Utopias part 2 – Culture

Back to this;

Culture is what makes a society work – it is the society working. From how we settle differences to how we celebrate happiness – the way we do the things that humans need to do in order to live together.

There’s two poles of culture types – introverted, and extroverted. Introverted cultures value the individual, whereas extroverted cultures value the group, and conformity to the group. Western cultures are typically introverted, and Eastern, extroverted. It seems that an extroverted culture would be a more sustainable model, but does the demand for conformity stand in the way of the happiness that makes a utopia a utopia?

So whatever cultural elements go into the utopia, is there a combination – a system, that can satisfy both the need for individuals to be able to follow their dreams and be themselves, without that interfering with the sustainability of the system?

In Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn, the main character says that our system, capitalism, communism, monarchy, what not, would work, if only humans would be better than they have ever been in their entire existence. And it’s true – if everyone was just nice to one another, and the people in power had the interests of their people at heart, rather than taking advantage of those below them, nearly any system in use right now would work.

Where to look for a model that would work?

Well, anthropologists have looked at the question, and they’ve surveyed people in different cutures.  If you ask the average person in western society if they’re happy with their lives, the average person will laugh at you. But, anthropologists asked this same question of people living in tribal settings, and overall, they answer yes, they are happy with their lives.

These are people in villages that often don’t have anything resembling modern luxuries; but anyone who’s thought about it knows that it’s not luxuries that make people happy. The truth is that humans have many needs, and these tribal cultures have evolved organically over hundreds and thousands of years, in the same way Darwin’s finches evolved specialized beak shapes. It’s not something that can be imposed on a people, the way a king’s law can be, and this natural evolution can only happen when people themselves have a say in how they live.

Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups, they say. Well, tribal societies were not large groups – not by today’s standards. A typical tribe’s population was far less than the average person’s facebook friends list. While one voice railing at an injustice in the population of say, a small city, let alone a modern country, doesn’t get heard. But one voice calling for justice and change among the average population of a tribe (about a hundred to a hundred and fifty people – twenty five to thirty families) is a voice that matters.

A tribe’s population is adaptable, it changes with the needs of it’s people. Modern governments are not adaptable. Besides the bureaucratic red tape and corporate manipulation standing in the way of change for the better, there is the fundamental requirement of centralized government that the rules be the same for everyone, regardless of their circumstances or environment, and a rule that works for one community may not work for another, and neither group has any power to change it.

These small, autonomous communities are weak, though, and easily driven off their land and resources. Another tribe moves in, and imposes their laws on the other people, and nations are born. And eventually we come to this, and wonder what went wrong. A utopia of small autonomous tribes would be easily conquered, and that, of course does nothing for sustainability.

I don’t know if it’s possible for such a thing to exist for any length of time, but I’d still like to think it is. In any case, I’m not going to be so arrogant as to claim it’s impossible, just because I can’t see a way myself.

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NaNoWriMo Wrap Up

So, I made it again this year. It was a fun book to write, and writing cyberpunk, my computer background put me in good stead, so that instead of making the cyberpunk elements completely akin to magic, with no logical rules on what is and isn’t possible, it follows mostly the logic of internal vs external networks, synchronization, external backups, wireless vs wired, cloud computing, etc.

It’s been a rough month – not sure why. We kept getting together with family, and I was falling behind, even after my week of vacation started. But turtle was over several times through the month, and those were always productive days. For all that it was a stressful month, I finished almost 48 hourse early; which is good – I don’t know how much more November I could have hacked.

Now I have The Eyelet Dove to go back to and finish revising. I’m still passionate about that one, I love the story, and the characters. I think there will probably be a sequel, but I’m not sure how long that will take to come up with. I have a few ideas for characters, but the plot will need time to coalesce before it’s as good a plot as The Eyelet Dove. Nothing else I’ve ever written is as complex. Though, for a sequel, I don’t think I’d re-use any POV characters, I think I’d come up with all new POV characters. Mostly characters from Dove but maybe some new. It’s just, the characters in Dove, they’ve told their stories, and for the level of complexity in the plot that I would hold myself to as a standard, requires years and years of backstory that I couldn’t wedge my old characters into. You can only do so much to a cast of characters, and the new story would deserve new ones. My favourite character, and the one I think readers would really be coming back for, will still be in there though – he was never a viewpoint character.

Not every story’s like that – I have a couple others that, when the sequels are written, will follow the old main characters. This one’s different, and it’s mostly because of the complexity of the plots.

And shortly I will get back to the Utopia posts, since I’ve had more time to think about that.

And once I’m done revising The Eyelet Dove I can give it to beta readers, some of whom have been bugging me for it.

NaNoWriMo 2011 – Road To Elysium

It’s that time of year again, NaNoWriMo is coming around, and I’m gearing up to participate.

My Nano history: my friend Turtle talked me into it six years ago; I started three days late because I was convinced that I wasn’t interested until I saw her so motivated and having fun, and the peer support, and finally caved and started. Failed miserably – exams were at the same time. But I was hooked. Same deal next year, but I got to about 25k this time. Next year I hit under 20k, but that was a month before my wedding. The year after that was 2009, and I wasn’t going to school, and I booked time off work in November to prove that if I had the time, I could do it. And I finally did. Last year I got a new job, and the weeks I had booked off in November disappeared. But I was working close to home, and slightly shorter shifts, that gave me two hours a day extra to do it, so I was determined to give it all I had, and I made it again last year, if barely.

This year I figure I got it in the bag. I have 1 week off, and I’ve had my hours reduced at work – bad financially, but writing wise… eh, I’m enjoying the time it’s given me to work on revision, so there are perks. As long as I don’t get overconfident and lazy, I should be golden.

The project this year: Road To Elysium. Breaking away from my usual Dieselpunk, and delving into science fiction, specifically cyberpunk. The setting will be intergalactic, and largely inspired by current economic events, extrapolating the Corporate personhood idea out to where corporations are now government, and there are no nations, just Companies. Workers are often brainwiped to protect corporate informational assets.

There is slavery, though they don’t like to call it that. In this world, people in debt are forced to work off their debt in service of whatever corporation that owns their debt. Whoever owns their debt, owns them. Society is composed of mostly debt slaves, since the companies don’t pay their workers in cash, but credits that can be spent only on company goods, or traded for cash at a pointless conversion rate, so that no one can actually get out of debt. Or their parents debt, passed down to them. The only other option for someone who can’t work, or refuses to, is bankruptcy, in which case they must go to live on one of the refugee camp planets.

The story starts with the main character, who’s been brainwiped, and doesn’t remember anything before being rescued from an escape pod two years ago. A strange woman shows up to take her away from the mining asteroid she works on – her debt is being sold to another company because that company is looking for a “certain type of worker”. What that is, they won’t tell her, other than she fits the bill.

Once they’re free and clear, she finds out that the woman who’s taken her away is an AI from the planet Elysium, a paradise where all inhabitants live in perfect harmony and equality. The woman tells her that’s where she came from, and she’s come to take her home. But the Corporation that owns her debt catches on, and their journey home becomes a desperate flight from the corporation’s mercenaries, among others.

Seeing as I’m breaking out of my old habits with genre, I figure I might as well in other ways as well. I think I’m going to try writing in first person, present tense, just to mix things up. The Windup Girl by Paulo Bacigalupi was in present tense, and while I noticed right away, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of it. First person is a little less foreign to me – I wrote my first novel in first person (an abomination that will never ever see the light of print on paper). And most recently, I wrote a short story in first person. I hadn’t planned that, I just had the plot entirely worked out, and sat down to write and the first sentence came out in first person. I looked at it and blinked, and went with it. It’s one of my better pieces, but too long for a short, so it’ll probably be a novel some day.

In any case, I’m being ambitious and daring this year – I suppose I had to make up for having a more comfortable amount of time to work on the thing. Which reminds me, I should go finish the outline for it. 😛

Utopias part 1 – Sustainability

NaNoWriMo is coming up, and my idea for this year centers around a Utopia. It’s not something I’ve done before, but it’s something I’ve thought about a lot. I think the reason I haven’t done it before is because it feels like such an ambitious thing – how vain to put forward what one single mind believes would be a perfect world? How many people have come up with their own picture of a world where everyone would be happy and live in harmony, and been scoffed at because they hadn’t taken one this or that into consideration?

There are a few things a Utopia must be. First, it must be sustainable – what good it a utopia with an expiration date?

Which means sustainable on an ecological level. Which means two things – first, respecting the environment, in some way. Not necessarily revering it as untouchable, but on the other hand, biological diversity is unarguably important. Just think of what would happen to the world if common wheat suddenly stopped growing due to a disease. Lucky thing we can switch to other varieties.

The other thing sustainability means is population control. Whatever plenty there is, a population will grow until it exceeds the capacity of it’s environment, then the population with crash due to famine. It’s a fact. And in case anyone wants to argue that people aren’t animals, we can overcome that, well maybe we are, maybe we’re not – maybe we are in fact capable of defeating our instincts as individuals, but as a whole the above has been true over and over and over throughout history. One might also argue that the areas of the world where the population is growing are the areas of the world where there is not enough resources, however, if the people do not have enough food to fuel their population exansion, what is it that they are eating? Rocks? Sand? This is where the “global economy” comes in – economics of an area are no longer isolated, food is shipped in from other countries, in aid donations, which is only exacerbating the population problem, sustaining the population at an unsustainable level. But that’s another point I’ll have to save for another post.

There are many forms of population control – war being one, famine being another. Obviously those are not the sort of things one would expect to see in a utopia, however. The form existing in China, now, might be viable, but could people be happy with it? Can humans be happy with their reproduction restricted? Keeping in mind that the order of priority in an animals instincts is first survival, and second, reproduction, and all else after those two.

But then look at the countries where the population is declining. Studies show that population growth is inversely related to education of women. If you had an isolated society, where people in general were educated to a sufficient level, would that exert enough of a population controlling influence to keep the population at a sustainable level? Maybe. One major reason for first world people to not have children is lack of resources, which would not be an issue in a Utopia. The reasons for not having children, however, are diverse, from couples just wanting to enjoy their lives unsaddled with children, people having difficulty finding someone two settle down with, health being too poor to bear or look after children, concerns over hereditary diseases, or even not believing that one would make a good parent. In any case, such a society would likely not need to be as severely restrictive of reproduction as China.

Hmm, this is getting long – may need multiple posts. I will get back to this.