L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 190, September 16, 2002
190 PROOF ISSUE
Mars Needs Saloons!
Exclusive to TLE
It says here -- according to Reuters by way of the Associated Press and America On Line -- that "Mars could resemble the lawless Wild West if privately funded adventurers seeking to exploit the planet get there before governments, a leading British astronomer said Wednesday".
The "leading astronomer", somebody calling himself Sir Smugly Pinchbottom-Rabbitwarren -- or at least he should have been -- a net tax consumer wallowing in a plush gig at something calling itself the Institute of Astronomy, was addressing some sort of science conference in Leicester, England when he delivered his dire prognostication. I'm pretty sure that a cold shiver of goosefleshed apprehension traveled through the assembled nerdity, government-nourished one and all, as he did.
There could well be a permanent human presence on the Red Planet within a century, Sir Smugly boldly predicted (somehow completely unaware of predictions exactly like that having been made for more than a century). He warned his audience that if these settlers are privately funded adventurers of -- gasp! -- free-enterprise, or even anarchic disposition, the result could resemble the American Wild West.
Doesn't everybody know that if humankind continues to insist on expanding outward from Earth, into the rest of the Solar System, that explorers and settlers must be preceded by bureaucrats who will set up offices for the IRS (make that "Inland Revenue for Sir Smugly), the EPA, and the ATF? It wouldn't be real civilization without them, would it?
The remainder of the article, which an old friend was kind enough to send me, confined itself pretty much to this telescope-jockey's antiquated views on "more efficient propulsion systems" and space elevators. Through the whole thing, though, I kept wondering why he cared.
What makes Sir Smugly interested enough in exploring the void and settling new worlds to make a speech about it? What golden vision of the future moves him besides more rules, more regimentation, more parking meters, more George Bush and more Tony Blair? If that's all Sir Smugly wants out of the future, he can stand on any streetcorner in London (Islington's nice; you can visit a quaint street market, buy tiny clams in a paper cone, and eat them raw with salt), breathe the pollution, and appreciate all of the scenic hundreds of DON'T DO THIS signs.
Me, ladies and gentlemen, I want that "lawless Wild West", he whimpered about, because -- in a way the 20th century has utterly failed to do -- it worked. A sociological study twenty years ago showed that in the third quarter of the 19th century in the "lawful mild East" -- Nantucket, I think it may have been (or is that just the limerick I'm remembering?). No, make it New Bedford, Mass. -- where hardly anybody had a gun and they suffered 140 murders in ten years and a proportionate number of other violent crimes. In Leadville, Colorado, by comparison, a town of similar size and composition, they had exactly zero murders because everyone had guns and knew how to use them.
Look at it this way: there were so few violent criminals in the American West that to this day we remember their individual names. Can you think of any famous eastern American criminals from the same period of history? If you can't, it isn't because they were so few of them.
As I write this, there's a big, heavy, large-caliber semiautomatic pistol lying on the desk beside my keyboard. (There's always a big, heavy, large-caliber semiautomatic pistol lying on my desk beside my keyboard.) I have a low-slung belt for it somewhere, and a western style holster. Why is it there, cluttering up my mouse-space? Partly I just love looking at the damned thing. Partly, it'll put a hole in an intruder I can throw a dog through. Partly, I know from experience that I can hit a man-sized target with it anywhere within a hundred yards.
If I live long enough to go to Mars, that heavy, large-caliber semiautomatic pistol, or something like it, is going with me, to slap my right thigh as I shuffle through the Martian desert looking for ... but that's another story, isn't it? One I'll write after I finish Ceres.
I'll be the crusty old-timer nobody can understand -- the oxygen helmet probably won't help -- who fills 'em full of bullets or laser holes or something whenever they try to set up an office for the Department of Agriculture or the Veteran's Administration. They won't hang me for it, though. I'll be backed up by other crusty old-timers who don't want to see the faintest trace of government besmirching the pristine surface of the Red Planet. A good thing, too, because getting hanged on Mars will be even more unpleasant than getting hanged on Earth, involving weights tied to your feet, or a big, complicated centrifuge, or a gallows three times as high and rope three times as long.
Somebody needs to tell Sir Smugly that individuals flock to a frontier because they want to get away from things like government. The great Freeman Dyson once observed that when we finally get out to the asteroids, the IRS will never be able to find us. It's true, sooner or later, the preachers and bankers and lawyers come along to spoil it all, but before that, our species gets to try out new ideas and reshape its way of life. Human progress gets made before the Roddy MacDowalls insinuate themselves and stifle it, and it's time to move on.
Finally there wasn't a place in the American West to move on to. But as Captain Kirk should have observed, space is the endless frontier. First the planets, then the stars, and eventually other galaxies. Which means perpetual human progress -- something that statists, authoritarians, and bureaucrats, suffering a sort of sociopolitical "motion sickness" Robert LeFevre first described, all fear.
But humanity needs to learn to live without government because it's killing them. Amnesty International tells us that, between war and other officially-sanctioned bloodlust, governments of every type possible murdered a quarter of a billion in the 20th century. It will be able, thanks to technology, to kill many more than that in the 21st century.
If I live that long, I plan on not being here.
How about you?