages, and there are all kinds of intervals available for contact lens replacement, so what kind of contacts are we talking about here, and how are they packed for shipping, and what does the packaging weigh?

Not to derail or anything, but for most contacts that packaging probably outweighs the lens by orders of magnitude. Note that the packaging issue is a big deal for damn-near anything we want to ship off planet.

261:

NK has special zones for export production, maybe like the maquilladores on the US/Mexican Border or similar places world wide. One such: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaesong_Industrial_Region
Oddly, NK also exports animation, graphic artist Guy Delisle worked as a foreworker in a contract animation studio in Pyongyang and wrote a graphic novel about it (titled Pyongyang), quite good IMO.

262:

Forget contacts. A vial of Lipofectamine 2000 is ~1000$ per 1 ml. Ship me this from space, plz.

263:

Super late to the party. One thought: are we talking humans like us here?

Compare the problems of Sumeria, Rome, pre-revolutionary France and the US of A today, we're all looking at the same human mental hardware. People never change. Whether the top weapon is a trireme or a nuclear aircraft carrier, it's the same brains. So the same problems arise. Trump is a demagogue not that far removed from those who plagued Rome. Cato would recognize our political headaches.

In scifi that doesn't posit big genetic changes, the problems will rhyme with our own history. Change the brains, now we have new problems.

If we don't change the brains, there's the question of institutions. Charlie pointed out that corporations are basically alien AI monsters. Long-lived institutions like the Catholic Church outlive the mere political will of emperors and kings. Not even invoking strong AI, I wonder what we could wind up with using powerful expert systems. The idea of a distributed authority that cannot be controlled by any one authority, no regulatory capture. Whose amending genuinely requires consent of the majority. Our laws today are only as good as they're enforced. Roe v. Wade says we have access to abortion but individual states are just closing all the clinics. If the feds don't step in, it will become a hypothetical right.

I would assume that certain attitudes and beliefs will be artifacts of their time and situation. Pure pacifism only works if a larger society protects the pacifist. They'll be rolled over by hostiles otherwise. Libertarians can entertain their ideas on planets with self-maintaining ecosystems.

So the TL;DR is we'd need to know the setting and the technology level to say what the results might be. Bonobos and chimps are really close genetically but quite different behaviorally. Gene-tweaked humans are a different case than us baselines today. And conflicts will arise from different human populations with different ways of thinking. We're all the same hardware right now but the cultural software causes huge clashes. Change the hardware and the software... well, conflict is the basis of interesting stories!

264:

Your intuition is very wrong indeed: like extrapolating the applicability of a common piece of assembly shared by a chest of drawers and a Morgan Plus Four to a Boeing 747-8. The former two are made of wood; the latter ... is vastly more complex and mostly isn't.

265:

But potentially hilariously so. The radiation resistant organisms mostly didn't evolve those mechanisms to resist rads, high-radiation not being very commonly encountered in nature. They evolved them to survive desiccation, freezing and so on.... Take that fact, and play it in reverse. A human with a cellular chemistry redesigned to laugh at radiation... might also have the tools to *survive mummification*. With proper medical assistance, of course.
Which also answers the problem of "How to get home if thing go tits up?" You stick yourself in a bag, attach an ion drive and a computer, and arrive in earth orbit a year or decade later. If you don't need it to have life support, a lifeboat gets a lot easier to build and weighs a lot less.

266:

Giving rise to a whole bunch of SFnal story plots which basically boil down to THE MUMMY IN SPAAAAAACE ...

267:
To find a uniquely space-based product, you probably need people living in space for a number of years, with enough resources that they can do experiments and follow hunches that weren't conceived Earth-side. Grad students goofing around in the lab. Quite the speculative investment...

There are a few good old cliches that space is probably good for: certain rare elements, and in general materials that aren't at the bottom of a gravity well for use in space. Not to mention tourism.

However, I think these conversations about the finances of a resource extraction economy often kind of miss the point, so I thought I'd throw this out there:

A society doesn't need a "reason" to exist. It just is. It also doesn't need some uniquely valuable material or product to be worthwhile.

Or to put it another way, once it graduates from being an outpost to being a real city, the value is that it's a place people live, and the economic value is the work those people do.

People often get stuck thinking of space colonies as some sort of endeavor that only makes sense as a means to implement resource exploitation in space. However, this is really not the right way to think about it: the resource exploitation is simply an issue when considering how to pay for the project in the short term. In the long term, a city full of people in space is its own economic justification.

It's perfectly plausible to imagine a city on Mars of a million people, for example, that exports zero material goods to Earth, while continuing to import computer chips and surgeons. The Martians can pay for the trade imbalance in durable goods by writing computer software, making TV shows, doing research, or any number of other information-based products.

And it doesn't even necessarily matter that Mars is a comparatively inhospitable place to live: it simply means that the portion of the population employed in life support activities will be higher than in a comparable Earth population, so perhaps taxes will be higher too.

To provide an Earth-based example, an island in the Pacific (or indeed, any place people live) doesn't need some sort of unique export good to exist. It's sufficient that people want to live there, and are able to. This is true of the whole Earth: we don't actually produce anything that we don't then use ourselves, and that's fine.

268:
Have you got a source for that? Because on the face of it it sounds absurd that an orbital contact lens factory (with all the associated costs of construction, maintenance, shipping to and from) would be cost effective.

Sorry, no source — it originated as someone's comment at a con (Glasgow WorldCon?) — but others have already provided the calculations for disposable contact lenses, the note that not all lenses are disposable (which would provide another 2-3 orders of magnitude buffer; consider how much a pair of glasses costs if it's a complex prescription and high-index with anti-reflex coating), and an example of an even more expensive material.

If you can save someone a day of ICU, that's another order of magnitude, two if you save a week, not counting the reduced distress of getting out of ICU sooner (see eg. BabyBIG, although that's 100mg/dose).

Of course, these are all things that we have developed on Earth; moving the manufacturing into space won't help anything. They're only useful to demonstrate that it's possible to have items with the required benefit-per-gram ratio, even widely-used ones like contact lenses. The trick would be coming up with something new, with a similar profile, that can only be manufactured in space...

269:

It might be easier to toughen people up a bit and add some sort of muscular valve enroute to the lungs to maintain something like 1 atmosphere inside of the body. The results wouldn't be conventionally pretty. Given that I expect that anywhere with frequent vacuum breaches would involve sane people constantly wearing pressure suits with auto-deploying helmets...I'm not sure how useful this would be.

270:

Not all of us are foodies. There's a fair number of people in my current workplace (and not a computer startup or somesuch) subsisting on Soylent out of pure laziness. (As in, tasty textured food is not worth either shopping and cooking or walking to the nearest restaurant...) Oddly, they aren't even in the engineering division. I'm thinking that, eg, you won't have cows in space and even the facilities required to grow a nice textured steak and certify health, etc, won't be available to the average smallish community. My gut guess is that there're too many economies of scale. My gut guess is also that the food will, relative to Earth, be significantly subpar.

271:

Nope.
Charlie, we love you, but you are not vastly more complex than a tardigrade. "Somewhat more complex" I'll buy.

272:

Thanks. I couldn't get past the abstract either, but at least it's a rather more informative one than they usually are. Certainly the phenomenon I was thinking of, though I can't see if it mentions the actual incident.

273:

I do that. Porridge (salt, no sugar) for breakfast, crisps or biscuits in between, microwave curry for main meal. Basic principle is that if it takes more effort to prepare than just sticking it in the microwave and ignoring it until it's done, it's not worth the hassle. Certainly anything that takes longer to prepare than it does to eat is right out the window. And it's advantageous if it can be eaten with one hand, leaving the other free for holding a book or clicking a mouse.

It's the same curry every day, too, because that eliminates the mental effort of having to choose between different ones.

I'd do fine with space food. Indeed, if you could get astronaut food in normal shops I'd probably buy it. But the colony would need a plantation capable of growing decent tea, and also real cows, or I'd be right out.

274:

You'd have to toughen people up a lot, or it really wouldn't be pretty. The bursting force from a lungful of air at 1atm vs. vacuum outside runs into tons. And while the enhanced rib cage might be taking most of that, there'd still be unbalanced forces on the lungs themselves, and making tough lungs that still work as lungs is a bit tricky. I still think that reverting to fetal circulation on demand would be a much easier mod.

275:

But if, say - creating a hypothetical situation for the sake of argument - for some reason the only material you had to make nails/screws/rivets out of was tin, then all three examples would be significantly enhanced in their resistance to cold if you figured out what to alloy it with. Maybe not very important for the chest of drawers, but it would be for the Morgan, and for the 747 it would be critical.

276:

Actually, in this case, I'd say Charlie's vastly more complex than a tardigrade. And that's a problem.

If you want to get some idea of what tardigrades do to come out of hibernation, I wrote a blog post about that last November. It's pretty extreme, and the upshot is that their genome looks like chop suey and contains a lot of DNA that their ancestor picked up from their environment as they reconstituted themselves (it takes the record for the most foreign DNA ever found in a genome).

I don't know that tardigrades can learn anything or retain memories through hibernation, but I suspect that there are a lot of things about humans (most importantly, our brains) that would not survive tardigrade-style hibernation via anhydrobiosis. That's why I'm not sure that you can readily scale up from a tardigrade to human hibernation. We need to look more at ground squirrels and lemurs, I think.

277:

I'd suggest that any solution to colonizing space has to deal with scaling. The simplest way to deal with it is to make the colony cellular, so that it grows by adding more small colonies of to form a cluster of small similar colonies, rather than by adding functions and metastasizing. That way, when it falls apart (as it will), the smaller units it falls apart into are functional, not non-functional. This sounds abstract, but one way to think of it is to make a Stanford Torus out of a number of independent greenhouses, not a single huge torus. that way, if one section gets slammed, the air doesn't leak out of all of the untouched segments. This goes for social structure and technology as well.

One point is that we're not talking about imperial colonization here. There's nothing sufficiently valuable on Mars or the Moon to make it worth shipping back here. I'm really not sure that using the colonies of the last 500 years is a good example.

One could argue that space colonies are about prestige, as Antarctic colonies currently are (they're also about stopping territory grabs later, but that's another issue). In many ways, that's how they're treated, which is why rich magnates like Elon Musk get to publicly air their colony fantasies, while dutiful nerds like us argue amongst ourselves online.

Still, we're more talking about independent settlement: anyone who's rich enough can send a colony somewhere else to survive by itself, because they want to be rulers in their own land, rather than second-class magnates in their homeland. Or some such. Certainly we can share information and travel back and forth, but it's not, primarily, about resource economics. Each colony has to be able to support itself from its own resources. And that's hard.

278:

Lots of variables here: speed of communication, speed of travel, cost of transportation, frequency of contact. AI capabilities, costs. At each location: potential for self sufficiency, density of population, ease of expansion, cost of expansion, local risks external and internal, fragility of the environment. Sudden or gradual changes in any variable and the situation could change radically. The situations would all exist in a dynamic state and not likely be very stable for long in most cases. I would therefore expect the governance situation to come under pressure for change at various points.

Imagine the historical evolution of governance and political economy from sailing around the world on a galleon, to trading outposts, colonies, city states and then kingdoms and nations (ignoring potential world governments) Think also of the transitions that occur when a new frontier or colony develops.

There might well be sudden changes in transportation costs or speeds that would change the equilibrium overnight. Successful terrraforming or increased industrial capacity might create a new frontier. Two societies at very different stages might encounter or merge, driving an abrupt change in governance or economy for one or both of them.

I think the distinguishing characteristic of these various emerging societies will be change rather than any single model that endures. Violent transition and fragility of environment would likely spell the end of many.

279:

To take a totally different tack, there's the Trump/Vegas/La model of colonization.

The point here is that Cities like LA, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, and San Diego (among others) are fundamentally illogical. They only work because they import just about everything--energy, food, water, people, technology. And yet they're growing, while logical places to settle, like Detroit and Cleveland, are contracting (and yes, I grew up in LA and lived in Akron, OH for a year).

Colonizing other planets is the essence of microchiropteran fecal psychosis. There's no reason to do it, except for the fact that, (to quote the best known living Martian), it would be hu-u-uge. It's colonization by Rule of Cool, and it works because it's just so much more awesome to colonize Mars than it is to colonize Queen Maud Land (which is in East Antarctica). Thereafter, the colony grows because, come on, you just going to let all those poor innocent people die? You've got to support them, which means more growth. That's basically how LA grew. This head-slappingly preposterous process is what led Marc Reisner (of Cadillac Desert fame) to create the law that water runs uphill to power and money. If you generalize this law to all resources, you could grow colonies with it. For awhile, anyway.

Inevitably the bottom will drop out of these self-inflating colonies one way or another, and they downsize rather horribly. After all, the world is littered with abandoned cities in deserts Thing is, if you keep establishing new colonies faster than the old one dies, you create a bizarre meta-stable space empire. You've just got to keep running faster than reality catches up with you. What better reason to colonize space?

280:

The point here is that Cities like LA, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, and San Diego (among others) are fundamentally illogical. They only work because they import just about everything--energy, food, water, people, technology. And yet they're growing, while logical places to settle, like Detroit and Cleveland, are contracting

I disagree a bit here. Detroit, Cleveland, etc... all grew up due to location, location, location. Iron ore and coal were there. River transportation was there. And where it wasn't the ground was really flat compared to other areas. So people moved there to build "stuff" because it was much cheaper to build near the raw materials than to ship the raw stuff to "better" places to live.

Oh, yeah, more southern areas of the country has much worse issues with disease from the environment.

Birmingham and Richmond were southern industries only due to ore and coal nearby. But in small quantities compared to the northern US.

Now this is much less of an issue so people who are fed up with being cold leave. It's easier to be poor in LA than Detroit. (I lived in Pittsburgh for 7 years. That 1 month stretch below freezing every winter was just plain hard on life. Mentally and physically.) Cold in LA is way easier to deal with than cold in Cleveland. I spent 2 months in the winter of 78 there. It was a miserable place. Especially that winter.

Now many people who grow up somewhere mentally don't want to leave. For various reasons. A lot of my friends (we're all in our 50s and 60s) are dealing with parents who seem more wedded to a zip code than their kids and grandkids.

Anyway, LA and similar places, exist because it's just plain easier to live there than other places.

281:

Sorry.

more southern areas of the country HAD much worse issues with disease from the environment.

Today this is mostly a moot point.

282:

@274
A stronger ribcage won't do it. The chest contents will be expelled via the abdomen. An accident on the Byford Dolphin drilling rig tells us about going from high to low pressure. It's not pretty.

283:

Inevitably the bottom will drop out of these self-inflating colonies one way or another, and they downsize rather horribly. After all, the world is littered with abandoned cities in deserts Thing is, if you keep establishing new colonies faster than the old one dies, you create a bizarre meta-stable space empire. You've just got to keep running faster than reality catches up with you. What better reason to colonize space?

Hm, I've been bouncing around an idea of a space-operaish thing, set in a stellar cluster (for short distances between the stars). This could be one idea to use there, though I still need to work on the FTL there.

Might be easier if the planets weren't quite Earth-like, so that colonies would need to import most of the stuff at least in the beginning.

So, thanks for the idea.

284:

Hm, I've been bouncing around an idea of a space-operaish thing, set in a stellar cluster (for short distances between the stars).

Short distances between stars unfortunately translate into high frequencies of close encounters between stars, with, err, unfortunate consequences for nascent planetary systems. This may make planetary systems less common in star clusters, and it may also make the evolution of planetary biospheres a good deal more hazardous (even an encounter that doesn't disrupt the system altogether might easily cause an equivalent of the Late Heavy Bombardment period in the history of our solar system: this is something that you really don't want to have happen multiple times).

Also, most open clusters are very young—their planetary systems, if present, will be at a very early stage in their development. "Not quite Earth-like" would be an understatement! In contrast, globular clusters are very old, and consequently tend to be low in what astronomers call "metals" and the rest of us call "elements heavier than helium" (astronomers think oxygen is a metal—chemists tend to disagree). And they have much higher central densities than open clusters. Globular clusters are probably a bad idea.

My suggestion would be M67. M67 is an old open cluster, probably comparable in age to the Sun, and is known to contain some planetary systems. Admittedly these are "hot Jupiters"—massive planets orbiting very close to their stars—and therefore deeply unsuitable for colonisation. (Planets orbiting very close to their stars might be relatively more common in star clusters, as the inner parts of the protoplanetary disc are more likely to survive an encounter.) But at least they exist, and are planets!

285:

astronomers think oxygen is a metal—chemists tend to disagree

Anyone know why astronomers think anything heavier than helium is a metal?

(And anyway it's not as though hydrogen can't be metallic under the right circumstances. Such as the core of Jupiter, which I expect astronomers were aware of.)

286:

Anyone know why astronomers think anything heavier than helium is a metal?

For the same reason that to an astrophysicist the solar system consists of the Sun, Jupiter, and some gravel: it's a useful simplifying descriptor based on prevalence.

287:

It's because the most conspicuous optical lines in stellar spectra tend to be from metals (e.g. the strongest lines in the Sun's spectrum are ionised calcium, Ca II). Therefore, astronomers around the turn of the century got into the habit of distinguishing hydrogen lines from metal lines, and hence calling everything that isn't hydrogen or helium "metals".

Chemical non-metals tend not to make optical spectral lines, because their electrons are more tightly held, so the transitions to excited states aren't in the optical.

288:

For the same reason that to an astrophysicist the solar system consists of the Sun, Jupiter, and some gravel: it's a useful simplifying descriptor based on prevalence.

That's not it: the third and fourth most common elements after hydrogen and helium are oxygen and carbon, respectively. The only metallic elements in the top ten are iron and magnesium, at 6 and 9 respectively.

289:

So not because Metal Rocks?

290:

You're welcome.

As for clusters, ignoring the real astrophysics for a second, James Schmitz' the Hub series (Telzey Amberdon and company, from the 1960s) was set in a stellar cluster, based on the (probably mistaken) idea that earthlike planets would be more common there. In other words, it's been done, but not done to death, in part because, as Susan noted, current concepts in astrophysics tend to say that Schmitz was wrong.

This is one reason I've started proselytizing for jumpships: the distances don't matter so much, and neither does life support. It's get into space, hit the Big Red Button (or whatever your procedure is), Jump to destination, and get out of space. If you want to make the voyage more tedious and possible space battle tactics more interesting, throw in a velocity-matching segment by assuming that jumpships conserve momentum through the jumps. IIRC you've got 10-100 km/sec of delta V to deal with, as stars move rather quickly relative to each other. Still, life support for six months is a lot less than life support for a generation ship.

291:

Charlie, we love you, but you are not vastly more complex than a tardigrade. "Somewhat more complex" I'll buy.

I may be the only one who's now imagining a button that reads 'Not vastly more complex than a tardigrade.' Perfect for conventions.

292:

It's the same curry every day, too, because that eliminates the mental effort of having to choose between different ones. I'd do fine with space food.

Many of us would; it's been documented that engineers, like cats, are willing to eat the same thing day after day...

293:

Yeah, but somebody's still got to make all the stuff for you.

In any case, if you really think you'd like eating astronaut food, you have to read Mary Roach's Packing For Mars. Food designed by scientists can be a little scary, especially when NASA recruited veterinarians, rather than dieticians, as their chief food designers.

294:

If it has to be stored you won't be on good curry or even the ready meal type. You will be eating crap.

I have quite a collection of freeze dried expedition food. All nutritionally balanced for the kind of idiot who finds going away for a few weeks or months of hard labour in unpleasant environments fun.

Energy tends to be starch rather than fat based due to limitations of human digestion at altitude (relevant to low pressure spacecraft atmospheres?).

Some of the instant mashed potato based stuff is reasonably palatable. Pasta dishes are ok in a crappy instant pasta way. Rice never reconstitutes properly even at sea level, and is guaranteed inedible in the 5 minutes promised by the packaging...

And this is the premium stuff.

The saving grace is the desserts. Dried fruit actually works.

295:

Food designed by scientists can be a little scary, especially when NASA recruited veterinarians, rather than dieticians, as their chief food designers.

Indeed. I know someone who was a military brat and grew up eating food marked APPROVED FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION BY USAF VETERINARIAN.

296:

Wow. I need to get some of that stuff.

A mate of mine used to always keep an emergency tin of catfood in the bottom of his rucsac.

He claimed that the theory was that if the shit ever really hit the fan he would get it out, look at it and find something more edible. Grass, rocks, his own leg... :)

297:

Although they weren't initially recruited, according to Packing For Mars, the basic pet food manufacturer has the goal of creating a food product that animals will eat, that won't give them diarrhea, and that will produce droppings (especially for cats) that are reasonably easy to clean out of the litter box.

Much of the same thinking applied to the food for the Apollo-era and earlier astronauts, since toilet facilities were beyond primitive for them. Oh, and it had to be as light and compact as possible. It wasn't about flavor, so much as, erm, whole system function. Constipation was regarded as a good thing, at least on short space flights, and crumbs are definitely a Bad Thing in space.

Still, you have to read Roach's book to really understand the basic, well, potty humor of the whole thing. She really is a master at telling this kind of story.

298:

I was amused to read that NASA has kept an archive of, ah, post-food products. It's been a while since I read Roach's book but as I recall there's a complete collection of Mercury astronaut's productions carefully stored away, on a secure base in a well maintained building behind a strong door...to which NASA has lost the key.

299:

Short distances between stars unfortunately translate into high frequencies of close encounters between stars, with, err, unfortunate consequences for nascent planetary systems. This may make planetary systems less common in star clusters, and it may also make the evolution of planetary biospheres a good deal more hazardous (even an encounter that doesn't disrupt the system altogether might easily cause an equivalent of the Late Heavy Bombardment period in the history of our solar system: this is something that you really don't want to have happen multiple times).

Yeah, it's not a perfect solution - I did work in astronomy for some years so I kind of have a clue of how things are (though that was more than decade ago). My main idea came from an article about globular clusters in the Finnish Astronomical society magazine, where Rosanne Di Stefano was interviewed about planets and life in globular clusters. The original article is available, but I haven't yet read it.

My idea was to have a cluster of systems close enough that slower than light flight is more possible than here, but still have a (somewhat limited) FTL system. With stars close enough you can also observe recent (high-energy) activities from nearby systems.

300:

Perhaps less sinister than it sounds; abattoirs have on-site veterinarians - one of them was the first to diagnose a case in the UK's last foot-and-mouth outbreak. It's one of the reasons some offal is hard to find these days - they're given to the vet for pathology.

301:

Another point on the LA/Vegas/Trump colonization model.

I just finished reading Mark Reisner's Cadillac Desert, which I strongly recommend for anyone who wants to understand how American politics worked in the 20th Century, why the US has such an enormous debt, and what will hit world food supplies in the 21st Century. What the book is, actually, is a history of water development in the western US, with glances elsewhere, as told by a muckraking journalist.

Here are some points that might be relevant:
--Rivers "work" because stuff dissolves into them (we can simplify this to salts and sediments). If the river runs to the ocean, a good chunk of the salts and sediments end up in the ocean. If they run to an inland lake, they end up there, which is where all those salt lakes in the western US came from.
--Once the Mormons demonstrated that irrigated agriculture could work in the West (actually, the Anasazi and Hohokam had tried the same trick 600 years earlier), it became the preferred model for western development. A lot of the West was more-or-less terraformed by dams and irrigation canals into what we have now, and it's probably no coincidence that many of the SF writers who tackle terraforming are Californians.
--Dams and irrigation have some problems. The dams capture sediment, and a good chunk of the water in the reservoirs evaporates, concentrating the salts. Irrigation water is salty, but plant transpiration takes water out of the soil, as does evaporation, leaving the salts in the soil. Without a way to flush the salts out of the soil and careful management, salts build up in the soil until its useless. (Pre-Aswan Dam) Egypt really escaped this problem (as did parts of China and SE Asia doing paddy rice), because they flooded the fields every year, flushed the salt out, and laid down more sediment. Long story short, dams and irrigation are an ephemeral system, with a mean time to failure measured generally in decades to centuries.
--Nonetheless, between 1900 and the late 1970s, water projects became a major alternative currency (Reisner called it "wampum") by which the pork-barrel politics of the US functioned. Favors came in the form of dams, reservoirs, canals, and the like, often in places that made little or no sense in economically. This is a classic example of why you have to talk about political economics, not just financial economics. The US poured billions of dollars into subsidizing agriculture in the western districts of politically powerful people, while at the same time paying eastern farmers in rain-fed districts not to grow the same crops more cheaply. In political terms, this dams-as-wampum economy made sense, as the true costs were externalized onto future generations.

This last point is critical. The politics of economics here were about which costs to talk about, which costs to cover up, which costs to cover now, and which to externalize, either onto the environment or onto the future. All economies do this. For example, current global capitalism is struggling mightily and with little success to monetize the costs of climate change so that it can be dealt with economically rather than politically. Part of the struggle is that many people do not want to pay attention to those costs, and that's the essence of politics right there.

Also note that the US wasn't alone in its dam-building frenzy. Everyone's been building dams. They're the great pyramids and megaliths of 20th Century civilization, except that they won't last nearly as long.

Now, getting back to the question of colonies, I suspect that you can substitute "colony on another planet" for "water project" and have much the same politics in an interstellar culture as you had in, say, the 1960s US. So long as there's projected growth, politicians can assume that the future, bigger economy will cover the present costs of colonization, and that will allow them to keep using new colonies as the political wampum to pay for support on other projects. Planets can get the pork barrel benefits of new colonies to absorb all the people that don't fit in crowded existing colonies, and the system can keep perpetuating itself, so long as there semi-reasonable places to plant new colonies.

Indeed, in the western US, all the good dam sites had dams on them by the 1940s, and by the 1970s, the only sites remaining were places that returned perhaps 10 cents for every dam-building dollar invested. Similar problems could happen if we start running out of great new worlds to colonize, and have to start colonizing less and less advantageous ones. That's when this whole political economy starts to collapse under its own weight.

There's also the problem of colonies failing, and having to move the colonists. It's fairly critical to determine how long space colonies can last. If they only last 50-100 years, then the next question is how they fail, because after a few centuries of rapid expansion, an interstellar empire can fall apart under the weight of refugees borne on a rapidly contracting economy that's no longer supported by prosperous colonies using their surplus resources to build more colonies.

In any event, if you're thinking about writing space opera, here's some setting help for you. Just remember, Chinatown is a mythologized take on California water politics, and there's no reason you can do something similar with space colonies. Also remember that politics determines which part of the economy gets externalized, and which part gets counted. That turns out to be pretty critical.

302:

@Heteromeles 301:

APPLAUSE

I'm wondering whether any other kind of economy has actually existed.

We're plenty wet enough here, but I see the same politics with highways. Imagine a fjord with ten settlements around it, all reachable only by boat (I've known places like this). Clearly none of them are more remote or "cut off" than the others. Someone with pull gets a road built to one of them, which means that the other nine become remote and cut off overnight. Later, repeat, rinse. The local joke is that the only use of the new road is by the farmer moving to the city.

After privatisation, the local politician is the real owner via shells of the road construction company, or is bribed. It's not corruption when WE do it!

303:

I tried canned cat food. If you are not a fan of salt (and I am decidedly not a fan of salt), it is perfectly edible.

304:

politics determines which part of the economy gets externalized, and which part gets counted. That turns out to be pretty critical.

Very true, and relevant to the discussion a few posts up. Trade and immigration offer great benefits to residents of less developed countries, but impose considerable costs on the developed-country citizens with whom the foreign laborers most directly compete. The losers in this deal tend to be less well educated, less cosmopolitan in outlook, and are unlikely to live near major centers of finance or trade. We're currently in the middle of a struggle over whether and how their costs will be recognized.

This isn't to say they aren't dangerous, racist fascists. That's also a fair characterization for many of them. Desperation isn't ennobling.

305:

I'm not much of a fan of salty food, but I will pass the message on next time I see him and see if he comes up with something worse :)

306:

i would say approach massively exploited in this discussion is fundamentally flawed -- denying escape and concentrating on a system of people based on people would never function. it has been proved however that "the vent" is a fundamental part of human brain function. what is necessary for the colony to survive and develop is _another_colony_. it shall be relatively simple to create multiple sites on say mars or the proverbial alpha centaury relatively isolated an governed by different authorities put that founding society... that providing the vent (that 95% of colonists will never use). however this is not the only problem. the much bigger problem would be deviation from the founding culture that would over time create an impossible gap for new colonists to adopt. therefore unless the group would reach self-sustainability by cloning or artificial life forming it will ultimately decay away. i think asimov sort of explored this area in the foundation (united planets thingie...)

307:

oh... and running your service as "root" is a very bad idea. it's not them 80s anymore

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