July 16, 2017

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: We Can’t Even IMAGINE A Different Way of Governing Ourselves…So What’s “Next”?

Using the Program of the North American Science Fiction Convention in Puerto Rico in July of 2017 to which I will MIGHT go someday if I recognized any of the names on the guest list… to go, I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the program. The link is provided below…

FRIDAY 2:00 PM - San Cristobal The Future of Local/National/Planetary Government in the Information Age: Our current government structures arose in the age of face-to-face communication. With individuals able to "talk" instantly to people anywhere on the globe and governments able to share information effortlessly, does either representative to geographically defined government fit the emerging paradigm? How long before things change. Or will they?

Chris Gerrib: Author of 3 books that take place on Mars.
W. A. (Bill) Thomasson: Professional medical writer assisting researchers with journal articles and grant applications.
David Manfre: Attended Bouchercon and Deadly Ink numerous times, degree in English, working on stories.
Tanya Washburn: Studied archaeology and history, graduate of Harvard Extension School and helps to coordinate ARISIA “New England's Largest, Most Diverse Sci-Fi & Fantasy Convention”.
Pablo Vazquez: Revolutionary scholar, Voodoo Loa at night, half of mime group, Mr. Saturday & Sixpence, San Antonio Neo-Victorian Association and AetherFest chair.

We tend to assume governments will stay the same. I think this is one reason our world is currently in an uproar: governments have changed. The previous ideology no longer holds sway, another ideology has taken over and (as happens whenever ideologies shift), the side out of control protests, fully expecting that their protests will alter either the timeline, the vote count, or everything that surrounds the current regime so that they may comfortably go back to doing Things The Way They Should Be Done.

Yet, as speculative fiction writers who fiddle with time, timelines, characters, and sexuality (we’ve been fiddling with THAT since Harlan Ellison introduced DANGEROUS VISIONS in 1967), as a group we seem awfully…mono-political…

For some reason, our heroes (rarely our heroines) seem to be tilting consistently at windmills that more-or-less conform to the more-or-less accepted POV one finds in the specfic community, which itself seems split between liberal/libertarian and conservative; though the liberal/libertarian seems to have the loudest voice and so calls many of the shots.

Be that as it may, governments in speculative fiction seem to follow historical patterns rather than striking out in new directions. For example, Ada Palmer, a “new” writer whose books have made a splash in recent years, has built a society in her Terra Ignota (for those of you who might not have taken a moment to Google the meaning, it’s the Unknown Ground (or more likely Unknown Earth) series.) I’ve read it and while I thoroughly enjoyed her world-building, I’m slightly disappointed that the society of the first book resembled Roman society at its apex (before it became an empire), writ a thousand times larger to encompass the entire planet – a broadly inclusionary place, vital, striving forward, artistic, multi-theistic, and powerful. Her governmental form was foreshadowed here: https://www.wired.com/2007/08/creating-a-worl/ in 2007…

I also just finished Kameron Hurley’s THE STARS ARE LEGION and while there doesn’t seem to be any precise government over all the worlds (which seems to me to have been necessary in order to create the original Legion), the petty  governments that have shattered into existence within each of three worldships: Katazyrna, Mokshi, and Bhavaja are the same as we already have on Earth.

As a born-and-bred American, I am of the opinion that a representational form of government (which most people call a “democratic” government) is the best form. However, I’ve never intimately experienced any other form. I was in Nigeria in the 1980s when their representational government was forcibly morphed into a military junta. I spent several months in Cameroon (or Cameroun) which has “enjoyed” the long reign of an educated and “benevolent” dictator, and I lived for six weeks under the rule of an elite party whose sole qualifications were descent from freed American slaves.

Of course I’ve visited parliamentary Canada, token monarchy England, and post Baby Doc Haiti; I either didn’t notice any visible difference between “them” and “us” or the difference was grim indeed.

So let’s see: republic, military junta, benevolent dictatorship, elite republic, parliamentary, token monarchy, and undeclared chaos. How many others are there?

According to Wikipedia: nine, plus a smattering of others which don’t fit any of the categories presented (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forms_of_government#Maps). The maps also break the world into Full Democracy, Flawed Democracy, Hybrid Regimes, and Authoritarian Regimes. (While three of the categories are descriptive, one (into which the United States falls) is judgmental…hmmm. I wonder who decided to use the word “Flawed” and what PRECISELY it denotes: ah, here we go – “The Democracy Index is an index compiled by the UK-based Economist Intelligence Unit that measures the state of democracy in 167 countries…” In a very strange turn of events, the UK is a Full Democracy (as well as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland), while the US, India, Japan, South Korea, and whoever else the British don’t like are on the Flawed Democracy list. As a side note to Islamophilia, currently all the rage on the world stage, I’d like to note that of the 167 nation states, 24 are classified as Muslim. Of those 24, none of them are Full Democracies, four are Flawed Democracies, seven are Hybrid governments, twelve (half) of them are Authoritarian, and one is Somalia – designation unknown (though Warlords springs to mind).

At any rate – have speculative fiction writers come up with truly innovative forms of government?

Frank Herbert created a religious capitalist imperial state.

Ann Leckie (whose Imperial Radch books I LOVE) created an empire.

John Scalzi created the Colonial Union, a sort of “uber” England/Portugal/Spain/Russia imperialist form of government which forced the aliens of the universe to unite in opposition.

Anne McCaffrey’s Pern has a unique cross between a monarchy and full democracy.

I’m not going to touch fantasies here because the governments of the majority of the ones I’ve read seem to fall into monarchies, empires, or Councils. I don’t recall a fantasy story where people voted for anything or anyone. I could be wrong here, so please feel free to correct me.

 So – where are the wildly futuristic governments? How many have shown a truly participatory democracy? Would such a thing even be possible – not from a technological point of view, but from a practical point of view. So many of the daily or weekly decisions governmental officials make would bore me and the rest of the country silly – that’s why we have a representational government. I hire someone to do that. But if liberals are to be believed, then there’s been a gross miscarriage of the Will Of The People and Trump is not REALLY the choice of The People Who Actually Matter (people who live in cities, because who cares about farmers anyway? Certainly not the DFL…which, I might point out, has the word Farmer embedded in it.) But that is mostly there, and I’m writing here.

So, I think the question and answer, “How long before things change? Or will they?” can be answered: things won’t change. This is mostly because the people who pride themselves in being imaginative and seeing the future haven’t come up with any really different form of government.

If we can’t imagine it, I doubt very much that the proletariat will devise something new and different and produce the paradigm shift we think we need.

Anyone disagree?

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