Grimes Doesn't Pay
September 16, 2018 8:45 AM   Subscribe

For generations, people have imagined life on the Martian surface in extraordinary detail, from how drinking water will be purified to how fresh food will be grown, but there is another question that remains unanswered: How will Mars be policed?
posted by Artw (50 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
[Folks, please at least skim the article and engage with it rather than hot-taking the headline. Thanks.]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 9:19 AM on September 16, 2018 [5 favorites]


If I was flippant in my now-deleted comment, it was because the overwhelming likelihood is that Mars will never be colonized. The article has some interesting info and thought problems--I didn't know about the Antarctic gun--but the overall scenario is on the order of "imagine that Atlantis is real and populated by merpeople."
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:34 AM on September 16, 2018 [13 favorites]


I think we should hold off on a Mars PD until law enforcement here on Earth is not always a tool of repression. If that means holding off on Mars, I can live with that.

Not that any of us will probably be alive if/when this becomes an actual concern.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 9:38 AM on September 16, 2018 [7 favorites]


Related articles:

Popular Science: Do Earth Laws Apply to Mars Colonists?

Business Insider: Here's What Happens If You Commit A Crime In Outer Space


I suspect if Mars colonies become a thing, with an international contingent, there will probably be some kind of court system set up. Maybe as a pop-up court when needed, or as an established court if the need is ongoing. Both would follow a particular country’s legal code, with alternate remedies for citizens of other nations, as is currently done with the ISS.

Then, finally, either as the result of mutual agreement or outright rebellion, it will be as a court specifically answerable to some Martian colonial constitution.
posted by darkstar at 9:43 AM on September 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


Presuming that initial settlement is the work of international agencies rather than private industry, there is likely to be a high representation of military personnel in a Martian base, and not just American military but also probably Russian, Chinese, EU, and others. I think they would settle on some sort of martial law (pun not intended) drawing from basic military codes of justice that are similar across those countries, enforced by a shared military police overseen by a multinational tribunal or commission.

If somehow Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk team up and the first Martian colony is a Teslamazon settlement, then it will all be the responsibility of Martian HR, god help them all.
posted by briank at 9:56 AM on September 16, 2018 [3 favorites]


I think we should merge this thread with the one about Leap Babies.

Like what happens if you are a leap baby and you commit a crime while flying through space at the speed of light so you aren't actually aging? Are you 18 for the purposes of the Australian court system?
posted by jacquilynne at 10:12 AM on September 16, 2018 [17 favorites]


I enjoyed the breathless tone and endearingly gigantic assumptions, in a “was this written by Chris Morris?”-y kind of way. That said, the assumptions were probably the most interesting aspect of the article to me. Each interview subject had to display their expectations for Martian society to be able to answer the question. And those in turn reflect their understanding of earth societies in the present. (I’m sure that there’s a pithy quote that I’m forgetting, but the idea that science fiction reflects contemporary preoccupations is so uncontroversial as to be cliché these days.)

So in that light: “jesus, when you think about it, the police won’t even be able to shoot people on Mars!!” is incredibly revealing of the interviewee’s ideas about policing. I mean, that’s what the police do, right? Shoot bad guys? Fair enough if imagining, say, Britain, would be an imaginative leap too far. But surely it’s possible for Americans to conceive of gun-free policing by analogy to airplane cabins, at least.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 10:14 AM on September 16, 2018 [20 favorites]


Americans spend $800,000,000 a year to have officers with guns on our planes.
posted by idiopath at 10:18 AM on September 16, 2018 [6 favorites]


One thing that I didn't see suggested was the use of chemical measures for containing criminals/riots/civil rights demonstrators/striking unionists, etc. Tear gas and pepper spray have long been used on earth to pacify people that the powers that be find inconvenient. Imagine if the cops have control of the air recirculator. No way to disperse that tear gas until they feel like it. They won't need to put themselves at any risk. And, given the behavior of cops, they will do everything and anything (including shooting unarmed civilians, covering up crimes by fellow cops, stopping people who definitely will not actually resist, etc.) to keep themselves out of harms way 99% of the time, they will definitely take the least vulnerable approach.
posted by Hactar at 10:20 AM on September 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


The guy going on about how not flying a flag at sea is a "crime against humanity" is full of it. It is certainly not a great idea, but it is far from an overtly criminal act.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:27 AM on September 16, 2018 [2 favorites]


Imagine if the cops have control of the air recirculator.

The authorities might want to avoid the negative image associated with policing Mars via control of the air supply.
posted by mubba at 10:33 AM on September 16, 2018 [3 favorites]


I gotta nth everyone else on the "this is a thought experiment and will not be relevant in our lifetimes" commentary*, but I did find Kim Stanley Robinson's story about the one very disabled gun to be interesting.

* and now I'm gonna go read The Fated Sky, so uh....yeah.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:33 AM on September 16, 2018 [2 favorites]


the overwhelming likelihood is that Mars will never be colonized.

That just gives us all the more freedom to speculate about how it will be policed. Which is with robots. Dead or alive, Elon, you are coming with me.
posted by sfenders at 10:49 AM on September 16, 2018 [3 favorites]


How will Mars be policed?

Sean Connery with a riot gun?

I'll read the article now
posted by JamesBay at 10:56 AM on September 16, 2018 [2 favorites]


Will mars have parking meters? Who will tow illegally parked vehicles? What would a martian parking enforcement agency look like?
posted by idiopath at 11:23 AM on September 16, 2018 [5 favorites]


We already have spaces without police.
posted by idiopath at 11:23 AM on September 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


It is an interesting thought experiment. I was disappointed at the very narrow definition of crime however: “Look at the data logs; make an arrest. It really could be that simple.”. Except that as anyone who has paid attention is the past five years can see (#metoo), it ISN’T that simple. Yes you can record that two people entered the bedchamber but whether what happened in there was consensual is not recordable anywhere. So, I found that discounting. The focus on violent crimes, as opposed to all the other crimes that also happen seemed narrow-minded. Perhaps since violence is such. A concern the future Martians should be chosen based on their propensity for violence; in other words. Just send women and a significantly large sperm bank. I loved that the current (white, heteronormative, male) biases in engineering are identified as a problem in a society so completely dependent on technology. I’m surprised there was no mention on the similarity of Inuit communities creating social and technological norms in response to a harsh environment and how that could be extrapolated to Extraterrestrial life.
posted by saucysault at 11:41 AM on September 16, 2018 [7 favorites]


at a family reunion, in a foreign hotel

Reminds me of And Then There Were [N-One].

This was a real opportunity to think about what is gained and what is lost, and why our societies have police, and about societies that don't, or have other kinds of police.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:12 PM on September 16, 2018


This is an interesting article, but still fails to fully address the core question of sustainable settlement. Namely:

How will a Mars colony successfully produce quality cheese?

If it can't then c'mon, what's the point of going all the way there?
posted by Wordshore at 12:30 PM on September 16, 2018 [7 favorites]


As I noted in the twitter convo on this piece, I find it illuminating that the author have such a monochrome concept of policing, justice, and criminal law.

It's not like we don't have alternative models of policing (American military-style policing versus British Policing by consent), legal process (American common law with precedent (largely superseded in England, where it originated), Scottish Roman law plus case law — majority jury voting, three verdicts, all the other differences), or Code Napoleon and inquisitorial judges), and corrective policy (the carceral system, the bloody code, transportation/indentured labour, rehabilitation-focussed punishment, restorative justice, and about a billion other forms) ... all within the Anglophone/European sphere in the past 2 centuries.

Going further afield the sky is the limit: I find it inconceivable that a community growing organically in an environment as alien and hostile as Mars will simply adopt contemporary American social norms relating to, well, much of anything at all.
posted by cstross at 12:52 PM on September 16, 2018 [20 favorites]


Space jail would present some problems. Either the inmates would be given access to damage and fire control tools that would make incarceration work mostly on the honor system; with enough tools you can either break out or hold the rest of the ship/colony hostage with threats of compromising the integrity of the life support systems. Or the brig would be in a completely sacrificial area where a major failure wouldn't spread to the remainder of the habitat and prisoners would be expendable in the event of an emergency.

I think the bigger picture is that any person living in space or a martian colony could hold the entire colony hostage with a tool as ubiquitous as a drill or a fire starter. Our current systems of governance do not seem up to the task of "enforcing order" in a scenario where any unhappy passenger can bring down the whole ship.
posted by peeedro at 12:56 PM on September 16, 2018 [2 favorites]


It will be policed in such a way as to protect the interests of whatever corporation is in charge, and whatever ethnic group controls the corporation, and cis men, of course, the way it's always been.
Any other questions?
posted by signal at 12:58 PM on September 16, 2018 [9 favorites]


The section on sabotage is insightful. The answer to "how will Mars be policed?" is "Very tightly", because an antisocial person could so easily destroy an entire settlement. It's ironic that libertarians get excited about space, because space is anti-libertarian. You can't hole up on Mars with your gun and your pickup truck and keep the gummint at bay.

I don't think the article addresses sexual harassment, which could be a thorny problem. There had better be zero tolerance for that, or not many women will want to be there.
posted by zompist at 1:09 PM on September 16, 2018 [5 favorites]


It's really a shame that Foucault died before he could weigh in on extraterrestrial projections of state power.
posted by turbowombat at 1:27 PM on September 16, 2018 [3 favorites]


Libertarians love space because the romance of space draws from the same mythology of colonization that libertarianism does.
posted by idiopath at 1:32 PM on September 16, 2018 [10 favorites]


Steinberg walked me through several examples of what he called “criminal law in non-normal spaces.” He reminded me, for example, that it is against international law to operate a vessel at sea without flying a flag. “You have an obligation when at sea to connect yourself with a state,” he explained. “Failure to meet that obligation is not just a crime against states, but a crime against humanity. Because it’s a crime against humanity, any state has a right to prosecute it.”

Besides Antarctica, this seems like the closest analog. And it's pretty easy to get away with murder on the high seas.
posted by JamesBay at 3:34 PM on September 16, 2018 [2 favorites]


If guns are out because they may perforate air seals and kill everyone, but armed police are a necessity, surely that's how laser blasters get invented.
posted by acb at 3:40 PM on September 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


It was a dark and stormy night; little did I know, when I set sail with my brother-in-law on his new cruising catamaran that he'd bought from across the border and hadn't yet affixed a flag to, that it would be my first crime against humanity and the beginning of both a new life as a fugitive pirate, and a fateful struggle that would eventually drive me to seek my fortune in the Colonies of Mars.
posted by sfenders at 4:30 PM on September 16, 2018 [12 favorites]


I swear to fucking God if humanity makes it to another planet and somehow still has police we are fucking doomed.
posted by odinsdream at 5:00 PM on September 16, 2018 [9 favorites]


by Hat Cop, errbody know dat
posted by mwhybark at 5:18 PM on September 16, 2018 [3 favorites]


He mainly works the belt.
posted by Artw at 5:21 PM on September 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


but was transsubstantiated on Venus, Saint Hat Cop, keep us safe you wighat fool
posted by mwhybark at 5:24 PM on September 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


It's really a shame that Foucault died before he could weigh in on extraterrestrial projections of state power.
posted by turbowombat at 1:27 PM on September 16 [1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]


Oh don't let that stop you from extending the master's work!

Art this thread is so amusing and delicious I might have to skip dinner.
posted by mwhybark at 5:26 PM on September 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


On a slightly more serious note, a longterm PNW acquaintance of mine, a marine archaeologist like twenty years younger than me, relocated to Alaska like twenty years ago. He's a taciturn, puckish fellow and has had ups and downs up there. He's been there long enough that he's on a list of folks that do assessments for whatever industrial thing is proposed, pipelines, buildings, all that. This summer he ended up living way north, for assignment reasons, and really developed some roots in the local first peoples community. I kinda expect him to meet a bonny native lass and move up there permanently. His pretty tentative but wildly fascinated posts about learning this or that extreme-environment survival tradition have been compelling. I think he's home, maybe for the first time.

Martian policing is likely to contain and reiterate extreme-climate social traditions.
posted by mwhybark at 5:36 PM on September 16, 2018 [5 favorites]


surely that's how laser blasters get invented.

also explains the poor aim! it's a feature, not a bug!
posted by mwhybark at 5:39 PM on September 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


The Space Kingdom of Asgardia has ratified a constitution, but they are still in the process of electing a parliament and haven't passed any laws yet.

Samantha Bee's intro to Asgardia.
posted by peeedro at 5:55 PM on September 16, 2018


I am absolutely stealing the desicated and mummified / perfectly preserved portion in contact with ground split for something.
posted by Artw at 6:00 PM on September 16, 2018


INT. MARS HABITAT. ELON MUSK LIES MOTIONLESS IN A POOL OF BLOOD.
MARS DETECTIVE: There’s a murderer among us and I intend to catch them.
COLONISTS: *whistling*
ROBOTS: *whistling*
AI: *whistling*
posted by um at 6:58 PM on September 16, 2018 [11 favorites]


“...a fucking car landed on him????”
posted by Artw at 7:00 PM on September 16, 2018 [8 favorites]


I enjoyed this article, though mainly as a compilation of neat little areas of expertise that I didn't know existed before.

Imagine if the cops have control of the air recirculator.

The authorities might want to avoid the negative image associated with policing Mars via control of the air supply.


I was frustrated that they didn't go into more detail on this passage from the article:

For Cockell, politically motivated depressurization should be made literally, physically impossible—that is, prisons in space should be designed so that air-pressure abuse simply cannot occur.

If you're thinking about the possibilities of repression, then the physical structure of the living environment you're constructing matters as much as the personal tools (guns, etc.) which are available - we don't want Baron Haussmann designing our Martian colonies.

Each interview subject had to display their expectations for Martian society to be able to answer the question. And those in turn reflect their understanding of earth societies in the present.

Much the same can be said of this thread. Maybe I'm a secret fascist or something, but its been creepily instructive how many people here genuinely seem to believe there is no legitimate function of a police force and no practical function except repression.

I’m surprised there was no mention on the similarity of Inuit communities creating social and technological norms in response to a harsh environment and how that could be extrapolated to Extraterrestrial life.

I don't think it can? Inuit communities aren't just situated in some sort of generic "harsh environment", they live in a very specific harsh environment, one that differs significantly from, say, the Kalahari Desert, or a favela, or the lands of the former Islamic Caliphate, all of which could be described with the same two words. Mars, and space in general, is a different specific "harsh environment". I don't think saying "well, we can just apply what the Inuit are up to" is any more profound or useful than saying "well, we can just apply what small-town sheriffs in the Midwestern United States are doing".

But then I also don't think Mars colonization will be possible until either Mars is significantly altered or the humans settling it are. If terraforming can create and sustain a viable atmosphere and ultimately something like a biosphere, then it becomes conceivable - but that in turn alters significantly the elements of resource scarcity and hermetically sealed living conditions referenced in the article and in this thread.

If you're not going to invest heavily in creating a "better" (for a very anthropocentric definition of that term) Mars you're going to need to invest equally heavily in building a "better" human. Which in turn would alter significantly pretty much any way we think about policing as well as other societal norms. A society of cyborgs, or genetically-engineered cold-and-radiation resistant settlers, or some sort of transhuman who can synthesize/store their own oxygen supply internally, is going to require rethinking everything all over again.

The European settlement of the Americas, which tends to kind of hang over these sort of discussions, was driven by masses of people who had very clear reasons to leave their own birthplace. Independence and economic benefit were two big ones. A Mars colony at present offers neither - the article talks briefly about prisons on the Red Planet but really any settlement there would be experienced by humans as more like a terrestrial prison than anything else - and less pleasant in fact than many prison environments on Earth (in the Scandinavian countries, for example). And there is at present precisely no economic benefit to going to Mars. You can't claim land, you can't grow crops, smining is pointless since the cost of shipping materials back to earth is prohibitive. The 15-20 minute transmission lag even means we can't start building call centers there.

Unless you're thinking of some sort of massive incipient ideological movement - an Elon Musk-inspired Puritan/Mormon analogue that just wants to live somewhere far away from the rest of us, there's really no reason to think any sufficiently large numbers of people are going to take up the opportunity even if it is offered - large enough to be sustainable, that is. Taking an anecdotal look at some of the folks who signed up for the Mars One thing, for example, even those who would be willing to risk their lives don't appear to be interested in the sort of thing a sustainable settlement requires - the general theme seems to be "I always wanted to go to space!" and "I'm young enough that a early death seems cool/heroic/something that happens to less awesome people". Mars would mow these folks down like wheat, it would be the early years of the Virginia Company all over again, but without a steady supply of the greedy or desperate to tramp over the corpses of the first wave.
posted by AdamCSnider at 7:14 PM on September 16, 2018 [5 favorites]


WRT the disposal of corpses, Becky Chambers' latest Wayfarers novel, Record of a Spaceborn Few, has a generation ship fleet which disposes of its deceased citizens by turning them into mulch, with a corresponding set of funerary rites around the concept of the circle of life, as it were. Any possible Martian colony would have to be a biosphere or a collection of same, and couldn't afford to lock their deceased up in metal tubes and lose those minerals and chemical nutrients. In fact, they'd probably have facilities for recycling both sewage and bodies as quickly and efficiently as possible.

If guns are out because they may perforate air seals and kill everyone, but armed police are a necessity, surely that's how laser blasters get invented.

Not literal laser blasters, since they'd puncture the Great Domes unless they were perfectly transparent. (You certainly wouldn't want to make them perfectly reflective.) You'd need something like a taser that could be used at a distance, but didn't need darts on wires. (Star Trek's phasers rely on a particle that doesn't exist.)

[And, yes, I know that I'm going contra to what I said at the top of the thread. It is a fun thought experiment, as long as it's not treated as a fait accompli.]
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:21 PM on September 16, 2018


No guns on Mars, but Cohaagen shuts off the air to Venusville anytime he feels like it.
posted by um at 7:33 PM on September 16, 2018


Imagine a criminal armed with a knife has been cornered on a Martian research base, near a critical airlock leading outside. If police fire a gun or even a Taser, they risk damaging key components of the base itself, endangering potentially thousands of innocent bystanders. Other forms of hand-to-hand combat learned on Earth might have adverse effects; even a simple punch could send both the criminal and the cop flying apart as they collide in the reduced Martian gravity. How can police overpower the fugitive without making things worse for everyone?
Breathe normally. Prepare for mist.
posted by flabdablet at 10:43 PM on September 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


We imagine this vulnerability of society in space, but our gun laws, toxic culture, and public infrastructure mean we in the US are already vulnerable.

Our police force doesn't protect us from this. In fact police are more dangerous to innocent neighbors than the other white men with guns but no badges.
posted by idiopath at 11:21 PM on September 16, 2018 [2 favorites]


Solution: don’t send white people to Mars.
posted by um at 11:47 PM on September 16, 2018 [3 favorites]


Astronaut James Reilly, an honorary U.S. Marshal, “took his badge and credentials into the heavens” while on a mission aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis. Reilly also stepped onto the International Space Station during that trip, arguably bringing U.S. Marshal jurisdiction to the I.S.S. itself.

That is incorrect, insulting, and far less interesting than the truth. Bizarrely, on the ISS each contributing nation retains jurisdiction and control over the elements it registers and over personnel in or on the Space Station who are its nationals. If I understand that correctly, it's possible for a Canadian astronaut to commit murder on American soil while the Russian victim literally has one foot in the European Union and one foot in Japan, giving five countries overlapping, conflicting jurisdiction.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 5:29 AM on September 17, 2018 [5 favorites]


Not literal laser blasters, since they'd puncture the Great Domes unless they were perfectly transparent. (You certainly wouldn't want to make them perfectly reflective.)

Wouldn't it be possible for the output to be sufficient to damage soft tissue in a split-second (thus functioning as an anti-personnel weapon) but not enough to damage the shell of a pressurised compartment unless it was aimed at one point for long enough that someone would have stopped the shooter first (or the battery would have run out)?
posted by acb at 3:29 PM on September 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


Tear gas and pepper spray have long been used on earth to pacify people that the powers that be find inconvenient. Imagine if the cops have control of the air recirculator.

Releasing toxic substances into the air of a sealed colony strikes me about as smart as starting a fire on a submarine to smoke someone out. Tear gas works on Earth because it can be dispersed by winds; on a colony, the best case scenario is you'll have to do a complete air exchange, and the far more likely possibility is that your cops would kill the entire colony, including themselves.

Honestly, American notions of policing are increadibly inappropriate for a colony.

Space jail would present some problems.

The number one problem with space jail is they wont be able to afford to jail people. Space colonies will be tiny populations of people in a hostile environment, and even with people holding multiple specialities, expertise will be in incredibly short supply. Are you going to jail the only dentist? Or the only person who can fix the plumbing for the liquid sodium colent loop in the nuclear reactor? You will never have enough people to do all the things thqt need to be done- locking people away will be an exercise in again, killing the colony. Look to alternate methods of limiting the ability to do harm.

Imagine a criminal armed with a knife has been cornered on a Martian research base, near a critical airlock leading outside.

Personally? I'd use a mancatcher or sasumata. Or a control pole. If one really want to get fancy, use a sticky net gun. In the confined area of a Mars base, there wont be much room for them to dodge.

My number one control method though would be psychological; have a base culture that discourages violence and encourages noticing and dealing with problems before they become intractable. Not that Americans believe that's possible.
posted by happyroach at 11:31 PM on September 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


Honestly, American notions of policing are incredibly inappropriate for a colony.

To be fair, they're incredibly inappropriate on Earth as well.
posted by flabdablet at 4:12 AM on September 18, 2018 [5 favorites]


If I understand that correctly, it's possible for a Canadian astronaut to commit murder on American soil while the Russian victim literally has one foot in the European Union and one foot in Japan, giving five countries overlapping, conflicting jurisdiction.

Can you get me a spec script by Monday, 9am? Travolta if looking for his next project!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:36 AM on September 18, 2018


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