Thursday, February 7, 2019

Space - the Final Frontier?

One of the many major changes to the western world over the past century has been the disappearance of the frontier.

In the early 20th century, in fact to some extent even up to the 1950s, westerners who wanted to opt out could find a frontier territory in which to do so. There were the remoter outposts of the British Empire (and of the other European empires). For Americans there was South America. For those who found their lives unsupportable there was always that escape hatch - they could start a new life in the Colonies or in South America where they were unlikely to be bothered too much by questions about their past and unlikely to have too much trouble with intrusive bureaucracies or police forces.

Britons would commonly choose somewhere like Kenya or Malaya. There was plenty of money to be made if you had drive and if you didn’t have drive there were fellow countrymen to sponge off, who were reasonably indulgent of expatriates (even if they mildly disapproved of expatriates who “went native”).

All that is largely gone. Escaping from the modern surveillance state is next to impossible. Any bolt-holes that are left are pretty uninviting and bureaucrats and police are likely to will hunt you down anyway.

One response to this is the emergence of the idea of space as the final frontier, the one sure refuge for someone who wants or needs to opt out completely. It became a major theme of science fiction in the 20th century and it also took on a definite political complexion. It became a popular right-wing fantasy, and it became a very popular libertarian fantasy. The fact that colonies in space would in reality face immense practical difficulties tended to get glossed over (and libertarians never do worry too much about irritating details like reality).

It’s a fantasy that also has a following among the nerdier elements of the alt-right.

Personally I find it very amusing that so many people have convinced themselves that colonies in space or on other planets would be havens of liberty, veritable libertarian paradises with no government at all. It amuses me because I’ve always assumed that a space colony founded on libertarian principles wouldn’t last a week. Space, or colonies on Mars, are not the sorts of environment that are likely to be very forgiving of rigged individuals with a contempt for regulations. They’d be the sorts of environments where one mistake would mean death, and quite possibly death for every member of the colony. Such a colony is more likely to succeed if it’s composed of rigid conformists with no imagination, no more than moderate intelligence, a respect for hierarchies and a passion for following rules and regulations to the letter. Military-style discipline is more likely than glorious liberty.

Such colonies would also have a very much better chance of survival if they adopted a very traditionalist approach to morality and to sex roles. You would only need one member of a colony to start sleeping around to very soon find yourself sitting on top of a ticking time-bomb. It’s also very obvious that no colony can survive without children and therefore the women would need to focus more on child-rearing than personal fulfilment and careers.

A space colony might well end up being more of a traditionalist paradise than a libertarian one.

Not that it matters, given that the practical difficulties (not to mention the political obstacles) are so overwhelming that colonies in space will probably remain science fiction for a long long time.

5 comments:

  1. Another aspect of this hope for 'salvation' by space colonisation is that everything we 'know' about the subject has (for almost all of us) come via the mass media (when it is not simply fictional).

    We have (the vast majority of us) zero experience of 'space', and don't personally know anybody we trust that has any more than zero experience.

    Given the way that the mass media operates, it seems a very foolish idea to pin our greatest hopes on stuff we only know so indirectly and distortedly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Given the way that the mass media operates, it seems a very foolish idea to pin our greatest hopes on stuff we only know so indirectly and distortedly.

      Yes, I agree completely.

      Delete
  2. The scent of Musk will be on the first Mars colony. That shoud keep them in a straight and narrow rut. (See what I did there?).

    As for reporting and media in such outposts, there is nothing to worry about. Journalists, TV news faces and media moguls will all have been put on Ark C and sent elsewhere.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Replies
    1. Are all alt-right into SF?

      Well there's Vox Day and his crowd for starters. There does seem to me to be quite an overlap between sci-fi fans, gaming and the alt-right.

      Delete