Bill Nye, the so-called former “science guy,” is warning future space settlers that they had best guard their speech against politically incorrect language.
“In the planetary community, we discourage the use of the verb ‘colonize.’ We prefer ‘settle,'” Nye said at the 70th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) meeting in Washington, D.C. “Colonizing has gotten a bad rap, understandably.”
The distinction between “colony” and “settlement” may be lost on most people. Nye is motivated, in part, by a certain view of American history, particularly the settling of what was once called the New World. The old narrative of heroic pioneers carving out a new life in a frontier wilderness has been cast aside. Some historians have substituted a new narrative of imperialist invaders, despoiling and slaughtering native peoples. The settling of the Americas and the founding of the United States are no longer thought to be great and glorious. American history has become a story worthy of shame and revulsion.
Unfortunately, Nye’s position is based on a flawed view of history. The story of European migration to the Americas is more complex than a simple-minded narrative of native people falling victim to evil white people. The history is one of heroism, tragedy, and cultural misunderstanding. Villains and victims existed on all sides of the story,
Second, no intelligent beings exist anywhere in the solar system for Earthlings to oppress. People who move to Mars will find, at most, microbes hiding in niches on the Red Planet. Of course, some in the scientific community insist that if such life should ever be found on Mars, the settlement of that planet should be forbidden indefinitely to avoid “contamination.” That view is arrogant at best.
Third, Nye and those who agree with him come off as hectoring and silly. One is reminded of how Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau admonished a student for daring to use the word “mankind.” The correct word is “peoplekind,” thank you very much.
Besides, people who might move to the moon, Mars or some other place in the solar system are not going to be very patient with PC attempts to govern their speech. They are going to be intelligent, tough, and self-reliant. They are going to be more focused on surviving and thriving in an unimaginably harsh environment than watching their words. Indeed, one motivation for leaving the comforts of Earth might be putting hundreds of millions of miles between themselves and people like Bill Nye.
Some people even find the term “settlement” to be problematic. “Settlement” reminds them of what Israeli Jews are doing on the West Bank. The BDS crowd is likely to be particularly offended.
One should also not fail to mention that Bill Nye is a skeptic of settling or colonizing other worlds. He made his language cop statement in response to a question about whether Jupiter’s moon Europa should become a new home for adventurous humans. Europa is an ice-shrouded world. Many scientists believe it has a subsurface ocean with complex lifeforms in it. Nye does not believe that human beings should live in such a place, even to conduct a long-term study of such extraterrestrial life.
He has also thrown shade on the idea, most recently advanced by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, of moving to Mars. No one should want to live in a Mars settlement (or colony), according to Nye. Mars is too cold, too arid, too bathed with radiation, lacking air, food, and water.
The sentiment reminds one of what Robert Heinlein said about why Americans, descended from pioneers, are a different quality of people than Europeans. “The cowards never started and the weak died along the way.” The conditions on Mars, which Nye sees as a showstopper, future Martians will see as a challenge. They will develop terraforming technology which, in the fullness of time, will make Mars into a second Earth.
People like Bill Nye should not occupy their time wagging their fingers at others, telling them what they can and cannot say. The practice is an annoying distraction. Nye and like-minded people should contribute to the conversation by putting a sock in it.
Mark Whittington (@MarkWhittington) is the author of Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? and The Moon, Mars and Beyond. He also operates his own blog, Curmudgeons Corner.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.