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I am a Lost Cause February 23, 2009

Posted by Thomas Olson in gauntlet being dropped, hot air, public service announcement, sbsp, smack talk.

As a good friend of mine reminded me: “Getting into an argument on the internet is like being in the Special Olympics – you might “win”, but you’re still [developmentally disabled].” I didn’t use the term he did, at the end, out of respect for the fact that my wife has worked with/for the MRDD community for nearly 20 years. But I agree with the sentiment, nonetheless.

About a week or so back, I let myself get into it on Facebook with someone over all the usual canards concerning Space-Based Solar Power. Even after I threw up my hands and walked away, it didn’t end well – I kept getting message after message in my inbox. It was late at night, he was spewing complete nonsense, and I should’ve just let it go.

Early last week found me in Portland, OR, packing up my mom’s recently-sold home. As that “someone” also lived there, I sent him a quick e-mail inviting him to dinner or lunch – largely as a peace offering. Even though we in the “community” may have some serious disagreements, I find we can usually find common ground somewhere, and as we’re rather a small community to begin with, it just made sense to me to extend an olive branch.

That olive branch, a couple days later, was abruptly thrown back in my face by this person, in a tersely-worded missive claiming that his work life takes up most of his time, and he doesn’t have any to waste “arguing” with me. He finished with: “I think you are a lost cause.”

Well, there you are. We’ve just crossed the line from impassioned, reasoned debate and discourse to “religion”. For only the truly devout would use the term “lost cause.” This is a term usually reserved for the damned and doomed. And of course, the proselytizer doesn’t have any time to waste on those he can’t reach – new victims await his message of hope and eternal salvation.

I was angered for awhile – particularly at his incivility. A born Brit should know better. A born Brit should also, simply out of a sense of history, realize that many of those who settled America and Australia in the 19th and early 20th centuries were also considered “lost causes” by those whom they left behind. Convicts, slaves, religious cultists, the politically inconvenient, the oppressed, the starving – “lost causes” all. This would include my own great-grandparents. So we can be a bit sensitive to that term.

Millions of “lost causes” came to North America and Australia, during that period, survived the hardships, and prospered, caring not a whit about the sanctimonious judgments of others. Most of us here today are their descendants.

So in reconsideration of the “space” context, I concluded that I should wear that mantle proudly. Indeed, I am a “lost cause”:

I am a lost cause for anyone who seeks to convince me that railroad-building in the 19th century – with all its political corruption, human misery and business failure – is any kind of model for building space commerce infrastructure in the 21st;

I am a lost cause for anyone seeking to convince me that $200/lb to LEO with conventional rockets is in any way practical or profitable, unless you’re talking about a “new” dollar that’s worth a whole lot more than the ones we’re using now;

I am a lost cause for anyone trying to convince me that SBSP will be of any practical or economic value before at least 50 years have elapsed;

I am a lost cause for anyone trying to convince me that Helium-3 mining on the moon – for fusion reactors that don’t exist – is anything other than a smokescreen;

I am a lost cause for anyone attempting to make me believe that “we” can actually muster enough influence to lobby Congress to give NASA more money, at a time when the TRULY politically-connected and influential are reaping the benefits of bailouts right and left from a hopelessly corrupt DC machine;

And I am definitely a lost cause for anyone making the argument that Walt Anderson is actually “guilty” of anything.

Moral of the story: If you dare to think for yourself – in this or any other context – you are probably someone’s “lost cause” somewhere. Wear it proudly.