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The Truth is Out There
Why is The Frontier so seductive?
Some historians of America believe that The Frontier defined the nation; that one of the things wrong with our society is that we exhausted it. We drove The Frontier into the Pacific Ocean...and once we had done that, followed the coastline to the literal end of the Earth, in the far North of Alaska.
For 300 years, even staid personalities who would never have uprooted their lives to explore the Frontier; or timid ones who never dared; still gloried in the knowledge that it was there!
Curiously, it is these souls...who never canoed an uncharted river nor courted a Native American for his knowledge of a mountain pass...who reveal the true nature of The Frontier.
It is in the mind!!
And its appeal is the implicit promise that there is something out there that we do not know!
Fortunes and empires be damned! They may be gained, but they are not the lure. Even gold! The men who actually profited from the nation's various gold rushes were not explorers. They were exploiters, largely, who piggybacked upon the frontier-search of others. Levi Strauss made sailcloth pants which stood up to the environment and made him rich. Levi is still with us, as a concept; so are the pants, as physical reality..
The physical frontier is mostly gone. Certainly there are canyons in the Great Basin and creeks in Alaska which have yet been walked out by no man or woman - of any ethnic stock - but these are bypassed pockets in a conquered wilderness. We cannot be sure that Sasquatch does not lurk up this particular watershed, but we can guess that he does not because we have not found him in a thousand others just as wild.
And the passing of the physical frontier has had a profound effect upon the nation. It was the Unknown in tangible form. You could take a train and ride a horse a manageable distance, and it was there, in front of you. It was yours to venture into as far as nerve and personal resources could take you.
When it was gone, we turned back in upon ourselves, and gnawed the bars of our cage and even our own flesh to escape the dead-end trap.
The Roaring '20's and the shoot-em'up '30's were spawned by the first generation of Americans who had no more frontier. We plunged into sensation because the permanent stimulus of unexplored territory somewhere to the West was no longer there. We made heroes out of machine-gun-toting punks because we could imagine them, born 50 years before, swaggering through towns younger than they were and making socially acceptable use of their daring and their dislike of authority.
(Never mind that that was mostly myth, too. Will Bonney was probably just a sociopath and would have been in any context. In any case, he didn't live long enough for history to find out.)
But the death of the physical frontier is an illusion.
It is an illusion because The Frontier, itself, was a metaphor; easily accessible; you could see it, touch it, walk into it. But it was never anything but a symbol of the Unknown.
And that, my children, will be with us as long as we last upon the planet.
Realize and glory in it! It takes a bit more work than walking across the creek and up the unclimbed hill. But it is just as real and just as beckoning:
The permanent magnet for the defining curiosity which has evolved as probably our most useful and attractive mammalian attribute; The Great Unknown will always be there to explore.
"..The universe in not only queerer than we imagine; it is queerer than we can imagine..”
This has been widely regarded as a mot: a wise, clever saying calculated to provoke a moment of thought.
It is not a mot. It is a Cardinal Premise. It is one of the deepest insights the human mind has yet been capable of.
If you must regard some thing as sacred, accept this: The only Eternal we can be sure of is the Unknown. If the human quest for knowledge has taught us anything profound, it has demonstrated that everything we learn reveals new questions.
If we have shone a light into some of the most pernicious pockets of superstition and ignorance, we cannot ignore endless darkness which stretches beyond the limits of our beam.
We will never run out of things we do not know.
If that is god, so be it.