Space Storage Space

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The BBC recently ran a short article on the ethics of leaving stuff on the Moon. It draws mainly on environmental ethics and space law; not much on space heritage, although it does note the historical value of the remnants at the Apollo landing sites.

I wrote a piece on celestial objects as heritage for a forthcoming essay collection on space ethics, but I was writing more about making alterations to the objects (through mining them, say) than about storing or abandoning things on them. I’m not sure what I think about moral objections to considering the near-pristine, vacant lunar surface as ‘storage space’ instead of preserving its natural condition. I mean, if the comparison is with storing things in Earth’s environments...

Anyway: courtesy of the article’s link to NASA’s records of human artefacts on the moon, I’m pleased to learn that there are towels on the lunar surface, and that NASA knows where its towel is.

The Identity Angle

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Until now, you might have had the impression that identity politics was one of the leading obsessions of British political life. ‘Community leaders’, ‘ethnic arts’, multiculturalism versus integration... and of course the Saltire-waving crescendo of a nationalist campaign to chop off Scotland.

This week? Now that the discussion concerns English representation, I find myself reading weirdly abstract ideas about the administrative utility of regional ‘governance units’. Even people who are advocating political representation for England as a whole seem to be basically concerned with fairness (equal devolution); I’ve seen little that speaks of England as (like Scotland) a kingdom within the U.K. with a national culture and identity shared amongst its people. There seem to be more people fretting about ‘the sleeping giant of English nationalism’ than actually grappling with the real existence of the English nation; and that’s leading people to write silly things proposing ‘governance units’ that would ignore the connections people actually have, even if they were given names like Wessex and Mercia.

It’s not that I want this debate to be taken over by identity politicians. I’d just like to know where they’ve gone...

No Country for Young Men?

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Commentary on the Scottish bid to tear a country apart – that country, of course, being Scotland – is already settling down to some precriminations about the result, whatever it may turn out to be. Whatever happens, most of the comedy will surely come from Alex Salmond’s task of forging national unity; though if his promise of an eternally left-of-centre state comes true, then its (various and sometimes venerable) internal divisions might prove to be the only force countering its slide into complacency and the stagnation of a cosy Establishment.

The division in which I’m most interested, however, is generational. Previously we were hearing that the youngest voters were largely No-leaning, which makes easy sense. They have the longest to live after the oil runs out, however long that takes. Many of them have country-wide job searches in their near future, with which a narrowed country would hardly help. Nevertheless, recent polling suggests a lot of volatility. We may be about to find out how well a cry of ‘No more Tory governments!’ resonates with people who’ve never actually experienced a solely Tory government.

Last year I wrote about how strange furious clashes over Thatcher’s legacy can seem to someone whose detailed political memories begin with Blair. (You know: with that era when Clement Freud could be asked to speak for Just a Minute on the Scottish parliament, and remark that if you were to imagine a parliament with a Scottish Prime Minister, a Scottish Speaker, a Scottish Lord Chancellor and a Scotsman in charge of the Exchequer, that would of course be the English parliament.) So I wonder how moved Scotland's younger voters will be by the legacy of a dead woman from the past (and ‘younger’ in this context means anything up to something over thirty; unfortunately, the attempts I’ve seen at making sense of the polls have tended to talk about a 25–44 bracket).

I also wonder how things will play out socially if the future of Scotland is swung to Yes by people who will spend less time living with the result. The literature on intergenerational justice generally doesn’t deal with generational responsibility for breaking countries apart; and I really have no idea what an independent Scotland might make of itself in two or three decades’ time, if it proved to be ruled by a British-born generation of people who’d been largely opposed to Scotland’s ever existing in that cut-off form.

Spending Motivation

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Here’s a piece of guesswork about moral psychology. Suppose you are aware that purchasing antiquities without a clear provenance might result in money going to organisations like Hamas and ISIS/Islamic State. Suppose you've seen remarks like this one from Conflict Antiquities:

[P]otential buyers need to ask themselves one key question: ‘What are the chances that my money is going to buy bullets?’ (Or, as Paul Barford rephrased it, ‘what are the chances that they are not[?]’)

Wishing to do good rather than ill, you choose to spend your money elsewhere. And how do those wishing to do good in the world spend their money? One way, you might think, is to donate it as foreign aid. Except that you might have seen another recent blog post, this one from Civitas...

Leading development economist Paul Collier [...] finds that 40 per cent of African military spending is inadvertently funded by aid. Over 11 per cent of development aid “leaks into military budgets”. Because military expenditure by African governments is influenced by both aid and the level of military spending of neighbouring states, they conclude that “Where aid is common across a region, as in Africa” it “inadvertently has the effect of escalating a regional arms race… In Africa military spending is almost double its level in the absence of aid.” Britain’s foreign aid has exacerbated the instability politicians claimed it could solve.

If you were of a hard and cynical mind, you might reason like this: if I buy murkily sourced antiquities, I contribute to messing the world up but gain some antiquities for myself. If I try to make the world a better place through charity, I contribute to messing it up anyway (as I already do through my taxes), and gain nothing for myself. So trying to do the right thing here is futile and unprofitable.

I don’t know whether anyone does reason like that. Certainly it’s reasoning of doubtful soundness. Still, it reaffirms that the task of discouraging trade in dubious antiquities is one that isn’t enjoying the most helpful of wider contexts.

The Sum of Its Department

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It is of course traditional for people to call for the dismantling of the D.C.M.S. even in weeks when the Secretary of State has not been forcibly replaced: on this occasion the Spectator is doing the honours. Yet last June the Telegraph carried suggestions that the Department was too small...

Some senior Conservatives are privately arguing that her entire department should be disbanded and its duties handed to other, better-rated ministers. One Conservative Cabinet minister told the Daily Telegraph there is a ‘strong case’ for dismantling the DCMS. The minister said: “Under Maria, it’s shrunk so much that it’s close to losing critical mass – they do so little now it’s hard to justify the costs and status of a full department and a Cabinet minister.”

...whereas today the B.B.C. quotes the artistic director of a theatre company saying roughly the opposite:

“The first thing would be to ask parliament and his bosses to reduce the size of this portfolio,” he said. “Look at what they have to do; broadcasting, sport, media – including Leveson, telecoms, art. It is a very, very big portfolio. I wish the arts could be separate, like it used to be, with its own minister.”

Unless the Department has ballooned over the past year (unlikely, in these times of cuts and austerity), they can’t both be right.