Last week, Amazon CEO and world’s wealthiest man Jeff Bezos gave his best version of a TED Talk, titled “Going To Space To Benefit Earth.” If you were to watch this event free of context, with no idea who Bezos is and what he has accomplished, it would come across out laughable at best, and utterly insane at worst. Among other proclamations, Bezos announced it was time for humans to start figuring out how to get the hell off their home planet. This was possible, he assured his minions. He announced that humans could build colonies between the earth and the moon, rotating habitats that would house a million people each, hovering in space. He suggested they’d house a trillion humans. Bezos wanted the world to know that this vision is his passion, and he’s devoting much of his wealth and power toward achieving it. Again, if you didn’t know who he was, you probably wouldn’t think too much of his address. But, the truth is, you do know who he is, and he is unfortunately someone who people choose to take seriously. This is one of the problems with the catastrophic concentration of wealth that has seen the likes of Bezos amass fortunes many nations could only dream of. Now that he’s got this money, power, and notoriety, well, he’s largely free to do what he pleases. So, while the planet we, you know, actually live on, is enveloped in a series of interdependent crises (which Bezos flaccidly acknowledges before speaking to his pipe dreams), those at the top of the pyramid feel empowered to literally look beyond Earth, no matter how ridiculous those gazes may be.
Bezos may have provided the most ambitious ‘path’ forward to date (seemingly by taking science–fiction literally), this is not an uncommon trope for the wealthiest among us. Many billionaires have looked to the stars, devoting billions of dollars to the idea of space travel. That Bezos goes further, claiming to begin for us all the journey off our planet, is only an extension of his greater wealth, and the greater concentration of resources in the hands of even fewer as time has wearily marched on.
This is the contradiction between capital and democracy in its extreme. Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that there was some way in which these preposterous fantasies could be fashioned into a reality. They would require much more effort than those of one man alone, no matter what he has at his disposal. Should a society not be able to say, wait a minute, are we ready for this? Have we figured out a stable enough situation on this planet to merit this concentration of wealth aimed towards the goal of getting the hell out of dodge? Of course not. But, what we have done is spent centuries now working toward isolating our resources from the collective. As such, we are more than ever beholden to the whims of a guy who’s best idea for how to make things better is to admit the planet is dying and pack up and bail out. No matter how much money, time, and effort he wastes on this endeavour, it’s beyond us to stop him, and turn his attention to that which plagues humanity on this here rock.
Watching Bezos speak, it’s impossible not to feel as though this is little more than a coping mechanism. After all, built into his ideas is a defeatism of life on this planet, one brought about by the very system that has spat out people like Jeff Bezos. Perhaps on some, if subconscious level, Bezos and his peers are aware of the destruction and inequality they have wrought. That the abuses of power and the planet that have helped make them gods among men can never truly be atoned for. So, what’s to be done but enter the realm of fantasy? Bezos is onstage, not just for us, but for himself. He is trying to convince himself that maybe he will not be seen as a symbol of an economic system that went completely off the rails and fundamentally destroyed what he so patronizingly called “the best planet!” But rather as the great white knight who led us to the great beyond. That maybe, just maybe, one day people will see that all of this pilfering of resources, this zeal with which infinite growth became the only option, was just a necessary hiccup in a much grander cosmic lifespan for the species. What is more likely, is precisely the opposite. That, one day, amongst the ruins, in some godforsaken data centre, some enterprising survivalist hacker years and years down the line will discover footage like this Bezos speech and get a fuller understanding for the depths to which humans would go to ignore what was happening right in front of them. When the scattered history of this time is cobbled together by whatever has survived what damage has been done, it is precisely the likes of Bezos who will serve as the symbols for what happened here and now. Talks like these will not serve as examples of the brave vision required to usher in a greater future, but as the height of delusion that had swept the most wealthy and powerful into a game of pretend they used to justify all they had done. V