space exploration and the awesomeness of patriarchy

Just a couple of weeks after my post on the end of the Space Age comes this article by Marcie Bianco whining that space exploration is patriarchal.

Well of course it is Marcie. Space exploration is patriarchal, just as the whole of science and technology is patriarchal. It’s all part of the awesomeness of patriarchy.

These are essentially masculine pursuits. The urge to explore, to invent, to understand the physical world, to conquer new frontiers, these are masculine imperatives. That’s how civilisation has progressed from living in caves and chasing mammoths with pointy sticks to living in nice houses with lots of appliances (like the one Marcie lives in) and being able to drive to the supermarket to buy everything we need. That’s why Marcie doesn’t have to spend her day gathering nuts and berries and can sit in air-conditioned comfort reading up on the latest advances in Women’s Studies.

Had it not been for the patriarchy Marcie could never have had a career teaching social justice in American universities because there would not have been any American universities. America would never have been colonised. There’s a reason that it was Christopher Columbus who reached America in 1492, and not Christine Columbus. Exploring is what men do.

There’s also a reason why the first successful aircraft was built by the Wright Brothers, and not the Wright Sisters. And why the first successful locomotive was built by Robert Stephenson, not Roberta Stephenson. There’s a reason why electric lighting, cars, aircraft, radio, photography, motion pictures, television, refrigerators, steamships, railways and computers were invented by men. Even the inventions that have done so much to make life easier for women like Marcie, like the vacuum cleaner, microwave ovens and automatic washing machines, were invented by men.

The scientific discoveries that made such inventions possible were made overwhelmingly by men.

This is how the male brain works. Men like to figure out how stuff works, how things that are impossible today can be made possible tomorrow, they like to discover things and to explore, they like to find new frontiers. Women’s brains don’t work that way. Which is OK, women’s brains are not supposed to work that way because women are supposed to be at home looking after the kids and getting dinner ready while their husbands confront the world.

Of course it’s possible that women like Marcie do understand all this at some level. They do understand that the contribution of women to science and technology has been minuscule. That’s why they’re angry. Men are so much better at this stuff and it’s not fair. Men get real degrees in real subjects, not degrees in Women’s Studies.

If Marcie had been around in 1492 I’m sure she would have been lobbying Ferdinand and Isabella to cut off funding to Columbus for his silly patriarchal plan to reach the Indies and instead use the money to fund Women’s Studies workshops.

We should go to Mars because if we don’t it’s another sign that we’ve given up, that we’ve surrendered to women like Marcie.


the end of the Space Age

I’m not old enough to remember the beginning of the space race but I do have vivid memories of its later stages. It was, undeniably, exciting.

Of course looking back now I can see that the motivations of the space race were a bit questionable. It was very much a Cold War propaganda thing. But it was still kind of inspiring. It was perhaps the last pure expression of western cultural confidence. The confidence was at almost 19th century levels – the idea that science and technology were unstoppable and that there was nothing our civilisation couldn’t do.

Even at the time it was difficult to see any practical value in it. That was what made it rather magnificent. Perhaps that’s what cultural confidence is all about – doing things just to prove you can do them.

Maybe the money could have been better spent on other things, but then when you look at the way governments happily pour billions of dollars down the toilet on equally futile things it’s probable that the money never was going to be better spent anyway.

And I do feel considerable regret that it all came to such an ignominious end. I can’t honestly think of any practical reason why anyone would want to send a manned mission to Mars but I’m rather sad that we haven’t done it and possibly never will.

The end of the Space Age also appeared to coincide with the end of the great age of science and technology. There was a period in history when major scientific advances just seemed to come one after another. That era seemed to come to an end in the mid-20th century. Have there been any truly breathtaking scientific advances since Watson and Crick discovered the structure of DNA in 1953?

The age of stunning technological progress arguably ended about the same time. The first aircraft flew in 1903. In 1969 men walked on the Moon and Concorde made its first test flight. What have we done since them? Computers? They’re basically a 1940s concept. OK, we have the internet. And what do we use it for? Downloading porn, uploading cute kitten photos, checking up on the latest celebrity gossip.

I’m inclined to think that it’s a worrying symptom of our cultural malaise that we don’t want to do things like go to Mars any more. And we don’t want heroes like Neil Armstrong any more (just as it was probably a bad symptom for the Soviet Union when they didn’t want heroes like Yuri Gagarin any more). Our heroes today are airhead celebrities.

Civilisations need heroes and they need confidence. The Space Age was an expression of boundless confidence in the future. I miss that confidence.