Monday, May 18, 2015

Don't mock Marco Rubio's new slogan. It's spot on - and everyone should recognize it.

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio is out with a new campaign slogan that's, shall we say, unconventional:
Its provocative and gross simplicity is well-crafted to make a splash on the internet, and already plenty of mocking critiques have been written. Nominally the slogan is making a claim about the primacy of US security policy, but realistically this fear-mongering is a dog-whistle for a certain segment of the Republican primary electorate.

Most reasonable people understand why this slogan is a bit silly: the survival of the United States of America isn't really in any serious jeopardy, and thus Rubio's emphasis on national security at the expense of other important public policy issues like economic growth, trade, environmental regulation, poverty, unemployment, etc. seems disingenuous.

But presidential political strategy aside, the slogan actually reveals a deep and important metaphysical truth, and one with big implications for international cooperation and space policy. Saying 'nothing matters if we're not safe' is foolish at the level of a state--plenty of other things matter! For one, the well-being of everyone else outside of the state matters. But what about if we are talking about everyone? At that level--the global level encompassing every human--I'd argue that the slogan 'nothing matters if we're not safe' is a moral rule that cannot be trumped.

Whatever one's preferred moral or ethical system, the complete annihilation of the earth and its species is pretty much the least-common-denominator of worst-case-scenarios. Whatever your views about the importance poverty, inequality, racial or gender discrimination, violence, etc. the end of the earth is a bad that overrides all of those concerns.

It's a statistical certainty that eventually some asteroid is going to come along and destroy the earth. Developing the technologies to defend against this risk, as well as sustainably colonizing space to hedge against other existential risks, is a moral duty that deserves a much higher place in our public discourse and policy discussions. Don't vote for Marco Rubio. But don't mock his slogan, either. It's the most deadly serious and important topic in public affairs today.

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