First, I want to say that I want to agree with the motivations behind writing this. The type of colonization he outlines is indeed a nasty, dirty business and what I am about to write is not by any means an endorsement of those brutish excesses. However, the rhetoric is too strident and even dismissive for me to agree with the points being made. Sometimes, one's heart can be in the right place and the problematic areas can be pointed out to some extent, but the complexities involved can be squashed down when the rhetoric becomes too heated and I believe this is what happened in this particular piece.
Yes, "colony" has some pejorative associations to it, but it is nowhere near the universally negative term that Duke states. The word originates from the Latin colere and means simply "to inhabit, cultivate, frequent, practice, tend, guard, respect." The earliest coloni were people from the earlier city-states who moved to "vacant" land (the issue is debatable, concerning some regions inhabited by pastoralists or hunter-gatherers) in order to continue the urban lives they knew before leaving for wider space and more opportunities. While not totally benign (human movements are rarely so), it is not the wholly negative entity referenced in Duke's opening comments:
The term "colonize" is not neutral. It's an impossibly negative term. It immediately references an extensive socio-political, socio-economic, racialized, and vile process that still churns its wheels today. Colonialism always was and always will be an exploitative model which privileges dominant socio-economic groups (I hesitate to say "Western" here, though it would be fair to suggest that colonialism benefits the West more than other colonialist groups).
What he apparently wants to do is appropriate this term solely for the 15th-18th century massive population shifts (old colonization) and the 19th-21st century domination of large native populations by a small group of politico-economic power-elites from elsewhere (new colonialism), yet in trying to take one segment (albeit a quite visible and influential one) of a word's etymology and apply that to the whole, he already sweeping under the rug the older, less hegemonic meanings of the words "colony" and "colonization." (I'm aware of the biological aspects of "colonization" as well, but I'll let this parenthetical aside serve as admission of this element as well).
Duke continues, providing his own definition of colonization: " To "colonize" is to subjugate, destroy, rape, murder, exploit, and so on."
Whoa, there. It seems he has decided that he is going to take the most negative and horrific elements of a socio-economic system of a particular time period and apply it to the totality of human population migrations. I have to question here if his passion got in the way of his intellect, as with that single sentence, there is the appearance of a curt dismissal of the transformative aspects of colonialism. One might be pardoned if s/he is thinking at this point that Duke is coming close to a paternalist attitude of having to defend the besmirched colonized peoples' honors whenever that nasty "colonize" word is employed. I do not believe for a moment that is what he means to do, but it can be rather insulting to some to see their own hybrid cultures, which are not clones of the mother country but which instead reflect the complex, myriad ways in which different ethnic groups acted upon one another to transform the colony into something that wasn't wholly a product of the purported motherland. Perhaps I'm insufficiently Cherokee in my heritage to feel all the outrage conducted upon my people by my other people, the Irish colonists/settlers who moved into the Tennessee River Valley over two centuries ago. All I know is that there was quite a bit of intermarriage and exchanging of foods, products, and ideas between the groups; exploitation certainly took place, but it was far from the only means of cultural interaction.
Duke's third paragraph continues his near-rant:
And so, when we use the term "colonize" to refer to things like human settlement in space, we are, in fact, playing into a socio-political game given to us by the Pulp and Golden Ages of science fiction (both of which were in the thick of imperialist and colonialist enterprises). This game is one which attempts, intentionally or otherwise, to redefine colonialism so as to dampen its political implications, which is another way of saying that colonialism really isn't all that bad. In effect, when we say we're going to "colonize space" we are trying to say something other than what the word means, which makes it possible to silence the collective history the term actually signals. To put it another way: our willy-nilly use of the term "colonize" is an extension of the colonial process itself, since you, in fact, are appropriating the legacy of colonialism for your own purposes. There is a duality at work here: the suppression of reality alongside the perpetuation of the old history that normalized such suppressive forces.
I could almost buy his argument, if it weren't for the fact that he has selected only one narrow interpretation of the word, with the apparent refusal to acknowledge the long-held other meanings that have been around even longer than the period he rails against in his article. It's hard to "redefine" a term when it has had some of its associated meanings for thousands of years. The part at the end is just ridiculous. It's a specious argument that presumes one accepts the viewpoint of the author in order to dismiss counterarguments as being invalid. Since there is no discussion of the complex transformative forces (the colonized, after all, were not passive victims but rather exhibited a spectrum of actions in regards to the settlement of a foreign body in their cultural/physical spheres), I cannot help but wonder just where the "suppression of reality" is taking place.
Finally we get to the space exploration part, which gets short shrift here:
The fact that to "colonize" cannot imply a neutral without playing into the legacy I've thus far described means we need to start thinking about human involvement in space within different terms. "Settlement" would be a much more effective term, since it has always signaled a multitude. Yes, to "settle" was always a part of the colonial enterprise, but it has also always referred to the process of settlement, which may or may not involve the settlement of spaces owned or occupied by others. For science fiction, this seems like a perfect term to use, since the genre often imagines human settlement as encompassing the varieties of the old forms of settlement. Humans in science fiction settle on uninhabited asteroids, moons, or planets, but they also sometimes colonize planets that don't belong to them, which is a kind of settlement to begin with (albeit, a violent form).
Of course, "colonize" is not a "neutral" term; its functions imply transformations. Duke's choice of "settlement" for an alternative is interesting, in part because some have argued that this word too has a hint of a blithe disregard for claims of others to land/resources. Mind you, I think that argument too is rather belaboring the point, but it is worth noting in regards to the conclusion of an article that I think could have been better argued. I think the issue of colonization is worth discussing, but it has to be done in good faith; dismissing or at least failing to acknowledge the complexities of the issue in a rush to boil it down to a single pithy quote that appropriates the worst excesses of one particular meaning of "colonization" for the whole weakens his entire argument. Perhaps a better conversation on the topic could deal with how certain attitudes do not take into account the mixed emotions that several human groups have about the notion of setting forth to "conquer Space." That might make for a true conversation on the topic rather than a screed which makes some of us who are sympathetic to most of the aims of Duke's article question its assumptions and methods of arguing his case.