Forty Years Yesterday

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I was too young to remember the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, but have seen the footage and read many accounts about that glorious event. Ayn Rand wrote what I regard as both the best account ("Apollo 11", which can be found in The Voice of Reason) and the the best cultural commentary, "Apollo and Dionysus," (which also appears in Return of the Primitive).

I highly recommend reading the latter if you'd like to understand why I found the below video almost perfectly fitting for this anniversary.

On one level, Buzz Aldrin giving this mealy-mouthed and dishonest provocateur (one Bart Sibrel) the only kind of answer his ilk will acknowledge is very funny.

But within a cultural context, I find it sad, and it makes me angry. Mankind is an accomplished race, and yet we are grounded on our home planet due largely to a failure to understand property rights and apply the principle to space exploration. Worse, this grounding will probably extend into the foreseeable future because our culture is so primitive that, for example, conspiracy theories like the one peddled by Sibrel flourish. You can't expect a groundswell of support for private property from a mostly irrational culture .

The second man to have stepped foot on the moon on that glorious day neither should have also been one of the last nor should he have to fend off such a small adversary.

Take a moment to celebrate the moon mission, but don't forget that it symbolizes how bright our future can be when men of reason are free to create and profit from the kind of creativity that makes such things possible.

In the important sense that the moon mission was a government effort, rather than a private one, it was botched. But man reached the moon anyway. Just imagine what we could do if we worked to make America even as free as it was forty years ago, and realize that there is no need to be satisfied with that -- with any vestige of government control of the economy.

Buzz Aldrin's fight is our fight, but winning it will take more than fists. It will require two much more powerful weapons: The right ideas and persuasion of those open to reason.

-- CAV


: Minor edits.


Michael Labeit said...

I posed a question at "The Morality War" covering an issue you mention in this post.

No one wishes to marginalize or underemphasize the intellectual rigor involved in designing a vessel that can reliably make the transit from earth to the moon and back. However, does the coercive nature of the financing of the Apollo missions tarnish the moon landings?

In retrospect, if we could once again decide whether to:

A) travel to the moon with taxpayer funds OR

B) return the money to taxpayers and scrap the mission

wouldn't the answer have to be the latter. I don't want give the impression that I'm trying diligently to put the kabash on man's innovation, but the question presents itself to us again: should we begin preparations to Mars? No doubt, a succesful landing on the red planet would yet again be a testament to the scientific acumen possessed by scientists. But upon landing on Mars the first thought in my head would not be the significance of man's inductive progress - it would be the negative socio-economic effects associated with a government run, taxpayer financed example of space adventurism. The same applies to the moon. I cannot shake an overall negative evaluation of the moon landings. In a different respect, the landings were a brilliant demonstration. But were they necessary?

Gus Van Horn said...

You're framing the question the wrong way.

At the end of "Apollo 11," Rand said the following:

"As far as 'national priorities' are concerned, I want to say the following: we do not have to have a mixed economy, we still have a chance to change our course and thus to survive. But if we do continue down the road of a mixed economy, then let them pour all the millions and billions they can into the space program. If the United States is to commit suicide, let it not be for the sake and support of the worst human elements, the parasites-on-principle, at home and abroad. Let it not be its only epitaph that it died paying its enemies for its own destruction. Let some of its lifeblood go to the support of achievement and the progress of science. The American flag on the moon—or on Mars, or on Jupiter—will, at least, be a worthy monument to what had once been a great country."

Before we could even get close to the enviable position of debating an end of the space program for the right reasons, we have to shift the public discourse away from the premise of, "How can the government get me some loot?" and towards the question, "How can I make sure the government protects my rights?"

Until we get to that point, all demanding an end to the space program, specifically, will do is feed into the pressure group warfare of the mixed economy and have the funds wasted on something much less constructive (at best).

In short, your question is premised on failing to see the war for the battle, and the wrong battle at that.

If your time and desire to be involved for cultural change are limited to fighting against specific government measures, then there are plenty of worse ways to spend money looted from citizens that you could fight than something like Apollo 11.

Michael Labeit said...

So Rand's saying though the government has taken money by force, we should nevertheless make distinctions between more appropriate and less appropriate uses of the money.

Gus Van Horn said...

In one sense, yes.

What she is saying is similar to what she said in "The Question of Scholarships:"

"Those who advocate public scholarships, have no right to them; those who oppose them, have. If this sounds like a paradox, the fault lies in the moral contradictions of welfare statism, not in its victims.

Since there is no such thing as the right of some men to vote away the rights of others, and no such thing as the right of the government to seize the property of some men for the unearned benefit of others—the advocates and supporters of the welfare state are morally guilty of robbing their opponents, and the fact that the robbery is legalized makes it morally worse, not better. The victims do not have to add self-inflicted martyrdom to the injury done to them by others; they do not have to let the looters profit doubly, by letting them distribute the money exclusively to the parasites who clamored for it. Whenever the welfare-state laws offer them some small restitution, the victims should take it.

The money has already been stolen, and your ability to prevent the theft is nil, so take the money/see to it that it goes to as rational a pursuit as possible, while opposing the theft in whatever way you can.

Or, if that's not clear, consider another example. The government SHOULD be engaged in national defense, and yet it ought not raise money by taxation. It does NOT follow that in the meantime, until we can repeal taxation, we should stop funding the military by this stolen money. Doing so would compound the injustice of the welfare state with failing to defend America from foreign aggressors.