It is important to develop an understanding of human social behavior and evolution in isolated, off-world communities such that realistic expectations are established, and to some degree, guided over the course of successive generations of humans living in long-term, even permanent isolation from Earth.
To this end, we might ask a series of questions. Simple in the asking, the answers invoke an incredibly complex array of considerations for which there are not likely solutions, rather, general trends. If recognized, these might help guide political, ethical, even religious social norms and standards as we start again in isolated, off-world communities.
While the type and quantity of questions will grow with time, this effort will never fully define the complex workings of human society. Some questions are direct, immediately touching upon subjects which are challenging no matter where they are deployed. The subjects of punishment for crime, the definition of family, and religion invoke strong emotion. Subjects of food distribution and waste management feel more benign, yet they point to the functioning fabric of a modern society.
By asking a simple question which includes a) a limit of function, b) a necessary change, and c) a time constraint—we set a future, conditional boundary. If we then work backwards, step-by-step, we arrive to an understanding of a series of unfolding parameters which lead to any number of potential outcomes.
The goal is not to predict the future, nor set rules and regulations to control the unfolding. Rather, historically, every time a portion of humanity breaks free from its parent organization, it brings with it some things familiar, and introduces some things new. The combination is the evolutionary process we aim to explore.
We have a chance to learn from our mistakes, to improve with time. Just as good science fiction isolates a particular aspect of the human condition and forces it to be addressed, the coming decades of off-world exploration will do the same. Why go to Mars and do the same thing all over again?
Q: How will education grow from the first, home-school to a planet wide system?
Consider: This question in particular opens the floodgate for analysis of a highly complex arena of social infrastructure, from the economic position that educators hold in a given society, to the overall value placed on education. Overwhelming to consider all at once, it is best to look at the progression from the first astronauts who are permanently settled on Mars and the first Mars-born humans.
Those first children will be home-schooled as a function of living with all of the adults in a small, tight “village”. But what happens when there are one hundred, then one thousand villagers? When does the first designated teacher arrive? Does the first school resemble the one-room schools of the 1800s with all levels taught by the same instructor? When will that give way to multiple, specialized
Q: When will we need psychologists? Therapy?
Consider: Seven months confinement to a vehicle the size of two or three VW buses is enough to cause anyone to question their sanity. However, with a delay of more than thirty minutes round-trip communication, real-time sharing of issues with a specialist on Earth is not a long-term solution. As with those trained in medical specialization, will psychologists be one of the first professionals to arrive to the red planet?
Q: When will the first police officer be required?
Consider: What crime will be committed, and when? Will it be a case of something stolen, an unsatisfied employee who feels justified in taking corporate property? Or a jealous quarrel which leads to assault … even murder? What will be the population of the community at this time? Four? Twenty? Several hundred? In such a small circle of close associates, why could these kind of situations not be resolved long before they become a problem? How large does a community need to be before individuals no longer feel socially connected, such that their actions are no longer affected by concern for those around them?
Q: Will the institution of marriage be appropriate for the early days of off-world exploration?
Consider: Some twelve thousand years ago, humans transitioned from hunter-gatherer to agrarian, and with that tremendous change in diet and resource allocation, the transition from a child raised by a village to one set of parents in order to maintain a labour force—a means of planting, harvesting, and storing the crops (Diamond: “Guns, Germs, & Steel”). If we return to small, relatively isolated pods of humanity where labour and resource are shared with relative equality, will the village again raise the child? (Gandhi) Will the institution of marriage be required, will it survive the challenges of living and working in such close proximity?
Q: When will food transition from being distributed equally among all members of the community, to that of a for-profit commodity? And what social functions will change if/when this occurs?
Consider: This may not appear, at first glance, to be relevant to the social structure of an isolated community, but it does reflect directly upon the size of the community and how food is “communicated”. A small, relatively flat organization, in the tradition of a food co-operative requires that everyone is involved in food production and distribution. A large, hierarchical organization requires specialists who work as farmers and distributors such that the other specialists in the community may focus on their area of expertise.
Again, this calls upon the hunter-gatherer to agrarian transition, and how food is distributed which is center to so much of the struggle on Earth today. In the early days of a community food will be a shared commodity without economic value—a right, not a privilege.
But what happens when food is sold for profit? At what point does the population grow such that food must be shipped over vast distances, again, invoking the need for premature harvest, stabilizers, and modified food products? Or does a completely indoor, fully regulated food production environment duplicated anywhere on the planet warrant a sustainable, scalable system for food production without need for synthetic design or manipulation?
Already, scientists here on Earth are looking at ways of altering the DNA of plants and microbes to be better suited to Mars. What will be the outcome?
Q: Will there be waste dumps and landfills on Mars?
Consider: At what point does a society transition from one which deems all resources as valuable to one that has excess such that it is more cost effective to bury discarded products rather than reuse and recycle? With limited weather, and no (known) bacteria, earth worms, or other forms of natural decomposition, a land fill may be an ideal long-term storage, or simply something never used. When will economies of scale give way to economic competition, lower prices (if monetary exchange is adopted at all), a return to a throw-away society?