Key setting elements and questions:

In this scenario,

A large majority of the population:

  • Supports spending more money on religion than on the space colonization program.
  • They are middle class: they have a roof over their heads, transportation, food and entertainment.
  • They are the third generation of anti-science voters so investing in space exploration is almost an insult to the struggle of their ancestors.
  • They are impulsive, have attention deficit, believe in magic and do not verify news.
  • They are perfect gears for the State machine.
  • They see science as a sinkhole of money while they see religion as that which is needed to understand the world.
  • They hate irrationally the illustrated minority.

A minority of the population:

  • Supports spending more money in the space colonization program than in religion.
  • They belong to wealthy elites.
  • Their parents and grandparents have worked in important positions in government or large companies and know how important it is to maintain the system in order to maintain their quality of life.
  • They have a more open mind and critical thinking.
  • They use their intelligence to keep the State machine running.
  • They understand the science as a tool that can help them to expand and keep growing the company. They are mystics when it is convenient to gain the respect and support of their employees or middle class citizens.
  • They live isolated from most people and protected with private security because they know that many people hate and envy them.

In the past the solution to the problems of the majority passed through colonial space expansion but that did not interest the great short-term investors, now the situation has been reversed and ironically requires the same solution: although the people do not want to colonize, colonization will be done.

How can a wealthy and enlightened minority manage to create colonies on Mars and cheapen space mining in a world dominated by mysticism and hatred of science?

Background information on setting:

Let me provide you the context of this scenario.

Hundreds of millions of new users are coming to the Internet from Africa, China and India who do not know the dangers of the Internet and have no experience verifying information or reading scientific publications. The channels that talk about conspiracy theories are growing alarmingly and on social networks there is a lot of clickbait, news about the end of the world that never arrives, secrets that NASA wants to hide, toxicity of vaccines and Reiki to cure cancer. The cult of the hidden/unknown grows.

Governments have put many barriers to cars with gasoline, news on television always talk about climate change and electric cars and energy are a daily thing in a country like China! But the average global temperature continues to rise, disasters due to climate change continue to occur and those who once said that climate change did not exist now say that all these changes, taxes and regulations have only served to collect taxes and enrich scientists. It is hard to understand that the benefits of these changes will be seen by their children, especially when you have had to sell your car for a ridiculous price because no one wanted to buy your second-hand gasoline car.

Companies that offer passenger and freight transport using autonomous vehicles burst onto the market. The transport companies are updated or disappear, which leads to unemployment to many drivers over 35 years who have difficulties to recycle and lead the biggest protests of the 21st century to defend their jobs. They are joined by others who have also lost their jobs because of the ability of computers to recognize patterns and learn automatically. They are joined by those who only want to burn containers and break shop windows. As I said, the biggest protests of the 21st century.

SciFi series set in a decadent space exploration are the most seen and the movies where scientists want to destroy the world with a terrible weapon triumph at the box office (spoiler: the national superhero saves the world and kills the scientist).

In this time there had been great scientific breakthroughs. The very expensive JWST has detected oxygen in the atmosphere of some extrasolar planets that are in the habitable zone of a Sun-like star. It grows a branch of art that admires space exploration, supported by agencies and private companies that profit from it. Man reaches Mars...

What seems wonderful is interpreted by many as proof of an exorbitant expenditure of money by the "scientists" who live in their laboratories without hearing the protests that shout against them.

Political parties appear all over the world with a hate speech against the collective of scientists as a minority that cause all the problems, taking advantage of the discontent of a large part of the population alarmed by the news of private companies that lose manned rockets, news of military drones that confuse children with terrorists, news of accidents of remote-controlled heavy machinery and news of great protests against progress.

The media, aware of the danger of the rise of this type of populist parties, warn about these dangers, offer special reports on climate change, special programming for scientific dissemination and try to give more prominence to the exciting scientific breakthroughs that are taking place, so that people understand the positive value of science. This makes people perceive that the media is "part of the system" which further encourages many voters to vote for the new populist parties.

These parties get representation and in many important countries (to their disgrace) they come to govern like a good populist government. The investment of these governments in research and space exploration plummet and big projects are cancelled in the first months of government of these new parties. The free market is maintained and protected because they know it is necessary to maintain their economy.

Apart from this, hardly any noticeable changes have been made. The ordinary people do not perceive an improvement of their living conditions (In fact, some of them live now worse than before) so the support they had from the population is diminished. They decide to recover their support by strengthening what brought them to power: the lack of criticality and rationality of their voters. To this end, they gradually lower the education budget, simplify the subjects of mathematics and science, gradually increase the ratio of students per teacher and hinder scientific dissemination. Governments justify this with the emergence of many new works related to art and design and the need to support more creativity than maths in education. Many parents see their children passing with better grades and having more fun in school.

Easy and effective entertainment keeps people calm and oblivious to political changes as long as the state guarantees them this entertainment. Populist governments unite to work together and each one carries out in their country the kidnapping of their institutions: centralizing power, fearing the opposition, reforming constitutions, creating parallel political structures recognized and controlled by the state, placing relatives in key positions in the state and media, etc. This creates a network of pseudo-democratic governments that depend on each other.

This union is consolidated and reinforced by the creation of the first world dictatorship led by a small group of dictators. Of course these countries continue to be recognized by the population as democracies.

At this point marketing follows unbeatable laws. Companies can make people kill themselves to get their latest product. Companies know how to make people to project their problems into the absence of a product and this is easier the more superficial a person's thoughts are. Young people with attention deficits who used to pass exams easily are big consumers. The companies know that this is thanks to the "limited" education offered by the government and decide to support and collaborate with these dictatorships. The companies receive monopolies, contracts and batches of great new consumers and in exchange the governments maintain in their countries the investments of these big companies avoiding the flight of capital to other countries with greater legal security.

To continue growing companies need to reach more people and manufacture more products but: 1. The Earth is overpopulated and its products reach all the people and markets of the world. 2. Surface mines and other cheap sources of raw materials are running out and it is becoming increasingly expensive to extract the materials these companies need to manufacture their products.

For these reasons the companies plan the colonization of the Moon & Phobos and the establishment of interplanetary trade routes. The demand for graduates in science and technology is growing but with education "reduced" very few can fill those positions so wages in this type of jobs skyrockets. Private schools and universities take advantage of this opportunity and offer very expensive degrees that promise to fill these positions so that these positions will only be filled by a wealthy elite.

Since the arrival to power of the anti-science parties there has been a halt in scientific progress so it is not usual to create humans à la carte although some physical aspects can be improved and certain congenital malformations or diseases can be corrected. Progress may has been slower on this issue but there are companies that offer these services to rich young couples.

One of the characteristics that can be chosen for a baby is the presence of a gene that helps to synthesize some more neurotransmitters which is a help to their intelligence, but (luckily for many) intelligence is something very complex that depends on many genes and parents can only choose this little help, they can not increase much the intelligence of the baby. Some of the babies who have received this help have developed neurosis and even schizophrenia so that besides being a small help is not a feature very chosen by parents.

The big companies are aware that there are poor children with as much or more potential than a rich child (thanks to the fact that there is still some physical equality between the brain of a rich child and the brain of a poor child) so they offer scholarships that allow poor students to acquire that valuable knowledge and fill well-paid jobs.

Large corporations depend on the protection of the state and support it to maintain that protection, so corruption is rampant. They have also become accustomed to not having had competition for years so they are less and less competitive. This means that the scholarship programme does not work as well as it should and does not reach poor students who really need those scholarships.

Meanwhile, the common people, the middle class, the vulgo live immersed in periodic pandemics of fanaticism and mysticism that eclipse the great problems of the world. At the moment they are not hungry and can live comfortably, but this irrational society is a breeding ground for dangerous fanatical global revolutions that may occur if overpopulation, environmental crisis or lack of resources bring down dictatorships.

More details:

For these people entertainment and religion are an important part of their daily lives. These people work (mostly in jobs in production lines, artwork and handicrafts), although it is true that there would be considerable unemployment. At school they were taught the problems that existed before the anti-science government came to power and if the government failed to keep its promise to protect them from those problems they would feel betrayed. Government could easily manipulate them but it would appear a group of people that feel the need to fight against the treacherous government.

I'm not sure if projects of Mars colonization and space mining can be hidden from the population easily. Supporting and covering up the companies that decide to go against the fundamental values that gave rise to the movement would be a great betrayal by the government to the citizens. I think there would be a revolution if people feel hungry and sad but, would a revolution really be impossible as long as the state guarantees them an acceptable quality of life?

The deterioration of the research infrastructure is similar to the deterioration that the automobile industry would suffer if vehicles of all manufacturers except Zenvo and Maybach were no longer marketed, at least in the case of genetic engineering. Graduates of the few schools that offer degrees to work in these companies can perfectly cover the jobs of these exclusive companies. The case of the rocket industry is worse, it is completely stopped, new satellites have not been put into orbit in at least 10 years. Air travel continues, but with much less frequency given that the price of a ticket is much more expensive to pay the salaries of the quoted technical professionals that have to maintain those old airplanes.

I am not an expert on geology and raw material extraction so I can't give realistic estimates. All the resources that can be extracted in an unsustainable way have been gradually depleted. The last countries that can sell some oil sell at a very high price because it is very difficult to extract, because the salaries of the necessary technical staff have to be paid and very few countries can compete with them. The same goes for iron, tin and nickel mines, although I suppose the price would not have risen as much if these metals could be extracted from active volcanic areas and through recycling. Wood production is sustainable and is common to find things built with wood or paper.

There are some computers and smartphones that work, but they are old-fashioned. Some families hide old computers and mobile phones that belonged to their ancestors as if they were relics. When one of these devices stops working, it does it forever because it is very difficult for these families to find and pay someone who can repair it. Internet is censored and poorly maintained.

The extraction of resources is done by private companies. All territories where iron is accessible have already been exploited, countries depend on each other and benefit more from trade than from wars and conquests.

It is likely that there is a point in the future where the infrastructure (hangars, launch pads, research centres, etc.) is so aged that they would have to be rebuilt it completely. I don't know if a small group of rich people can do it without the support of population.

Grass grows on nozzles just as it did in Greek temples during the Middle Ages.

Cooperation between governments is close and there is no military enemy that can destroy this union so military is not something very important. On television there are more talks about religion and mysticism than military-related contents.

The religion is the evolution of actual pseudoscience and modern shamans. In the past these shamans felt attacked when science showed that their rituals and beliefs were false and did not work beyond the placebo effect, when many people supported them they were institutionalized forming a hippie religion and when they felt strong they decided to take revenge and support those who attacked research centers and robot factories (instead of recognizing the evidence). They could probably make people believe that having humans on Mars can create an energetic link between the chakras of people on both worlds by creating an interplanetary barrier to evil spirits (or something similar) and therefore colonization must be supported by population. That justification might make people accept government support for colonization and space mining programs run by private companies, but many people might perceive it as a contradiction after generations fighting science. ¿Would the people accept it? ¿Wouldn't the population be split between colonization supporters and detractors?

Governments are subordinate to private companies, although the people still believe that they have power through the vote.

By perfect gears I mean people who believe faithfully in what the government tells them and are great consumerists that maintain the power of the big companies.

There are approximately 10% of the population who have or can afford technical or scientific training or who work in important positions in government or private companies. The rest of the people can be divided into three groups:

  • perfect gears: people who believe everything the government says. They are very religious. They are very aware of their duty to fight drones, robots, vaccines and space rockets. (60%)
  • indifferent: people who don't care about politics. They just want entertainment and a comfortable life. They are very consumerist. (29.9%)
  • very small exotic group of poor people who clandestinely read and
    learned old books about programming and mathematics. (0.1%)
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Does the question really need to be this long? Is there anything not essential to the question that can be summarised or removed? $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 17:35
  • $\begingroup$ Read from "In this scenario,". You can read the part above if you need more details $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 19:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @rogueplanet A single comment at the very very end of this huge post is not a good approach to so much text. I attempted an edit placing the most pertinent information at the top, with the background as more clearly optional. Other than cleaning up a couple of typos the text is unchanged, but if you feel I've damaged the question please feel free to roll it back. $\endgroup$
    – Upper_Case
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 19:58
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Upper_Case You're right. I've aproved the changes. Thank you $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 20:09
  • $\begingroup$ If you replace the word "religion" with "social media," then this becomes a question about everyone born after 1985. $\endgroup$
    – Dan
    Commented Dec 28, 2018 at 20:51

4 Answers 4


Encourage people to use space materials (from the heavens) to make religious objects. An obvious approach is to pay (bribe) religious figures to promote this. Further, have the religious figures bless the space trips to remove their "scienceness" as religious trips.

Condemn people for taking a technological approach to life. These people, who may use technology to support their laziness, should be separated from right-thinking anti-science people. So ship them off to other planets, the moon, or even space stations. You're not supporting the colonization of space; you're purifying the Earth.This may include people who use too many resources, e.g. too large a family; wasteful of energy; etc. Going to space is a punishment, as obviously a non-technological Earth is a paradise.

It's going to be important to make space self-sufficient enough to accept immigrants. Because the Earth people won't want to support the space people. Space mining will start as a producer of curios (the religious objects from the first paragraph). It will be commoditized and automated over time. Emphasize how these programs make it cheaper to imprison the criminals banished from our Earthly paradise.

Programs do not support the mining of space; they require the criminals to mine their own resources. They do not develop agricultural technology; they require the criminals to grow their own food. Naturally it will be the space people who will develop and manage space ships. Eventually space should pay to lift new criminals from the surface; it's a tax on their original sin.

The key here is to not describe this as favoring science over religion. Instead, you are freeing religion from science by banishing the science and the people who practice it. They do not deserve the Earth.

  • $\begingroup$ If the situation continues, there could come a period of scarcity that combined with a spark (the discovery that the government has been deceiving them all this time) would unleash a civil war led by the most fanatical sector of the population, ending up with a completely impoverished and backward Earth. Mars and the asteroid colonies would be saved. Some years later a primitive tribe could see a futuristic and shinny spaceship land, then a beautiful and healthy person comes out of it and tells them that he is a Martian. And everything would be perfectly realistic. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 11:28

I suggest you read Mark Geston's "Lords of the Starship", which describes a world much like yours (although in even worse shape), with large-scale progress sabotaged by the continuing apathy and hopelessness of the masses.

Building an enormous starship is accomplished by presenting (with faked evidence) the target planet as a paradise, and a wonderful alternative to the miserable conditions on Earth. The mass effort required to build the ship becomes a multi-generation crusade, rather like the building of cathedrals in Europe.

Of course, there are much darker forces at work in the book, and the above paragraph is only part of the story, but it seems a useful approach. The book is still in print, and is available through Amazon both as paper and Kindle.

  • $\begingroup$ thank you so much! I never heard about it, I'll take a look :) $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 10:52

From the setting description it doesn't quite seem like mysticism and anti-scientific sentiment really dominate the world-- the people who think that way are just complacent as a result of how their governments (who, as described, seem to be at least somewhat less mystical and anti-scientific) have organized their surroundings. As a result, this (socio-economic) situation seems easy to resolve:

If individuals are genuinely "perfect gears for the State machine", unemployed or underemployed, thoroughly controlled by media, and the media itself is largely hybridized with these manipulative, cynical, and controlling governments, then I don't see any reason that these people wouldn't be pliable to whatever the government wanted to push. And if advertising is so advanced, then there is no reason to think that propaganda would not be equally effective.

People not directly involved in the research and development efforts wouldn't have any reason to know about those efforts, and a strong general awareness of current events or government (or anything beyond immediate physical comforts) doesn't seem to be anything you need to worry about. Indeed, with fundamentally authoritarian dictatorships and a thoroughly cowed and manipulate-able population, directing resources to large-scale projects of no immediate benefit to the vast majority of people seems natural, almost to the point of inevitability. All that is needed is for the dictators to decide that a particular end is worthwhile.

Depending on how badly research infrastructure has decayed it might be difficult to start up again. But from your description it sounds as though at least some small, boutique firms exist which retain a lot of scientific capacity (like the limited gene-editing available to the wealthy).

I see a few relevant elements which might complicate/bring down efforts, and are plot points worth considering:

  1. What amount of resources are required to maintain living standards (or allow them to slightly worsen over time)? How much of a production surplus beyond this amount can be produced

The easy-to-get surface materials are nearly gone, but how nearly? Other sources of materials might be harder to exploit, but how much harder? How much of those resources are required per year to affect living standards for most people? How much of a surplus beyond that baseline can be produced, and for how long, before the research and development require peoples' lives to become noticeably worse? (And "noticeable" here includes deceptions and reorientations from your effective media entertainments).

  1. How many relevant resources remain accessible, and through what mechanisms?

This is more of a timing issue. If scientists of Country A predict a need for 20 years of research, and within their controlled territory the amount of iron (for example) needed for that research will run out before then, how will they respond? Deprivation and repression of ordinary people? Conquest of new territory where more accessible iron exists? Raids on other governments to steal from their stockpiles? Is this a race to beat the fall of human civilization, or a drive to be the first spacebound group and therefore the most able to control those new frontiers? Is there some predicted point in the future where the necessary research will become unfeasible (due to resource constraints, or something else)?

  1. How cooperative are these polities, with each other and with the elements of their social order?

It will make a big difference if the government of Country A has stable alliances with surrounding powers and the enthusiastic cooperation of media and religious groups compared with a government dealing with hostile rivals on all sides, within and without.

Tighter cooperation should make it easier to keep everyone in line, and that seems to be the broader situation anyways. Interstate agreements can also keep a higher proportion of resources dedicated to the colonization efforts rather than military ones, which would be a massive inefficiency to deal with.

  1. What is religion actually like?

If the people you've described really value religion and mysticism, then the details of their beliefs and rituals are going to be pretty important to their lives. If it's a very casual sort of arrangement, an attend-church-twice-a-year kind of thing, then it might be mostly irrelevant. If it's essentially a fanatic cult dedicated to finding "science" and destroying it immediately, then it's a much bigger threat to the colonization effort.

Or, if people are so foregone and the religious authorities are blinkered or corrupt enough, the mysticism might dovetail perfectly with the colonization efforts. They're not participating in a scientific odyssey to colonize a new world, they're involved in a religious duty to perform tasks their deities require and which the people themselves don't understand. Anacreon from the first Foundation novel comes to mind.

  1. Is society really arranged as described?

There is no particular reason that it can't be, but in a society as described it seems that the means of production are concentrated in the hands of very, very few people, giving them extreme leverage over most of the population. It's not clear to me what capacities the governments have to maintain their power, but presumably they are on par with (or subordinated to) those concentrated commercial interests. Most people have marginal employment opportunities, marginal productive skills (by design), and most of their attention consumed by immersive entertainment that the government will make sure they have access to.

Would there still be a broad spread of high, middle, and lower classes? Or would it be more a case of a handful of hyper-oligarchs, a few "strivers", and then a huge, undifferentiated mass of economic nonentities? What does social class mean when there is so little to differentiate one person's situation from another's? What capacities would those people have to affect change, on any scale? Would they be engaged enough with the actual world to even try? It seems like the wealthy already own and control most meaningful things anyhow-- how aware of their spending choices would most people be, and what might stop them from spending it on colonization efforts versus anything else?

  • $\begingroup$ I've added more details that can answer some of your questions $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 29, 2018 at 16:23

My first opinion is that you can't. Space colonization requires a massive industrial base that your society no longer has. It lacks the technicians, the natural resources, the intermediate industries, cheap fuels. Also, you lack public support for the sacrifices that, if you had that public support, could be done to pull that great project. So you have to convince the public to accept this sacrifice so they can eat and not die of malaria. You can't do that in secret because the project is too big.

Here in my city, until the fifties, there was no running water. People kept complaining about that but nothing was done. It was too expensive and no one wanted to pay for the infrastructure. A mayor came and promissed running water all the way to the year 2000, if only the people started paying a lot more for it. He was a charismatic and honorable leader, that also owned newspapers and was able to convince the people. The huge projects were done and even today, 2018, we still have abundant, cheap water.

In your world, if I were the leaders, I would put things in clear and simple terms. There are more resources for you to eat, out there, in the space, we can get there but it will be costly and will demand sacrifices, like some of you learning the evil sciences of our forefathers. Propose a deal with the devil, so to speak. And since your world's religion is not based on ascetic virtues like christianity or buddhism, it will work, with the correct propaganda, with the most proeminent witch doctors being convinced of this necessity. People like prosperity more then they like fake pseudo-religions. It's a matter of convincing.


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