Posted by steve on January 13, 2010
On holiday recently I had a real serendipity experience with a couple of books.
Part of the research for the blog involved looking at books which took a similar approach – that is to say envisioning a sustainable future in order to stimulate thought leadership. Imagine my surprise when I walked into a tiny village near the holiday cottage I was renting to see a book town library.
Why serendipity? Well book towns was an idea Book town founder Richard Booth got back in the 60s when he met a descendant of author of Utopia, Sir Thomas More. She ( I forget her name) turned up in a pony and trap. Booth’s insight was that that second hand books are “a re-saleable economy with a product which has no sell-by date and is available in its billions”.
Villages would concentrate on book binding, antique book shops, writers’ circles and so on. This particular book town housed a rather eccentric form of bookstore: the books were arranged by colour of binding. The blue room was especially overwhelming.
I found a book on Utopia, and Brave New World Revisited, by Aldous Huxley.
Brave New World was written in the 1930s, before the second world war and the explosion of population growth. I guess it is a book with a purpose similar to this blog – to enable thought about the future by envisioning different outcomes.
In Brave New World revisited from 1950, Aldous Huxley talks about how his book tried to warn people of the threats of overpopulation and urbanization together with a desire for the GOOD ORDER. This urban pressure, bringing so many individuals together, would encourage the mindset that sees people more as insects. This in turn leads to dehumanizing of society, albeit the basic intention may have been good. He goes on to reflect how his predictions were coming true even faster than he thought possible.
Amazing power of foresight that man had: the world population passed 50% living in urban environments around 2005. And look at how so many sit of an evening alone in the blue light of the TV screen.
Let’s consider insects as a societal model: every individual has a specific task to perform. If she does not perform it she is punished and evicted from the insect society by soldier individuals. Individuals in insect communities are born into their roles, which are not learned but genetic. That an insect community survives has much to do with how each individual performs their tasks exactly in conjunction with the others, where simple patterns of communication go on between each individual.
So you could say that insects’ culture is inherited and adapted to their situation.
There’s more: a few days earlier I had sat transfixed in front of a nature programme on TV about killer whales.
These whales are the most widespread species of mammal after man. They are extremely adaptable. In some areas they eat small fish, in others larger ones. Some live on dolphins, others on seals. Each group of whales has developed their own patterns of behaviour which require complex communication (for hunting in packs) and teaching. Behaviour of one pack of whales in one situation, like the ones who live on seals, is completely different from the ones who, for example, live on small fish. And the behaviour and communication are learned.
The programme described how “playful” the whales are. They experiment. When radar and sonar techniques meant fishing boats could get to the fish before the whales researchers thought whales would starve. But before long, the whales had worked out that fishing boats were travelling toward the big shoals, so they went in that direction and got there before them. They didn’t starve.
So mammalian culture is learnt, developed and passed on to coming generations. Playfulness and experimentation is required for the group to adapt to its circumstances. And communication and learning are key.
So I learned a lot on my holiday – two books in the spirit of PORENA – and that any societal development towards forming human society in the pattern of insects is going against our nature.
And confirmation of my original observation: that it is through the development of our culture that we will survive, not through the promulgation of mechanistic solutions that see humans as insects.
We need to play, experiment, work together, communicate and pass on what we know that is appropriate to the next generation. How I don’t know. Only that we must,
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