Some benighted folks have noticed a rather strange coincidence involving JFK’s “New Frontier” creating a phony frontier with the Apollo Program:
JFK also published “A Nation of Immigrants”, which elided the very existence of “A Nation of Settlers” by equating “Settlers” with “Immigrants”, but the resulting immigration flood was anything but phony. It started in earnest with his brother Ted Kennedy’s 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, violating the consent of more than 90% of The Nation of Settlers for decades and is still violating more than a supermajority despite significantly replacing The Nation of Settlers with The Nation of Immigrants.
Some of us really really really, at an inchoate if not instinctive level, wanted to escape this flood with O’Neill colonies, but were prevented from doing so.
Oh, but that’s OK because, as the neocons like Bill Kristol like to tell us, The Nation of Settlers has outlived its usefulness and the Nation of Immigrants will do it all better.
Except for one thing:
Immigrants aren’t settlers and space settlement isn’t space immigration.
Space Settlers don’t arrive “Penniless at Ellis Island”.
So What In The Hell Was Humanity Thinking?
Take a look at this picture:
Harvard’s recent experiment in the evolution of antibiotic resistance graphically shows evolution in action. The frontier of bacteria culture is progressively mutant – to adapt to each new combination of antibiotics. This is common to all life, of course. You can even eliminate the antibiotics and the bacteria, themselves, will evolve the equivalent of antibiotics – but in the reverse of the Harvard experiment.
The frontier culture won’t have to adapt (it’s all just endless agar nutrient out there) but the bacteria at the origin has to start competing with other bacteria for the remaining nutrients. We’ll call the frontier the shallow culture and the origin culture the deep culture. The deep culture evolves to reproduce in the presence of other bacteria and disappearing food.
If that triggers in your mind an image of cannibalism, you’re right: The deep culture evolves ways of eating other bacteria since that’s where the nutrients are. They secrete waste products which, to them, are benign (think about San Francisco and India). However, those waste products digest other bacteria. Suddenly you have a new, naturally evolved, gradient of “antibiotics” except they are more powerful the deeper into the culture you go: The opposite of the Harvard experiment.
Recalling that this kind of gradient from deep culture to shallow culture is inherent to the way life itself evolves, let’s consider what happens when a species develops the catastrophically rapid form of evolution called “memes” or culture in the anthropology sense. For one thing, the shallow culture is most likely to develop technology that deals with differing natural environments and the deep culture most likely to develop the technology that deals with increasingly competitive populated, or artificial environments, like Ellis Island and New York City.
What this means is that before the shallow culture can become space-faring, it has already gone through a scientific revolution and provided transportation technology orders of magnitude beyond its natural locomotion. This all-but instantaneously mixes the deep and shallow cultures.
Recall that the deep culture has the ability to essentially “digest” the shallow culture, but not vis-versa.
Conclusion: This has wiped out every technological civilization prior to it becoming interstellar.
PS: I seriously doubt Philip Roth ever considered this angle when writing his alternative history involving President Charles Lindbergh, despite Lindbergh’s warning in “Aviation, Geography and Race”.