The meek shall inherit the earth, the rest of us are going to the stars

My essay on uploaded astronauts has been republished in the January issue of the Club of Amsterdam Journal. The next Club of Amsterdam event, on Jan 31, will be about the future of space travel. There is an interesting pre-event discussion: Is Space Travel worth the effort?

The best comment comes from Susan Shwartz: “The meek will inherit the earth. The rest of us are going to the stars. It’s worth it. It’s infinitely worth it.”

The first part of the comment sounds like Heinlein. I have tried to find the original quote, often attributed to Lazarus Long in Time Enough for Love or The Notebooks of Lazarus Long. I haven’t found it yet, but “The meek shall inherit the earth, the rest of us are going to the stars” is definitely the sort of thing that Lazarus Long would say.

Susan’s comment has attracted some typical pseudo-left noise like “Punchy as this soundbite is, it perfectly encapsulates the profound problems at the heart of the whole ‘space colonisation’ project: – the billions of people who want to live on this planet are disparaged as dull and unambitious; – Earth, and all its myriad co-evolutionary life forms, are dismissed as being of only limited interest; – the exorbitant costs, serious dangers and colossal impracticalities of space travel are utterly ignored.”

This is, of course, entirely missing the point, for nobody is saying that the people who want to live on this planet are dull and unambitious, or that Earth is uninteresting. But the world is an interesting place precisely because it includes billions of people with different interests and priorities. Some people want to stay, and some people want to go, like it has always been.

I can imagine a future nanny-planet scenario without space colonization, with a (gradually) reduced population, less damage to the environment, more assistance to the weak, reduced wealth and education gaps, and a simple but decent life for everyone under the enlightened protection of a benevolent nanny-world government. This scenario is good enough for a lot of persons who prefer a quiet life with no risks, and I wish them all the best, but I would find the nanny-planet too boring, and escape as fast as I can. This is not putting the meek down and calling them dull, or unambitious, but simply stating that I have different ambitions.

There will always be persons who prefer a more interesting and fun life with some risks, and find far horizons and unknown wonders more appealing than the quiet familiarity of home. These are the explorers who will go to the stars. They will respect the choice of those who prefer to stay on Earth, but their own choice will have to be respected as well.

Susan’s comment identifies the real reason for space travel. I find arguments based on useful spinoffs from space programs rather weak (why not just develop the useful spinoffs). Telecom, Earth observation and positioning/navigation satellites (GPS etc.) for both civilian and military applications are extremely useful and can easily justify their costs, but they don’t qualify as “space travel.” At this moment, there is nothing that people can do in space that cannot be done cheaper here on Earth. This will change someday, once we colonize space, and our daring spirit of adventure is the real reason to go.

Ultimately, I think space will not be colonized by squishy, frail and short-lived flesh-and-blood humans, but by uploads. Our post-biological mind children, implemented as pure software based on human uploads and AI subsystems, will colonize the universe. As Sir Arthur C. Clarke said, they will not build spaceships, because they will be spaceships. Eventually, post-biological humans will travel between the stars as radiation and light beams. But in the meantime, we need to go back to space for our mental health as a species.

The space program of the 60s has given our generation the motivation and drive that we needed. If we want to have a chance to escape biology and become immortal post-humans roaming the universe as uploads we need to go back to space now, in our squishy human bodies, to inspire younger persons and incite them to study science and engineering, and develop new technologies. Not everyone can be a space explorer, but we are all partners and stakeholders in the cosmic future of our species and its “manifest destiny” among the stars.


The program of the event on January 31 is very interesting:

Speakers and topics:
Gerard ‘t Hooft, Nobel Laureate from Utrecht University
Moving to Outer Space: Science and Science Fiction

Many Science Fiction ideas about space travel will be impossible forever, based as they are more on fiction than on science. What would more realistic scenarios look like? What does it take to colonize the Solar System? Will we ever be able to escape to other stars? Will the colonists be humans of flesh and blood or advanced robots?

Bas Lansdorp, Co-Founder & General Director, Mars One
Humans on Mars in 2023

Mars One is a non for profit organization whose intent is to establish a colony on Mars through the integration of existing, readily available technologies from industry leaders world-wide. Unique in its approach, Mars One intends to fund this decade-long endeavour through an interactive, reality TV style of the human mission to Mars.
Note: Gerard ‘t Hooft is a Mars One supporter.
Note: Mars one recently issued the requirements for astronaut selection.

Michel van Pelt, spaceflight engineer, author, ESA/ESTEC
Future Robotic Science and Exploration

Over the last half century satellites and space probes have vastly increased our knowledge of the solar system and the Universe. The Hubble Space Telescope, the Curiosity Mars rover and many less famous spacecraft are continuously broadening our horizon. As technological capabilities and scientific requirements evolve, new types of space telescopes, landers, rovers and planetary satellites emerge. This presentation will offer a short overview of what’s in store.

I love the Mars One project and I wish them all the best. Financing space exploration with a reality show is a deliciously irreverent idea, and it is a fact that reality shows move enough money to take people to Mars. Of course I suspect that perhaps they will run the reality show for a couple of seasons and then take the money and go and forget Mars, and perhaps this is the real business plan, but I prefer to be optimist and I look forward to watching Mars One astronauts on TV, first on Earth and then on Mars. I have no problems with Big Brother in space.

I do have problems with another Big Brother here on Earth, and with his nanny-statist friends who refer to supporters of private space programs as “SpaceX cadets” and write idiocies like “there never will be any such thing as a “private” or “for-profit” space program.” They forget that their beloved nanny-state is well and good when it is one of many players, but becomes an Orwellian dictatorship when it is the only player.

  • It is extremely refreshing to read the ideas and aspirations of those who embrace the future and want to help mold it !!

  • Alan Brooks

    Contingency planning is quite important; when thinking of volcanic activity and asteroids, etc., the importance of planning to start enclaves away from Earth becomes clear.

    • L.Edwards

      I wonder what makes people think that no other planet has threats and their own natural disasters. You all curse this planet with a passion, but believe the universe and the other planets are safe havens. Come on now. And what technology hasn’t malfunctioned and broke down? Your robot bodies, AI, or whatever will do the exact same thing over time. Nothing is immortal. Nothing. Even the universe itself will come to an end. Since all of us and our inventions are a part of the universe, we’re subject to its laws and cycles.

      Those are cold, hard facts even if we do spread to the stars bringing all of our flaws with us.

      Oh well, call me meek then.

  • J B Stiglitz

    I remember the quote as coming from Ben Bova but, as with you, I can’t verify that.

  • Lee Vogel

    “The meek will inherit the earth. The rest of us are going to the stars. It’s worth it. It’s infinitely worth it.”
    So should this be credited to Susan Shwartz or Giulio Prisco?

  • Giulio Prisco

    Hi Lee. This should be credited to Susan Shwartz, I am just quoting her.

  • This is still probably not the original source of the quip, but Steve Savitzky’s Inherit the Earth dates back to 1985:

    The stars now are calling to mankind
    To abandon the world of their birth.
    The bold ones will answer them gladly,
    And the meek will inherit the Earth.

    • I asked Steve Savitzky and he said he remembered a version of that line from L5 Society literature.

      Further research turns up mention of an L5 Society poster, c. 1976:

      The Meek Shall Inherit The Earth—
      The Wise and Strong Keep Moving.

      Also from the Society’s L5 News #12 (August 1976)

      The Space Migrant’s reply … is, of course, “let the meek inherit the earth; we have farther-out plans.”

      The idea may be older yet, but that’s as far back as I’ve found so far.

  • Kris Lee Goldby

    This quote occurs in The Winds of Altair by Ben Bova, may not be the original though.

    • Giulio Prisco

      Thanks Kris! I’ll look it up.