Stab Magazine | Let's Talk About The Telescope Drama At Maunakea

Let’s Talk About The Telescope Drama At Maunakea

All the good things, and the bad things, that may be.

news // Aug 10, 2019
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Morgan Williamson, the handsome bastard who makes sure Stab runs smoothly, has been on my ass to write something about the Maunakea protests for the last few weeks.

I’ve been putting it off, doing my damnedest to convince him to leave me alone and let me write about other stuff. Anything else. Like the time I got the world’s worst case of crotch rot while dumping broad spectrum antibiotics into my bloodstream via PICC line after the shoulder I blew apart on the Pipe reef became viciously infected. Or the time I shit my pants while walking along the Red Sea in Egypt. We could post a photo gallery of my weight gain over the years so our readers can hurt my feelings. I’ll pen advertorial and run it with my name attached. Tell everyone about the time I snowballed Gavin Beschen from the shoulder at Rocky Rights. I’d confess about how I hit the bottom at Log Cabins so hard that it took me almost two hours to find the courage to paddle in, and how I never surfed there again. I’ll interview Instagram influencers, promote anything, defend anybody.

I’d do anything to avoid publicly discussing the situation on Maunakea. It’s too much of a hot button issue here in paradise. Emotions are running high, people are deeply invested in the outcome, and the truth is that, no matter what I say, I’m gonna make a bunch of people angry.

People I have to see every day. People I share space with on a tiny rock in the middle of the ocean. As a haole transplant coming towards the end of his eleventh year in the amazing place I want nothing more than to keep my mouth shut and let others work it out.

“No dice, sugar tits,” said the boss man. “Get that sweet ass to work.”

The thing is… I can understand both sides of the argument.

The atheist haole side of me, which holds that nothing is sacred, doesn’t see the big deal. It’s a telescope on a mountain. I don’t really give two shits about astronomy, but if they built a million telescopes on an island I occasionally visit to freedive it wouldn’t bother me in the slightest.

But for the Hawaiian people, not to be confused with people who are born in Hawaii, it seems to be about more than just the mountain. It’s about pushing back against cultural hegemony, demanding a voice that’s long been denied to them in the management of their homelands. It’s a position I only understand on a superficial level, but I can empathize well enough to hold a deep respect for their position. If white genocide were a real thing, which it is not, it would probably really bother me.

(A quick word on the politics of nomenclature in Hawaii: Someone born here is local. Only people with Hawaiian heritage are called Hawaiian. Transplants, such as myself, are neither. I’m cool with being designated as haole. Many people, typically the kind who are always up in arms over overblown anti-white racism, take issue with the word. They’re a bunch of idiots.)

While I’ve tried my hardest to play fence-sitter I have been forced, against my will, to choose a side. Not because of any deeply held notions of sacred land or cultural heritage or the importance of scientific progress, but because I’ve been inundated with rhetoric from both sides and, eventually, began to notice something unpleasant.

The Anti-TMT folks have waged a very successful PR campaign. They’ve remained peaceful and convinced the media to refer to their leaders as kupuna, a term of respect which was almost never used, in the media, prior to this go-around. They’ve won the hearts and minds of people around the world through their determination and willingness to suffer arrest for civil disobedience. They faced down cops shipped in from other islands, weathered the threat of National Guard deployment, and seem to have their living situation on mountain dialed-in in a manner that keeps everyone fed, safe, and clean.

The most vocal of the Pro-TMT folks make me uncomfortable. They use too many terms I’ve heard too many times. They claim to be the “silent majority.” They accuse the protesters of anti-white racism. They insist that their counter-protests are poorly attended because they “have jobs.” They accuse the Anti-TMT folks of incivility. They cry that the telescopes need to be built because they’ll provide jobs!

I’ve heard it all before. But only from the worst humans this country has to offer.

A quick glance through the social media pages dedicated to promoting the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope also shows an unpleasant trend toward MAGA caps. Which is strange.

Why would a person who supports the Trump administration feel so strongly about advancing science? Why did a group of people who support the same party that cuts funding to the sciences and denies the existence of climate change suddenly become so interested in astronomy the moment Hawaiians began protesting? Why would someone who worships a man who spews forth a never-ending stream of attacks and degradation claim to care about civility?

Just as the issue is about more than telescopes for the Anti-TMT side, it is about more than science for the Pro. And if that’s true, which I believe it is… that’s unfortunate. It’s ugly. It’s, sadly, nothing new.

I’d never claim that everyone vocally supporting the TMT construction is a racist hunk of scum who will one day, hopefully, get what’s coming to them. Because that’s just not true. Some people do love astronomy. Some of them are actual astronomers who want nothing more than to increase the extent of humanity’s knowledge of the universe. More than a few, if I’m being fair.

But the thing is… when you stand in a group you need to look at who’s standing next to you. Who is lending your cause support? Who is chanting the same slogans? Who is waving signs your signs and repeating your talking points?

If you don’t like what you see you need to take a step back and consider what you’re really supporting. Whose cause you’re lending strength. Whether your movement is being co-opted by the very worst among us.

And then, even if you think giant telescopes are kinda cool, and don’t believe in the sacred nature of the land, you may end up saying, in the haole-est way possible, nasal Californian twang and all:

‘A’ole TMT, dude.


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