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50


THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 50, July 4, 1999

Burning the Bridge to the Future

by L. Neil Smith

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

          Republicans often point out, with protruding lower lip and trembling chin, that I seldom write columns about Democrats. They're right. I disregard the rank-and-file and the even ranker leaders of "Socialist Party A" as a lost cause. They're like our scientifically outmoded picture of dinosaurs so dumb the ganglia in their tails don't know when their heads have been bitten off. The Tyrannosaurus Rex of reality bit the head off central planning and the command economy long ago, and still Parasitisaurus socialisticus staggers onward.
          There's also the plain, unavoidable fact that I find even thinking about the droolers, mumblers, and twitchers who register as Democrats completely nauseating. They have raised Darwinian Unfitness not just to an artform, but to an entire school of art, like Bauhaus or Impressionism. If a gigantic meteor had obliterated Chicago during their recent convention, it would have measurably elevated the nation's average dignity and intelligence. (Whereas, if the same thing had happened in San Diego during the Republican convention, it would have had an identical effect on America's average fortitude and integrity.)
          Nevertheless, as a science fiction writer who got into the profession because of a boyhood fascination at the prospect of actually getting off this mudball and into space someday -- and as possibly the most widely-published and prolific author in the Libertarian movement -- I feel compelled to point out just one of quadrillions (I like saying "quadrillions", it feels like I'm outbidding Carl Sagan) of contradictions among recent Democratic Party utterances.
          Clinton maunders about building a "bridge to the future". His record -- at Ruby Ridge and Waco, to name two conspicuous examples -- gives us a picture of the kind of future he intends, a Cambodian future that would make Adolf Hitler squirm with envy. He accuses his bumbling opponent of wanting to build a "bridge to the past", presumably to a past he wishes were obsolete, of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. Oh Bob, if it were only true ...
          We're meant to believe (despite decades of evidence that Clinton's kind doesn't build things, but only destroys them) that he means a brightly-colored Popular Science future, full of pretty people wearing abbreviated clothing, travelling in cute little mass-transit capsules at mind-boggling velocities through transparent tubes that burrow beneath continents and wrap themseves around mile-high skyscrapers. The stuff you see in the endpapers of kids' encyclopedias.
          Trouble is, his administration just cancelled a 2019 manned Mars landing planned by minions of George Bush. That's no skin off Libertarian noses. We believe it's the private sector -- freed of the crippling burdens of taxation and regulation -- that ought to explore and exploit space. Government should be forbidden to venture off the planet at all; why not leave it behind with the Spanish Inquisition, the Black Plague, and the rest of mankind's ancient embarrassments?
          Mars isn't necessarily the next place we should send ourselves to, anyway. The Moon made sense as the nearest celestial body, but it's as difficult and pricey to land on Mars and get back off again as it is to do the same things here. Mars is an intriguing objective: there's those microfossils in the Antarctican meteorite, and I've never been satisfied with NASA's assurances regarding that face in the desert. I believe I know an artifact when I see one.
          But my vote (I'd get one if I were a shareholder in the Space Exploration Corporation) is for the asteroids, a collection of what Poul Anderson called "flying mountains" hanging in a ring around the sun between Mars and Jupiter. Last time I looked, there were 44,000 of them known (large enough to be seen from Earth) and probably millions more, ranging from the size of your fist to that of a city block. The majority were discovered by amateur astronomers while tax-supported professionals busied themselves with "important" stuff like black holes and galaxies so far away even Jean-Luc Picard can't reach them.
          Ceres was the first, discovered in 1801 by Giuseppi Piazzi. It's also the largest, at a diameter of 750 miles. But more importantly, it has the same surface area as India, it's made of what amounts to soil (6% to 10% percent of which is water) and it's reachable by a combination of Apollo, submarine, and aviation technology already at our disposal. Pallas, for which my 1993 novel about homesteading asteroids is named, is third largest. (The second, Vesta, is a ball of granite, unusable in the conceivable future.) It has the same composition as Ceres and the same area as the Four Corners states -- Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico -- with a bit of Wyoming thrown in for good measure.
          Forty-four thousand asteroids. Which always makes me wonder why we spend so many lives struggling over shopworn dirtpiles like Palestine and Northern Ireland.
          It's probably just as well that Waco Willie has given Mars the go-by. Who the hell wants to settle in a colony established by him or by the National Hell-Care Lady, anyway? As Freeman Dyson once put it, how'd you like to live where somebody like Richard Nixon could turn off the air? (Dyson also pointed out that if we lost ourselves among the asteroids, the IRS would never find us.)
          At the same time, it says grim things about the national retreat into our belly-buttons (I was going to make another anatomical reference, but I've been called "foul-mouthed" already this year). It says we'd rather burn babies two dozen at a time, and give each other urine tests, than take a step toward the stars.


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