THE OTHER SIDE OF “HUMAN FRONTIERS”
I am coming to realize that my fascination with the topic of “human frontiers” has led me to overlook important implications and limitations of the frontier metaphor I am using.
What I have meant to suggest by studying “human frontiers” has been the idea of progress figured as a journey into unexplored and promising territories—on the model of America’s history of westward expansion and settlement, a movement symbolizing the increase of property and power for human exploits and exploitation, an exercise of human dominion and domination—literally the making of new homes (domi) for us to inhabit.
While Americans are most famous (or notorious) for our frontier spirit of adventure and advancement, of forward movement and progress—and our national history is imagined as an ongoing journey, even extending to the Moon and to planets beyond our solar system—that is a skewed view of reality. That is only half the human truth.
Besides the human motive to journey onward like our pioneer predecessors, we also feel a motive to journey inward. Human beings seek not only advancement but fulfillment, not only going but being, not just conquest but concord—being centered, stable, home.
T. S. Eliot’s famous sentence,
You shall not cease from exploration,
And the end of all our journeying,
Will be to arrive where we started,
And know the place for the first time.
is a sentence I now see as pointing us beyond the youthful, Western urge to make progress, toward the ancient Eastern sagacity of sitting still, peering inward, and meditating—passing beyond the immediate to the Ultimate and finding communion in Eternity.
This dual perspective of Yang and Yin is one that we human beings have long known and often forgotten until, over and again, we re-cognize what is wise.