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Friday, July 05, 2013

What Is Britain's Greatest Achievement Of The Last 50 Years - What It Could Be In The Next

  In 1999 ...when asked to name America’s greatest achievement of the 20th century, the specific accomplishment cited most frequently — at 18% — was space exploration or the moon mission. Overall, 47% cited any achievement in science, medicine or technology, including space.
But in May of this year, when the public was asked to name the greatest U.S. accomplishment of the past 50 years, somewhat fewer (12%) specifically mentioned space exploration or getting a man to the moon as the greatest achievement. Only about a quarter (27%) mentioned an achievement in science, medicine or technology. (For more from this survey, see “Public Praises Scientists; Scientists Fault Public, Media,” July 9, 2009.)

In the new survey, [2009] nearly as many people point to the election of a black president (10%) as cite the space program as the greatest U.S. accomplishment of the past half-century. In addition, a third (33%) offer no response — or say “nothing” when asked about the top national achievement — compared with 24% in the 1999 survey.

     Not surprising that an event 40 years earlier, when most of the population was unborn, would slip a bit with time. My guess is that 34 years from now electing an incompetent because he was a half black brought up by whites, is not going to be seen as a proud achievement - call it a hunch.

   In fact what is clear is that  the fading of Apollo (6% down but still the greatest single achievement) has not been accompanied by an increase in respect for new achievements but by respect for nothing (13% up).

     Which suggests that space exploration, back when the USA was doing it was very well worth it. The original Apollo programme cost $170 billion in 2005 prices which is a little over 1% of current GDP for 1 year. Nothing compared to total government pending.

     "To love one's country it should be lovable." Partly because we have had decades of "we shouldn't spend money in space as long as there are still problems here" I have repeatedly said that state support, through X-Prizes, of the development of space, far from costing money, opens the door to wealth beyond anything seen heretofore. All those arguments hold entirely true.

   However I have tended to ignore the cultural benefits. Anything which makes people proud of their culture and society and which tends to unite us is desirable. The importance of a society holding common feeling can hardly be underestimated. as Steve Sailer explains:

A rare contribution of the Muslim world to intellectual life was made by the Tunisian philosopher Ibn Khaldun in the 14th century. He developed a theory of the rise and decline of group loyalty. An impoverished tribe out on the fringe of the Sahara would develop an esprit de corps allowing it to conquer the coast’s rich but decadent civilization. Over a few generations of soft living, the new ruling clans would lose their asabiyyah and turn to scheming against each other for petty advantages, only to be conquered by a cohesive new tribe out of the wasteland.

   A deliberate space programme (at about 30% of the cost of Apollo if funded through X-Prizes) (£11 billion a year over 10 years) should achieve an effect proportional to Apollo (that now probably means commercial space shuttles, orbital industry, Moon settlements, solar power satellites and Martian & asteroidal exploration and mining) would not only make us extremely wealthy but also give everybody reason for great national pride and therefore national unity. (No downside here since if the targets weren't achieved, by definition, the prizes wouldn't be won.)

   We are clearly in need of some reasons for British national pride - the contempt the vast majority feel for our government is tangible. Such pride cannot be obtained simply by spending money. Despite the opening of the Olympics it clearly cannot be obtained simply by having a national health service and welfare state (though I do think a welfare cushion does help whatever the pure free market arguments against it). The traditional way of ramping up national unity and pride is going to war (still being used as our roles in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya and Syria prove) but not only is that a risky option it is over time, a distasteful and destructive one.

   Hesiod describes two sorts of strife - one which is war and taking by force and the other gaining wealth by effort to create wealth:

there was not one kind of Strife alone, but all over the earth there are two. As for the one, a man would praise her when he came to understand her; but the other is blameworthy: and they are wholly different in nature

For one fosters evil war and battle, being cruel: no man loves her; but perforce, through the will of the deathless gods, men pay harsh Strife her honour due.

But the other is the elder daughter of dark Night (Nyx), and the son of Cronus who sits above and dwells in the aether, set her in the roots of the earth: and she is far kinder to men. She stirs up even the shiftless to toil; for a man grows eager to work when he considers his neighbour, a rich man who hastens to plough and plant and put his house in good order; and neighbour vies with his neighbour as he hurries after wealth.
   It would be in our national interest to put a bit of effort into expanding the human horizon beyond Earth rather than to put the current, far greater, effort into international wars, class wars and the Luddite war on fire.


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