Cultures in Orbit, or Justi-fying Differences in Cosmic Space: On Categorization, Territorialization and Rights Recognition

International Journal for the Semiotics of Law - Revue Internationale de Sémiotique Juridique 31 (4):829-875 (2018)
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Abstract

The many constraints of outer space experience challenge the human ability to coexist. Paradoxically, astronauts assert that on the international space station there are no conflicts or, at least, that they are able to manage their differences, behavioral as well as cognitive, in full respect of human rights and the imperatives of cooperative living. The question is: Why? Why in those difficult, a-terrestrial, and therefore almost unnatural conditions do human beings seem to be able to peacefully and collaboratively live together? What is there beyond terrestrial boundary conditions that allows for such a result? And what can we learn from the astronauts’ experience about the effectiveness of human rights on Earth? My proposal is that the a-terrestrial dimension deeply alters the mind/body indexical framework and, in this way, disentangles the human inclination to semiosis from the cognitive and behavioral habits of categorization and territorialization inherent in the experience on Earth. If analyzed through the spectrum of an interdisciplinary approach involving anthropology, semiology, law, and human geography, I think that outer space enterprises can offer many insights into the cognitive and ethical/political hindrances to the effectiveness of human rights and their intercultural uses. Meanwhile the compulsive greed for a possessive territorialization of outer space and celestial bodies is growing by leaps and bounds. It haunts and imbues both astropolitics and space law. The astronauts’ semio-anthropological experience of human rights and cooperative coexistence seems to have been left in orbit. The future requires awareness and action by anthropologists, semioticians, cognitive scientists, geographers and lawyers, working all together in an interdisciplinary effort to move beyond approaching the experiential with a territorial mindset. The hope is that the “dark dream” of human exploitation/colonization of outer space will not turn from a political and legal speculation into a future reality.

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