How many science fiction story lines have you read where space travel is viewed as an opportunity exploited by all, regardless of ideology or culture? Alpha Centauri is a prime example of such a story line, on this level. Peoples of all classes, beliefs, and cultures find their way to the stars to strike out a new life of opportunity. It's an intriguing vision; however, the first true space colonization will happen in a drastically different fashion. The first peoples who do colonize space will be those who want to reach to the stars above all else, and for no other immediate reason than reaching to the stars. While there may be a variety of secondary or eventual goals served by their move, they want right now to leave Earth more than anything else.
This is a rather broad classification. There are quite a variety of reasons why somebody could want to colonize space. They could be interested in scientific research from space and up close. While unmanned probes have been the weapon of choice for these people now, due to complexity issues and, yes, politics, it is recognized that one of the first steps we need to take for serious research of the whole universe is establishing a permanent human presence away from Earth.
There could be those who view the stars as our destiny and birthright. Arthur C. Clarke may have had it right for these people when he said that all these worlds are ours. Because these worlds are ours, we could use them to alleviate overcrowding, start over on a planet not disturbed by human environmental naivete, or just to increase our chance of success given the existence of a large number of asteroids just waiting to make Earth an unhappy place to live in.
Then there are those who are disillusioned with life on Earth. To those who might leave for this reason, Earth is a crowded place, but more so a difficult place to live in. It becomes difficult to get anything serious done when Presidents propose sweeping tax cuts in the interest of an economy, ingrained conflicts mar large swaths of the world, disease is rampant, and famine is common. To those looking for a higher purpose for humanity, these are the enemy's weapons, for each works against the pursuit of some higher purpose. The stars just might then be the destiny for these people, for they offer an opportunity for these purpose-seekers to conduct their investigations and activities unimpaired by conflict and politik. The most dangerous phenomenon to the purpose-seekers, though, would be the type of slow intellectual degradation that Huxley so feared for the human race, because it just might make it so that the world's largest cultures never produce another truly thinking man again. The most insidious weapons of the enemy aren't the distractions and conflicts, but the subtle psychological siren-song of the television, which draws men's attentions away from thought and toward the trivialities. If these purpose-seekers, thinking men, wish to survive, then they must separate themselves from those who succumb to this intellectual degradation, and the direction they just might choose is up.
I include myself among thinking men, purpose-seekers, who wish to separate themselves from these insidious weapons. I am not enamored with television and the media for which it stands, and I am disturbed by the lack of attention to finding a higher purpose for humanity seen in our culture. While there has been much debate as to at what rate the intellectual slide is occurring, it does not matter when in time it will happen. What I know is that it will happen before either the scientific establishment or birthright-claimers ever seek space, for they too are trapped in this degradation. To fight the degradation, they must become the disillusioned.
If the siren-songs of the enemy really are this dangerous, then the disillusioned need separate themselves from those fatally pulled in. If we do so, then we will be the first to seriously separate ourselves from an established culture based on a difference of ideology. Where the anarchists and communists attempted revolution, the disillusioned simply separate, and distinguish themselves through what they do accomplish.
And what better direction have we to go in separating ourselves than up? The whole world has fallen under the influence of the media. It would be difficult to find a place on this Earth not under the economic influence of the US, and where their economy goes, the siren-song goes, for it is their chief economic tool. Space, on the other hand, offers an opportunity for us to make our lives separately, without dependence (for long) on the economy of the Earth. And, separate, we may find ourselves closer to whatever purpose for humanity we wish to pursue than we were on Earth.
So, then, I propose a departure. It is a departure from what has happened and is happening on Earth; a departure from war, famine, and the siren-song of triviality. The intellectuals among us will then have the opportunity to find and act upon a purpose for humanity. Eternity requires this, if we are to ever accomplish anything. It is in not having a purpose, not even having the one of finding a purpose, that would doom us to a trivial life, or to extinction. But if we do find our purpose, then we will succeed for all of eternity. What is required now, though, is to depart, and to take with us all those looking for this purpose, so that we may pursue it unharmed by conflict and in good intellectual spirit.