by Roxanne Tellier
There was an interesting article in the New York Times last week that talked about a phenomenon known as ‘collective effervescence.’ This term describes the sense of energy and harmony people feel when they come together in a group in a shared experience. That could be anything from a gathering of friends in a restaurant, to the frenzy of wedding guests doing a line dance in synchrony, to the sort of nationalistic madness seen in Little Italy or Little Portugal when their country’s team wins the World Cup.
“Research has found that people laugh five times as often when they’re with others as when they’re alone. Even exchanging pleasantries with a stranger on a train is enough to spark joy. That’s not to say you can’t find delight in watching a show on Netflix. The problem is that bingeing is an individual pastime. Peak happiness lies mostly in collective activity.
Collective effervescence happens when joie de vivre spreads through a group. Before Covid, research showed that more than three-quarters of people found collective effervescence at least once a week and almost a third experienced it at least once a day. They felt it when they sang in choruses and ran in races, and in quieter moments of connection at coffee shops and in yoga classes.
But as lockdowns and social distancing became the norm, there were fewer and fewer of these moments. I started watching stand-up comedy specials, hoping to get a taste of collective effervescence while laughing along with the people in the room. It was fine, but it wasn’t the same.
Instead, many of us found ourselves drawn into a dark cloud.“(Collective Effervescence, The New York Times, July 2021.)
This lack of opportunity for ‘group joy’ during the pandemic should have paved the way to a global euphoria over any number of happy moments as lockdowns and quarantines ease off.
And you’d certainly think that the spate of current and future billionaire ejaculations into near space and actual space would quality as such a bonding moment.
But it seems that one of the many side effects of having 18 long months to navel gaze actually changed the way we think about our planet, and how we look upon those who have the wherewithal to improve worldly conditions, but choose instead self-aggrandization and yet another revenue stream to compound their interests, guaranteed to turn their billions into trillions.
Billionaires dabbling in being astronauts? Or would they be better called ‘astropreneurs’, since the entire exercise of their expensive playing at space travel centers around their intent to further feather their own financial nests?
In a way, it sort of seems inevitable that some bullish business people would bumble their way into the future of space travel. After all, there’s just no way that an arrogant, madly incompetent, divisive, selfish and bumbling group of doofuses like the current Congress could ever work together to get another space mission organized. It’s laughable to even think they’d be capable. Were entities like the postal office not already in place, they’d never exist under the capabilities and political correctness of today. Nations can no longer build collectively because we’re too divided and it’s too expensive. The future really does now lie in the hands of the billionaires and their untaxed largesse.
And what more logical series of events could ensue than that Richard Branson, richer than Croesus and a famed daredevil, who, in 2006 played an engineer on the ACTUAL Space Shuttle in the film Superman Returns, would choose to launch himself as the hero the Me Generation didn’t know they needed …Super Billionaire.
None of this hoopla would be happening without the cooperation of several entities, both governmental and social. The media is falling all over itself, terribly grateful to have something to fill up all those hours previously devoted to the prior president, and they’ve always been on the side of the rich – they know from whence comes the butter for their bread.
So they’re lionizing these billionaires like they’re real life Tony Starks. Lookie here! Branson, Bezos and Musk are singlehandedly building a new endeavour – space tourism! Something that only the very wealthy will ever enjoy, but hey hey my my! If I every get a spare $55 million, I’m on my way to the International Space Station! Just like that!
Questioning the value of this ‘space quest’ isn’t about belittling space; it’s pointing out that that quest comes at a very high cost: exploited workers, the avoidance of taxes by the superrich, and the governmental handouts available to the wealthy while 80% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.
Do we need space tourism? Not really. Those who are in the know and the most bullish on this new industry foresee revenues in the $8 billion range by 2030, so it’s not that big a deal for the economy. To put it into perspective – Americans already spend more than that, about $11 billion a year, on the carpet and area rug industry.
And that $8 billion is not pure profit. Remember, Bezos will still have to bring in about $5 billlion from his Blue Origin space venture just to recoup what he’s already spent.
By the way, how’d Musk, Bezos and Branson get all those billions to spend on this narcissistic ego splurge? Well, first there was the tax fiddling, and avoidance of corporate or personal taxes, which, of course, is roundly and soundly encouraged by most right wing parties as the core of their “I got mine, Jack” mantra.
Then there was the $50 million bailout Branson received for Virgin Airline, that never did get spent on the airline. Thanks, taxpayers! (Branson’s VirginCare also grabbed several million from the NHS during the pandemic, for losing out on an $82 million pound contract. The reasoning seemed to be that, if they couldn’t provide children’s health care, then suing the pants off those who would be doing so was the next best thing.)
And how on earth did the Billionaire Brain Trust manage to accomplish the takeover of a governmental space program? The same way those in the defense industry have always done it – by lobbying.
“Still, for a newbie industry, commercial space travel is quite well established. We know this because it already has its own lobby, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF). And that lobby is already more powerful than the U.S. Government.
Despite opposition from several quarters, the CSF has been successful in its special pleading with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and with Congress that it’s much too early to certify the airworthiness of commercial spacecraft or the competence of pilots.
The budding commercial space industry deserves the “learning period” — legi-speak for regulatory laxity — that Congress has granted it until 2023.
The CSF and its Republican allies argue that robust regulatory safeguards in this newish sector would weaken America’s technological prowess.
That is hardly the first time Americans have been asked to put their country ahead of niceties — niceties such as being quite sure, in this case, that your pilot knows how to fly this thing.“Toronto Star, July 2021.
That lobby convinced the American space program to effectively shut down, and let the new billionaires on the block take over.
So, to recap: the planet’s Bright Young Things are now heading off into space (or near space, really, in Branson’s case; Branson’s flight only got up to 92 km above the Earth’s surface. The Moon is about 384,000 km away from Earth.
They got the money to get there by being the best at selling stuff, avoiding paying their fair share of taxes, lobbying (i.e., paying off) the right people to get to put together a commercial version of spacecraft without much oversight or control, and intend to sell their vision to very rich punters who have a spare $200 thousand or so lying around to celebrate Granny’s 100th, or their own 25th anniversary.
Once they’ve established themselves as relatively stable and safe, they will be able to sell their services to any government, including the United States’, as an option that will essentially undercut the costs of maintaining permanent stations in orbit and on the Moon.
There’s also the possibility that their services could be co-opted, or even simply ‘kidnapped’ by entities with a yen to attack satellites, or harness information and intelligence integral to reputable governmental agencies on Earth.
I guess it will be up to each of us to decide if all of these consequences add up to a positive or a negative impact upon the planet.
The costs involved certainly could have had an impact. Last I checked, there was still a global pandemic going on; epidemics of homelessness and addiction; millions of hungry children and adults; climate change burning up half the planet while it drowns the other half; and trolls controlling social media in an effort to subvert democracy. For starters.
Meanwhile, the net worth of Branson, Bezos and Musk is roughly $400 billion. Each of them has more money right now than anyone could reasonably spend in a hundred, overly privileged, extravagantly Marie Antoinette styled, lifetimes.
So how COULD the money they’ve spent on fulfilling their childhood fantasies actually have impacted the 8 billion of us living right now, today, on Planet Earth?
A mere $8.6 billion would be enough to cover the shortfall of 1.7 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses that will be needed for the 90 lower-income economies by early 2022.
They could easily afford to build affordable housing for every single one of America’s estimated 500,000 homeless people, and then cut cheques to each of America’s 1500 food banks, soup kitchens and food pantries.
Or alternatively, they could solve world hunger. I’m gonna guess that would warrant a little more excitement on their Wikipedia pages than a listing of the cars and houses they spent their fortunes upon.
But the arrogance and selfishness of the wealthy didn’t begin, nor will it end, with this trio. It is, unfortunately, just the way the rich and powerful have always, and will always, roll – at the expense of the many, for the entertainment of the few. Capitalism rewards sociopathy and endless greed.
“Let me just say that (Gil Scott-Heron’s 1970) track, “Whitey on the Moon,” changed the way I thought about the space race forever. It anchored the flight into the heavens, tethering it to the persistence of racial inequality, and pulling it out of the abstract, universal realm in which we like to place our technical achievements. Though I still think the hunger for the technological sublime crosses racial boundaries, it destabilized the ease with which people could use “our” in that kind of sentence. To which America went the glory of the moon landing? And what did it cost our nation to put whitey on the moon?”Alexis C. Madrigal, The Atlantic, May 28, 2011.