Don’t Look Up, Unless You Want to Be Distracted
The real story isn’t Chinese balloons or a UFO cover-up; it’s why we’re wasting taxpayer billions on colonizing space
Was it just a week ago that the shootdown of a couple of balloons floating over America sent the country into a tizzy over China and fed a fresh wave of speculation about UFOs? Before the moment drops down the memory hole, we should consider how weird and revealing it has been, both for what it shows about how easily Americans can get stampeded into an international confrontation over something inconsequential (in this case, with China) and more for what it shows about our unexamined assumptions about America’s standing not just on Earth, but in relation to space and the possibility that someone or something “out there” could be more powerful than us.
First, and quickly, the panic about China. In early January, the U.S. House voted overwhelmingly (365–65) to establish a “Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party.” Not the competition with China, the country, but with the CCP. Then, just over a week ago, a resolution condemning the CCP’s use of a high-surveillance balloon over U.S. territory as a “brazen violation of United States sovereignty” went through the chamber like a dose of salts, 419–0. The text is full of nutty chest-thumping about how important it is to prevent “foreign adversaries” from spying on us “in the national airspace system,” ignoring completely that just a few miles higher up a variety of foreign surveillance satellites regularly fly over the United States. Those don’t seem to bother us, right? After we clear the skies of all balloons, what are going to do next, inspect every Canadian goose that flies overhead to see if it’s wearing a GoPro?
The deeper problem, though, is that we aren’t responding logically to any of this, but rather following a script that is deeply embedded in our national narrative, so well rooted that my next question may surprise you. Why is the one major Trump-era objective that has been retained by the Biden Administration the creation of the U.S. Space Force, the sixth branch of the military, dedicated to warfighting in near space, along with the expansion of our efforts to colonize the Moon…