A Frontier Without Fighting?
by L. Neil Smith
Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
A long time ago, toward the beginning of my career, I actually learned something, from a book reviewer, that I hadn't realized about myself.
The review covered both The Probability Broach and The Venus Belt, and the reviewer was describing my popular character Lucille Gallegos Kropotkin, whom she said "hates government and loves politics". All at once, I knew that I had created an autobiographical character without intending to, and that Lucy was me, with the brakes off.
Much more recently, I've noticed that many of my books are about a frontier. Having a frontier is very good for a country—for an entire civilization—in many ways. The fact that America once had a frontier is one of the things that made her great, The fact that she no longer has a frontier is one of the things that are destroying her now.
But what I suddenly noticed about my work—last Thursday if I recall correctly—is that in none of them are the frontiers I described being wrenched from the hands of somebody who was there first.
To me, anyway.
For as long as there have been Homo sapiens—and, for all we know, long before that—there have been frontiers and fighting. It seems the grass is always greener on the other guy's side of the fence. (My wife points out that the idea of a fence presumes another guy.)
In Europe, the word "frontier" means something different than it does in the United States. Here, it means the edge of civilization, the beginning of the untrodden and unknown. There, it simply means "border".
There is probably a reason for this.
Among primitive people, their name for themselves usually means "the people", implying that outsiders are something less. To the Sumerians, the Greeks, the Persians, and so on, who were usually not much better armed than the others they were trying to conquer, the frontier was simply synonymous with the front lines of the ongoing battle.
That meaning began to shift a little with the Romans, especially in northern Europe and Britain, where there were significant gaps in technology and organization between the would-be conquerors and their intended victims. But the real change occurred when Europeans came to America, bringing horses, guns, and steel—and the experience of centuries of continental warfare—to bear against wooden and stone weapons.
With a possible exception of the Aztecs and Peruvians, who worked wonders with the materials at hand, knew how to organize themselves efficiently, and were accustomed to fighting continuous large-scale wars with their neighbors or among themselves, the peoples that the Spanish, French, Dutch, and British discovered here, for the most part, weren't seen as rival human beings to be conquered, but ethical nonentities, dangerous, inedible wildlife, which, like all the trees standing in the way of progress, should be swept aside and disposed of.
This situation, and the outlook that came with it, was exacerbated by the dominant religious opinion that entities who not only weren't Christians, but actually had the temerity to worship in whatever way they wished, deserved no humane consideration. This was exactly the same mindset that had made the Crusades possible. Those who hadn't yet been washed in the blood of the Lamb were to be washed in their own, instead.
In fairness, it needs to be pointed out here that Europeans were far from monolithic in their views concerning Indians. (Understand that there are no "native Americans"; increasingly it appears that the first humans to settle on this continent were French cavemen, almost 25,000 years ago; the ancestors of Sequoia, Crazy Horse, Osceola, Sitting Bull, and Jay Silverheels came here from northeast Asia 10,000 years later.) The first anti-slavery organization was created by Queen Isabella of Spain (not a nice person in any other respect), when she was shown the miserable, dying creatures Columbus had brought home as slaves.
Americans inherited their ideas about Indians from their European ancestors, and redefined the concept of the frontier, themselves. It was a five-step process: (1) lay claim to a newly-discovered piece of land; (2) run the Indians off or kill them; (3) cut down all the trees; (4) build a house out of some of them; and (5) put a plow in the ground. When the Westward Movement collided with the Grand Prairie, (3) got easier, and (4) meant building your house out of sod, while (2) became much harder, especially once the Indians had acquired horses.
Thus, from the late 15th century into the early 20th, "frontier" gradually came to mean the boundary between the white and Indian territories. My question is, had there been no Indians living in North America, would there have been a frontier or any motivation to conquer it? Do people need somebody to fight them for something before it acquires sufficient value to them, be it the Holy Grail or Black Hills gold?
Today, whenever individuals try to imagine future frontiers, there are usually surogate Indians to fight, be they Klingons, Ewoks, or those blue people from Avatar so very popular in online porn. The days are gone when such a struggle, between primitive and advanced cultures, can be made to seem virtuous. But that's a good thing for Hollywood writers, who can drag us into the theaters with promises of glorious blood and guts, and then make the winners feel guilty about it.
I confess that I haven't seen Avatar. Knowing the work of Steven Spielberg as I do, I'm not about to spend ten or twelve dollars to sit and be lectured by a liberal hypocrite and liar for the crime of being human and enjoying high-tech capitalism. Besides, the trailers looked way too much like that other repulsive exercise in self-loathing, Pocahontas.
But I have digressed.
While the question remains open just a tiny crack, it appears that with the exception of the planet we're standing on, there is no other sapient life the in Solar System. There is almost certainly life, possibly in abundance, under the ice of Europa, or in the clouds of the gas giants, but nothing that could play checkers with you, or tell a dirty joke.
No checkers, no dirty jokes, no Indians. Will people be interested in a frontier like that, or will they find it boring and not worth the effort?
As I've said on more than one occasion, if you're interested in landing on, colonizing, settling, and especially terraforming Mars, you'd better hope there isn't any life there, not even bacteria. The nanosecond word gets out about that, all the tree-huggers will become bug-huggers, and do everything they can to prevent their own species from possessing (and in their demented view, destroying) a second planet.
It seems the left has exactly the same ethical problem as the right: neither side is willing to investigate the differences between non-sapience and sapience. So we get the "Right to Life" movement, and PETA.
In my novel The Venus Belt, I described a project in which an asteroid was to be accelerated in its orbit around the sun, to a respectable fraction of the speed of light, so it could be deflected into the path of Venus, converting that otherwise useless planet into a new asteroid belt, full of easily-extracted minerals and other materials, and new dwelling places for the more adventurous minds from Earth.
Notice that not a single Indian was injured or killed in the production of this novel, although I received a ration of excrement for blowing up a whole (gasp!) world! Maybe the elevation of Gaia to goddesshood was contagious. Maybe there are too damn many C.S, Lewis fans out there. (Don't see it, myself.) I don't know about my critics, but I belong to a species who will repair their sun when it goes bad, so I don't care very much about one little ball of rock and poison gas.
I also described the first fully terraformed Old Belt asteroid, Ceres, complete with all the features of my later asteroid novels, and a city in its core with architecture based on the artwork of M.C. Escher.
I seem to write a lot about asteroids. I've been fascinated by them since I first read Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince and I love islands for many of the same reasons. Good things happen in such places. In Bretta Martyn I have Robretta Islay nail a thinly- disguised Charles Schumer to the wall through his eye-socket, using a crossbow.
My first serious encounter with asteroids was my novel Pallas, which is about people living on the asteroid of that name, the second largest in the Belt. The reader gets to see in some detail the several arduous steps by which a planetoid is terraformed (apparently it's practical; I'm often asked—by engineers—if I'm an engineer), what that engineering achievement—and the individual freedom that flowed from it—mean to them, and how threats to it, mostly natural, are dealt with. While there is a nasty villain and a power struggle, Pallas was a barren rock before people got there and there are no Indians.
Ceres centers around the terraformation of the largest of the asteroids—it has the same surface area as India—again nothing more than a barren rock before human beings came to "despoil" it, and again, a frontier with no Indians to fight, although there are some pretty nasty environmentalists that have to be dealt with the hard way.
So, at least in the universes I've created, you can indeed have a frontier without fighting—Indians or their surrogates, at least. The prospect excites me more than fighting Indians would. My question is, what do you think about that, and what do you believe others think?
L. Neil Smith is the Publisher and Senior Columnist of L. Neil Smith's THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE, as well as the author of 33 freedom-oriented books, the most recent of which is DOWN WITH POWER: Libertarian Policy in a Time of Crisis:
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