Saturday, July 23, 2016

Butcher, Baker, History Maker

© Laurence B. Winn

Feb 1, 1999 (Updated 07/22/16)

Frontier theory predicts that some of us, very likely you, will have to work harder for less this year. It predicts that your chances of being murdered in your home or on the street are greater this year than last, and will be still greater the year after that. It foresees that you will soon lose another increment of freedom to the necessity of regulation and security. It anticipates that a new or newly virulent disease will threaten your health. It expects that the air you breathe and the water you drink will be more toxic than they have been. Frontier theory foretells that, however bad you think you have it, your children will have it worse.

Frontier theory also teaches that the worst outcomes are avoidable. In fact, a sort of paradise can arise from sweat and moon dust. If you’d just like to buy a little time, keep this in mind: At great effort and cost, we might might extend the narrow window of opportunity which we are about to miss. But if that’s all we do, nothing changes; we stay the course to apocalypse.

The opportunity of the day is the chance to build a frontier in space. It's not a simple thing. You can't just throw your junk in a wagon and head west. You can't just convince some ditsy queen to lend you a couple of boats for a trip across the Ocean Sea. (Not that exploration is ever easy, or that financing it is ever less than an act of courage and vision.) To make a start on the colonization of space will require a broad consensus, a couple of decades, and an expenditure on the scale of the US defense budget (I estimate $3 trillion over 15 years). Even if we have the will, it is not at all clear that we have the time.

Academics and science fiction writers (who tend to be academics) speculate that civilizations, of which there may have been many in this galaxy alone, live or die depending on whether they destroy themselves before they can deploy their populations into space. According to this theory, there is a moment in the history of a culture when it has the technology to do either. Miss the moment, and enclosure (a more general form of isolated confined-environment syndrome) automatically brings down the hammer on the side of extinction, just as it does with other beasts who cannot disperse. We are traversing that moment.

I have a favorite video, a made-for-TV, late-night movie called Plymouth in which a teenage citizen of a lunar colony tells his friend, who wants to leave, "I love it up here. What I got back on earth? A lousy job, four walls, a TV. Forget that! Here you make history every time an airlock opens. That's what I call living."

Exactly. For the individual, the ordinary mortal who is just so much stardust, a frontier is an opportunity to make a difference.

Even before the high frontier exists, it presents individuals with the opportunity to contribute in ways only they can imagine. You don't have to be a rocket scientist or a national leader. If, by a rare stroke of great good luck, you are an artist or a composer, here is a mission for your art. Nothing will fix poverty, war, and disease like defeating enclosure, the root of it all.

Whatever it is you do for fun and profit, you can think about how you might want do it in an isolated, necessarily self-sufficient, small-village environment.

You will need to generate electrical power, recycle water, dispose of, or reuse, solid waste. These are all things we need to do, and need to do better, on Earth.

Preventing and treating disease will use different strategies, not so dependent on massive pharmaceutical manufacturing operations. Imports will be impossibly expensive.

If you are a grower, you might want to experiment with controlled environment agriculture (greenhouse hydroponics or aquaponics) to bring local produce to market out of season. If nothing else, that will increase your personal self-sufficiency, but you may also profit by it.

If you love nature, you're in luck. Real space colonies will be delicately balanced ecosystems (like Biosphere 2), not orbiting inner cities like Deep Space Nine. By thinking like a space colony engineer, an earthbound interior designer can create spaces that damp out noise, absorb toxins from the air, make oxygen, and calm the nerves.

Teachers advocating space-themed education usually find themselves alone in their school districts. Lonely though it may be, this is an opportunity to excel.

Examples of projects:

Biology: growing plants in a "space colony"
Scientific synthesis: creating designer aliens
Creative writing: science fiction

Play. Wear Starfleet uniforms to a Renaissance Faire.

Next time you do a campout, make it an “away mission” on an alien world.

Buy your kid a model rocket.

Cast your dollar vote. There's nothing like it to get the attention of those grand and inspired leaders who would rush to the vanguard for the purpose of leading, though they know not where. If it's a space flick, see it. If it's a book about space, buy it. Skip football and watch Star Trek instead. Send your kids to Space Camp.

Why are we doing this again?

We are doing this because our children are bombarded daily with news of famine, plagues, wars, riots, ecological ruin, and insane acts of individual malice. They are assured of a declining standard of living and restricted choices in return for more effort and greater sacrifice. They are fully aware that our social tinkering is a flop and our system of justice is a joke. And when the authors of this breathtaking blueprint ask that their laws be obeyed, their values cherished, their institutions perpetuated, and their persons respected, is it any wonder that the boys in the 'hood say “WHAT?”

We, the grownups, had better give our kids something to look forward to. It had better offer more, not less. It had better promise adventure. It had better guarantee excitement. And it had better do it within the framework of the values we claim to cherish, because if it doesn't, our children will surely seek those things outside that framework, and at our expense. A frontier is what they need. The only credible frontier is straight up. And if high frontiersmanship sounds difficult, dangerous, and expensive, that's too bad. As Captain Kirk used to say in such circumstances, "That’s the deal, if you want a piece of the action."

Monday, May 30, 2016

First, Buy Time

© Laurence B. Winn

Jan 1, 1999 (Updated May 28, 2016)

I wrote this originally without understanding how dangerous it is. Almost any effort to address only symptoms can stall the progress of corrective action. It can encourage denial and self-delusion. Those things are dangerous in themselves, but a great many people confuse them with optimism, which is worse. They uncritically think, we’re on the right track, our leaders know what they are doing, God will deliver us, I don’t really need to deice those wings before takeoff, etc. One more item to beware: Some parts of the strategy I am about to outline will cause you to walk unaware into physical danger if you are working with a domestic partner you think you can trust, but can’t. Nevertheless, I still choose to offer a course of action for people who believe that saving themselves is within the scope of their talents and responsibility, but spacefaring is not.

Let others spell out how to lose weight, eat healthy and develop muscle tone. I will suggest what parents, children, churches, private enterprise and government can contribute to their own survival. Because that, ultimately, is what is at stake.

I can tell you that the days ahead will shine brighter if you have choices. The way to get choices without taking them from others is to contribute to the building of a frontier in space.


First, buy time. Realize that you have been placed in a box that kills by striking at the reproductive unit we know as the family. It does this by devaluing labor and life. Burdened with the realities of environmental damage, terrorism, epidemic disease and the rest of the evening news, children are growing up fast and mean, if they grow up at all. The suicide rate among children and young adults tripled between 1960 and 1990, and it is still increasing. That is often attributed to stress created by competition for grades, for adult attention, for peer recognition, and worry about what, if anything, the future holds. There is a body of research indicating that such sustained and repeated stress not only leads to depression, but can alter the brain chemistry of genetically vulnerable people in a way that predisposes them to violence. Such children kill their own children.

Previous episodes of this condition, Britain's being one of the most recent, ended only with emigration. It was an exodus, a choice available only because of the opening of a frontier across the Atlantic. People chose to leave the box that was Europe. Now, the box is global. That is new. It means there is no place on this planet which satisfies the definition of a frontier: resources without proprietors. What comes next cannot be pleasant.

Symptomatic treatment of enclosure is not enough. But, keeping in mind that enclosure will kill us anyway if this is all we do, I offer the following suggestions to buy time.

Parents need to play the leading role, and it's going to be tough. For fathers, it means getting married and staying that way. For mothers, it means dropping out of the work force. If the kids are in public school, pull them out and teach them at home. No care providers. No second jobs. Take the reduced standard of living. (Of course, If you have an untrustworthy mate and don’t know it, this is suicide.)

Private enterprise can mitigate some of the nastiness of the foregoing draconian options by offering solutions like flex time, job sharing, and telecommuting.

Churches can do what churches have always done: pick up the pieces and take up the slack. Not every child will have two parents. Not every family will be able to make it financially. Some marriages will require a lot of support to stay whole. Churches can provide community, comfort and guidance.

Kids can sometimes gift themselves with something like Valley of the Moon in Tucson, Arizona. If they can’t find one, maybe they can help found one. Think of it as a church devoted to kindness and imagination. It’s too much fun to explain here. Look it up online.

I'm tempted to say that government's role should be to butt out. Government has done a lot of damage. It has all but destroyed the family by giving it permission to break up and offering financial support to the pieces. It errs disastrously in trying to pick economic winners and losers. Public education has undermined parental authority by excluding parents from the classroom, ignoring their values, and acting as a screen behind which adolescents can do as they please. It has promulgated the destructive fiction of “sustainable development” without a frontier, which amounts to nothing more than endless and purposeless sacrifice. It is anything but sustainable. It is a narrow defile with a dead end. Those who herd others down it have a nefarious agenda, and I hereby warn you against it, and them.

But I think government can be part of the solution. It can encourage the use of communications instead of transportation, enabling people to work from home. It can encourage home education by offering curricular support and use of facilities to home educators. And it must, without fail and with the appropriate use of the free enterprise system, create a spacefaring civilization. That effort alone will make a difference in juvenile behavior and outlook because it signals that there is going to be a future, and that children can become, not cogs in a "sustainable development" machine, but men and women of destiny.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol

© Laurence B. Winn

Dec 1, 1998 (updated 04/30/16)

A carol -- it's a song of joy. But it is also a box or enclosure, from which the word carrel derives. Of course, Charles Dickens knew this when he wrote, tongue-in-cheek, A Christmas Carol (1843). His is a story about the effects of the Enclosures Acts and Bills on 19th century England. Every year at this time, I take in the tale again, each season finding myself more in sympathy with Ebenezer Scrooge.

Enclosure, the individual’s inability to leave a place or a circumstance, cheapens labor. It also cheapens life. When human beings perceive themselves without options, they may become pressed to the breaking point. Then they make decisions based on a premise that resembles the military concept of triage. The word “triage” means to pick or to cull. It is the sorting of casualties into three groups: those who can be expected to survive without help, those who will die regardless of treatment, and those who will perish unless given immediate aid. When human beings, some of them at least, think themselves in the last category, they are apt to extinguish even their offspring to preserve their lives or their sanity.

"Within the logic of triage, there is nothing sacred about human life," writes Richard L. Rubenstein in The Age of Triage: Fear and Hope in an Over-crowded World (1983). Mothers trapped by enclosure in England of the 19th century reacted very much as they do virtually everywhere today, by killing their children, usually through neglect. It is, of course, immoral, but necessity trumps philosophy.

These circumstances echo the sentiments of Thomas Jefferson about Europe. Of the larger European cities, Jefferson observed in his Notes on Virginia (published around 1782 and rewritten in 1804) that a lack of food and other essentials had brought "a depravity of morals, a dependence and corruption, which renders them an undesirable accession to a country whose morals are sound."

In the England of Charles Dickens, it was common wisdom that industrial machinery was responsible for wrecking English families. The big engines made it possible to employ women and children in occupations that formerly required a man's muscle power, the argument went.

Actually, surplus labor is what cheapened wages to the extent that entire families had to work, the same as it does now. We know because of what happened in England when the jobs went away, even though the engines of industry remained. During the American Civil War, when the United States Navy blockaded southern ports, it not only weakened the Confederacy militarily and economically, but inflicted economic pain on Great Britain by preventing the shipment of cotton to English factories. During the so-called "cotton crisis", a physician sent by the English government to investigate the sanitary condition of the cotton operatives discovered that the crisis had produced several advantages. One of them was that women "now had leisure to give their infants the breast, instead of poisoning them with 'Godfrey's cordial'” (an opium derivative that allowed working mothers to get some sleep).

Political economists in England of the 1860s observed a correlation between infant death rates and employment of mothers. Medical researchers in England of that time found that mothers employed by industry or in farm gangs not only neglected their offspring, but often resorted to ill-disguised infanticide and dosing the children with opiates.

The sale of opium for the use of adults was a major item of commerce of the nineteenth century. Infants that were given the drug "shrank into little old men" or "wizened like little monkeys", according to the literature of the day. "We here see how India and China avenged themselves on England", wrote Marx in a footnote to Das Kapital (1867).

The obvious similarity between Dickens' time and ours does not prove, as doubtless some people will suggest, that "things have always been that way". They weren't that way on the American frontier of the same period. They aren't that way in the memories of most of Americans born before 1960.

What it does demonstrate is the similarity of circumstances. The catch phrase "surplus population" fit England well in the mid-nineteenth century. Dickens makes effective use of it in A Christmas Carol when he causes Scrooge to respond to a plea for charity to prevent the deaths of orphans, "They'd better do it then, and decrease the surplus population".

That was then, as they say. Still, every Christmas season Scrooge seems a little more modern in his attitudes. Ebenezer has gone global because enclosure has.