Neil deGrasse Tyson and the Weakness of Science
Neil deGrasse Tyson and the Weakness of Science
In a recent interview on National Pentagon Radio, Neil deGrasse Tyson discussed the interactions between (1) the U.S. military and (2) astrophysics. The former is an enterprise that I consider evil and Tyson seems to consider mildly worthy of discomfort but the necessary producer of the research for which he lives. The latter is a field of human endeavor that Tyson apparently considers supremely noble, and I consider absolutely inexcusable. Both are areas into which much energy is driven by irrational delusion.
I consider astrophysics inexcusable because it diverts us from protecting the environment of the one inhabitable planet we have, as well as because it contributes to weaponry, but also because it fuels the insane idea of moving on to another planet once this one is destroyed — something very clearly not possible at least in the time period in which this one is being destroyed. Astrophysics is additionally a piece of the broader view that people need to know as much information as possible, even information that doesn’t concern them.
In the course of deGrasse Tyson’s interview, he comments: “holding aside denial of climate change and other things that could be the end of civilization – hold that (laughter) aside for the moment.” But he never comes back to that topic at all; or if he does it was edited out.
deGrasse Tyson wants a Space Force, even claims to have come up with the idea, and wants to use it for both wars and things like defense against asteroids, and cleanup of space garbage. But nobody has a way to blow up an asteroid, and dumping trillions of dollars into developing a way to do that will certainly do much harm in exchange for a highly improbable benefit. And a gang of weapons dealers (which is who will make up the “troops” in a space force) are not the only or best people to clean up space garbage. (Nor is the cessation of creating space garbage even mentioned.)
deGrasse Tyson seems to think, as most people perhaps do, as millions of non-scientists perhaps do, a little too much like a scientist. That is to say, even while he declares future scientific breakthroughs to be radically unimaginable, he hunts for scientistic laws in politics rather than acknowledging that politics is something that changes and can be changed — can be reimagined. After noting that the U.S. space program came out of militarism, he adds: “That’s the war cry for going into space, and ultimately that’s what dislodged the money necessary to accomplish it, not, oh, we’re explorers, and we’re Americans, and this is the next step. No, that would have been insufficient to make the investment we actually did to go into space.”
Through this sort of observation, deGrasse Tyson suggests that the only way to get good space research is through militarism, and the only way to develop all kinds of technologies is through militarism. But, of course, that’s not a law one can establish the immutable mechanics of. deGrasse Tyson claims that war is essentially a drive for survival, which inevitably drives innovation. In reality, war is today a drive for collective suicide, peace is the only means to survival, the diversion of resources from militarism into environmental protection is the only path open. Both now and historically, periods of peace have driven all kinds of good intellectual and artistic innovation (and the good lack thereof).
deGrasse Tyson claims that astrophysicists are “liberal antiwar – overwhelming, 90-plus percent, no doubt about it.” But when do we hear about them supporting the abolition of war? Where do we see them organizing to reject military funding (a closer connection in reality than deGrasse Tyson’s depiction of the military and academia as two separate places)? Has anyone heard from them in support of the push by many nations, and not the United States, for a new treaty to ban weapons from space (or to uphold the old one)? Are they perhaps “opponents” of war in the sense in which Congress Members who fund and oversee wars call themselves “opponents” when they utter certain mild criticisms?
deGrasse Tyson mocks the space weapons treaty of 1967. Then he claims that it includes a U.N. Charter-like “defensive” weakness, permitting the “defensive” and even “preemptive” use of weapons in space — a weakness well worth discussing because neither deGrasse nor of course NPR suggests the idea of questioning it or opposing it, but a weakness not actually anywhere to be found in the text of the treaty, which includes these words:
“States Parties to the Treaty undertake not to place in orbit around the earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner. The moon and other celestial bodies shall be used by all States Parties to the Treaty exclusively for peaceful purposes. The establishment of military bases, installations and fortifications, the testing of any type of weapons and the conduct of military manoeuvres on celestial bodies shall be forbidden.”
One can read this to allow weapons of non-mass destruction, whatever those are. One cannot read it to allow WMDs used preemptively. But deGrasse Tyson goes beyond that reading. He rejects the law as not a real law, in the manner people use for laws they don’t want, as is very common with the Kellogg-Briand Pact. deGrasse Tyson says: “I viewed it not so much as something that everyone will obey to the letter. I viewed it as a hopeful gesture that maybe when we all go to space, we’ll all get along. That’s how I really viewed it, as a – that we are capable of signing a document that we’ll never fight again.”
I thought scientists were supposed to be more precise, less dreamy than that.
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson's books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio.He is a 2015, 2016, 2017 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee.
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