Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tyranny out of left field

Rand is a great writer in my opinion and his latest should be read by anyone interested in space settlement. But I am compelled to take issue with a number of his conclusions. This is especially unexpected (out of left field) in light of his book (which I've been plugging shamelessly at every opportunity) and generally pro-liberty stance. Never would I have expected him to come out on the side of the elites against the common person. Is that fair? Is that what he's doing? He denies it and concludes that we do not understand his position (and he can't understand it for me. This is Rand.) I say we because I am not alone in being disturbed by this contradiction. He's just expressing an opinion, he says, which sounds to me a lot as if Jon Stewart were saying, "Hey, I'm just a comedian, not a news reporter. I can't be held responsible if I mislead and people believe me." He's not just expressing an opinion, he's trying to influence people to take a position. A position I disagree with and would like discussed on it's merits rather than by attacks against character.

Ok, so let's examine what he says in the article...
"based on what we know right now about the planet Mars, it would be irresponsible to even attempt [having children]"
Right off the bat (to continue with baseball analogies) he contradicts his own previous statements that he's repeated many times.
The issue isn’t that we know that it’s impossible, but that we don’t know that it is possible, or how to do it yet. ... There is no data whatsoever. But I wouldn’t propose to do an experiment on someone who didn’t volunteer for it.
Even in the article itself he points out, "...absolutely none at the 0.38 gravity..."

When pointed out that we are talking about volunteers, instead of acknowledging that, he claimed they have no right to make these choices since other people would be footing the bill. Astounding!

But perhaps we just misunderstand. Perhaps he wasn't talking about the colonists themselves? Perhaps it's the babies that are not volunteers? Let's get to that point in a bit.

“We are not in the business of telling people what to do...,” Lansdorp said in response to Rand's question of him. Rand, I would ask you directly... Why did he choose those words? Is this not a reference to a very disturbing elitist attitude, that you appear to be expressing, that those choices are not theirs?

Then Rand, an extremely logical person, quotes a non sequitur: it would be unethical to allow conception in weightlessness.

We're talking about 0.38g which you have agreed has zero data. He also misstates this...

"We’re agreed that [having kids on mars] would be irresponsible" but Lansdorp said, "at this point." For anyone else this point might have been missed, but Rand doesn't make mistakes like this. I've known, respected and liked him for part of two decades now. I know that he won't take this rebuttal kindly and that saddens me greatly. But one of the great things about Rand's character is that the truth does matter to him where others seem to have just a slight acquaintance with it.

The issue[s do go] beyond gravity. Yes, so what about that reference to the scary article about hexavalent chromium? Knowing the enemy is half the battle. We send chemists and engineers. With their lives on the line they have what Elon calls the 'forcing function' to solve the problem. I have high confidence they can handle it. We know how to protect an artificial environment. It just takes enough resources. Sending the right people is the major resource. Otherwise, even as Rand admits in the article, we could wait forever for researchers to get around to studying the issues. This becomes an artificial roadblock preventing us from ever going. But more than that, a reference to something that potentially kills all the colonists is also a red herring away from the main point about making babies.

We are learning that radiation on mars is not the boogie man it's been made out to be. It is easily mitigated. In his concluding paragraphs, Rand makes this seemingly reasonable and benign statement...
When it comes to bringing new human life involuntarily into a world with a very high, or at least completely unknown risk of debilitating or even agonizing results, we should err on the side of bioethical caution, and (like Inspiration Mars) select the first colonists on the basis of their (lack of) fertility, whether natural or voluntarily attained.
Imagine if Dr. Mengele had made a similar statement? Bioethics came about as a result of his activities (which I won't dignify by calling work) as this article points out and concludes: "What could not be accomplished on the battlefield is now being accomplished behind locked doors in laboratories around the world." Let me be clear: I am not comparing Rand to Mengele. I am saying that the slippery slope happens when people decide they have the right to decide for other people.

Most things can be good, benign or evil. Taking choices away from the people is generally evil. I am not alone in seeing the dangers of tyranny in bioethics.

So now let's get to the heart of the matter and consider the decision. First, we can expect that responsible people would wait to have children until their own personal survival has been reasonably taken care of. So that takes a whole host of issues off the table. Then we are left with this reality: Their is always risk in childbirth even in the best circumstance. Safe is certainly not an option. We will never be a space civilization if children are not born somewhere besides the earth. This is just a basic truth.

Assuming that birth is impossible at 0.38g is a cheat. It's not an argument. A reasonable position is that it entails more risk. That is an argument and allows for further consideration. What is that risk? How does it compare with other childbirth risks? It is in this respect that Trent brings us the real issue...

  • Is it unethical for people over 50 to attempt to have children? The miscarry rate is extremely high and the chance of birth defects is similarly high.
  • Is it unethical for people to attempt to have children in a war zone?
  • Is it unethical for people with heredity diseases to have children?
In all these case, like childbirth at 0.38g, we have a higher risk. Risk is a spectrum and 0.38g birth fits in there someplace. Rand is presenting us with a false choice when he demands expresses his opinion that it's no birth or defective birth. He doesn't seem to include the possibility of healthy birth? Which is extremely odd when he admits himself we have zero research on the subject.

So let's research it. I agree, but not at the cost of holding up everything else. We send probes and learn a little. It's time we send people and learn a thousand times faster. They aren't risking their babies lives. Being reasonable people they will wait until they think the time is right. They are risking their own lives which Rand endorses with a book. This is one of the many contradictions in Rand's position.

Is it possible not to offend and still have my intellectual integrity?

No comments: