Friday, July 18, 2014

How would you build a new society?

I've been thinking about that new show FOX has coming up, Utopia. I have reservations about the gameshow part of it where people can be voted off--because I feel like an actual new society would literally require everyone to get along, and there'd be no out. If you didn't get along, you'd all die, and voting off people will basically negate that realism. On the other hand, it looks like the society is the point, so the people voted off will be replaced by other people, and that might make it less competitive and more actual...

I don't know.

But it has me thinking about how I would do it. I'm pretty sure I'm not good for the show--too many health issues, not enough early-social-set-up skills--but I still think about things like that, in a sort of just-in-case* sort of way, and as a writer, I'm basically building societies that try to make sense all the time. So how would I apply that?

I think I'd build in layers.

Layer One: Basic Survival - Food, Water, Shelter
Because you die if you don't have those things. Nothing else can happen if you don't have water, food, and a way to be protected from weather, cold or heat, and predators. I'd also include here, at the very bottom of the list, at the foundation, a strong emphasis on foraging and on sustainable gathering and hunting, which also includes preserving the ecosystems of the things you're gathering and hunting.

Also, building things like bathrooms, compost heaps, the infirmary. And scouting the lands so that we know, as a group, exactly where to find everything we need. And when we build basic passive defenses--ways to keep out predators of ourselves and our food sources, ways to keep people who aren't willing to play along at a safe distance, but not to attack them or antagonize them, and to leave the way open for them to join if they agree to the basic ideas of the community.

Layer Two: Buffering against the future
This is where the food storage and preservation stuff comes in, where water reserves would be built--I'm thinking dams and cisterns and wells. I'm thinking granaries and smoke houses and root cellars. I'm thinking home gardens for vegetables, one per house rather than huge fields of them, and a few small fields of grains or staples.

I think this might also be the level where more cultural future-stuff is built in: some way to record the history and the knowledge of the tribe you're building and the people in it, a way to teach kids basic information** for the future, maybe a simple sort of religious or spiritual practice or artistic expression to keep the community together--something along the lines of nighttime storytelling, seasonal celebrations, building family totem poles or painting family flags or something, or dancing and singing. Nothing all that codified--something that is defined by the group so it can grow organically.

This is also when the basic rules of the community, and the consequences for breaking the rules would be laid down, probably by vote and extensive discussion, and with an eye toward scalability as the community grows, non-violence, rehabilitation rather than punishment, community togetherness and strength, and preservation of community functioning.

In these early stages, people can't be selfish or disruptive, or nothing will work.

Could start building the basic foundations of:

  • A stuff-library where people can go to find the cookware, tools, storage, or household items they don't really need to own themselves.
  • A community food storage place, where if the winter is hard, or the summer kills the crops, there's always backup food for everyone.

This is also where we can look back a bit and recreate the best parts of the cultures we all came from, and the knowledge bases we all had before--cherrypicking the most useful tools and ideas from our collective pasts to help the future, which leads into...

Layer Three: Additional culture and innovation
Here's where you'd bring in trades and specialization, but with an eye to improving the lives of the community, not to making one person a lot of wealth off the others--I think that idea is a basic problem with the society we already have, and we're not rebuilding the mother culture, we're inventing a better one.

I'd send people into the woods (or whatever wilds there are) to tend them and make sure they stay healthy and support the populations of plants and animals we need. I'd encourage really creative people to start inventing new tools, new ideas, new works of art. I'd send a few people off to domesticate and start breeding useful animals--hunting dogs, milk creatures, chickens and other egg-creatures, meat-creatures or a replacement for them, fish for the rivers or lakes or dam-lakes or whatever.

This is where people can start exploring their own interests, so long as the work to support the community is done--and everyone will have to do community-support work of some sort, because I'm pretty sure that another trap our current culture fell into is putting more and more of the infrastructure on less and less of the people, leaving everyone else with unfulfilling busywork, and a few with way too much time and money on their hands.

Layer Four: Refining of the culture
Here's where things really get laid down--the seasonal and cultural traditions, the art styles, the methods of food prep and the sorts of meals the community will make. The ways the foods are preserved, and which foods, exactly, will be grown and how. Which animals are used for what, and which breeds are preferred. Which seeds are saved. How people are expected to behave, and their relationship to the world, history, the future, and each other. Any sort of religious or spiritual traditions.

This is also when independent shops can be set up for non-required things, like art pieces and books. This is when a town museum could be built to preserve the history that has been chronicled this whole time. This is when theatre or some other kind of mass entertainment could be a full-time thing for some people. Restaurants could start to exist.

Because this is meant to be a better culture, I'd have everyone who joins define what they think went wrong with the old one, and we'd set up goals and traditions and social rules early on to avoid those things--personally, I'd set as goals:

  • Sustainability in all aspects of the culture and how it interacts with the environs
    • Seriously. No waste, no destruction, only guidance and maintenance.
  • Togetherness of the community--ways to get to know each other, ways to bond as a group, ways to avoid and resolve conflict
    • I'd include a lot of celebration right from as early as I could. Celebration brings people together--just think of that great rush you get at a concert when everyone is singing the same song because they love it!
  • A way to capture the skills and knowledge of the people coming in so that they can use the best of it to enrich and improve the community as a whole, and to get rid of the stuff that feeds into the old culture's vices
    • Everyone will bring in stuff we can use--education, skills, beliefs, experience, hobbies, information. We need to preserve that stuff and pass it on. Culture is made of stories, facts, games, songs, art, and artifacts.
  • Healthiness of the people, the mental state, and the land before anything else
    • Every new thing should support the health of the community and the people in it; if it doesn't, it's not for us.
  • Ways to combat the corruption of damaging ideas that might filter in from outside, but not to block them from getting in
    • If the community is successful, people will travel out of it and come back, or people will come from outside and try to settle; there has to be a way to teach people to leave behind their prejudices and selfishness and damaging behavior. Not something smothering, but something that offers better options and protects the wholeness of the society we're building.
  • Flexibility
    • Everything will be in flux. Some early ideas won't work, and there has to be a built-in looseness that allows new and better ideas based on circumstance and experience to replace them. The original shape of the society's idea will stay the same, but the particulars will change as the situation does and as the practicality of ideals are tested.
  • Democracy
    • Everyone is educated about every aspect. Everyone knows how the rules work and when people are breaking them. Everyone has a say, even when the majority vote outweighs them, and even dissenting opinions are recorded and added to the available knowledge base. Everyone knows what we're aiming for, and can spot when something goes off the rails or someone goes rogue.
  • Stories
    • The stories of where the founding members came from and why are going to be important later. The stories of how the ways of the community were chosen and why are always going to be important. Also, the basic cultural ideals, the myths we form, the hey-remember-when stories, the pop cultural tales we bring in and the new ones we make up--all of those, and knowing all of those, are what tie communities together.
  • Basic encouragement of curiosity
    • Societies that crush curiosity are the ones that have things to hide or vested interests in ignorance. We're not doing that. So ask questions, seek answers, try new things, invent new recipes and medicines and tools and music and ways to know the area.
  • A basic outlook that sees a good, strong, better future, so that there's something to work toward, and to combat the roughness and struggle of the daily lives at the beginning, and any fear or jadedness brought in early on.
  • A mindset toward sharing stuff early on, so that later on, there's less doubling up of stuff, and therefore less consumerism built in. Animals belong to the community. Tools and farming implements do, too. Food storage beyond the needs of your household go to the community backup stores. And so on.
  • A love of useful technology, but a healthy skepticism of things that disrupt or damage the ideals of the society, or distract from work, or don't help things go easier, smoother, or prettier.
How would you do it? What would you include early on?

*I don't count myself as a prepper, because I don't really thing that everything will come down in a huge scary disaster. But I do think that things are getting untenable as they are, and I'd rather be in the solution pile than the problem pile, and there's always ways we can learn to be gentler, healtheir, more sustainable, and better for everyone and everything involved.
**Not necessarily schools, unless they're going to be super-comprehensive--but comprehensive schooling takes kids out of the workforce, and at this early stage, they'll be needed for helping around the house, delivering stuff, and learning basic survival and trades. So maybe an apprenticeship system? Or a hybrid of three-R schooling and apprenticeship?
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