On Frontiers


Are all space-voyages about frontiers? Are there still frontiers on earth?

A common theme in science-fiction is the generation colony ship. The idea is that the vessel would take centuries to arrive at its destination, so a large population is aboard to breed generation after generation, with their distant descendants inheriting the new world. The problem with such a scenario is that after several generations, society would likely stagnate. Such a vessel would be a closed system, with no meaningful communication with the outside and no way for people to leave. All resources would be fixed and limited: any one person’s gain would actually be a loss for another. Even worse, the ship’s systems would have to be kept the same, as modifications would more likely damage the ship than improve it, so the ship’s authority or population would likely reject any such change. The end result may be a closed world, with a people less able to adapt to the new, very different to authority and rote. In short, the worst possible group to actually colonize a planet. The people aboard or the current authority may even reject colonization, preferring the safety and predictability of their ship. A similar problem could occur with an isolated space-station, endlessly circling alone and cut off.

It need not be so, of course. A crew asleep or frozen during the trip would still be the eager colonists they were when they left the home-world. Once on a planet, there would be resources and space to spread out. Innovation and initiative would be invaluable to the colony’s expansion. Further, the most innovative and industrious societies that split off would likely be the most successful in growing in size and technical ability.

Likewise, a space-station that was a traffic or construction hub for a world, in constant communication, would not only have reason to avoid being insular, but would be where the successful inclinations would be towards trade and the understanding of other cultures that the great trading peoples tend to exhibit.

Asteroid colonies could be growing frontiers, even if there was a very low population, and few resources. There would be intense pressures for innovation and industry, as well as trade with other settlements as all would not have what was needed. They may trade with the outer system for ice and methane, the inner system for biological material, and sell metals. So, even a small space colony can remain a growing frontier, provided it is not utterly cut off.

On this world we can see this dynamic at work. In societies where it is permitted to innovate and develop new resources, there remains a frontier appreciation of individuality, effort and achievement. Even in developed societies, new growth remains possible.

For the alternatives on earth, one can look to the closed societies. Authoritarian rule, and popular anger are often the rule of the day. Any change required the consent of the ruler or the mobs of the streets. There, any one’s gain is looked at as a theft of carefully hoarded and managed resources, there are no new frontiers in ideas or places.

Frontiers and closed societies may exist in space or on earth, for both ultimately come from human beings.

To new frontiers: on earth and in space.