For years now, influential people like Elon Musk have been pushing the idea that humanity can and should populate Mars. In fact, populating Mars was a topic on NPR just this week. At first glance, such an idea is exciting, but are there moral and ethical implications? Have the philosophers and theologians weighed in on this, or will their voices be steamrolled once again by scientists and entrepreneurs?
Let us grant Elon Musk his dream, and let us say people are sent to populate Mars. Do they bring books with them? If so, will not such things be archaic within a few generations? All literature is inherently bound to Earth no matter the language. How would literature even exist without animals (the source of parchment) and trees (the source of papyrus and paper)? Apart from the content of books, even just the material composition of books are completely alien to Mars. One cannot explain to a third and fourth generation Martian that flowers are beautiful, or why they bloom, or what flower and bloom even means. Oceans, animals, weather, and vegetation are essential aspects of our culture and literature, so a book from Earth will begin to rapidly lose its meaning within one generation. All earthly idioms will cease to exist, and earthly language itself will, by necessity, adapt to a Martian way of life. The English of a first generation Martian will rapidly become extinct, and a uniquely Martian language will form.
In addition to the problem of language, there is a problem of religion and spirituality. Unless the religion is one that denies the existence or goodness of matter, religion is also something centralized on Earth. How does one relate to “a land flowing with milk and honey” in a world without cows or bees? What is a cross in a world without wood? What is a rainbow? What is bread and wine? This means that religion on Mars would inevitably be limited to atheism, agnosticism, and dualistic spirituality.
There is also a problem with economics. What constitutes value? Mars does not have gold, silver, or fiat currency. Does it rely on machinery from Earth? Does it become a trade system? Is there even such a thing as Martian economics?
What about the question of politics? Who owns Mars? If Mars is owned by Earth, will they ever gain autonomy? If so, at what point? Who becomes the leader of the new world? Are they elected democratically?
Martian life will inevitably begin as a pseudo-Earth. The first generation of Martians will do everything they can to remember their old life by creating an isolated facility that synthetically makes Mars look more like Earth. They will attempt to grow trees, have access to water, etc. However, perhaps such a task can never happen naturally on Mars, and the people are left living a life contingent upon inorganic material. If suicide does not become a problem and life were to continue, a Martian inferiority complex with Earth will inevitably emerge, and such a yearning to travel to Earth will be woven into the cultural DNA.
This desire to be like Earth mixed with the growth of language barriers (due to the changing language) would cause a cosmic rift between the communication of Earth and Mars. If there were a severing of Mars-Earth communication, and that severing goes prolonged, it would end in Mars coveting Earth as their paradise and mankind would war against itself, and Earth will have then created the very aliens they have always feared.
…Or maybe I should just write a science fiction novel.