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Almost everyone agrees, we ought to take care of our neighbors. But who ARE our neighbors? An answer in two stories.
Hi there. It’s been about a week since last time, right? Last week if I recall correctly I was thinking about innovation, and the ways it is sometimes used to mean “hey! we just discovered how to apply something that was always true in a way that is new and beneficial to us!” and how it is sometimes used to mean “hey! what if I, personally—specifically because I am better than other people—got to ignore the rules!”
So there are two kinds of innovation, it seems: the truth-discovering kind and the truth-ignoring kind.
There are many examples these days of the truth-ignoring kind.
For example, the fascist governor of Texas is ignoring the truth that migrants are human beings, is treating migrants as if they are an invasive species, doing almost impossibly cruel things to them like setting sawblade booby-traps for them in rivers, and all indications are that for tens of millions of my fellow citizens, this sort of innovation engenders not atavistic revulsion and a demand for immediate appropriate consequence, but a sense of safety and comfort.
And the fascist governor of Florida is enforcing curriculums in schools designed to placate racists by teaching students that slavery actually benefitted enslaved people by teaching them skills, which led a host of the fascist propaganda channel Fox News to defend the measure by positing that also this was true of the millions of victims murdered in the Shoah. And all indications are that millions of my fellow citizens are watching this grotesque shit and nodding along.
That’s just a couple items from last week. There are thousands from which to choose.
Last week I was also thinking about how amassing huge amounts of money is one of the primary correlative factors found in people to pursue the rule-ignoring kind of innovation, specifically because there are societal rules in place and money lets you ignore those rules—because the arrangement of power in our society lets people with money behave as if they are in a different boat from everyone elsewhen it comes to society’s rules, leading people with loads of money to incorrectly believe that they can ignore natural rules, too, and this sometimes leads them to become crushed to death while riding in a submersible that isn’t up to regulation, and sometimes leads them to believe that a burning earth won’t someday burn them, provided they have an air conditioner—a clear demonstration of a belief that extreme heat will be just as selective in its choice of victims as the regulatory and enforcement arms of the global financial sectors.
And maybe so. Maybe ignoring nature’s rules will force those without money to pay the costs … at first. But nature doesn’t engage in the human game of make-believe that we call money, and so it doesn’t know that we are in different boats, and even societal rules find their roots in natural ones. The truth-ignoring kind of innovation appears to always end in some disaster or another.
Another thing I was contemplating last week: innovations all spring from a different form of human make-believe, which is story. If true innovation is a recognition of a deeper truth, then all innovation springs from that recognition, which requires new thinking. Every innovation started in a human mind, imagining something that wasn’t and deciding it could be. This is as true of penicillin as it is of circular saw booby traps in rivers.
So it seems to me wise that we start telling ourselves better stories.
It seems to me that what I’m trying to do is tell a story that claims that a burning building is a problem for me, even if the fire hasn’t reached my floor yet, and that sabotaging the firefighters because they are costing me money yet aren’t helping me is suicidal nonsense. And yet so many of the stories we tell ourselves ignore this deep truth, in order to justify the way things are.
And since I wrote last week’s introduction, Maui burned.
And somewhere else will burn next, and another place will flood. We know this, but we tell ourselves stories to avoid changing. Catastrophe is always something that happens to our neighbors on the lower floors, not us.
Hopefully by now we have learned that a present danger to our neighbors means an eventual danger to us, no matter how much the configuration causing the danger presently favors us, and have realized that therefore—even if we are driven by self-interest—we would do well to watch for systemic dangers to our neighbors, and be willing to change our societal systems in order to protect our neighbors as if they were us, even if we are not in danger, and it strikes me that this might involve assessing our society—which is clearly founded, as a matter of historical record and a matter of practical observation, on the false idea that wealthy people should be in a different boat—and changing it until it recognizes the deep truth that we are all in the same boat.
Who would have to pay the costs? The same people who will eventually pay the far higher costs of not changing. Everyone, that is.
How far would these changes have to reach? To the very boundaries of the neighborhood.
This leads me to a simple question: Where are the boundaries of our neighborhood?
Which returns me to another question, an ancient one: Who is my neighbor?
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Who is my neighbor? Well, there are the people to either side of my house. No question about them. You’d probably want to include the people directly across. After that it can get fuzzy. When does the neighborhood reach its boundary? Two houses down? Three? Probably not. The people further down the street still feel like my neighbors. The next street over? Two streets over? Three? What do I mean by “neighbor” when I ask “What are the boundaries of our neighborhood?”
I could look to the actual legally defined boundaries of neighborhoods. Just go to Google maps and you can see the name of your neighborhood—“Godwin Heights” or “Flushing Meadows” or “Velociraptor Park” or whatever—and click on that name to see the exact boundary. To me, that way of defining the neighborhood seems precise but arbitrary. Draw the lines that way, and if you’re on the border the person right next door might not be your neighbor.
I’d propose that instead we look to our natural human system—the one that provides value (and harm) in ways that are invisible and inextricable and automatic and inherited, delivering value as naturally as rain falls on roofs, or fungus unites a forest’s roots, or streets connect houses to other houses. How far does that neighborhood stretch? At what point do the streets of my natural human system stop providing me with value?
To rephrase: what are the outermost boundaries of our natural human system?
When I consider the boundaries of our natural human system, I think of all the steps necessary to maintain or modify or improve such a system, which begins with knowledge—awareness of the need and an acceptance of responsibility to act, and then ends with resolve—a decision to act and an agreement to pay the cost.
Here’s a suggestion for a workable definition of the boundaries of the “neighborhood.” The outermost boundaries of the “neighborhood” are definable by the extent to which knowledge of connectivity can be achieved, and the extent to which our actions deliver value (or harm) to other people in the way common to all natural human systems—that is, shared, invisible, foundational, generative, automatic, inextricable, configurable, and inherited.
That’s sort of dry. I feel like I still haven’t gotten at what I mean.
Let me tell you a story.
A hundred billion light years from our planet, on another planet, there exists a civilization, living much as we do. The people on our planet don’t know about this planet. We have no knowledge of it, nor of any effect of our actions upon it. Thus, we feel no responsibility for it, because we could never maintain or modify or improve or harm it. This hypothetical faraway civilization is not within the boundaries of our “neighborhood.” Its denizens are not our neighbors.
But suppose this were to change. Suppose we develop a quantum telescope—a device that allows us to observe this civilization in real time. Rather than detecting the report of light that escaped its source millions of years ago, reaching us from a vastness of space, the quantum telescope, utilizing relativistic technologies, allows us to see all intelligent civilizations across the entirety of their time—to look at how they live in their now, or into their past or their future. By observing the development of this civilization—including discoveries they will eventually make that we haven’t yet made—we gain huge benefits, taking giant leaps forward in medicine, transportation, agriculture. We experience an unimaginable leap forward in our knowledge and abilities, made possible by a change in our technology—an innovation.
But suppose something further. Suppose when we train our telescope back to societies we’d previously observed, we discover something disturbing. The past of these far civilizations, their presents, their futures … are changed now, and for the worse. The courses of their histories have now taken terrible turns, and reach tragic ends and early extinctions. We run tests. The results are conclusive: Use of quantum energy has led to effects we’d not anticipated. The fact that we have observed these civilizations has benefited our reality, but has changed their course for the worse. It seems impossible, but in some way we don’t understand, through quantum effects of observation, we seem to have stolen their potential. More disturbing still, the very weft of reality, starting at the edges of the observable universe, moving inward, is beginning to warp and skew. We’ve drawn upon something necessary and vital, used it as a resource, and there is nearly unanimous consensus among our foremost experts: to draw upon it further—either by making further observation or continuing to use the advancements gained thereby—will speed the degrading effect. There is a growing understanding that engaging in these activities risks creating paradoxes that threaten existence itself.
For us to return to a point where we no longer know all we’ve learned is literally impossible. To stop using our invention means losing the benefit we’ve gained, and cuts us off from future benefits and growth along these lines. But … to continue to use it as we have is to subject entire civilizations to ruin, and to throw the natural order of the entire observable universe—including our own part of it—to hazard and chance.
We say: But we didn’t intend to do that.
We say: I wasn’t even alive when it was decided to do this.
We say: There’s nothing we can do about it anyway.
We say: What does this have to do with me?
But the fact remains that we hadn’t known, and now we do know.
Technology has changed us. A global society has suddenly become universal.
We train our quantum telescope once again to the skies, and we see civilization after civilization all building quantum telescopes.
They’re using them. They’re using them to look at us.
Suddenly an empty universe is filled with neighbors.
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It’s a science fiction premise, I know. I put it forward for the same reason that most science fiction premises are put forward, which is to demonstrate something true about our present reality. Innovation—new technology, new concepts, new ideas—often expands our knowledge, which expands our potential, and has effects far beyond our intent, effects against which (or for which) we will have to decide how to align ourselves, regardless of that intent.
Innovation, by the way, is itself a natural human system. "Human" because humans can discover it, use it, and configure it, then inherit the effects of those configurations. "Natural," because innovation isn’t something created out of nothing; rather, it’s the discovery of something that had previously been unknown, but which was always true, always there, always ready for humans to discover and configure. Innovation is a new street, so to speak, which leads to a new location.
In the story I just told, we learned through innovation.
The innovation changed things in ways that couldn’t be reversed.
And what we learned was always true. We just hadn’t known before.
What mattered most was not that it was true. It was what we did with that truth.
What mattered most was our thinking.
Innovation expands our understanding of the scope of neighborhood, but it doesn’t expand the neighborhood. Nor does innovation change our priorities or intentions; it just expands their effects, which provides us new opportunities to identify what those priorities are—the real priorities, the ones that are reflected in what actually happens. In the story, we discovered we lived in an entangled universe, and we always did. Learning that truth didn’t make it true; it just made us aware in ways that forced us to reveal our priorities. Learning the danger didn’t change our priorities, which always favored securing the benefits to be gained from others far more than understanding the effects of the gaining. And ignoring the truth won’t make it stop being true, it will just make us deliberately ignorant in ways that endanger our future existence. But that truth of our entanglement was always there, waiting for us to know it. Our knowledge and ability are what changed, and as that knowledge and ability changed, so did the scope of what we could maintain, modify, improve ... or harm.
This suggests that the answer to the question who is my neighbor? is also subject to reassessment. We learn that people we hadn’t thought were neighbors were actually neighbors all along.
Do you see it? To our perspective, our “neighborhood” is getting bigger, and our count of neighbors are increasing. But in truth, the neighborhood was always this size.
Yesterday our awareness was one thing. Today it is something different.
I think we could use another story.
Tell this one with me, won’t you?
I don’t want to put you on the spot. I’ll start.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, there was a distant planet called “Earth,” and when it had become a very old planet indeed, there lived upon it for a very brief time creatures called “humans,” who—impressively—could stand upright and run for dozens of miles without taking rest, and who—less impressively, but more pertinent to this story—had enormous brains that allowed them to make marvelous connections between themselves and each other, and one concept and a different concept, and between themselves and other parts of the world. Because of these brains, they could make configurations, both intentional and unintentional, to their natural systems.
Let's say there was a time in this story, early in the history of these humans, when the outer limits of human connection were defined only by the biological family. These ties provided the mutual interconnectivity that allowed for shared values, which allowed for trust, which allowed for cooperation, which allowed for cohesion, safety and survival.
This familial arrangement provided each human with collective value that was automatic, inextricable, invisible, natural, and inherited, and available only within the boundaries of the family. It was well understood in these human families that each person would act within their self-interest, but it would have been seen as a dangerous and destructive corruption of the very bedrock of society to put one’s self-interest above the family interest in matters pertaining to the family. And it was clearly understood in human families that to harm one was to harm all, in a way that simply wouldn’t be relevant if applied to anybody outside of the family.
For a brief while in the early history of human families, no knowledge of outside families even existed; but once that awareness was gained, there still didn’t seem to exist any need for deeper knowledge of outside families, other than this awareness—they are not us. They are rivals for the resources we need. They are not to be trusted.
What sat at the bottom of this false belief was the great foundational lie: the people who are us matter, and the people who are not us do not matter at all.
These humans were families. They were familial.
Families were a natural human system.
Conflicts and abuses would arise when some member of the family decided that more of the natural benefits of their human system should come to them than they needed, at the expense of another who would receive less than they needed, especially if they then managed to configure the family to reflect those unbalanced priorities, and solidify them into tradition. What sat at the bottom of all these imbalances was an expression of the same great foundational lie: some people in our family matter more than others.
Still, despite its shortcomings, the family was good. It was useful. It was generative.
But our story doesn’t end there.
What happened was that, over time, some families realized something that had always been true but hadn’t yet been known. They learned that what they did affected the families nearby, and what families nearby did also affected them, and that any conflicts between families over the resources that all families need actually represented a waste of both energy and resource, and could even risk the destruction of the resources upon which all the families depended. What sort of resources? Oh, things like the water supply. The food supply. In other words, the future of human existence in the area.
These families learned there were actually enough resources for all the families nearby, and that families that joined together over their commonalities of need and proximity could create a human system that generated much more influence and value than single families acting apart.
This was an innovation.
Here was the name of this new innovation: Tribe.
The humans had been familial. They became tribal.
Tribes were natural human systems.
Let’s pretend that in our story, some familial humans saw the innovation of the tribe as a danger that threatened to put an end to families, and fought against the concept of "tribes" as a result. But they couldn’t stop the knowledge of the innovation of tribe, and they couldn’t choose to not live in a world where tribes generated more influence and value than families, and so, no matter how hard they tried, they increasingly had to live in a tribal world.
They were wrong, anyway. The tribe didn’t put an end to families, any more than the family ended the individual—but it did put an end to the idea of the family as the outermost boundary of human connection. A tribe was simply a more effective natural human system than a family in many crucial ways, and it always had been. What the innovation of tribe did do was expand the possibilities of what a family could be, and offer more choices in matters of forming families. And so, the family remained a vital and important and honored structure within most human tribes. A tribe was simply a more effective natural human system than a family in many crucial ways, and always had been. So, over time, it was understood that while everyone would have more responsibility for and loyalty toward their family members than other tribal members, anyone who put their family’s interests over the interests of tribal cohesion would be creating a dangerous and destructive corruption of the very bedrock of tribal society, because the tribe was a natural human system which, as a practical matter, created more value than the family—in fact, it provided the context within which families existed.
The family had been the boundary of the neighborhood.
Now it was the tribe.
The problem with being familial wasn’t that the biological family was bad—it was uniquely good, in many ways that remained and continued. The innovation of “tribe” simply went further into the truth of human connection, and so to try to make the family the outermost boundary of human connection meant living in a dangerous and unsustainable lie that would eventually fall to a greater truth. The humans had innovated, and learned, and now there were more neighbors. The tribal humans learned that more neighbors meant more resources and opportunity, not less. A tribe created new ties providing the mutual interconnectivity that allowed for shared values, which allowed for trust, which allowed for cooperation, which allowed for cohesion, safety and survival. This arrangement provided each human with collective value available only through the innovative creation of the tribe, while allowing them to continue enjoying expanded benefits of being familial.
But this innovation of “tribe” didn’t put an end to conflict or abuse among the humans. In truth, the creation of tribes involved more conflict, and new abuses, as the bad priorities already configured within families inherited to tribal systems. For example: families resistant to the new concept of “tribe” (and even those other tribes that were less aggressive than others, or less effective than others because of accidents of chance), were captured or conquered or absorbed, or isolated and starved of resources, as they tried to compete against a new more effective type of natural human system, by tribal humans who had no interest in the humanity of families not of their tribe; meanwhile, families who most benefitted within the tribe still tried to use their influence to configure this new human system, to unnaturally seize more influence, and to solidify these imbalances as traditions. What sat at the bottom of all these imbalances was an expression of the great foundational lie: some people in our tribe matter more than others.
Logic demands there would be more conflict, and more danger of abuse—this was, after all, a more efficient human system. It would naturally be more efficient at delivering its corruptions and harms in the same way it delivered its benefits—and there would grow among tribal humans the awareness that the harm this new and efficient system could deliver might, if unchecked, compromise their entire territory. So among tribal humans there grew an awareness, checks, taboos: that to harm one was to harm all, in a way that simply wouldn’t be relevant if applied to anybody outside of the tribe. However, no common cause with outside tribes existed, nor any need for that common cause, other than this awareness—they are not us. They are rivals for our resources. They are not to be trusted. What sat at the bottom of this false belief was the great foundational lie: the people who are us matter, and the people who are not us do not matter at all.
And so, the tribe was good. It was useful.
But our story doesn’t end there.
What happened was that some tribes realized something that had always been true but hadn’t yet been known. They learned that what they did affected the tribes nearby, and what tribes nearby did also affected them, and that conflict over the resources that all tribes needed was a waste of both energy and resource, and could even risk the destruction of the resources upon which all tribes depended. What sort of resources? Oh, things like the ocean ports, the entire river, the entire lake. The coastline. The farmlands. In other words, the future of human existence and thriving on that part of the continent.
These tribes learned there were actually enough resources for all the tribes nearby, and that tribes joined together over their commonalities of need and proximity could create a human system that generated much more influence and value than single tribes acting apart.
This was an innovation.
Here was the name of this new innovation: Nation.
The humans had been tribal. They became national.
Nations were natural human systems.
Some tribal humans saw the innovation of the nation as a danger threatening an end to tribes, and fought the concept of “nations” as a result. But they couldn’t stop the knowledge of the innovation, and they couldn’t choose to live in a world where it wasn't true that nations generated more influence and value than tribes, and so, no matter how hard they tried, they increasingly had to live in a nationalist world.
They were wrong, anyway. The nation didn’t put an end to tribes, any more than the tribe put an end to families or individuals, but it did put an end to the idea of the tribe as the outermost boundary of human connection. What the innovation of the nation did do was expand the possibilities of what a tribe or a family could be, and offer more choices in matters of creating tribes, or forming families. And so, the family and the tribe remained vital and important and honored structures within most human nations. A nation was simply a more effective natural human system than a tribe in many crucial ways, and always had been. So, over time, it was understood that anyone who put the interests of their tribe or family over the national interest would be creating a dangerous corruption of the larger society, because the nation was a natural human system which, as a practical matter, created more value than the tribe or the family.
The tribe had been the boundary of the neighborhood.
Now it was the nation.
The problem with being tribal wasn’t that tribes were bad—they was good, in many unique ways that remained and continued. The innovation of “nation” simply went further into the truth of human connection, and so to try to make the tribe the outermost boundary of human connection meant living in a dangerous and unsustainable lie that would eventually fall to a greater truth.
The humans had innovated, and learned, and now there were more neighbors. The nationalist humans learned that more neighbors meant more resources, not less. The nation created new ties providing the mutual interconnectivity that allowed for shared values, which allowed for trust, which allowed for cooperation, which allowed for cohesion, safety and survival. The arrangement provided each human with collective value available only through the innovative creation of the nation, while allowing them to continue enjoying the benefits of being familial and tribal.
But the innovation of the nation didn’t put an end to conflict or abuse among the humans. In truth, the creation of nations involved more conflict, and new abuses, as the bad priorities already present within families and tribes were inherited to national systems. For example: tribes and families resistant to the new concept of “nation,” (and even those other nations that were less aggressive than others, or less effective than others because of accidents of chance), were captured and conquered, or absorbed and colonized, or isolated and starved of resources, as they tried to compete against a new and more effective type of natural human system, by nationalist humans who had no interest in the humanity of families or tribes or nations that were not theirs; meanwhile, tribes and families and individuals who most benefitted within their nations tried to use their influence to configure this new human system, to unnaturally seize even more influence, to solidify these imbalances into tradition, and codify them into law.
What sat at the bottom of all these imbalances was this expression of the great foundational lie: some people in our nation matter more than others.
Logic demands there would be more conflict, and more danger of abuse; the nation was, after all, a more efficient human system. It would naturally be as efficient at delivering corruptions and harms in the same way it delivered its benefits—and there would grow among nationalist humans the awareness that the harm this new and efficient system could deliver might compromise their entire nation. So among nationalist humans there grew an awareness, checks, taboos: the idea that to harm one was to harm all, in a way that simply wouldn’t be relevant if applied to anybody outside of the nation. However, among nationalist humans, no common cause with outside nations existed, nor any need for that common cause, other than this awareness—they were not us. They were rivals for our resources. They were not to be trusted. What sat at the bottom of this false belief was the great foundational lie: the people who are us matter, and the people who are not us do not matter at all.
And so, the nation was, in many ways, good. It was useful.
But our story doesn’t end there.
What happened was that some humans within nations began to realize something that has always been true but hadn’t yet been realized. They learned that what they did affected the other nations, and what other nations did also affected them, and that conflict over the resources they needed represented a waste of energy and resource, and could even risk the destruction of the resources upon which all nations depend. What sort of resources? Oh, things like viability of the soil and climate and other conditions that produce food. Vegetation. Breathable air. Drinkable water. The global ecosystem. In other words, the future of human existence on the planet.
What happened was some people in these nations learned something that had always been true but hadn’t yet been known: that there were actually enough resources for all the nations, and that nations joined together over their commonalities of shared human need and a shared human planet could create a human system that generated much more influence and value than single nations acting apart.
Here was the name of this new concept: Human.
The humans were nationalist.
They became humanists.
And humanists began to understand some ancient truths that had been forgotten about connectivity with environments; began to understand that even humans weren’t the furthest extent of natural human systems; began to understand that ecosystems are connected to one another just as humans are connected to one another, and that humans themselves are inseparable from their ecosystems.
And so humanists began to see interconnectivity existing even on a planetary level.
They became planetary.
As a storyteller, I like to look for dramatic settings, so I recommend we set our story about these “humans” right here, in the midst of a great shift from nationalism and humanism into holistic planetary thinking. Let’s make this planet the humans live on in this story spherical—globular. We could call the planet “the globe.”
We could call their new innovation into planetary thinking “globalism.”
Here’s what’s going on with our humans in the story as it begins.
Some of the tools of globalism these humans have developed are empire and commerce and alliance and war and incorporation—which are rough approximations of the same tools used by families and tribes and nations, too. Some of these tools are imperfect, which means they can be improved, and should be. Some of them are corrupt and harmful, which means they can be abandoned, and should be.
Here’s how those tools work in our story:
In our story, the human innovation of planetary thinking hasn’t entirely taken hold, nor has it put an end to conflict. Our nascently planetary humans are still governed by the bad priorities already present within families and tribes and nations, shaped by bad ideas that have no place within a healthy system, that have configured their natural human systems into something potentially unsustainable, inherited up from families and tribes and nations into the global system. In truth, the creation of globalism has involved more conflict, and new abuses, because globalism is simply a more effective natural human system. There have been, and are, nations resistant to the new concept of “global,” who have been captured or conquered or absorbed, or isolated and starved of resources as they tried to maintain insularity rather than compete against a new more effective type of natural human system. There are nations that most benefit within the global system of empire and commerce and alliance, who have used their influence to seize more influence and more benefit, and to use their supremacy on the global stage to exclude many nations from global benefits, or to force these “lesser” nations to accept their terms, and receive global benefits unequally.
In our story, this has led to conflict, and many of these conflicts between nations are resolved using the tool that the humans call “war,” and it happens a lot.
In the story, humans will have innovated a lot of ways of warring between nations—which has generally been something seen as involving physical combat. “War” in particular is a real stinker, as a tool. “Alliance” is a much more effective way of managing conflict than war. The humans know this, and yet war has not ceased; rather, unaccountably, perversely, it has increased. "Incorporation" is perhaps the most popular tool, at this particular moment in our story—elaborate and effective systems of finance and commerce and jurisprudence, able to deliver astonishing amounts of wealth and benefit to some humans. Unfortunately, while this "incorporation" is startlingly effective at generating and delivering wealth in a targeted way, it remains aligned to the same foundational lies, and is configured for abuse, configured to deliver inherited theft and harm to some with the same level of astonishing efficiency it employs to deliver that often-plundered value to others. And, in the story, these imbalances, applied on a planetary scale, will inevitably have an effect that threatens the future of human life on the entire planet. These humans have incorporated war and theft into their global systems because there are individuals and families and tribes and nations, who wrongly see planetary thinking as a danger that threatens to put an end to families and tribes and nations entirely; because there are families and tribes and nations infected by the oldest viral human lies, that some people matter than others; that the people who are us matter and the people who are not us do not matter at all.
And our readers will clearly see that just as their precursors were wrong, they too are wrong. The global view won’t put an end to nations, any more than nations put an end to tribes or families or individuals, but it has already put an end to the idea of the nation as the outermost boundary of human connection.
And yes, in our story there will still be nations, tribes, families, and individuals who fear the idea of a global humanity and resist it, to the determent of all—all nations in our story do this, in fact, to one extent or another. It’s here the humans in our story find themselves, caught in the teeth of this centuries-long transition between a nationalist realization and a globalist one, applying old harms on a global stage, in ways that compromise the entire planet.
Here’s the conflict of our story, and the stakes: Either the humans will learn to move into the truth of a connected planet, and, having reached the furthest currently imaginable boundary, begin at last to address the real enemy—which was never any people, but rather their oldest foundational lies—or else they will deny that truth and remain in the lies.
If that happens, our humans will go extinct.
Pretty big stakes!
If we write this story with skill, our readers will hope that the humans do not go extinct.
Eventually (and in our story we might introduce at least one crisis that makes this timeline more immediate), our humans are going to have to understand that anyone who unnaturally elevates their nation or tribe or family to the detriment, abuse, neglect, and harm of their neighbors on the same planet will be creating a dangerous corruption of everything, including nations, tribes, and families, because, unless these humans make some sort of previously unimaginable interplanetary discovery, the planet is the natural human system, because it is where all the humans live.
We should repeat that.
The planet is the natural human system, because it is where all the humans live.
The humans in our story won't be able to go back from planetary thinking, because the reality of a global humanity inextricably linked to its planetary systems is, like all innovations, the discovery of something that was always true.
Our readers, following the pattern of human innovation and development, will conclude that a peacefully joined, cooperative, noncompeting globe will simply be a more effective natural human system than the nation, just as the nation was a more effective system than the tribe, and the tribe more effective than the family.
If the pattern of human history is to be trusted, a unified cooperative globe would create more value and potential and opportunity than the nation or the tribe or the family—it would, if our humans let it, create new ties providing the mutual interconnectivity that allows for shared values, which allows for trust, which allows for cooperation, which allows for cohesion, safety and survival. Our readers might begin to suspect that such an arrangement would, if the humans let it, provide each individual with collective value that is automatic, inextricable, invisible, natural, and inherited, and available only through the innovative creation of a unified non-competing globe—an arrangement within which it would be clearly understood that to harm one was to harm all, in a way that extends to the very boundaries of planetary existence. No common cause with outside planets will yet exist, nor any need for that common cause—not because the humans seek no common cause, but because there remains within human awareness no further common cause to seek.
OK, now it’s your turn. Finish the story.
I might dare hope you will create a happy ending for our humans. I might dare hope the humans lead themselves into the new truth their innovation has uncovered.
The problem with being nationalist, our humans will discover, isn’t that the nation is bad—it’s good, in many ways that still continue. Planetary thinking will simply go further into the truth of human connection, so to try to make it the outermost boundary of human connection means living in a dangerous and unsustainable lie that will inevitably fall to a greater truth. No, the humans will learn, the nation isn’t bad—it’s uniquely good and useful.
But our story can’t end there.
In the story, the nation will have been the boundary of the neighborhood.
But now it is the planet. It always was.
The nationalist humans will have learned that more neighbors means more resources, not less.
And our humans will have innovated, and learned, and now their entire planet will be full of neighbors.
But a story can’t start with the resolution. We’ll need to make this a conflict, to give the story some fizz. Let’s start the story at a point where it really looks bad; as if our humans are going to cling to the old unsustainable lies, and choose extinction over expansion, life over death.
What would be the situation that threatens a bad ending? What would that look like?
Well … if we were to find that these humans were still captured by their worst priorities, the ones most aligned with harmful ideas that have no place in a healthy society, they might have a leading political faction whose first priority is radical change to make the existing order even less aligned to truth and more aligned to corruptions and abuse.
Even more alarming, these humans may have found themselves encumbered for a time with a leader from this faction, who always put himself before anybody else, who always put his family ahead of any tribe to which he might belong, who always puts the interests of his tribe before that of the nation he leads, and who always puts his nation’s domination over the global sustainability of human life. Worse, our humans might have chosen that leader, and be seriously considering restoring him to power once again.
Yes. You might start there.
It's a sci-fi premise. It’s not meant as anthropology or history. However, it is offered for the same reason as most sci-fi premises, which is to demonstrate something true about our present reality. Understand, I am aware that progressive innovation of natural human systems of family and tribe and nation didn’t happen as cleanly or uniformly as presented here—but we know these innovations did occur, because we have these innovations.
It seems to me that in the story each innovation that progressed humankind was one that recognized a greater and more expansive connectivity between humans and their environment.
It seems to me that the innovation that corrupted each of these true innovations to the point of catastrophe and collapse was the idea that some people mattered more than the rest—which is as good a definition of supremacy as I have been able to conjure.
So here’s our new idea: One. The anti-supremacist idea that while there are multitudes of families, there is also only one family. That while we all find meaning in our particular factions of tribe or nation, also there is only one nation. The deep truth that there are not two boats, but one, and that one boat is our neighborhood. The recognition that fire burns upward, leading to a resolute willingness to pay the cost, not only of creating a sustainable world build on the deep truth of connectivity, but also (for some of us) the cost of abandoning a deep lie that benefits us by allowing us to ignore the natural costs we force others to pay.
We can enter into this new and innovative thinking.
Or we can pay the much higher cost, along with everyone else, of literally everything.
The story is set.
It’s up to us to finish it.
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A.R. Moxon is the author of The Revisionaries, which is available in most of the usual places, and some of the unusual places, and is co-writer of Sugar Maple, a musical fiction podcast from Osiris Media which goes in your ears. He’s got all night, to set the world right, find us a dream that don’t ask no questions.
Or at least it will until the economy collapses under the weight of collective fraud and corruption that allows a few people to hoard all the value that everyone creates, but of course even in the catastrophe that comes, power will treat the wealthy as if they are in a different boat, and provide them lifelines and bailouts and force other people to pay the costs of the havoc they’ve created.