Philanthropic Donations on Human Extinction Issues
The PERMANENT website home page opens with the statement that "in all geologic time, our generation will get mankind off our lonely planetary cradle ... It is a race against time, before a biotechnology supervirus makes mankind extinct, or nanotechnology destroys Earth's biosphere, suddenly." That was 2002. In 2011, I changed "will" to "could", as it may already be too late, given the development times required for self-sufficiency in space. (It's also discussed in the printed book in 1998.)
That is the urgency to get PERMANENT going, and had been for the previous 17 years of its development.
Otherwise, why not just enjoy life spending my time in an easy money making job and indulging in luxuries and vacations, conforming to the norms of society, instead of all this work? It is all to easy to rationalize away our worries or just move on to other things without doing anything, but that is not being responsible.
Many times, people criticized me for the doomsday argument. These people did not address the scientific basis of my concerns, but rather just stereotyped me like a religious zealot. There was advice that I should maintain my credibility and professionality by either dropping that item or burying these points within the website.
I had also myself questioned the wisdom of even mentioning potential weapons of mass destruction (WMD) on the internet, lest I give some nut the idea to build a biotechnology WMD. However, the word is already out on that, as even Al Queda has asked its followers to create superviruses.
In the USA, a lot of support for space development comes from patriotic New Right capitalistic Republicans, not from bleeding heart socialist liberals who think we should help the poor instead of spending money on space. Some PERMANENT supporters had come from the American religious right. I thought maybe it didn't seem wise to raise issues which could cut out a section of enthusiastic support. For example, I know of Republican politicians who in private have acknowledged their belief in evolution as the origin of man, but avoided the topic in public. (America is very backward in that a very large percentage of the voting population does not believe in evolution and instead believes God created man from Adam and Eve.) So I avoided political and social issues for the most part, for a long time.
Having grown up in the Bible Belt myself (Arkansas), I had experienced some backlash to my belief in evolution at an early age. After all, as late as 1980, it was the Arkansas State Legislature which passed a law requiring "equal time" given to "Creation Science" in the science classroom when biological evolution was discussed as the origin of man. (The law was eventually struck down by an Arkansas Supreme Court judge, who happened to be the son of a minister, who wrote that Creation Science is not science so it does not belong in the science classroom, only the religious classroom, thank Goodness.)
(PERMANENT was started in 1985 during the Cold War, and many religious people saw America as in a space race against the Soviet "godless communists", which also helped promote military spending.)
Even some people with university degrees in the biological sciences pooh-poohed the notion of a supervirus making humanity extinct, like they knew better, and wanted to reassure people that they were the experts and knew better than PERMANENT. Just emotional ego, in my opinion, that they knew better. Some even said "It hasn't ever happened, so it won't happen", which is an obviously ridiculous statement and expression of complacency and a desire to not worry, ridiculing PERMANENT as fringe in the process.
It has been difficult enough to talk with some people about space colonization in a serious way without a giggle factor, add adding extinction arguments often added to that.
Therefore, for years I kept the issue of extinction of our species low key, hoping to gain support from a diversity of groups, and stayed focused on PERMANENT. The extinction issues were raised on a private, case by case basis. The supervirus extinction issue is buried in the book published in 1998.
Unfortunately, from experience, PERMANENT did not get enough financial support anyway.
Work on the PERMANENT website was suspended in early 2001 due to the my simply running out of money (after using up years of savings set aside to support the creation of the PERMANENT website and databases, and forgoing income opportunities in order to work on PERMANENT).
The dot com bubble burst on me, too, as over a million visitors added up to just a few thousand dollars of donations total over the years, but a zillion talkers and time wasters. Hope in getting funding from the internet crowd was a bubble that burst, the story of "internet version 1".
So, I decided to go ahead and tell it like it is, by putting up that statement to open the website. That was 2001. It still hasn't made much difference, but it has pulled in a few volunteers on this serious basis.
Several months after I put up the above notice, the 9/11 event occurred. I thought maybe the timing was right. However, 10 years later, it still made no significant difference in PERMANENT donations -- still only trickles of financial support and donations by members of our species, most months with none, albeit lots of lip service in emails. It says a lot about human nature.
After 9/11, more focus was put on "weapons of mass destruction" (WMD), and it was hoped this would make people start to think more about just how massively destructive a weapon could be. However, leaders (officials and journalists) totally missed the potential for extinction level biotechnology weapons. And for PERMANENT, all it did was increase the lip service, not financial support.
It doesn't seem people have realized that there can also be Weapons of Mass Extinction (WME).
Most advocates of PERMANENT simply want to go to space themselves or for their children to, for selfish reasons, or else it's a passing "cool" topic of transient interest. They won't donate even pocket cash, but they'll go spend lots of money otherwise. Those who do donate are exceptional individuals of our generation, very much the exceptions, not the general rule.
It's even difficult to hold the attention span of volunteers. After awhile, the mouse potatoes surf on to the next interesting topic. It's about stimulating themselves, not taking responsibility to actually do any work or else provide any financial support.
It is not easy to get donations. If I spend the same amount of time and effort just going out and working, I make a lot more money. Then I could pay for a website programmer and get a little bit ahead in my bills to take some time off to write. However, attending in-person conferences is still way beyond the budget, not an efficient use of time and money considering all costs and transit times, and being away from my business and customers which bring in real money.
I did accounting of the time I spent trying to get donations, and the costs, e.g., of mailing complimentary copies of the PERMANENT book to wealthy people.
PERMANENT isn't happening NOT because of a shortage of money, but because of a shortage of COMMITMENT.
In my consulting to engineering companies, I have been exposed to projects costing vast sums of money, some of which were risky. However, it's usually ridiculous to try to get a corporate institution interested in shortterm profits to invest in something like PERMANENT. It really comes down to individuals, not committees.
I've worked for the government and am well aware of the difficulty in getting support for work like PERMANENT, as people who have worked for government know. There are competing interests always trying to shoot you down. The space resources constituency is small and weak in its public relations (as scientists and engineers often are). The contracting process is very slow and you need a lot of staying power.
I am an advocate of private sector development whereby the government stays out so that the government doesn't become a competitor which discourages private sector investment.
I've been a consultant to humanistic aid organizations, mostly international development. If you create a "poster child" of a pitiful hungry kid, then you can get lots of emotional donations from compassion. However, the same doesn't work well emotionally for opening wallets to promote images of space development for species survival.
In my personal life out in society in general as well as in my work life, I see huge amounts of money thrown around by all sorts of people on frivolous luxury goods and services, girlfriends, and other selfish personal indulgements, by the wealthy, which dwarf my resources. I am not a rich person, probably because I've never been motivated to make lots of money, so these people look very rich to me.
One of the businesses I ran in the past was website development, a skill I learned from designing and creating the PERMANENT website. (I must say that creating PERMANENT did have some financial spinoff.) However, here is a typical example:
I had a customer (who I shall not identify) who ran a major professional business with an embarrassingly lousy website. (A big chunk of his income was from government.) He bought my book, thank you, and was enthusiastic and verbally supportive of PERMANENT, though not willing to make any donations, just buy the book. So I offered to earn money developing a quality website for his business. When it came time to work on his website, he was extremely cheap, despite the fact that its value to his business image and potential new customers was so high, and my arguments on the leveraged value. He compared my rates to the cheapest in the business which were obviously sweatshops. In the end, we gave our lowest bid, and he rejected it. (He eventually got a minimal website from somebody else, which was embarrassing, before he eventually went with our low bid.) However, then he could not reach his girlfriend on the phone in Thailand and wanted my private investigation sideline to check her out. I quoted a much higher price, about twice that of the website, and the money was wired immediately. Further, I found he had bought her a car and spent large sums on her.
There are other examples like that one. Indeed, some people love to throw their money around, massage their ego by having a person of intellectual class entertain them in bidding for a donation, but then say "no" or avoid making any donation or give some trivial amount, less than they spend on a girlfriend's small gift or a night in a resort.
Spending money you earned is something everybody deserves. This is an issue of what percent of the earnings of wealthy people is spent unselfishly for the greater good, and taking some responsibility.
This is not somebody else's problem. We are all members of the same species, shepherds of the same planet Earth, and inherently responsible in our generation.
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