Competition begets innovation. Since our inception, our species has benefited from it. And competition is everywhere. Humanity has never known life without competition.
In the past thousand years this competition, this desire to come in first place, has manifested itself in many ways: imperialism, economics and military might. But in more modern times, it’s been fairly monopolized by military. According to pries.org, 22 percent of the total national budget goes towards defense.
I feel the reasoning behind this falls in line with the neoconservatism theory that there needs to be an outside enemy for a state to exist. An outside enemy creates a way to unify the people in a common goal, the barest form of competition.
Our national military-industrial complex further feeds this. When there’s an outside enemy, businesses making weapons sell them to the government, and then use profits to fund politicians who support the war, and the cycle continues. We’ve seen this in Vietnam, and we’re seeing this in the War on Terror.
This doesn’t have to be the case. On Sept. 12, 1962, John F. Kennedy delivered a speech at Rice University in Houston, Texas, that set the stage for one of the most frantic competitions between the Soviet Union and the U.S. He said, “We choose to go to the moon.”
This changed things. The outside enemy, the goal to unify the country, wasn’t the destruction of another, it was peaceful, it was scientific. JFK said, “We have vowed that we will not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding … We have vowed that we shall not see it governed, by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom, and peace.”
The space race wasn’t about who could build the bigger bomb, it was about pioneering new frontiers, new technologies. It led to incredible things, like better football helmets and tempurpedic mattresses.
And it unified the country, right? Almost everyone’s parents or grandparents can tell you where they saw or heard about the moon landing. The space race was competition, and with competition comes innovation. Now, in the face of stagnation, we need that again, another challenge to unify us. We need another space race.
So what happened? Why did we stop pushing? We won. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and the stars and stripes are hanging frozen above us on the moon. Now, our generation is a space generation. People walked on the moon and planted the flag long before we got here.
I hate to say it, but it’s almost old news. Many of us grew up playing games or watching movies that brought us through the stars. But once we knew enough, we learned that lightspeed wasn’t as simple as Han Solo pushing forward those four levers. We were told it was impossible, it was just fantasy. And for the most part, we believed them.
But that thinking stems from what we used to know. It stems from when humans had been to space only a handful of times. Things are different now. But people are too desensitized to the concept of space and locked in their beliefs about what is and isn’t possible.
A new space race would bring it to the forefront of the news, it would be a replacement for the enemy image of ‘terror’ that’s plagued us for years.
It would be something to focus both public eye and federal funds toward to inspire and motivate. With a completely new industry, entrepreneurs would sprout up left and right, furthering competition and speeding up innovation.
We’re advancing in technology at roughly 1000 percent a year, and futurists like Ray Kurzweil claim that we’re approaching a point when the exponential curve of our technological advancement starts to go straight up. According to Popular Science magazine, a NASA operation, called Eagleworks, is looking into the very real possibility of a “warp drive.”
The world is changing rapidly. And as it changes, we need to look at the motivation, the goals that drive the change. Right now, it seems we’re being driven by military and imperialistic tendencies. I feel like this needs to change. I’d much rather live in a country motivated by a scientific-industrial complex than a military-industrial complex.
Augustus Stahl can be contacted at email@example.com