My latest Sense of Place post is up, the fourth (and final) in a fiction series exploring what Paganism might become, what we might build.
I had decided to write fiction for the theme because I’ve always been struck by something Ursula K. Le Guin had said in a reading I attended almost 12 years ago. I was a young, dream-struck punk in Seattle, soaked in hopes and a bit of terror as the Iraq war began, as the anti-Capitalist tendencies of the streets seemed to finally ebb in the face of so much despair and fear at government surveillance, post- 9/11 crack-downs on (racial and political) minorities, and the crushing sense that the anti-globalisation and anti-war movements were utterly futile against such monolithic complacency and insecurity began to stifle that hope.
She’d been speaking of the “usefulness” of fantasy, at a time when so much of the narrative of serious thought had been on theory and the criticism of fiction was (and still is) derisive of anything speculative. And I’d asked a question and we’d spoke a bit, and she said something along the lines of “how can we know what we want to build if we can’t imagine it?”
I sometimes wonder if the imaginative powers of the human soul should be seen as an active, physical faculty which must be exercised lest it atrophy, must be fed well lest it become gluttonous upon empty, masturbatory fictions. I know for myself, years of playing fantasy games fed an urge but never fully satisfied, filled but never sated. Certain visions of the future make me nauseous rather than hungry, particularly the exuberant dreams of ubiquitous computers (I reserve the right to break a pair of Google Glass if someone insists upon wearing them around me) and newer and greater technologies that will further separate us not just from Nature, but from each other. The joy with which some people speak of such “progress” doesn’t just make me ill, it greatly disappoints me.
That exuberance isn’t imagination. Very few of the technological futurists, the trans-humanists and all the rest ever really imagine anything different, they only imagine more of the same, and more of the same for a small amount of people.
Take alternative energy. Dreams of new and more sustainable energy sources– so we can stop relying on oil and coal–always start from the very un-imaginative premise that we should keep doing precisely what we’re doing, just in a nicer, cleaner way. Rather than the end of automobiles and pavement, the “fantasy” is that we can have more of them without destroying the earth, as opposed to finding some other way to build society. We’re like addicts looking for less harmful heroin.
The internet and cellular communications that we have are really faster methods of doing what we already did before, and still for a small amount of economically privileged people. Consider: according the most recent estimate, 250 million iPhones have been sold since they were first created, but there are 7 billion + people on the earth. This “revolutionary” thing people have been on about hasn’t changed the world, but has only made a small amount of (mostly white) people stare at rectangles in their hands for too long.
And if the imagination is a faculty which we humans (possibly and unfortunately alone, I suspect, amongst the natural world) possess, one would hope we’d be able to come up with something better with it than virtual reality glasses and teeth-whitening strips for people hoping to escape a pale and vapid life and undo the affects of too much corn-syrup.
It’s for this reason that the rallying cry of the altermondialists (known as “anti-globalisation” folks in America) was “AnOther World is Possible.” I think we need more dreams.