The Future of Humanity is White and Male (Again)
The History Channel’s “Life After People” is one of my favorite TV series, so I was amused to see this mention of an “Immortality Drive” that’s apparently in space at this very moment. The Immortality Drive is a kind of high-tech time capsule; put together by video game auteur Richard Garriot, it contains messages to our descendants/alien resurrectors, a list of humanity’s greatest achievements, and the digitized genetic data of “a select few” members of our species. All this is currently preserved on the International Space Station.
And who are these select few, meant to represent and possibly recreate us in case we nuke ourselves/get Raptured/are eaten by grues? Oh, you know where this is going.
These were the 10 names I could find:
Stephen Colbert (yes, the comedian; white)
Physicist Stephen Hawking and his daughter Lucy (included for charity; both white)
Matt Morgan (pro wrestler; white)
Jo Garcia (female, Playboy model; Latina according to Wikipedia)
Eric Johnson (musician; white)
Patrice Pike (musician; white)
Tracy Hickman (male, if you’re wondering, and white; fantasy author)
Scott Johnson (Olympic gold medalist; white)
Brian Crecente (Kotaku editor; race/ethicity unknown, but misogyny noted)
Also, here’s some photos of the folks whose DNA is being included, from the “Operation Immortality” Facebook page.
So OK, we’ve got 30% women here, one definitive Latina, and one disabled person. No African Americans, AFAICT. No Asian Americans. No Native Americans. So the future of humanity won’t be exclusively white and male… just mostly so.
Now, in Garriot’s partial defense, “Operation Immortality” actually includes 40 people; these were just the 10 names I could find. The whole batch might be more diverse than this sample. Also, although this thing got billed as putting “the best of humanity” into space, that was BS; Garriot specifically sought to put the DNA of gamers into space, to promote his latest game (which bombed). In reality the slots got sold to the highest bidder as a publicity stunt. But y’know what? Since this was meant to be promotional, I think some consideration should’ve been given to making the Operation Immortality list at least tacitly resemble the audience that might buy the game. Since black and Latina/o gamers make up a substantial proportion of the US gamer demographic — 50% of console owners according to this 2005 study, probably more since — you’d think there’d be a few more of us in that list. Actually, given that Garriot’s game was an MMORPG, PoC make up an even bigger proportion of those players; 5 million of World of Warcraft’s 7 million players are in China. And that 30% female thing? Should be more like 65%. So I can’t help wondering if a contributing factor to the failure of Garriot’s game was his failure to use this and other promo opportunities to really connect with his audience.
What really annoys me here is not Garriot’s shortsightedness — well, yeah, OK, that annoys me too — but the fact that my tax dollars are involved. See, while Garriot himself paid for the Russian mission that shot his and his friends’ spooge into space, it’s being stored aboard the International Space Station — which is partially paid for and maintained by NASA.
Now, I’m pro-space exploration (duh, see my avatar). I know a lot of ya’ll (speaking to the black folks here) feel like it’s a waste of money given the number of people struggling to get by in our society, but I’m with Octavia; I believe the destiny of humanity is to spread among the stars. That said, it still pisses me off when my destiny, and that of other people who look like me, gets excluded from or severely underrepresented on NASA-sponsored missions like this one. I think that if NASA would try a little harder to make sure space travelers — or their genes — represent the breadth and variety of Americans, then a greater breadth and variety of Americans might actually support NASA funding. (It’s not like there aren’t other wastes of money to complain about.)
Anyway, this marks the start of another series I’ll be periodically running here at ABW, which I’m going to call I, For One, DON’T Welcome Our New White Overlords. It’ll examine all the many ways in which our society’s so-called futurists repeatedly envision lily-white futures, and what we can do to
smack those visionaries in the head until they see better visions remind them that the future will be — like the present already is — 50% female, and a lot browner than they realize.