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Episode 34: What can Mars teach us about politics on Earth?

May 15th, 2014

Episode 59 of 279 episodes

The future of Congress has been on our minds. Recently, we considered how advances in technology and data analysis can and will change the way legislators do their work. There are places that are pushing the envelope in this arena. In Brazil official state hackers are building apps, games and data visualizations to help Brazilians – and the members of Parliament – understand the legislative process. In Finland, they are trying legal reform through crowdsourcing – literally turning the legislative process over to the people. There’s one other place we wanted to explore for ideas about the future and politics – Mars. Author Kim Stanley Robinson is probably best known for a trilogy of novels called “Red Mars,” “Green Mars” and “Blue Mars.” Their story follows the first human colony on the Red Planet, from scientific outpost through growing villages and cities, to political revolutions, independence from Earth, and a new constitution. Science fiction is like a big sandbox of ideas in science and technology, but also in culture, politics, and governance. “Lincoln’s great sentence, ‘government of the people, for the people, by the people, shall not perish from the Earth,’ is a utopian science fiction story because it’s in future tense,” Robison says. “We do science fiction all the time in stating our political goals and then acting on them.” A broad theme in Robinson’s work is tinkering with Mars to make it more hospitable to human life. He’s concocted a Martian constitution where the environment itself is an acknowledged stakeholder that has rights. As his characters embark on this massive experiment, two factions emerge: those who believe that it is right and good for humans to manipulate and change the planet as much as they like, and those who believe the wild Martian environment should be protected. Sound familiar? In this case, Robinson’s work is more about NOW than the future. He uses his science fiction to express a clear point of view on issues such as climate change. As far as he is concerned, we are actually in a better position to protect earth than his characters are on Mars. This week on the DecodeDC podcast, it’s the future of Congress from about as far outside the Beltway as you can get. Special thanks to Jeremy Stursberg for his original music in this week's podcast.

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