A Cold Place At The End Of The World

What makes us view a place as the end of the world?  If one is a believer in a flat earth [1], one might ponder that it was the point at the end of the dish looking over into blank space, but the rest of us are aware that on objects that are almost (if not quite) spherical, such an expression is not as precise as one would hope.  In some way every point is at the end of the earth, but some parts are more obviously at the ends of the earth than others.  It is worthwhile to examine what people mean when they think of something as the end of the world, because it is an expression that I commonly hear and just as commonly use.  It should be noted first, I suppose, that I mean this in a geographical sense and not a temporal sense, in case someone was confused.

At any rate, there are a variety of qualities that make something viewed at as the end of the world.  One such expression views it as being similar to being in the middle of nowhere.  Yet when one is in the middle of nowhere, is is usually viewed as being in a forgotten space within a larger one.  One could be adrift in the middle of the ocean, or in a large desert or wasteland within a continent.  That would be being in the middle of nowhere in a very ordinary way, with no people around, perhaps only a few animals and nothing to give one a sense of direction to where one ought to be.  One might know that one was isolated without having any idea about how to get back around other people and back into civilization once again.  But such a place is not quite being at the end of the world, only being in a particularly remote part of it.

To this idea, then, of being in an isolated area, being at the end of the world carries with it a sense of being at a boundary.  If one is on an isolated shore far from humanity, then one can imagine oneself at the end of the world.  If one is on an island and one cannot see the way anywhere else, but rather one is stranded, seemingly, without recourse to a map, one is at the end of the world.  If travel to get to a place is difficult and time-consuming and there are few ways to get there, then one is at the end of the world, even if one is connected via trade networks to other places.  There are many places which are marginal to people but which are very important for goods.  Suriname is such a place, where gold and bauxite mining and sugar plantations and oil fields and timber are well connected to global trade systems, where political elites are connected to the logistics of human and drug trafficking, where people are considered as animals (mules) or objects, but it is definitely an isolated place when it comes to travel.  It is a place with a diverse but sparse population that, outside of the capital city, is very remote indeed.

For whatever reason, I find myself often attracted to such out of the way places.  No man may be an island, but remote islands and other landforms are something I have long paid attention to.  And yet even such remote places are not often nearly remote enough.  Key West would be an end of the world place except it is close enough to Cuba to engage in the politics of those who at least in the past used to come to the keys for freedom, and it is close enough to Miami and the rest of Florida that the place is a tourist trap rather than the sort of quiet and remote place that most reminds me of the end of the earth.  The Falkland Islands are remote, but within my lifetime a war was fought over them by the United Kingdom and Argentina.  Greenland is remote, but its potential natural resources and its strategic location in the Arctic make it a place of considerable importance for all of its remoteness.  Antacrtica is remote and definitely a place at the end of the world, but many nations have claims on its land and resources.  Likewise, it is hard to picture a place more remote and isolated than Svalbard, but a treaty made in the 1920’s governs its status as an unarmed dependency of Norway.  And so it goes.

Remoteness is always a two-edged sword.  There are people who want to get away from it all, but anywhere some people can get to will be a place that other people will get to in search of something to profit off of.  Does a place have resources for itself?  If so, it will become a bone of contention to those who want to claim it, even if its resources consist only of bird guano, the reason for a nineteenth century law passed in the United States that led to many such islands being claimed by the United States for their fertilizer potential.  Even if a place does not have resources itself, the mere act of claiming a spot on the earth gives one an exclusive economic zone around that dot, which can make even the most remote and unappealing spot contain a great deal of value when it comes to fishing, defense posts, undersea mining, or other such activities.  Lest we forget, it was a cold place at the end of the world where the Soviet Union and Tsarist Russia before that made the place to stick their politically undesirable populations to try to bring profit to regimes even as they froze in isolation and seclusion, far from anyone who cared about them but still close enough to be exploited by corrupt and tyrannical governments.  Sadly, there appears to be no place far enough where one cannot be affected by the corruption of mankind’s elites and rulers.

[1] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in History, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to A Cold Place At The End Of The World

  1. Pingback: Conversations With My Readers: Part One | Edge Induced Cohesion

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