Welcome to another episode of Fully Automated!
This is not only our 30th episode, but it is the first episode of our fifth year bringing you the most fully-automated space-aged communist podcast around! And, to mark the occasion, we are returning to an old theme for this show: the politics of technology and space exploration! Our guest for this discussion is Daniel Deudney, Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. In this episode we will be discussing Prof. Deudney’s new book, Dark Skies, Space Expansionism, Planetary Geopolitics & the Ends of Humanity (Oxford University Press).
For non-academic audiences, Prof. Deudney is not a fully-automated space communist like myself — but he is kind of a big deal when it comes to thinking about the politics of world order and space exploration. He has published extensively on world political theory and globalization, focusing especially on the environment, and nuclear weapons. His book, Bounding Power: Republican Security Theory from the Polis to the Global Village (Princeton, 2007) received the Book of the Decade Award (2000-2009) from the International Studies Association, and the Jervis-Schroeder Prize from the American Political Science Association.
As you’ll hear, Prof. Deudeny and I certainly don’t agree about everything, but we one thing is for sure — we have a shared disdain for Silicon Valley boosterism! In this interview, you’ll hear Prof. Deudney talk a bit about his intellectual background, and his earlier work on how nuclear weaponry creates the need for world government. Then we get into his current book, where you’ll hear him talk about the disconnect between the optimism of our space imaginary and the thin record of accomplishments in actually existing space exploration. Part of the problem, says Deudney, is that we take our cues too much from the realms of science fiction and space futurism, and not enough from science.
For me, one of the real accomplishments of the book is that it brings together a genealogy of space imagination from an extraordinarily diverse range of sources. One particularly important important figure here is the nineteenth century space futurist, Konstantin Tsiolokovsky. But there are others. What they all seem to have in common is a tendency to predict a kind of organic destiny of man to expand out into the solar system and beyond, and to engineer and denaturalize everything he sees. They also pose a universe of plenitude where there will be no need for war, and an eventually suppression of the human species itself. For Deudney, there’s a lot of hubris on display in this discursive record, not least in terms of its naive grasp of the limits of our planet’s ecology (in the book, Deudney evokes the prosaic style of Kim Stanley Robinson, with clauses such as “the turbulent earth and its unruly life”).
With his map of our space imaginary laid out, Deudney closes the book by suggesting a new set of coordinates by which we might imagine the use of space exploration. However, as we enter “the astrocene,” he notes that we seem stuck with hopelessly archaic and impractical forms of political management. Our future survival, he contends, will demand the emergence of new kinds of world-governmental institutions — these will preferably be of a democratic nature, but he doesn’t rule out something akin to what Marx termed “hydraulic despotism.”
So what exactly is the choice on the table for us here? Staying within the realm of closure and archaic forms of interdependency, or something like the movie Elysium? Or is there another option? These and other questions preoccupy us as the discussion concludes. We hope you enjoy the program!
Special thanks to Phil Davis for the new theme music!