Wednesday, May 28, 2008


I've babbled a bit here before about frontier theory. I like the idea of a nation with two clear-cut social contracts, where the trade-off between freedom and security is so clear cut that "if you don't like it, leave" is not only a valid notion, but is a way of life. Frontier Theory, as I've analyzed it here, has something of that to it, but it is a theory retroactively applied to a bygone era, and it doesn't quite fit. Reality is not that clear cut. But you know what can be that clear cut? Science
Fiction. Namely, Firefly.

For those of you unfamiliar with Firefly, it's a television show canceled halfway through its first season that was later made into a feature length movie. Catching up on it only takes about 18 hours, so I'll wait.

Done? Excellent.

Firefly takes place in a universe post-frontier, sort of. Where human civilization established itself early, and where there are great resources, the government is one of an omnipresent welfare state - life is rather controlled, everything is monitored by the government, taxes are high, but it's also very prosperous, and the state takes care of its people. It's the benevolent patriarch model of a welfare state; "We know what's best, and we'll provide it for you".

Before the core worlds expanded their control, their were independent worlds. Governments varied, laws were iffy, and things like slavery or indentured servitude were common. Government was fractured among these appropriately-named "Independent Planets", and so leaving the reach of government was, in theory, possible by just leaving the planet, or in some cases going away from cities and centers of power into the hills. Under this set-up, it is safe to assume that healthcare was iffy, that regulation on business were scant, and that there was no safety net.

Reminding ourselves that this is science fiction (making speculation a matter not of historical analysis but of writers intents), the universe still manages to be more complex than that, giving lots of powers and rights to interplanetary corporations. For the purposes of this discussion now, we'll ignore them.

More relevant to the two-social-contracts model of human existence is the Unification War, whereby the Alliance 9monied, wealthy, watches everything you do) fights against the Independents (poor, rugged, fiercely independent). The Alliance wins, and so the two social contract system collapses, leaving one system of government. Sort of.

Firefly is a show about characters existing beyond the reach of government, or as beyond as they can best manage, and the governments they deal with are mayors, magistrates, and governors. Local autonomy exists on the end of the universe, as the sheer cost of the welfare/police state is expensive and doesn't yield enough taxes to make it sensible. But the interplanetary government still has the right to and likes to make a show of being in charge, and so they meddle.

Meddle, more than any other word, describes the distaste for government that does anything more than exist, and folk aren't even too fond of government existing. It's a very interesting sort of freedom advocated, given how much abuse and degradation it allows for.

Slavery, for example, exists in the Firefly universe in a technically illegal state, and given the shows' civil war inspiration, it makes sense that the right of an individual to own slaves could have been something fought for. Also, the freedom to not have a government get in the way of revenge and blood-feuds was probably desired y at least a few. The whole freedom from meddling is impressive, as it means a whole spectrum of things - you can sell whatever you want, but a dissatisfied customer may just shoot you for selling them snakeoil. There is no mediator is this society, as mediation is meddling. There are no/minimal police, as that's meddling. Theres no guarantee of healthcare, as that is meddling.

It's a rather radical take on the world, perhaps warranting a second post.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

Minor quibble, but when Frontier Theory was developed, it was commenting on the on the end of an era, not what had passed.