The Frontier is Closed. Get Over It.

I’m sure someone has probably written about this. If so, I’m not familiar with it but it needs to be said anyway. The frontier is closed and the values that were appropriate for that space-conquering and space-dominating period have become anachronistic today. Clinging to values deemed “absolute” but that were only adequate to the purposes and tasks of their day belongs to a misplaced and reactionary nostalgia — from absolute to obsolete.

Today we have new tasks and these require new values. The chief task for the planetary era is how to establish a truly human and humane planetary civilisation. The new frontier, as Nietzsche earlier pointed out, is the realm of values itself.

The generation currently in power has been largely steeped in the mytho-history of the frontier and the romance of the pioneer. The film genre of the Western, presently going out of fashion, typically portrayed a myth of the Wild West rather than actual history of “nation-building”. The mytho-history, however, did not serve to document historical reality so much as to project and inculcate social values amongst the young in the form of certain heroic types deemed worthy of emulation — the rugged individualist overcoming the odds against him on the frontiers and margins of domesticated society. The pioneer in any case was a doomed historical type, since his or her very success in subjugating, taming, and domesticating the Wilderness would necessarily put an end to pioneering itself and to that particular space-conquering historical type also.

The native inhabitants of this terra incognita or wilderness had no idea, of course, that they were living in someone else’s frontier, although they faced a vital challenge and a pioneering task of their own. Their’s, however, was a challenge on the front of time rather than of space — a pre-modern and tradition-based (trajective) people facing a modernising “progressive” expansionist people. To the space-obsessed European explorers, colonisers and settlers, however, the native peoples were little distinguished from other hostile elements of the Wilderness needing to be tamed and domesticated — if not actually exterminated like the North American bison herds.

Indeed, in some rationales of the time, they weren’t even considered human or possessed of “souls” — meaning, conveniently, that they could be exterminated with a good conscience. Those inconvenient historical facts, however, never became part of the mytho-history and were studiously excised from the pioneering narrative of nation-building and civilisational progress until lately.

While history, per se, is the attempt to determine the actual facts of the matter through the judicious application of reason and logic, myth is concerned principally with values and identity and is largely indifferent to the facts of the matter. Myth, where it is not functioning defectively, is largely concerned with meaning. “Mytho-history” is myth and history both functioning in deficient mode in which fact and value become confused in the mind. Science aspires to be “value-free” (which is quite impossible) while myth is quite indifferent to “fact” (also quite impossible). This contest between fact and value, science and art, is at the root of what C.P. Snow once called The Two Cultures.

A totally “value-free” rationality ends up concluding that life, the universe, and everything is meaningless, pointless, and purposeless. But that only mirrors back its own functioning. A reality-free or “fact-free” mythologising becomes reactionary. Both are ultimately self-destructive and nihilistic in their extremes, since both become a bubble. You incessantly hear this confusion or conflation of fact and value in the public discourse and the political rhetoric of the day, indicating a breakdown of the dialectic of reason and of the mental-rational structure of consciousness. When the Nazi historian Alfred Rosenberg published The Myth of the Twentieth Century to justify fascism and rationalise race strife, he had already given up on reason in favour of a mytho-history for the planetary era.

Myth is not lie, necessarily. It is mytho-history that is the lie. The film genre of the Western is now called “classical Western” because a new generation grew cynical about the portrayed value-narrative or mytho-history of the frontier and the pioneer in the Wild West. Most recent offerings in the genre take a more nuanced view (Little Big Man, Dances With Wolves) or even absurdist approach (Cowboys and Aliens, The Wild, Wild West) to the narrative of “how the West was won”. This represents a growing incredulity about the contemporary pertinence and relevance of the values promoted by the mytho-history of the pioneer after the closing of the frontier. The persistence of this mytho-history has much to do with the contemporary symbolism of “the zombie”.

As Rosenstock-Huessy put it, there is no longer any “outside” or without. There is only the new “within” of the global reality — the One World, and so the value emphasis must shift from space-obsessed and space-driven logic to the challenge presented by time — the problem of a plurality of human histories and traditions within one global, planetary-wide space. This requires a shift in consciousness and values, or what some call a “paradigm shift” or “metanoia“. When Nietzsche wrote about the necessity for a “transvaluation of values”, and Jean Gebser of a “transformed continuity”, and Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy of a “metanoia” or “meta-ethics”, they were all assenting to the same insight of the pressing need to shift from a space-oriented consciousness to a time-oriented one. In the new “within”, it is no longer a question or challenge of reconciling the contradiction between “inside” and “outside”, inner and outer, us and them, or subject and object spaces. It has become a problem of reconciling the contradiction between past and future, old and new, origin and destiny.

But also, for those reasons, of reconciling the contradiction between fact and value — science and art, the logical and the mythical. The core values of the incipient and pending future will all be based on health, for that is the very meaning of the words “value” and “virtue”.  In the planetary era, one’s self-interest cannot be segregated from the health and well-being of the Earth as a whole.

It’s even the mark of insanity to think and believe otherwise.



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