The Flight from Attachment

One article talks about the declining rates of procreation. Another contemplates job mobility. When I pull the fragments together into one tableau I’m left with the question: How it attachment trending these days? To what do we attach ourselves in the 21st century?

Not to a corporation or employer, in the style of the Company Man, or the gold watch at the retirement party after four or five decades. We don’t attach ourselves to employers because we can’t, seeing as how employers don’t attach themselves to employees. Rather, they look to No Strings Attached and no-obligations employment. They seek out temporary, freelance, benefits-free labor; fire, outsource, and downsize at will; and squeeze as much productivity out of their employees as they can, without the joisting that shared benefits and distribution of profits might provide.

Even if a 20-something could envision pleasurable lifelong employment with one company, they’d most likely be foolish to pursue it. Young people are shrewd in not giving their hearts to the Company but, instead, seeing themselves as their own “brand,” transient and mobile.

There’s still marriage. Although not really, or not as robustly. The flight from marital attachment is a strong, decades-long trend. The Pew Research Center, which follows marriage and family trends, reports that marriage is at a record low, at barely half. New marriages were down 5% from 2009 to 2010. If the trend continues, the share of married Americans will drop notably below half in only a few years.  

Okay, there are still children to be had. Except that the “childfree” life is trending, too.  Census data show that 20% of women age 40 to 45 don’t have children, which is up from a mere 10% in the early 1970s. See the recent Time article whose cover I loathe, “The Childfree Life.”

We might not seek steady, lifelong employment, get married, or have children. But we still attach to meaningful, intimate relationships with lovers, right? Not quite. In the “hook-up culture” of young adulthood, that’s not the fashion.

Friends?  Social neuroscientist John Cacioppo reports in his book that 60 percent of Americans perceive themselves to be lonely. The Social Science Surveys found in 1984 that Americans had an average of three “confidants” (as opposed to more casual friends, colleagues, or acquaintances, confidants are told most anything, and the friendship is close enough to encourage disclosure). By 2000, that number had dwindled down toward one or “none.” Ironically, "social" media might not help matters. Social media favors grazing over root-laying. It favors the mile wide and inch deep over the intense. Does having a friend require more than a fleeting commitment in social media and, if not, does that really count as an attachment?

Maybe attachment has simply gone underground. Like ex-Governor Mark Sanford, who came up with the best euphemism ever for a tryst when he, ahem, “hiked the Appalachian Trail" (read: flew to Argentina to see his mistress) we’ll go to extreme lengths to nurture our illicit attachments. While I have no numbers to instantiate whether the incidence of illicit but deep attachments has risen or fallen, I do know that this century is more judgmental, and more intolerant about “cheating” than earlier generations, even when those bonds are, as in Sanford’s case, indisputably substantive and meaningful to the participants.

It’s not looking good for attachment.

There’s still community, and neighbors—except that at age 18, the average American can expect to move 9.1 times, according to Census estimates. By age 45, the number of moves is 2.7.

Before the crash of 2008, I would have singled out real estate, if not community, as an area of growing and stronger attachment, as the book Real Estate Love described. But the recession deprived us of this passion, curdling the love relationship into dysfunctional hostility. The transient arrangement of renting is on the rise.

In the aggregate, if you consider jobs, community, friends, marriage, lovers, children, and real estate, attachment isn’t faring so well. It’s trending downward in all of those areas.

There’s not much left, a place where attachment is trending deeper. Except dogs. Dog and pet "guardians" have generated booming economies of pet toys and caregiving services. Dogs now have their own cable station, and their own magazine, Bark. In a sluggish economy, Americans spent $53 billion on their pets in 2012, up 5% from the year before. And the number of households with pets has grown from 52% in 1988 to 62% today. So this is one attachment that’s trending strong. Concludes a business journalist, “pets fill a connection and friendship vacuum” today. New biochemical research has even found that dogs elicit the same intense oxytocin bonding response as your newborn. What’s striking in my mind is not the scientists’ conclusion, but that they thought to ask the question in the first place.

So, as they might say in Washington, If you want an attachment, get a dog.

Drill, Baby, Drill: What will we look for when we mine on Mars?

It's unlikely that there's anything on the planet that is worth the cost of shipping it back

Surprising Science
  • In the second season of National Geographic Channel's MARS (premiering tonight, 11/12/18,) privatized miners on the red planet clash with a colony of international scientists
  • Privatized mining on both Mars and the Moon is likely to occur in the next century
  • The cost of returning mined materials from Space to the Earth will probably be too high to create a self-sustaining industry, but the resources may have other uses at their origin points

Want to go to Mars? It will cost you. In 2016, SpaceX founder Elon Musk estimated that manned missions to the planet may cost approximately $10 billion per person. As with any expensive endeavor, it is inevitable that sufficient returns on investment will be needed in order to sustain human presence on Mars. So, what's underneath all that red dust?

Mining Technology reported in 2017 that "there are areas [on Mars], especially large igneous provinces, volcanoes and impact craters that hold significant potential for nickel, copper, iron, titanium, platinum group elements and more."

Were a SpaceX-like company to establish a commercial mining presence on the planet, digging up these materials will be sure to provoke a fraught debate over environmental preservation in space, Martian land rights, and the slew of microbial unknowns which Martian soil may bring.

In National Geographic Channel's genre-bending narrative-docuseries, MARS, (the second season premieres tonight, November 12th, 9 pm ET / 8 pm CT) this dynamic is explored as astronauts from an international scientific coalition go head-to-head with industrial miners looking to exploit the planet's resources.

Given the rate of consumption of minerals on Earth, there is plenty of reason to believe that there will be demand for such an operation.

"Almost all of the easily mined gold, silver, copper, tin, zinc, antimony, and phosphorus we can mine on Earth may be gone within one hundred years" writes Stephen Petranek, author of How We'll Live on Mars, which Nat Geo's MARS is based on. That grim scenario will require either a massive rethinking of how we consume metals on earth, or supplementation from another source.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, told Petranek that it's unlikely that even if all of Earth's metals were exhausted, it is unlikely that Martian materials could become an economically feasible supplement due to the high cost of fuel required to return the materials to Earth. "Anything transported with atoms would have to be incredibly valuable on a weight basis."

Actually, we've already done some of this kind of resource extraction. During NASA's Apollo missions to the Moon, astronauts used simple steel tools to collect about 842 pounds of moon rocks over six missions. Due to the high cost of those missions, the Moon rocks are now highly valuable on Earth.

Moon rock on display at US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL (Big Think/Matt Carlstrom)

In 1973, NASA valuated moon rocks at $50,800 per gram –– or over $300,000 today when adjusted for inflation. That figure doesn't reflect the value of the natural resources within the rock, but rather the cost of their extraction.

Assuming that Martian mining would be done with the purpose of bringing materials back to Earth, the cost of any materials mined from Mars would need to include both the cost of the extraction and the value of the materials themselves. Factoring in the price of fuel and the difficulties of returning a Martian lander to Earth, this figure may be entirely cost prohibitive.

What seems more likely, says Musk, is for the Martian resources to stay on the Red Planet to be used for construction and manufacturing within manned colonies, or to be used to support further mining missions of the mineral-rich asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

At the very least, mining on Mars has already produced great entertainment value on Earth: tune into Season 2 of MARS on National Geographic Channel.

Harvard scientists suggest 'Oumuamua is an alien device

It's an asteroid, it's a comet, it's actually a spacecraft?

(ESO/M. Kornmesser)
Surprising Science
  • 'Oumuamua is an oddly shaped, puzzling celestial object because it doesn't act like anything naturally occurring.
  • The issue? The unexpected way it accelerated near the Sun. Is this our first sign of extraterrestrials?
  • It's pronounced: oh MOO-uh MOO-uh.
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Antimicrobial resistance is a growing threat to good health and well-being

Antimicrobial resistance is growing worldwide, rendering many "work horse" medicines ineffective. Without intervention, drug-resistant pathogens could lead to millions of deaths by 2050. Thankfully, companies like Pfizer are taking action.

Image courtesy of Pfizer.
  • Antimicrobial-resistant pathogens are one of the largest threats to global health today.
  • As we get older, our immune systems age, increasing our risk of life threatening infections. Without reliable antibiotics, life expectancy could decline for the first time in modern history.
  • If antibiotics become ineffective, common infections could result in hospitalization or even death. Life-saving interventions like cancer treatments and organ transplantation would become more difficult, more often resulting in death. Routine procedures would become hard to perform.
  • Without intervention, resistant pathogens could result in 10 million annual deaths by 2050.
  • By taking a multi-faceted approach—inclusive of adherence to good stewardship, surveillance and responsible manufacturing practices, as well as an emphasis on prevention and treatment—companies like Pfizer are fighting to help curb the spread.
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