Reforms, revolution and immigration

Part I

Social reformers of whatever kind has at some point to face the as inconvenient as inevitable conclusion, that the overall majority of the population is conservative. This folk conservatism is distinct from other types of conservatism, but its main tenets are fear for the unknown and hence an inclination towards the status quo.

Ordinary people support the status quo not because they are content with it, far from, but to keep that little they have. New ideas are generally met with skepticism and disbelieve. Proposals for reform are at best considered with cynicism, but often also with fierce resistance.

Even if reforms would benefit most people, the uncertainty of the effects will turn people against any kind of change. Relative modest reforms will encounter less resistance, and hence will be more easily accepted by the population. However, more comprehensive reforms, let alone a full-fledged reform agenda, in particular if the results of these reforms will only be noticed after a period of time, will suffer from a lack of popular support.

A fundamental underlining principle of this social inertia is that in general people are unwilling to suffer short-term losses for long-term gains.

Naive progressive intellectuals tend to use reason to convince the population on the need of reforms, only to discover that the average person in the street either got bored or will not understand the issue at stake. Some intellectuals might got that frustrated, that they will denounce democracy completely, and will take refuge to idle fantasies as technocracy.

The formal abolition of democracy is however no solution for social reform, as unpopular reforms will still be opposed fiercely by the people. Real life experience shows that when established interests are at stake people will strike (one only study the recent history of France and a few other European countries to confirm this), and under certain conditions the people will even revolt.

Machiavelli already noticed that an autocratic rulers can only survive in the long run as they leave their subjects alone. The Florentine recommended low taxes and not to interfere with the private lives of their subjects when not necessary, as the formula to sustain in power.

But for those ambitious rulers who do intend to reshape society, Machiavelli does recommend to be ruthless. Opponents should be eliminated without hesitation, people should be forcefully deported, cities to be destroyed and new one to be built. His morale is that comprehensive reform of society requires extreme levels of violence and who is not prepared to commit such atrocities, should abstain from it.

Only if the majority has nothing to lose, it might be willing to support any kind of reform wholeheartedly. The problem then is that different groups will have their own list of preferred reforms. If those different factions cannot agree on a compromise, violent conflicts between supporters of different ideologies will emerge. And if one group finally succeeds in gaining power, violent oppression of the losing factions is too often inevitable.

On the other hand if the competing faction succeed in a peaceful resolution, the general result will be a weak compromise, i.e. no substantial reforms are implemented but only a few cosmetic ones, which will address the most urgent issues. Though as a result of restored law and order, folk conservatism will reemerge.

Since revolution is generally out of the question due its seemingly inevitable violent turn, evolution and gradual change remains the only alternative. People can only handle a limited amount of change at one point in time. Social reformers need to focus on one topic in order to be successful, and only when this goal is achieved pay attention to another issue. For instance, first the abolition of slavery and then franchising women. And, of course, compromising, even if achieved compromises are a little despicable.

Part II

Most of the problems addressed in part I could be sidestepped if we could start from stretch, or tabula rasa. In terra nullius there are no established interests, which will allow social reformers to implement whatever reforms they like.

Only in terra nullius there are no established interests, because there is no population. If there were any, it would not be terra nullius. And consequently we cannot speak of social reform in that land, only of society building. But this is linguistic nitpicking, since both concepts actually boils down to the same thing.

In order to build a society in terra nullius immigration is an absolute necessity. However, immigration is simultaneously a threat. Unregulated immigration to terra nullius will result in the emergence of (unwanted) established interests and all its problems for reform.

On the other hand terra nullius offers those who are frustrated with the lack of social progress in their own countries to emigrate to a better place.

If we want to establish a particular type of society in terra nullius, we need to carefully select immigrants, in particular during the early stages of the project. A new society is like an infant, which need special protection. Over time when our new society matures, immigration restrictions can and should be relaxed.

During the first stages of our new society, we should classify potential immigrants in three groups: idealists, opportunists and infiltrators. Idealists are those immigrants who believe in our ideals and are willing to make sacrifices for it. Needless to say, this group should be allowed entry as long as practical concerns allow so.

Opportunists are immigrants who are primarily interest in their own advancement. As long as they accept the fundamental objective of our project, the establishment of a secular, liberal, humanist republic, they could be allowed entry. But if they are hostile to these very principles, they should be excluded from access.

Infiltrators are people who under false pretensions want to gain access to terra nullius in order to undermine our efforts. Regardless of their specific motives, this group cannot be tolerated in our society. Whenever possible entry should be denied to them, and when they are caught within our borders, they should be deported or if necessary be executed.

This should not be understood that criticism or disagreement should be illegal, but there is a difference between legitimate criticism and outright hostility and subversion. Critical reflection is necessary in a healthy society, and even when there is agreement over the general direction of the project, people will disagree over details.

Greater problems will arise when substantial groups disagree over the general direction. Unfortunately the larger space movement exhibits a disregard on social issues, and if this path is followed destructive political conflicts will be supplanted from earth to space settlements.

However, serious conflicts could be avoided if different political groups will run their own settlements. This will prevent (violent) intra-settlement conflicts, without resorting to shallow compromises which satisfy no-one.

For such pluralism to work properly, it is necessary that different settlements accept their differences. And despite their ideological differences, space settlements should be willing to cooperate in order to defend their collective external interests.

Part III

Some people might be disappointed to learn that space colonization might be the only way to true social reform, and many will deny this message. But the should come to terms with the sad reality of the impossibility of radical  reforms on earth, and should compare the benefits of immigration with the alternative of bloody revolutions and civil war. I hope that the previous century will provide a good lesson for them to support space colonization.

On the other hand if the reforms implemented in space settlement turn out to be successful, it might inspire terrestrial societies to copy them. It is easier to implement a reform which has been proven to be successful in another society, than completely new ideas.

The space movement should realize that the prospect of reform is far more appealing to a large audience, than endless stories about the technological feasibility of space colonization or emphasizing that space colonization is necessary to deal with overpopulation. And accept that space-based solar power is something which belongs in the that 70s show.

6 thoughts on “Reforms, revolution and immigration”

  1. I am very familiar with one who wants the status quo. It happens in the basic family unit. I cannot rearrange the silverware drawer, change a lampshade or cook the vegetables in a new way. I dare not suggest we move the furniture around. 😦
    I have to approach these changes gradually and make the other party think it was their idea. 🙂
    Most of the time I just throw up my hands and retreat to the computer. lol

    1. When I was younger, this was one the main “battlefields” with my mother (don’t worried, my mom is a nice woman, generally speaking). I want(ed) to keep things as much as possible the same, while my mother is the type of person who likes to try out new things. Actually I used the word “status quo” in discussions with my mother at age 13 (and I had to explain her what this actually means).

  2. A certain benefit of space colonisation is its ability to be testbeds for new systems. Smaller (probably more adventurous) populations enable this, which in-turn aids the diffusion of successful programs back to earth-based societies. The United States is, in one respect, a working example of how this plays out in the real world.

  3. Sorry for the overused adjective, but this really is a very INTERESTING post. I’m wondering how the three categories of immigrants would be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

    1. That is indeed a practical problem, which needs to be solved. And I have no ready answers for it, though I have some ideas which might work.

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