When I sat down to write The Marshlanders I had been canoeing and kayaking for years and taking lots of notes about the flora and fauna of the East Anglian fens; my head was chockablock with cattails waving in the wind, green sedges along river banks, and mist over meres, not to mention cavorting otters, busy muskrats, and herons flying low over the water.
This picture shows the island villages of the Ma’dan, Iraqi fisher-hunter-gatherers whose self-sufficient wetlands Saddam Hussein drained.
Kenneth Posner’s “The Long Brown Path: The Cry of the Anarcho-Primitivists,” considers the idea that present-day social domination, enhanced by modern technology, is so destructive that we should return to pre-agricultural community governance.*
“Consider the philosopher and writer John Zerzan,” he writes, “a self-proclaimed anarchist and primitivist, who criticizes industrial mass society as inherently oppressive and warns us that technology is leading humanity into an increasingly alienated existence, at the same time that it threatens to destroy the natural environment .”
“As an anarchist, Zerzan would like to see a society that is free of ‘all forms of domination,’ and as a primitivist, his model for authentic, intimate existence is the ‘face to face communities’ of our hunter gatherer ancestors, who prior to agriculture, operated in small bands without specialization of labor or hierarchy.”
I am by no means as cheerful as Zerzan about our hunter gatherer ancestors, who engaged neighboring communities in wars to the death even while practicing altruism amongst themselves. Nor am I convinced that either agriculture or technology is a bad thing in and of itself. In Cli-Fi and Solarpunk, for example, as in other genres of science fiction, technology is value-neutral. It is we human beings who decide how to use it.
Any of us who survived the anarchic idealism of the 1960s will remember how the absence of rules led to the “tyranny of unstructuralism” when some blowhard rose quickly out of the group to order us all around.
Although the invented world of my Infinite Games series is pre-modern, my characters are engaged in social, agricultural, and technological experiments. Their leaders are chosen by popular acclaim, never dominate, and govern gender equal communities where decisions are reached by consensus. My Marshlanders are not against their enemy’s drainage projects as such; they are opposed to the inhumane and greedy means and ends to which the technology is put. At Dunlin, my farmer character wins high praise for his ditching and draining inventions as well as for his soil improvement and seed cultivation. When technology oppresses my city dwellers, they replace their oligarchs but not the looms, working out ways to reform the weaving trade on more ethical lines.
I believe that we have evolved since our primitive days, not only in our governance and tools but in human consciousness itself. Just consider Steven Pinker’s data in The Better Angels of Our Nature, documenting the diminution of violence on a world-wide basis. Where we were once devoted to finite games with win/lose and winner-take-all rules of play, our hearts are opening to “infinite games” with their inclusiveness and win/win outcomes where “we laugh not at what has surprisingly become impossible for others, but at what has surprisingly come to be possible with others.” **
*brought to my attention by Joe Follansbee , a thoughtful blogger concerned with how writers create speculative fiction in the “strange new climate” we inhabit.
** not to mention the wonderful new P2P paradigms for post-Capitalist societies.
I have called this blog, “The Worlds We Long For” to ask how we can create communities more in harmony with nature than our human society, so bent as we are on earth’s destruction. My particular world is a utopian Marshland community whose self-sustaining inhabitants struggle against the forces of early modern capitalism. Although this world is an invented one, it is down to earth and realistic, rather than fantastic or futuristic.