“New Earth” is a science fictional utopia that I wrote for a class on Utopian Thought at Oberlin College. It is written as a fictional newspaper editorial. Were it nonfiction, it would be published on November 4th, 2138 CE and would outline a theoretical utopian community to replace recently destroyed human colonies on the planet Proxima (unrelated to the Proxima Shared Universe, of which I was not aware while writing). Also, please note that the byline is fictional as well.
The Second Wave of Proximians
by Howard Collins
In the wake of the Janberg disaster on Proxima, many cannot begin to imagine how it could have been avoided. We witnessed the horror of over 14,000 deaths and the destruction of the only extraterrestrial colonies we’ve ever had. Humanity is now once again an Earth-bound species. Worse, many have nationalistic reactions to the disaster, fueled by the same forces of xenophobia that caused the wars on Proxima in the first place. From the present, it is difficult to imagine success for the next wave of colonies, which, the politicians of the world assure us, will replace those lost within a decade.
There are solutions to this problem, though. Twelve years ago, Janice McCowell proposed transforming Proxima, then the site of three separate colonies, into one mega-colony. In writing about the past and future of the Proxima colonies, she suggested that “we may see the colonies joined into one within a decade.” These writings, now well known, were typical of McCowell’s work in that her most interesting idea was treated as an almost tangential aside, and has thus unfortunately been ignored by history. It is nevertheless worthwhile to note that unification, which seemed nearly unimaginable during the last few years of the colonies’ existence, was a viable option a decade. I propose that, had McCowell’s ideas been put into practice, the Janberg disaster could have been prevented. Furthermore, a Proxima free from the literal class warfare that plagued the last six years of its history as a human planet could have been a beacon to the world, the true exercise of ideas that have been developed by utopian philosophers for over two thousand years.
In looking at how this unification would have changed Proxima, it is necessary to have some understanding of Proxima as it was a year ago, just before the tragedy. Even a year later, it is difficult to understand the exact chain of events leading up to the massacre of the planet’s population, but a few important things are clear. In the months before the disaster, relations between the national colonies on Proxima were gradually improving, but extremist nationalists threatened the fragile peace. The colonies accused each other of harboring these terrorists, but were nevertheless able to negotiate peace and implement new economic plans to prevent future violence.
As usual, oxygen pumps controlled by the international colony brought liquid oxygen from beneath the surface of the planet to produce breathable air for all. Because Proxima has no natural atmosphere and the subterranean liquid oxygen is found near the surface of the planet in only one place, these pumps were essential to the survival of the colonists. They were linked to each of the colonies by large pipelines, but it has recently been speculated that some Canadian colonists falsely believed that their colonies had their own pumps.
All of this is important because of the nature of the Janberg disaster. Only two weeks before the disaster the Sinred’l trials began, with the objective of executing French and Canadian colonists responsible for attacks on the international settlement that killed a total of 37 people. The American-led international leadership exerted a massive influence on the trials, and it appeared that the defendants’ conviction was certain. Then, on November 5th, the oxygen pumps were destroyed, probably by Canadian nationalists, and the population died off within minutes.
It is not too late to build a colony on Proxima that avoids these problems. Now, with world governments clamoring to rebuild the planet, we have a chance to do it properly, in a unified manner. The most important difference between the Proxima colonies and those that replace them should be the steps taken to ensure international cooperation. The United Nations’ allowance for and even encouragement of colonies peopled entirely by specific nationalities was a critical mistake. It ignored Proxima’s promise as a new and different home for humanity by making it as much like Earth as possible, complete with all of our racist and insular flaws. Had the UN instead built one mega-colony made up a wide variety of people, it might not only still exist but be a near ideal living environment.
I like to call the place I hope will be created New Earth; it should not be named after Japan, Russia, France, Canada, or even California (as the first colony was), but after the planet that has served until recently as the only home of humanity. New Earth, like the first colony on Proxima, should be made up mostly of scientists interested in living in and studying a little explored environment. These would be adventurous people, open to the experience of the unknown. They would not all be the same, however. New Earth, properly managed, would be settled by all sorts of scientists studying every aspect of both the planet itself and the life of the people on it, as well as basic science in any field in which they are interested.
The colonists of New Earth would have a large amount of freedom to live, study, and work as they wish, but the initial design of the colony would have some impact on their lives. One aspect of this would be their political system, which I shall cover in some detail shortly, but another would be the design of the buildings themselves. The structures in which the colonists would live would be similar to those of earlier colonies, consisting of large domes built to withstand the gravity of Proxima. In order to promote unity and interaction, though, most space and property within these domes would be communal. There would be two distinct types of domes, rest domes and work domes, and, while more specialized buildings like dining domes might eventually be build, each activity that makes up part of a person’s life would take place in the appropriate dome. This would allow colonists to mentally separate their work and rest, which might otherwise be difficult since they would not be required to follow a work schedule.
Rest domes can be thought of as similar to houses and dormitories here on Earth, but would be limited by design to strictly restful and recreational purposes. Communal spaces like lounges and libraries (made up of recreational books, not reference books) would dominate the dome, but each colonist would have their own private bedroom to escape to, as suggested by utopian thinkers such as B.F. Skinner. These bedrooms, while not meant for study or work, would be places for all forms of private rest and leisure.
There would also be work domes filled with workspaces of various sorts, including laboratories, meeting rooms, classrooms, factory rooms and offices. An important facet of these work buildings would be the joining of education and labor. The line between these two fields of human endeavor, so strongly drawn here on Earth, would be removed on New Earth. Because only those interested in both the intellectual and the idealistic would be allowed to settle the planet, everyone would be expected to participate in education. This expectation would not be enforced by law, and might well change over time as later generations took over control of the colony, but in general colonists would be interested in learning from each other and would expect a free exchange of knowledge, whether formal or informal, as a matter of course.
Most work done in these work domes would be voluntary, and people would not be compensated for working or punished for not working. Because of the close relationship between work and study, the same would be true of academics. People would thus study only if they were interested in a subject or needed to know about it in order to do something else. Apprenticeships would be common, as would classes taught by people themselves involved in a field, and most adult citizens would be view both teaching and learning as lifelong aspects of their lives.
In order to ensure the colony’s survival, colonists of New Earth would be required to work a certain amount in a few essential fields. This amount would likely be limited to a few hours a week, as the people would not have to maintain a great deal of luxury and would have modern technology assisting them. The fields in which work would be required would be limited to agriculture, food preparation, and maintenance, the only areas in which failure would cause the death of the colony.
The exact amount of work required per week would be decided by an occasional general election, perhaps annually, but could also be changed by petition at any time. In either case, an approval voting system would be used and the option receiving the most votes would become law. The result of this system would be that citizens could change the amount of work required if they felt either that too little work was being done, putting the colony at risk, or that the requirement was in excess of the essential amount of work, restricting the populace’s freedom unnecessarily. Since citizens would be free to do what they wish with the majority of their time, they could work in essential fields more than the required number of hours if they wanted to. This might be a way for an individual to fix a problem that the majority of the community does not see as a concern.
Elections could also be used to pass other laws, but the colony would generally be as libertarian as possible. Thomas More, writing over 600 years ago, suggested that the best legal system would have few laws, because ”the only purpose of a law is to remind people what they ought to do.” New Earth would abide by the principle that complex legal codes are both unjust and difficult to manage. The only truly necessary laws would be the work requirement and a prohibition of physical harm to others, which would include both murder and assault.
In the case of a violation of one of these laws, the entire population would collectively act, as the saying goes, as judge, jury, and executioner. The last role would not be literal, as the only punishment on New Earth would be imprisonment, either to ones room or to a given room in the work dome. Were someone charged with a crime by another member of the community, an extensive trial would take place at which any member of the colony would be allowed to make arguments on either side. A simple majority vote would then be used for conviction or acquittal of the defendant. An approval vote for sentencing would follow, and the most popular sentence would be passed. Though this system might be imperfect, I think that it would prove to be nearly always successful and would be most in keeping with the communal ideals of New Earth.
Some limited administration would be necessary to keep New Earth’s political and life-sustaining systems functioning. Accordingly, an administrator would be elected annually to oversee each of these two systems. The administrator of politics would be expected to organize the next election, as well as discussions of issues of interest to the populace. They would also have some oversight in the rare case of a trial, scheduling the proceedings of the trial and so on. The administrator of life-sustaining systems would make sure that people were aware of what work needed to be done to keep food and oxygen available to everyone. Neither administrator would have any ability to either make or enforce laws, but would be responsible for communicating existing laws and needs to the entire population.
One more important issue arises in any thinking about Proximian colonies, which is that Proxima’s liquid oxygen is a non-renewable resource. Fortunately, it is possible to supply oxygen from plants instead of from the pumps that was previously used, but rebuilt pumps would be the simplest short-term oxygen source. An aspect of New Earth that would be essential for long-term survival would be the growth of a vast number of plants capable of supplying enough oxygen to keep the population breathing. Another type of dome, a farm dome, might thus be necessary, as well as more required work to keep it functioning. Much of the produce of this farm dome could also be used as food, so this biological industry would benefit the colonists in multiple ways.
Should New Earth actually be built, it will not stay completely static. No community does. I think, though, that a community founded on the concepts of unity and freedom would have the strength to sustain itself even in the difficult environment of Proxima. Population growth and changing ideologies may lead the colony to deviate from my description, perhaps enacting more laws or switching to a capitalist economic system, but the initial system I have described should be a good starting point for a stable community.