The recent political “debate” over climate change and the lack of action has got me thinking about how something similar would play out in space. It has left me wondering if democracy is even possible in space. A question I would love to see more explored in literature.
The big benefit of a democracy is that eventually it tends to make decent decisions. However, it tends to move slowly. It is great at muddling through an issue while importantly avoiding horrible decisions. On Earth this is fine because most of the very important stuff will keep happening no matter how gridlocked or misguided the politics becomes. The rains will keep falling. The trees will keep turning carbon dioxide into oxygen. The rivers will keep flowing, etc.
Even with an issue like climate change, where there is significant talk about whether we have reached a “tipping point,” that tipping point is really bad but not the-end-of-all-life bad. Even with big temperature increases, life will still exist. The suffering will be significant, but we would still have a chance to take dramatic action to adjust and correct.
In space it is different. On a colony on Titan or a generation ship to Alpha Centauri there is little margin for error. If people don’t believe the experts' predictions about how many more years the air scrubbers can run without a major overall, there is no second chance and the consequence is everyone dies. In space, if a democracy handled a similar issue the way we have climate change, it would be the end of all life in the colony.
It is possible that these environments are as a result going to naturally gravitate to highly authoritarian systems. Or if there are democracies, they might form with the creation of a parallel power structure controlled by engineers or an unquestionable AI. This power structure could have an almost mystical role, much like the Church in medieval Europe, with its own rules and laws.