New Internationalist

This is your captain speaking

June 1976

‘The earth is a little spaceship on which we travel together’ – Adlai Stevenson

Good Morning. This is your captain speaking.

I am aware that some disquieting rumours have been circulating round the ship in recent weeks about the state of our life-support systems.

First of all, I must tell you that the life-support systems in the Third Class Compartment are indeed in a bad state. And it is my sad duty to tell you that several thousand of your fellow-passengers have died in the last month. The fault lies in a breakdown of food, water and sanitation systems on board ship.

As you know, the vast bulk of the ship’s supplies are kept under lock and key in the First and Second Class Compartments and there is no immediate cause for concern about life-support systems in these two compartments. However, some belt-tightening may be necessary from time to time as many items are not in such abundant supply as they have been so far in our voyage.

At a recent Heads of Compartments meeting it was decided that a larger quantity of life-support supplies in Compartments 1 and 2 should be made available to Compartment 3 on an emergency basis. Anyone who had had occasion to pass through Compartment 3 recently or to watch what has been happening there on inter-ship channel 5332 will, I am sure, agree that this is a necessary move.

However, at the Heads of Compartments meeting in the New York and Nairobi berths, it was decided that these measures were not enough and that a more fundamental re-organization of the ship’s life-support cycles was now necessary to avoid even more serious and more widespread deterioration of conditions on board.

It was pointed out, for example, that the present rate at which the ship’s stores are being used up in Compartments 1 and 2 is endangering the stability of the whole ship in three ways.

First, it is using up stores at a rate far greater than the ship’s resource regenerators can cope with and in so doing it is depriving Compartment 3 of the resources it needs to supply and maintain life-support systems.

Second, it is contaminating the air and water in the spaceship as a whole and may be affecting the delicate pressure and temperature controls.

Thirdly, it is creating unfulfillable hopes and a sense of outrage and resentment among the passengers in Compartment 3 who, it seems, have been tuning into Channel 532 more often. This resentment has manifested itself in recent acts of mutiny with which we are all familiar.

In addition, the stability of the ship is also threatened by the fact that various groups of passengers are using up large amounts of potential life-support resources to secretly manufacture explosive devices. The ship cannot tolerate this for much longer because it is unable to sustain either the drain on the ship’s supplies or the impact of the explosion should these illicit devices ever be used.

Some members of the crew also wanted to minute their view that despite this unsustainable use of the ship’s stores now taking place in Compartments 1 and 2, many of the passengers are not noticeably enjoying this voyage any more than previously. Indeed, there are signs of increasing inter-passenger problems. Many passengers are lonely and appear to feel estranged and neglected, taking little or no part in the life of the ship, and regarded by themselves and others more as aliens than as fellow-passengers.

At our last meeting, the representatives of the Third Class Compartment put forward the view that most of our present in-flight problems are caused by the present organization of life on board the ship. In particular, they criticized the division into three compartments. They put forward the view that the problems in Compartment 3 were basically the problems of too little and that the problems of Compartments 1 and 2 were basically the problems of too much. Whilst accepting the emergency measures mentioned earlier in this bulletin, they argued that a re-think of the whole organization of the ship would now be necessary if the voyage is not to be abortive.

As one example of this, they cited that the ship’s accountants, flight-deck crew and technical staff are drawn almost exclusively from Compartments 1 and 2 and that this inevitably leads to corruption and the favouring of the First and Second Class Compartments in all the ship’s affairs.

They therefore propose a new system for the ship’s organization which basically aims to abolish the present compartmental structure, distributing the ship’s resources more equally among all four billion passengers and creating a new decision-taking process involving representatives of the whole ship.

This is the biggest change ever proposed so far in this voyage. And it is my duty to tell you that the ship’s present course is not sustainable and if we continue on this flight path our voyage will be abortive and the ship will be cast off to float inert and lifeless as an empty shell in space.

I refer you to the ship’s libraries and the opinions of various unofficial publications in each Compartment for further information on which to make up your minds. After that, I urge all of you to take action at berth and compartmental level in order that this issue may be resolved.

Finally, I should also say that I have heard recently of another rumour aboard ship to the effect that problems could be solved by cutting adrift the Third Class Compartment and allowing it to drift away into space leaving Compartments 1 and 2 to continue the voyage. This idea is not only repulsive and unacceptable to the vast majority on board. It is also, I must tell you, technically naïve. This ship cannot, of course, remain stable in this eventuality.

This feature was published in the June 1976 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 040

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