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A Civilization Turns About to Face .......East

we need a new frontier, and quick

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, August 03, 2005.

I don’t think the importance of a frontier has ever been fully appreciated in Western society. It began long ago, this frustration with current circumstance, and the inclination to chuck it all and start again somewhere that was starting up for the first time. Not just lose your past, but reinvent yourself, create a new name, personality, life. There are not a few of you listening, however absently, who have not thought about just drop kicking spouse, family, and job and moving to Tahiti or Borneo or, if you’re somewhat slow, Lamar and starting again. It’s there, in all of us, the frustration of having made decisions and now having to live them. Most, after weighing the pros and cons, remain where they are. Some don’t.

But even among those who stay, they still like the idea that it’s possible, that there is such a place in actuality where you can live in nature, or in a town of your choosing with folks you like and be, well different than what you have been.

Eastern cultures, like the Japanese with the rising sun or nomadic Native Americans with their habit of facing their lodge opening to the East, exemplify a different mindset. In overcrowded cultures, facing and welcoming the East and perpetuity of their lives by accepted orbits and relationships is a soothing and civilizing habit.

Western Europe, physical and cultural, seems to actually worship the West, the setting sun which even the lamest imagination reveals to be rising on a new land, starting a new day, perhaps over a land of immortals, perhaps heaven, but certainly a new life. The setting sun of California’s beaches is a powerful image to Americans and others world wide. The rising sun on Cape Cod doesn’t compel so much, does it? Facing east is somehow facing the past. Facing the west is the future.

What happens when this hard wired cultural dream dies? When you know that not only Hawaii but Fiji and Guadalcanal and Borneo have Holiday Inns and broadband? That India has killed almost all its beautiful wild animals, and that alga from German aquariums has returned to the ocean to stifle all other growth? That there is not a frontier anymore? That the record books only record infinitesimal record changes that won’t last long enough to bring fame or glory or anything? Who is the fastest runner in the world? The fastest woman? Why care? The record won’t last long. The record holder will lose out to someone because records have four decimal places to the right these days.

Exploration is dead. NASA’s idea of meaningful exploration is to shoot a shuttle skyward and then see if they can repair it in circumstances that seem awfully contrived, to pretend to drama that didn’t exist. What have they been doing for the last thirty years? I mean, aside from watching foam bounce off their shuttles at Mach 3? Hey nobody’s dead yet, mustn’t be a problem.

Instead of people discovering new lands, finding new animals, we have people pogo sticking up mountains, eating the most revolting insects in the shortest amount of time, becoming famous and rich for performing the most stupid stunt before an audience. This isn’t the same as the fools populating a gold rush, and Jim Jones wasn’t comparable to Pilgrims seeking safety and a new life. There was desperation for a future with the past fools. There is only desperation for attention with the current ones.

Humans are messy animals. Not just in ecological terms, but in mental ones. Unfortunately, I think that’s important, and something that makes us relatively unique in our world. Although, even that has gone away as science has proven that simians of all sorts make tools and use them for specific and general purpose, they murder, they wage war, they cannibalize and get jealous. About the only thing I can see that distinguishes humans from everything else is the accolade of hypocrisy. No other creature can claim to it, because no other creature pretends to what it is not.

From the beginning of this nation, leaders religious and secular were astonished and rather annoyed that white men cheerfully joined Native American tribes not only without regret but with apparent joy. Women as well, often enough. Such trades for a settler to be named later undercut the strict and suffocating establishment Christianity that bears no resemblance to the cares of Christ, and governments that seemed rather like the ones they replaced to certain minds.

And it isn’t just some people who feel this tension between society and the wild; I think we all do in vastly different percentages from each other and in vastly different percentages over the duration of our lives. How many women over sixty as we speak have this burning desire to go on a road trip and maybe they’ll write, maybe they won’t. And when they look at the options, it still feels so ………stunted. So predictable. So safe and known.

We miss the frontier. That painting of the Indian warrior in End of the Trail could easily be reconformed to show a grandmother with Ugg boots and motivational videos slumped on her exercise machine. Her old life is over. She wants to start again, and it’s so depressing that she cannot. Really. She doesn’t know it, but she misses the frontier that has existed not only in imagination but, till recently, in reality. We need a new frontier.