Elon Musk, aka the newly anointed richest man in the world, has revealed more details of his plan to move people into space. However, before you get excited, everything he just detailed makes us want to stay firmly on earth. He's bringing indentured servitude to Mars.
In a recent interview with Business Insider, Musk predicted that life as we know it "will be dramatically improved if we're a multiplanet species as a spacefaring civilization." But dramatically improved for who exactly?
Musk's utopian project aims to see an estimated 1 million people relocate to Mars by 2050, many of whom will need to pay back their journey on arrival. The tech billionaire intends for there to be “loans available for those who don’t have money,” and jobs on the Red Planet for settlers to pay off their debts. Sound familiar? That’s because his plan for colonizing Mars sounds a lot like OG colonialism.
The idea of indentured servitude was born of a need for cheap labor in America in the decade following the settlement of Jamestown by the Virginia Company in 1607. Settlers soon realized that they had too much land to care for, but no one to care for it and so they developed the system of indentured servitude to attract workers.
The life of an indentured servant was harsh and restrictive, but it wasn't slavery. There were laws that protected some of their rights. However, their contract could be extended as punishment for breaking a law, such as running away, or in the case of female servants, becoming pregnant.
Now imagine that setup but in space. Over the last couple of years, Musk has demonstrated a less than impressive attitude to the rights and safety of his workers. In 2019 a judge found that he violated national labor laws when he implied via tweet that Tesla workers who unionized would have to give up their company stock options.
Then, as the pandemic ravaged California last year, Tesla workers said they were fired after opting to stay home from the Fremont factory rather than risk being potentially exposed to the coronavirus. “The company, Elon included, they don’t really care about the health and well-being of the employees,” said ex-Tesla employee, Nayo Miller. “The manufacturing of the vehicles supersedes our safety.”
Musk's Martian pay-away scheme sounds like the setup for an extremely stressful space-mutiny blockbuster or yet another reminder that we have yet to learn from or even acknowledge the failures of colonialism. In the wake of George Floyd’s death and the BLM protests, colonial monuments were torn down by protesters around the world who saw them as a constant reminder of racism and subjugation.
Defenders of statues dedicated to slave traders and colonists argued that to deface and remove these monuments was to “erase history.” Musk’s plan to simply repackage colonial techniques is arguably a greater, not to mention deeply sinister, act of erasure.