Why We Should Stop Trying to “Colonize” Other Planets

Unable to sleep, laying in bed, I contemplated something that has been bothering me for some time: Should we be saying the colonization of other planets? I now have a better understanding of why that is wrong and I have to apologize. I, and many others, talk about the colonization of other planets, without considering the history behind the word.

I am very aware of the negative connotations of the word, however I had not considered the common and accepted use of it in space exploration and science fiction. I spent some time reading about the word’s history and what it means to different communities and cultures. In my searches, I came across a clear and simple breakdown of the word:

“Colonization is the act of forcefully stripping sovereignty of a country through acquisition of land, resources, raw materials, and governmental structures” (source: Wear Your Voice

Just reading that sentence makes me cringe. The word carries with it a history of occupation, racism, repression, and exploitation. From the Roman Empire to European expansion, it has been consistently about forcefully overthrowing, using, and destroying existing cultures and environments.

We cannot start the settlement of new planets already using language that accepts this destructive behavior. By being mindful and consciously changing our words from the beginning, we will help to establish inclusive and thoughtful civilizations to come.

Moving forward I will actively choose to use better language to represent the exploration and settlement of other worlds. It is what I can do to better represent the human race and be a positive example for the next generation of explorers.

Language matters.

The artwork selected for this post is titled “Evolvable Space Habitat Development” and depicts a 16km diameter torus pressure hull habitat. Image Credit:  Peter Rubin

About the author

Erin Bonilla

Erin Bonilla is pursuing a master's degree in Adventure Education with a concentration in the psychosocial components of human spaceflight selection and training. She believes that through the development of a baseline approach to behavioral health within the astronaut selection process we can minimize long term psychosocial challenges and increase participant enjoyment.

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