I am now working on plotting the third book of the Lost Archive, where our lead characters (Qira, Li and Nessum) return to their homes on and around the Galilean moons. The whole book will be framed within the history of the Galilean break up and the retraction of the ummra (or ‘influence’). How should I approach this? Can I draw on what’s been happening in the world at the current time? Can I apply some of this to the Galilean moons? Is this reflective of deeper natural systems? And if so, must these apply far into the future as well?
Beyond the loud, local noise concerning British exit from the EU there are wider convulsions in the world. Across Europe, old certainties in politics are changing. John Harris in the Guardian has written an interesting piece about the left as a political force undergoing rapid change (here). His essential argument being that the old working class foundation for left wing politics has been taken away (by technology, changes in working practices, globalisation and suchlike).
Further away from Europe, but still in the ‘West’, some of the core visions of shared nationhood are dying. Two countries whose sense of a whole has held together by a grand narrative (US and Israel) are now starting to show cracks. Warnings of splits across political and cultural heritage lines in Israel has been identified as leading to potential civil war (here), while in the US, we have started to see the long rumbling ideological divisions starting to surface (here) linked to stagnation of opportunity and expectations.
And, of course, we have Brexit. What can we learn from Brexit? Possibly, that you can’t plug an established ‘nation’ into a union of other nations, together with a complex network of rules and public-funding streams without somebody yelling ‘what about our sovereignty’ at some point. Possibly, Brexit won because there was a drip-feed of negative stories about immigrants together with localised evidence of immigration putting a strain on services together with austerity (oh, and a few racists). Possibly, it was simply that not enough people in Britain were that excited, or emotionally invested, in being a ‘European’ while those who were emotionally invested in being part of a nation, being ‘British’, outnumbered them. (And by the way, those who claim they still are ‘European’ but just don’t want Brussels to rule their life and demand cash, I say you don’t understand the question – it’s not about which continent you were born on or whether you love French wine and Italian holidays).
Let’s try and apply a little systems thinking to the problem. First off, let’s set out the general principles: properties of systems emerge when they are constituted by appropriate property-bearing sub-systems which are appropriately configured in an appropriate environment.
Let’s start by defining a ‘state’ as a population in a given territory under a given government, where the former has given the latter a mandate to lead and rule them and given up some freedoms as a result. If we conceive a ‘state’ as a system, then a state is composed of multiple sub-systems (people, institutions, laws etc) configured in an appropriate way which instantiate particular properties.
But what makes this system whole? A shared sense of being part of a given ‘state’, a Hobbesian compact that we are part of a greater Leviathan, or Rousseau’s ‘social contract’. In system terms, this means that there is an attribute shared across all populations that simply reads: ‘I am a member of State X’. If there are sufficient numbers of people with this attribute, all working together, developing and following laws and processes that support this attribute, then the state is constituted. You may still have some sub-systems who disagree but they can be managed and their feedback often acts to improve the whole. However, should there be sufficient numbers who no longer share this attribute of membership, a critical mass or a tipping point is reached and the state collapses and can no longer be conceived as a system. And all its properties fade away.
It should be possible for us to have attributes of being members of multiple ‘states’ – in Britain we have local and national government and if I lived in Scotland or Wales there is another layer. In a Federal system such as the US, you would be a Texan and an American. So, it is not as though human beings are incapable of being members of multiple states (although, I will admit, there are tensions).
I think there is something here about a shared vision, a shared emotional investment. Yugoslavia was held together by a shared communist vision (and an effective and charismatic leader) but when the leader was replaced and communist narrative turned sour, then there was little that kept those Balkan countries together. I predict that we will see similar events (although not for about 50 years) in the US. This is because the American Dream has died: that is, you can no longer easily make it from pauper to millionaire in the US. There is now an entrenched privileged class and they are passing their wealth down through family lines. America’s only solution is to ‘do a Russia’ and re-distribute the wealth across the entire population, pinned to some new grand narrative (no so far-fetched – link here about how 49% of under 30s in the US have a positive view of ‘socialism’). Or perhaps the US will split apart across ideological / cultural lines.
But back to the Galilean moons. What has all this noodling on a theme revealed? That I believe there are natural systems that can allow understanding of current events, and historic events and thus be used to predict similar patterns of human politics far into the future. Within these natural systems, there are two key areas to consider when larger states disintegrate: the critical mass of sub-systems who hold the property ‘I am a member of State X’; and a change in the wider environment.
Globalisation, technology and change in working practices reflect the environmental changes affecting today’s convulsions. And I believe that Brexit was caused by (and Scottish independence will be caused by) a tipping point being reached of individuals within the system who no longer feeling that they want to be members of the EU (or the UK). Why exactly this is the case would require a university research department (some might query whether it’s possible) but I’m going to pin my colours to the dying of a dream, the fizzling out a grand narrative that never delivered on its promises.
So, in terms of the wider environment, what contextually changed for the Galileans? It must be connected to the Lost Archive but also the corresponding loss of the Configurations, the breakdown in their systems and ideologies, the rise of competing ideologies.
And their sense of being members of a wider Galilean union? We have learned that it is possible for people to consider themselves at once Alim and Galilean. But that for somebody to state that they are one and not the other indicates that a vision, a grand coalescing narrative has gone sour. What was the grand vision that the Galileans clung to? What transcendence were they seeking? Where was their knowledge going to take them? And how did it die?
This has helped. I’ve got a few ideas now.