My chosen field of ‘imperialism’ must be one of the most worthwhile areas of historical study, as it features an aspect of what appears to be a fundamental human attribute, which is to expand. Humans have always done this: sought new areas of the world to explore, settle or conquer. If they hadn’t, as I’ve written somewhere else, we would all still be living today in the Rift valley of modern-day Kenya, where it is all supposed to have started. When it involves settling in new countries, it’s called ‘colonization’; when this is done at the expense of other peoples, it’s called ‘imperialism’; when it is done merely to satisfy humankind’s curiosity, it’s called ‘exploration’. Usually all three phenomena are mixed, albeit unequally, which can blur the boundaries and lead cynics to attribute what they regard as ‘imperialistic’ motives – meaning, by this understanding of the word, aggressive and acquisitive motives – to all of them.
My studies have suggested that this is a gross libel on colonisers and explorers. Many of them simply wished to know, and to experience. ‘Discovering’ new parts of the world was little different from broadening one’s mind in other ways, like culturally, or scientifically. ‘Expansion’ can be a curse, when it manifests itself in what can properly be called ‘imperialism’, for example, or the excesses of capitalism. But it is also a basic human instinct, distinguishing our species from all others – at least, insofar as it is done consciously; and may – to leap ahead a little, conceptually and topographically – turn out to be the salvation of our human race.
I’m referring here, of course, to space exploration, which is certainly the only way to secure our very long-term future, even if we don’t mess up our planet before its natural end. There are many things about the human race that probably don’t deserve to survive during the aeons to come; but I for one would be sorry to think that Mozart, say, could ever be snuffed out, and so ultimately pointless.
Which is why we should welcome China’s recent announcement, that it is about to resume the task that the USA pioneered but then left unfinished several decades ago, to fly humans to the other side of the moon, then on to Mars, and then – who knows? (http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/china-space-mission-moon-mars-2020-1.3913423.) Whatever the motives behind it – they could be bellicose, or merely nationalistic – it’s the best piece of news for humanity – perhaps the only bit of good news – to come up this year.
‘To boldly go…’ I wonder what the Chinese is for that? And whether they split their infinitives too?