Sunday, May 26, 2013

In Defense of Microculturation

Like any science fiction novel worth the name, my book Nakba is about all sorts of discombobulated and interesting things: over-urbanization, totalitarianism, personal liberty, Down syndrome, diaspora, and social decadence, to name but a few. But at its heart Nakba is more than anything else a defense of microculturation, and an argument for its necessity as our society moves forward into an uncertain future.

What do I mean by microculturation? It's the process by which people naturally gravitate to those like themselves, spit off from the mainstream of their society, and form their own self-contained “microcultures,” often geographically removing themselves from their original society to do so. This is an extremely natural, organic, and creative social process which seems to be a normal part of the human experience, and there are many examples of it in history. The Protestant Reformation produced all sorts of microculturation throughout Europe, spawning all shapes and kinds of Protestant groups from the respectable and mundane (Lutherans, Anglicans) to bizarre and extreme (Hutterites, Quakers). Many of these groups eventually fled Europe for North America, where they exist in some form until this day. Similarly, the early flowering of Christianity produced numerous interesting and odd sects, such as the Nestorians, Manicheans, Ophites, and Sethian Gnostics. These groups were forcibly suppressed or killed as heretics by the Catholic Church, which then had to struggle mightily to prevent (or subvert) the natural process microculturation in Western Christianity for the next thousand years.

On a *significantly* less religious note, left to its own devices - and without the iron fist of the Soviet Union to prevent “deviationism” - Marxism quickly microculturates, especially under pressure situations such as the Russian and Spanish Civil Wars or World War Two. Trotskyism, Hoxhaism, Bowderism, and Bakuninism are but a few examples. Also, the natural and organic spread of populations over a geographic area, such as the early aboriginal settlers of North America or the Bantu peoples settling sub-Saharan Africa, can also lead to microculturation, producing hundreds of distinct languages and cultures over time.

In fact, the only group that suffers under microculturation is the dominant culture, which looses manpower, influence, and - perhaps most importantly - control as more and different groups with opposing cultural assumptions splinter off from it. Even if microcultural groups are uninterested or disinclined by their beliefs to found rival governments or nation states, the large culture is invariably hostile to the creations of new “centers of power,” even if these centers are cultural rather than backed by force. Anything outside of its sphere of influence is, by definition, at the very least suspect, and more often viewed as treasonous, perverse, heretical, or some combination of the three.

This is why as the 21st Century moves forward, microculturation remains extremely controversial: because it represents a loss of control by a dominant, urban culture that is an increasingly worldwide phenomenon. In fact, microculturation may in the end be the one obstacle to forming a more-or-less unified world society, constantly challenging the concept that in the end we are all “one world” and “one people” (as the highly microculturated Rastafarians are fond of saying). Or, at the very least, that we all want generally the same things out of life, are willing to basically obey and cooperate with the similar power structures to get them, and are at least willing to pay lip service to the dominant international culture of this period.

Which is part of why I wrote Nakba, and why it's called the first book of the “Civilizing War.” Not only because there will be more books, but because I want people to get in the way of the sort of civilization that believes its mission is to be one of universally civilizing. The worldwide culture of the book, known as the Posthegemony, is a cartoonish exaggeration of our emerging worldwide society: rootless, shallow, urbane, controlled, self-congratulatory, unreflective, comfortable, self-indulgent, and above all terribly, terribly dull. It's opponents, both hidden on the Earth and scattered around the solar system in small communities, are known as Interesting People or Children of the Nakba (or “tragedy” in Arabic). To this point in the story they include renegade sex androids, people with Down syndrome, Berbers, Marxist-feminist clone sisters, and Martian Masai tribesmen – none of whom have much in common with one another, but none of which wish to be “civilized” by the Posthegemony, and are thus allies out of necessity.

In the next book you will meet many more microcultures – all odd and offbeat, and all opposed to being civilized by the Posthegemony - who will take their struggle into the asteroid belt as they continue their resistance. Because, in the end, the one great barrier to oppression is to simply and publicly say “no,” refuse to obey, and accept the consequences, no matter how severe. This is what the characters in my book do, and this is what we must do ourselves if we wish to avoid their fate as the early, bright days of the 21st Century invariably grind down into its old age and darkness - as they did in the last Century. We must not sacrifice our particularism to universalism, we must not agree to live like bees in a hive, and we must be prepared to accept the inevitable consequences of our refusal, whatever they might be.