A while back a friend shared a link to an article regarding a group devising a bill of rights for the future colonization of the planet Mars (http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140709-why-mars-needs-a-bill-of-rights). Thinking of this entertained and distracted me much when I began this essay on a wintry morning in the former British colony of Georgia while watching the free-flying birds at the feeders outside my windows. And while there are definite comparisons to be made to the concepts of freedom on some of the more interesting colonies depicted in the Star Trek universe, I will attempt to limit myself primarily to more mundane terrestrial and historical musings at first.
While individual freedoms are the key to any post-1776 civilization (and many that came before), and I strongly admire the way the folks at the 2nd International Extraterrestrial Liberty Conference (ELC) are thinking about such things at the outset, it is clear from a reading of American history alone that personal liberty is NOT what initially made colonies successful in the past. In fact, Spanish Florida, French Louisiana, and British Virginia, Carolina, & Georgia – as well as most other successful colonies in North America – had decidedly military, and some might say totalitarian, aspects to them. In fact, all colonists had very specific duties to perform if there was to be any hope of initial survival and later success. “No work, no food” was how John Smith was supposed to have phrased his expectations of the earliest Virginia colonists.
Exploration has followed the same disrespect for individual freedoms. The Kingdom of Spain, the British Admiralty, the U.S. space program NASA, and Hollywood’s “The Company” all had a chain of command when Hernando de Soto was exploring the American South for Spain, when Sir John Franklin was seeking the Northwest Passage for Britain, when Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and the other American astronauts were exploring the Moon, and when Captain Dallas and the crew of the Nostromo went to investigate the distress signal on Acheron (LV-426) in the original Alien movie.
But since ELC 2 is considering freedom, liberty, and colonization together, I will share the initial thoughts of an historical archaeologist who studies colonies, their impacts on indigenous peoples, and the traces both groups have left behind in the dirty old earth and in dusty old archives. First of all, I am pleased that they are using the American Constitution’s Bill of Rights as a starting point. I can think of no better place to begin. However, it is clear from American history that Americans themselves have had varying ideas of liberty over time. It is also clear that checks and balances on all branches of government down to the lowest of local levels are a necessity for liberty to continue after it is initially won and/or established. Lord Acton’s historical axiom as laid out in his famous Letter to Mandell Creighton on April 5, 1887 clearly supports such suspicion towards authority: “If there is any presumption it is…against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Because of the manner in which the onerous taxes that gave rise to the American proclamation of independence were instituted, and also because of the way the British government chose to prosecute the subsequent war against self-determination and against American independence, the Founding Fathers of the United States of America simply did not trust any government instituted by men. And this wisely included their own government as instituted by themselves! They had read deeply in Greek, Roman, European, British, and Irish history, and had learned from the past how short-lived republics can be. The American Constitution of 1789 may have been a very imperfect 18th century political compromise between competing regions, but it was amazingly farsighted and gleamed of eruditic statesmanship when we consider how ignorantly shortsighted and poorly-read practically all modern party politicians across the planet appear to be in the 21st century.
For some reason endemic to humans and other animals, tribes and factions develop in all times and in all places – even in nations designed ro eschew them, like the U. S. For this reason the ELC should acknowledge that since human beings are human, factions will develop even on extraterrestrial colonies, and will devolve into established political parties if and when they gain enough followers. Subsequent American history bears out George Washington’s fears concerning factionalism, as explained in his Farewell Address. Standing political parties are much more dangerous than standing armies, since they wield much more power, even if it is only indirectly based on force. In fact, I would assert that political parties are probably the most dangerous threats to human liberty since the Sumerians created the concept of ama-gi, or freedom, in the 2300s BC. If “war is the continuation of politics by other means,” as von Clauswitz stated whilst attempting to explain the rise and fall of Napoleon, then political factionalism has been the primary if not sole factor behind every major war on Earth since at least the early 18th century’s War of the Spanish Succession.
Unfortunately, few listened to Washington in 1796, and even fewer heed him now. Humans seem to have a natural instinct to choose sides based on emotion and self interest, and only a very few make decisions based on reason, philosophy, and what is best for the commonweal as opposed to their own narrow interests. And of those who are capable of putting the commonwealth first, some of these “general secretaries” and “leaders” and “chairmen” have coldly and cruelly put into operation their “final solutions” to forever silence millions of their political opponents or their nation’s “undesirables” – as defined by themselves and their faction, of course. Stalin, Hitler, and Mao are only the most well-known of many heinous examples from Earth’s sordid history, and all are examples of the top-down approach of trusting in governments to solve our problems for us.
Of course, everything can and will go wrong in even the most well-thought-out colony – just look at all the numerous failed European attempts during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries in the Americas. I will point to the Scottish colony at Darien in Central America as the perfect example. But even successful colonies like the English colony at Jamestowne (1607) had times when all was lost until the mother country sent assistance. In fact, the few survivors among the initial wave of colonists were once in the process of abandoning Virginia and heading home to England when supply ships suddenly arrived with necessities and more settlers. So the first maxim I would lay down for any extraterrestrial colony is routine shipments of supplies multiple times per year, and the continual replenishment of the population with young colonists in their child-bearing years.
Next, colonial planners on Earth and potential colonists must study Earth’s prehistoric and historic settlers and colonizers, from Neanderthal and other hunter-gatherer migrations, as well as the European colonization of the New World, Australasia, & Africa. It is vital that they grasp how migrations and emigrations have played out in Earth’s past, but this must not be mere book knowledge. As potential astronauts train for years before they even get the chance to be chosen for space missions, potential colonists need to go through several years of psychological and emotional vetting and practical training in basic medical techniques, primitive skills, agriculture, and animal husbandry to name but a few. Humans have constantly moved into new and unfamiliar environments throughout the prehistoric and historic eras, and studying and understanding the traces and records they left behind are crucial to successful colonists of tomorrow.
Successful colonists need to learn every primitive skill they can – especially flint-knapping to make their own stone tools, making cordage from plants and plant fibers in order to bind things together, and making pottery for cooking and storage purposes in case things go badly wrong and fresh supplies are late or not forthcoming. They should also be experienced in the care and raising of livestock – especially chickens and cows, since they not only provide protein when harvested, but also provide eggs and milk. Successful colonists need to be omnivores who are able to eat anything, so I will add that I don’t see food snobs, vegetarians, vegans, or anyone with any kind of food hang-up at all surviving long in an extraterrestrial landscape. For example, European settlers in America had to learn from the Native Americans how to eat plants and animals they had never even heard of or seen before, and if they hadn’t learned to hunt and gather them, they would not have survived, pure and simple.
This is of course one of the best reasons not to colonize or settle a place, land, continent, or planet: if there is no water, no plants to gather, and no animal life to hunt and harvest. If there are no other life forms living there already, there might be a good reason for this, so I would also encourage our planners to consider the difficulties of planting colonies on barren worlds like Mars, and to look for “Class M” planets instead. Despite the utopian ideas of some space enthusiasts for inhabiting barren worlds and until we develop an actual Genesis Device as seen in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, abundant natural resources and breathable air must remain the most important variables for establishing extraterrestrial colonies just as they have been for all terrestrial ones. Eadem sunt omnia semper.
True liberty must begin in the hearts and minds of individuals habituated to thinking and living independently of others, while giving of themselves and partaking of the mutual benefits of the social contract binding us together with our families, neighbors, bands, clans, tribes, chiefdoms, nations, and yes, our future extra-terrestrial colonies. Even at lunar bases, on starships exploring the galaxy, and on frontier outposts on different worlds as well as on Earth’s farthest flung colonies, we must constantly be on guard against both factionalism as well as “the man on the white horse” seeking to rescue us from those factions and the upheavals they always generate. Furthermore, colonial Martians, Venusians, Europaeans, etc. should be prepared to fight for their freedom and independence just like the former European colonies all over the world have done since 1776. And they must never forget the “tyranny of the majority,” as Alexis de Tocqueville so aptly described the concept of simple majority rule and the bullying of minority populations in his brilliant 1835 classic Democracy in America.
There will be many challenges, failures, celebrations, tragedies, wrongs, and beautiful success stories as the peoples of Earth spread themselves and their progeny across the universe. The history of our own past colonial endeavors shows us this truth, and we would do well to learn these lessons well and never begin to think that we are wiser, stronger, smarter, or harder-working than our own frontier forebears. In a word, we are not. Anyone who believes that future human societies will evolve to be more morally advanced, more peaceful, and more generous, and less selfish, less rapacious, and less acquisitive has an exceedingly thin grasp on human history over the last 15,000 years, and practical examples from the past should be used to educate them out of their extreme idealistic ignorance.
If humans over the last 15 millennia have not changed their modus operandi – approaching every situation first and foremost from a position of self-interest – then they are not going to magically evolve into some kind of superior being in the next 15 millennia, either. There are always willing fools who assist would-be dictators either actively, by marching in line with whatever might be the politically correct ideology of the day, whether it comes from the right or the left, while even more allow terrible events to transpire by passively sitting on their hands and doing nothing. We must be constantly vigilant of our hard-won freedoms and cognizant of how they were won and lost and won again – whether our society is of this world or another. Most importantly, our children must be historically-minded and educated in the principles of extreme skepticism towards every new faction and party that arises and promises to solve our problems if only we will trust them and be willing to give up just a little bit more of our precious freedoms.
“These are the ones who, having good minds of their own, have further trained them by studying and learning. Even if liberty had entirely perished from the earth, such men would invent it.”
Etienne de la Boetie (1530-1563), The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, 1577