Sunday, October 25, 2020

Streets 5 - Inherit

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It’s a simple question. Who stole value away from other streets, and gave it to my street?

Answered with another question, one that has itself been previously answered: 

Who put my street there?

I did.

Wait. Me?

So what, now it’s my fault? But I didn’t do anything—how can it be my fault?

How could I have stolen value when I never set out to do so, when I never took any action to steal? How could I have stolen value when there are still other houses in my neighborhood much more valuable than mine, and other neighborhoods in which all the houses are much more valuable? How could I have stolen value for my house when I personally contribute so much of my time and energy to make sure that my house stays nice and retains its value?

Value was stolen? No. I reject the entire concept.

Or…

Value was stolen? Yes—but too long ago to do anything about it.

Or …

Value was stolen? Maybe—but really it’s just divisive to talk about. The real problem these days are people who still bring it up. Look at me֫—I don’t still bring it up, and I’m fine.

Or, maybe …

Value was stolen? Maybe. Sure. Yes. Observably so. But one thing has to be recognized, before any other: I didn’t intend that. That has nothing to do with me.

How dare you.

I didn’t intend that. That has nothing to do with me.

Two sentences, often expressed as one thought. A neat trick.

So, I had no intention to steal. And neither did you. 

Good job, both of us! 

Good job, our intentions!

It’s good to not be a thief with intention to steal. To be an intentional thief is a bad thing to be. I'm glad you're not one, and I'm glad I'm not one, either. I want to get that out there.

But: we all know there are thieves with intention. For example, we all know that about a dozen years ago, powerful men conspired to steal trillions of dollars of value from all of our homes, and none of them were prosecuted, and for a while we configured our society’s laws to make it harder for them to abuse the system in that way.

They stole value from my house and yours, and ran away with it. They got away. The city decided to let them get away with it, in the name of healing, in the name of looking forward, not backward.

They’ll do it again if they can—and they can.


They’ll steal value from your house the same way value was stolen from others. They’ll reconfigure our natural human system back into the old channels to optimize it even more thoroughly for theft. In truth, they’ve already done so. Once our system is perfectly optimized for theft, the theft will flow in the same way that value does: foundationally, automatically, inextricably, and inherited.

Who got all that loot? Well … my street did, to give one example. It certainly got some. And streets with corporations large enough to buy influence—those streets got a lot.

If you aren’t like me, maybe none of it came to you. Maybe for you, it was an experience of loss.

Some of it will come to me. Some of it will go to you, if you are like me.

Most of it will go to them.

The city will decide to let them.

Photo of a 2015 article from The Atlantic: How Wall Street’s Bankers Stayed Out of Jail The probes into bank fraud leading up to the financial industry’s crash have been quietly closed. Is this justice?
Click for story.

And you and I, people of bountiful good intention but limited curiosity, we’ll pocket whatever bonuses  come our way as they loot the safe of public good. Thieves of intent will allow us to benefit, not out of largesse, but simply as part of the cost of doing business. They intend to get it back from us eventually, anyway. And when they decide to take it from us, how easy will it be? As easy as it was to take from those they robbed before. Easier, in fact, because now our natural human system—which has a momentum as regards intention—has become even more perfectly optimized for theft, and our incuriosity about the benefit we receive from it will have become so habitual, we’ll find it hard to understand how or why we’re being devoured.

A city built on treating people as consumable for profit will eventually consume you.

A city built on theft will eventually rob you.

Yes, and when your day comes, the city, built on practiced indifference, will exhibit as practiced an indifference to your fate as you yourself practiced, when it was not you but only your neighbor, who suffered the injustices of an unjust system.

Tweet card for Breaking News NBC: Maker of a drug shown to shorten recovery time for severely ill COVID-19 patients says it will charge $2,340 for a typical treatment course for people covered by government health programs in the U.S, and $3,120 for patients with private insurance.
Click for story.


Do you still think it’s got nothing to do with you?

Say this: Say I’m driving along and I hit an old lady with my car.

Or say this: Say I discover 12 million dollars deposited into my bank account, and I don’t know why.

There’s what I intend to do. And then there’s what happens.

Or: There’s what I’d like to think is true about me. And then there’s what is true about me.

Sometimes, when we’re lucky, those two things are even the same. But sometimes they’re different—there’s a gap. Reality carries us away from our intentions, in ways we can’t control—but control is the thing we all want to have at all times. It’s scary to have no control. And so, when things happen to us that are beyond our control—as they do for all of us—we like to disassociate from it.

A lot of people like to think that, no matter what actually happens, they can live only in the territory they can control; that they can stay exclusively on the side of the gap where their intentions live, and never visit the territory of what actually happens.

People have intentions, it’s true, and those intentions matter, from a moral perspective, a practical perspective, a legal perspective. It makes a difference if I ran down the old lady with my car because it malfunctioned, or because I was distracted checking my texts, or because I am the beneficiary of her will and decided it would be better to have her money sooner rather than later, or because I just like the sound my car makes when it hits old ladies. It makes a difference in how the law thinks about you, and it makes a difference in how I think about you, too.

What you intend matters. Hear me: it matters.

It’s just not all that matters.

Whatever I intended, the old lady has been run down, and it was my car that ran her down. And I have knowledge of it.

Whatever I intended, the money is in my account. And I have knowledge of it.

Knowledge.

My intentions matter, yes, but what would we all think of me if I said I had nothing to do with getting it, simply because I didn’t intend for it to come to me, and, deliberately incurious, quietly moved it over to an offshore account?

What would we think of me, if after I hit the old lady because my car malfunctioned, I drove away, as quickly as I could, hoping I hadn’t been seen?

Because after all, I hadn’t meant to run the old lady over. I was just getting groceries.

I hadn’t intended to take any money that didn’t belong to me; it just came to me.

I didn’t personally intend to cause harm, or to gain wealth.

It has nothing to do with me at all.

Right?

It’s a metaphor, of course. And it’s one with an easy answer, because it still deals with personal actions, personal decisions—right? It’s me who did the hit and run or who took the money, not some ancestor or even some unrelated party who only shares with me only geography. It doesn’t mean that a societal ill like (say) systemic racial theft is my fault. Somebody else stole that value, not me.

But notice what the personal decision in this hypothetical is. It isn’t the accident or the theft, which was in no way tied to your intention, but which nevertheless happened. It’s whether, with knowledge of it, I remain in that knowledge or flee from it. It’s whether I, in knowledge of my part in what is, take the responsibility, which I never sought, but which nevertheless is mine; the responsibility that I inherited, in the same way as I inherited the opportunity.

What if I discover that it was my father facing that choice, taking millions, which I then inherited? Does it still have nothing to do with me? What if I discover my father was unaware that his wealth was pilfered, but now I have been made aware. Does it still have nothing to do with me?

Or say this: Say I inherited that money from a fantastically wealthy great-uncle I’ve never met, and then years later I discover that he was not only a cocoa plantation owner, but a slaver—that I have a slaver’s money, and have over the years learned to depend on all the wonderful things that money can do for me—and not just me, but everyone in my community, too. Does it still have nothing to do with me?

Or what if I don’t even remember hitting the lady, but weeks later detectives finally bring the proof to my doorstep, proof which lines up suspiciously well to my memories of the night of blackout drinking, the dented car in the morning, the desperate hope it was caused by a deer, the equally desperate and until-now successful attempt to forget the entire incident? Does it still have nothing to do with me?

It’s not the particulars of the crime, but the knowledge of it.

I think you’d agree that my decision to flee the scene of the accident, or keep money that isn’t mine, are personal decisions carrying moral implications, revealing a deeper selfish intention. Let’s consider why.

I have recently-acquired knowledge of harm, of loss. The harm and loss are realities. My association with this harm and loss are realities. They are realities. They aren’t less real simply because my knowledge of the association is new. They aren’t made less real if I didn’t intend the association, or if I had no control over the association. I am associated with this harm, this loss.

That association is going to cost me something if I accept the association, while if I avoid the association, it will provide me an opportunity to keep an unearned reward, or avoid a deserved consequence.

If I were not associated with this harm and loss, I could avoid paying that cost, and I could gain the reward. And so there rises in me a desire, understandable if not particularly honorable, to not be associated with this harm and loss.

My personal decision is not whether or not the harm has been done, nor is my personal decision whether or not it has anything to do with me. It did, and it does, and my intentions toward those realities don’t matter a bit to those questions. My personal decision is first, whether or not to accept the reality my association with harm and loss, and then to decide whether or not I’m going to accept the consequences of that reality.

And that decision reveals my actual deeper intentions—the ones that matter.

If I don’t want to accept this reality, then I am going to want everyone to focus exclusively on my intentions as regards the harm and loss, and deny the fact that my decision to ignore the reality of my association with harm and loss is itself a personal choice that betrays my deeper intentions.

And there might be people who would benefit from my disassociation from the harm and loss, whose lives might be complicated by my association with a crime, who would not want to see me pay the cost, wo might want to see me keep the unearned reward.

And perhaps, those who would also benefit, might also focus exclusively on my intentions.

And perhaps, if the crime were not personal, but rather societal, you might find an entire society that has decided to focus all moral calculation on personal intentions to the exclusion of all else, as a way of avoiding any association with knowledge of the reality of their own association with harm and loss.

It may be that such a society, founded on harm and loss, would focus on the individual to the exclusion of all else. It might be that such a society would heap scorn on even the idea that we share an interconnected life together, even though it’s clear we do—because to acknowledge we share an interconnected life leads us inexorably back to the responsibility we desperately and pathologically wish to avoid.

Image of an NPR story from Sept 22, 2020: Trump Expands Ban On Racial Sensitivity Training To Federal Contractors
Click for story.

Nor will any in such a society want to notice that the collective decision to disassociate from this reality is itself a personal decision revealing a deeper selfish intention. For a society caught in the desire to avoid the reality of association with harm and loss, any rationale forgiving the association would be popular and almost reflexively accepted, while any reminder of that association would offensive and almost reflexively rejected.

When you’re in a natural human system that is founded on harm and loss, there are always going to be things that are very very very important to not know—and it’s going to be very very very important for everyone else to not know them, either. And if the knowledge becomes undeniable, then it’s going to be very very important to focus only on past manifestations of it, framed in such a way that suggests they are pluperfectly solved. And a good way of doing that is to focus exclusively on what everyone’s personal intentions are.

What are people’s intentions? Easy: whatever each person says they are. 

Suddenly it would be impossible for me to ever be racist, or sexist, or otherwise captured by bigotry, for the simple fact that my stated intentions are good. I think: “racism is bad,” therefore I cannot possibly ever do anything racist, or benefit in any way from racism—now let’s all stop talking about it.


It would be impossible to say that someone else is racist, or sexist, or otherwise captured by bigotry, no matter what they say or do, because it’s impossible to ever truly know their intentions, so, since it can’t be addressed, let’s not address it—now let’s all stop talking about it.

It would be impossible for my family member or friend or loved one to be aligned with it, because they are so nice, so good, so generous, so kind, to me, and to others. Their personal intentions are so pure, and yes of course the world has its injustices, and yes of course those are bad we should work to fix them, but the people in my life didn’t intend it, so what can it have to do with them?

In a society founded on harm and loss, acknowledgement of association with harm and loss will be seen as condemnation. Statements of fact will begin to be received as personal insults.

Yes, but that has nothing to do with me. Didn’t I just say I thought injustice was bad?

How will I ever convince them of the truth if all I do is condemn them?

These aren’t irredeemable monsters, you know. I’d rather appeal to their better angels.

Tweet from Terry Schilling: I’m not saying that  @nhannahjones  is a bad person for her work with the 1619 project. I’m just saying that if you want to destroy a country — teach it’s children that their nation is evil and was founded on oppression. She’s just working to destroy America — that’s it.
Click for tweet.

If I am a person of good intent in such a society, I’d go on giving these defenses, because deep down I’d know: When we don’t want to talk about something, it’s those talking about it that are seen as the problem. I do not want to be the problem. I’d rather be part of the solution, which, in a natural human system founded on harm and loss, is a comfortable silence.

You might even find people who recognize a racist statement, but save their real discomfort for calling somebody who said it racist— as if the project were not opposing racism, but rehabilitation of the racist; as if there were a tacit agreement that the racist is the protagonist in the story of racism; as if the racist is the true and only victim of their own racism.

Story from The Hill Jan 2018: Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) in a Sunday show interview stopped short of calling President Trump a racist, but said “there’s no question” that the president’s reported “shithole countries” comment is racist.  “I was raised not to call people racist on the theory that it was hard for them to be rehabilitated once you said that,” Bennet told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”  “But there’s no question what he said was racist. There’s no question what he said was un-American and completely unmoored from the facts.”
Click for story.

If I were a person of "good intent" in such a society, I’d decide to not know that I benefit from harm and loss. Or, if I couldn’t make myself know that, at least I make sure it’s clear there’s nothing I could have done about it; it’s all too long ago; fixing it would be far too impractical politically and economically; and anyway it’s nothing to do with me.

And that decision would reveal my actual deeper intentions—the ones that matter.

If our society were as I propose, we might find it common for people within it to suggest that the real racists are the people who always “scream” about racism. That the real sexists are the people who always “scream” about sexism. When somebody blows a whistle on systemic abuses, we might find it common to find powerful people who want to know who the whistleblower is, while demonstrating almost complete incuriosity about the particulars of the abuse. Yes, an audit of the personal intentions of the person bringing knowledge of harm and loss might be very common, and any evidence that those intentions were impure might be widely published and amplified, a reason to ignore the very real abuses uncovered when the whistle blew.

A whistle screams, you know, if a whistleblower blows into it. We don’t like screamers. We abhor the incivility of it. We rarely consider who and what is making the screamer scream, or why.

But imagine a society with enough injustice in it to make people scream. Imagine a people within that society who diagnosed the problem, not as “injustice,” but as “screams.”

October 2018 Business Insider story: Christine Blasey Ford still can't live at home because of 'unending' death threats after her Kavanaugh testimony, lawyers say
Click for story.

For such a people, intentions (which, let’s remember, do matter) become not just an important thing, but everything, everything, everything—not because they are knowable, but precisely because they are so usefully unknowable. They become a blanket that covers whatever you want covered.

I didn’t mean for that to happen. It has nothing to do with me.

Two separate statements, one true, the other false, and presented as one thought, so that the true statement might lend its truth to the false one.

Do you see how it all works?

Do you see how foundational this lie is?

Do you see how the first step to correcting any of the effects of this lie might be to recognize the lie, and the second might be to stop acting as if the lie were true?

The value for my street is intrinsic, and inextricable, and inherited … and stolen. Unnaturally stolen. This has nothing to do with my intentions. It has nothing to do with whether I was alive when the value was accrued. And I can’t separate myself from the theft, any more than I can separate myself from the value.

Within natural human systems, culpability travels the same streets as opportunity, as theft, as knowledge.

As individuals, we don't decide whether it happens—it does. What we decide is what to do with a very simple question.

Here's the question:

What does this have to do with me?

Yes, and who put my street there, anyway?

Left: Between 200,000 and 500,000 demonstrators march down Constitution Avenue during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Washington D.C., Aug. 28, 1963; Right: Protesters gather in Harlem to protest the recent death of George Floyd on May 30, 2020 in New York City.
Time Magazine
Photo credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images; David 'Dee' Delgado—Getty Images


A.R. Moxon is a writer. His novel The Revisionaries, is available now, with the paperback edition releasing December 1, 2020.

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0. NEXT

PART I: HERE
1. STREET
2. VALUE
3. CONFIGURE
4. NEIGHBOR
5. INHERIT
6. ALIGN

PART II: NOW
7. CONVICT
8. CONFESS
9. REPENT
10. REPAIR

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Streets 4 - Neighbor

 

Photo of a street, with the caption "4"
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Recap:

If our city is organized in such a way that it is unwilling to save people from death unless they are deemed worth it, then we are vulnerable, not only to the problem of the streets, but to any danger to which our city decides our lives are disposable.

People, generally speaking, want to live.

A city that decides to deliver death, then, can be presumed to be a city whose method of deciding has been stolen away from people.

If we are people who wish to live, then, we will have to fix the way the city decides.

End recap.

So, we’ve learned a present danger to my neighbor means an eventual danger to me, no matter how much it presently favors me.

This suggests that—even if I am only driven by self-interest—I would do well to watch for dangers to my neighbors, and then change our human systems to protect them.

How far will the change have to reach? To the very boundaries of the city.

A question: Where are the boundaries of our neighborhood?

I’ll answer with another question, an ancient one: Who is my neighbor?

Who is my neighbor? Well, there’s the people to either side of my house. No question about them. You’d probably want to include the people directly across. After that it can get fuzzy. Two houses down? Three? The next street over? Two streets over? Three?

What do I mean by “neighbor” within the context of the question “What are the boundaries of our neighborhood?”

Not my neighborhood, or your neighborhood, which have actual legally defined boundaries. The metaphorical neighborhood, the one that’s applicable to questions about our natural human system. The one that provides value and harm in ways that are invisible and inextricable and automatic and inherited, as naturally as rain falls on roofs, or fungus unites a forest’s roots, or streets connect houses to other houses. How far does that neighborhood stretch?

To rephrase: what are the outermost boundaries of our natural human system?

To answer the question, I first think of all the obvious steps necessary to maintain or modify or improve such a system, which begins with knowledge—awareness of the need and an acceptance of responsibility to act, and then ends with resolve—a decision to act and an agreement to pay the cost.

A suggestion for a workable definition: the boundaries of the “neighborhood” are definable by the extent to which knowledge of connectivity can be achieved, the extent to which our actions deliver value to other people— shared, invisible, foundational, generative, automatic, inextricable, configurable, and inherited.

Our “neighborhood” is the system within which that value flows.

The way it flows reflects the priorities of the society that built the system.

Any change to the system, therefore, must first involve a change to that society’s priorities.

I think you change a society’s priorities, not primarily with better arguments, but with better stories.

Let me tell you a story.

Suppose this: a hundred billion light years from our planet, on another planet, there exists a civilization, living much as we do. The people on our planet don’t know about it. We have no knowledge of it, nor of any effect of our actions upon it. Thus, we feel no responsibility for it, because we could never maintain or modify or improve it or harm it, no matter how resolved we were to do so.

This hypothetical faraway civilization is not within the boundaries of our “neighborhood.” Its denizens are not our neighbors.

But suppose something changed in this scenario. Suppose we develop a quantum telescope—a device that allows us to observe this civilization in real time. Rather than detecting the report of light escaped millions of years ago, reaching us only now from a vastness of space, the quantum telescope detects intelligent life. Because the quantum telescope utilizes relativistic technologies, it allows us to see all intelligent civilizations across the entirety of their time—exactly as they live, their now, or into their past, their then, or even their future, their will be. By observing the development of these civilizations—the discoveries they’ve made that we haven’t yet—we are ourselves able to hugely benefit, taking giant leaps forward in medicine, transportation, agriculture. In short, imagine an unimaginable lurch forward in our knowledge, made possible by a change in technology.

But suppose something further. Suppose when we train our telescope back to societies we’d previously observed, we discover something disturbing. The past of these far civilizations, the presents, the futures … are changed, and for the worse. The courses of their histories have now taken terrible turns, reach tragic ends and early extinctions.  We run tests. The results are conclusive: Use of quantum energy has led to effects we’d not anticipated. The fact that we have observed these civilizations has benefited us at present, but has changed the reality of their course for the worse. Without intending it, we appear to have … it seems impossible, but in some way we don’t understand, through quantum effects of observation, we seem to have stolen their potential. More disturbing still, the very weft of reality, at the edges farther from us but moving inward … is beginning to warp and skew. We’ve drawn upon something necessary and vital, used it as a resource, and there is nearly unanimous consensus among our foremost experts: to draw upon it further will speed the degrading effect. There is a growing understanding that engaging in these activities risks creating paradoxes that threaten existence itself.

To go back to a point where we no longer know the things we’ve learned is literally impossible. To stop using our invention means losing much the benefit we’ve gained, and cuts us off from future benefits and growth along these lines. But … to continue to use it as we have is to subject entire civilizations to ruin, and to throw the natural order of the entire observable universe to hazard and chance.

We’re conflicted.

We say: but we didn’t intend to do that.

We say: but there’s nothing we can do about it anyway.

And we ask: what does this have to do with me?

But the fact remains that we hadn’t known, and now we do know.

Technology has changed us. A global society has suddenly become universal.

We train our quantum telescope to the skies, and we see civilization after civilization all beginning to work on similar projects.

They’re all building quantum telescopes.

Suddenly the universe is filled with neighbors.

It’s a science fiction premise, I know. I put it forward for the same reason that most science fiction premises are put forward, which is to demonstrate something true about our present reality.

Here’s what my sci-fi premise demonstrates: Innovation—new technology, new concepts, new ideas—often expands our knowledge. It also expands our potential, both for good and for harm, because it expands what we know, by introducing to us something that was always true about our natural human connection.

It was always true. We just hadn’t known. We learned through innovation. The innovation changed things in ways that couldn’t be reversed, and which nevertheless happened.

Innovation, by the way, is a natural human system. "Human" because humans can discover it, use it, and configure it, then inherit the effects of those configurations. "Natural," because innovation is never just created; rather, it’s the discovery of something that had previously been unknown, but which was always true, always there, always ready for humans to discover and configure.

Innovation is a new street, so to speak, which leads to a new location.

Innovation doesn’t change our priorities. It just expands the effects of those priorities, which provides us new opportunities to identify what those priorities are—the real priorities, the ones that reflect what actually happens.

In the story, we lived in an entangled universe, and we always did. Learning that truth didn’t make it true; it just made us aware. Ignoring it won’t make it stop being true, it will just make us deliberately ignorant in ways that endanger our future existence. The truth of our entanglement was always there, waiting for us to know it.

Our knowledge is something that changes, and as that knowledge changes, so does the scope of what we can maintain, modify, or improve ... and harm.

This suggests that the boundaries of “our neighborhood,” the answer to the question who is my neighbor?  is also subject to change. Or, not so much ‘change’ as new discovery. We learn that people we hadn’t thought were neighbors were actually neighbors all along.

Do you see it? To our perspective, our “neighborhood” is getting bigger, and our count of neighbors are increasing. But in truth, the neighborhood was always this size.

Yesterday our awareness was one thing. Today it is something different.

Let me tell you another story.

OK, let’s create a setting for this story.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, there was a distant planet called “Earth,” and when it had become a very old planet indeed, there lived upon it for a very brief time creatures called ‘humans,’ who—impressively—could stand upright and run for dozens of miles without taking rest, and who—less impressively, but more pertinently to this story—had enormous brains that allowed them to make marvelous connections between themselves and each other, and between themselves and other parts of the world—could make configurations, both intentional and unintentional, to their natural systems.

Let's say there was a time early in the history of these humans where the outer limits of human connection were defined only by the biological family. These ties provided the mutual interconnectivity that allowed for shared values, which allowed for trust, which allowed for cooperation, which allowed for cohesion, safety and survival. 

This arrangement provided each human with collective value that was automatic, inextricable, invisible, natural, and inherited, and available only within the boundaries of the family. It was well understood in these human families that each person would act within their self-interest, but it would have been seen as a dangerous and destructive corruption of the very bedrock of society to put one’s self-interest above the family interest in matters pertaining to the family. And it was clearly understood in human families that to harm one was to harm all, in a way that simply wouldn’t be relevant if applied to anybody outside of the family. 

For a brief while in the early history of human families, no knowledge of outside families even existed; but once that awareness was gained, there still didn’t seem to human families to exist any need for deeper knowledge of outside families, other than this awareness—they are not us. They are rivals for the resources we need. They are not to be trusted.

What sat at the bottom of this false belief was the great foundation lie: the people who are us matter, and the people who are not us do not matter at all.

These humans were families. They were familial.

Families weren’t without conflict or abuse, but they were a natural human system. Conflicts and abuses would arise when some member of the family decided that more of the natural benefits of their human system should come to them than they needed, at the expense of another who would receive less than they needed, and then managed to configure the family to reflect those unbalanced priorities, and solidify them into tradition.

What sat at the bottom of all these imbalances was the great foundational lie: some people matter more than other people.

Still, despite its shortcomings, the family was good. It was useful, and remained useful. But it wasn’t the end.

What happened was that, over time, some families realized something that had always been true but hadn’t yet been known. They learned that what they did affected the families nearby, and what families nearby did affected them, and that their conflicts over the resources they all needed actually represented a waste of energy and resource both, and could even risk the destruction of the resources upon which all the families depended. They learned there were actually enough resources for all the families nearby, and that families joined together over their commonalities of need and proximity could create a human system that generated much more influence and value than single families acting apart.

This was an innovation.

Here was the name of this new innovation: Tribe. 

The humans had been familial. They became tribal.

Some familial humans saw the innovation of tribe as a danger threatening to put an end to families entirely, and fought against the concept of "tribes" as a result. But they couldn’t stop the knowledge of the innovation of tribe, and so they couldn’t choose to not live in a world where it was true that tribes generated more influence and value, and so, no matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t live in a world where this truth was not known.

They were wrong, anyway. The tribe didn’t put an end to families, any more than the human family ended the individual—but it did put an end to the idea of the family as the outermost boundary of human connection. A tribe was simply a more effective natural human system than the family in many crucial ways, and it always had been. What the innovation of tribe did do was this: expand the possibilities of what a family could be, offer more choices in matters of forming families. And so, the family remained vital and important and honored structures within most human tribes. 

Still, over time, it was understood that while everyone would have more responsibility for and loyalty toward their family members than other tribal members, anyone who put their family over the interests of tribal cohesion would be seen as creating a dangerous and destructive corruption of the very bedrock of tribal society, because the tribe was a natural human system which, as a practical matter, created more value than the family—in fact, it provided the context within which families existed.

The problem with being familial wasn’t that the biological family was bad—it was uniquely good, in many ways that remained and continued. It just didn’t take human connectivity far enough, and so to try to make the family the outermost boundary of human connection meant living in a dangerous and unsustainable lie that would eventually fall to the truth.

The innovation of “tribe” simply went further into the truth of human connection.

The humans had innovated, and learned, and now there were more neighbors. The tribal humans learned that more neighbors meant more resources and opportunity, not less.

The families that feared loss of resource were wrong, because the tribe is a natural human system, and natural human systems are shared, invisible, foundational, generative, automatic, inextricable, configurable, and inherited.

The family had been the boundary of the neighborhood. Now it was the tribe.

The tribe created new ties providing the mutual interconnectivity that allowed for shared values, which allowed for trust, which allowed for cooperation, which allowed for cohesion, safety and survival. The arrangement provided each human with collective value available only through the innovative creation of the tribe, while allowing them to continue enjoying expanded benefits of being familial.

The innovation of tribe didn’t put an end to conflict or abuse among the humans. In truth, the creation of tribes involved more conflict, and new abuses, as the bad priorities already configured within families inherited to tribal systems. For example: families resistant to the new concept of “tribe” were captured or conquered or forced to comply, or isolated and starved of resources as they tried to compete against a new more effective type of natural human system, by tribal humans who had no interest in the humanity of families not of their tribe; meanwhile, families who most benefitted within the tribe still tried to use their influence to configure this new human system, to unnaturally seize more influence, and to solidify these imbalances as traditions.

What sat at the bottom of all these imbalances was the great foundational lie: some people matter more than other people.

Logic demands there would be more conflict, and more danger of abuse—this was, after all, a more efficient human system. It would naturally be more efficient at delivering its corruptions and harms in the same way it delivered its benefits—and there would grow among tribal humans the awareness that the harm this new and efficient system could deliver might, if unchecked, compromise their entire territory.

So among tribal humans there grew an awareness, checks, taboos: that to harm one was to harm all, in a way that simply wouldn’t be relevant if applied to anybody outside of the tribe. However, no common cause with outside tribes existed, nor any need for that common cause, other than this awareness—they are not us. They are rivals for our resources. They are not to be trusted.

What sat at the bottom of this false belief was the great foundation lie: the people who are us matter, and the people who are not us do not matter at all.

And so, the tribe was good. It was useful, and remained useful. But it wasn’t the end.

What happened was that some tribes realized something that had always been true but hadn’t yet been known. They learned that what they did affected the tribes nearby, and what tribes nearby did affected them, and that conflict over the resources they all needed was a waste of energy and resource, and could even risk the destruction of the resources upon which all tribes depended. They learned there were actually enough resources for all the tribes nearby, and that tribes joined together over their commonalities of need and proximity could create a human system that generated much more influence and value than single tribes acting apart.

This was an innovation.

Here was the name of this new innovation: Nation. 

The humans had been tribal. They became national.

Some tribal humans saw the nation as a danger threatening an end to tribes, and fought the concept of nations as a result. But they couldn’t stop the knowledge of the innovation of nation, and so they couldn’t choose to live in a world where it wasn't true that nations generated more influence and value, and, no matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t live in a world where this truth was not known.

They were wrong, anyway. The nation didn’t put an end to tribes, any more than the tribe put an end to families or individuals, but it did put an end to the idea of the tribe as the outermost boundary of human connection. What the innovation of nation did do was this: expand the possibilities of what a tribe or a family could be, offer more choices in matters of creating tribes, or forming families. 

And so, the family and the tribe remained vital and important and honored structures within most human nations. A nation was simply a more effective natural human system than a tribe in many crucial ways, and always had been. Still, over time, it was understood that anyone who put their tribe or family over the national interest would be seen as creating a dangerous corruption of the larger society, because the nation was a natural human system which, as a practical matter, created more value than the tribe or the family.

The problem with being tribal isn’t that the tribe was bad—it was good, in many unique ways that remained and continued. The problem with tribalism was that it didn’t take human connectivity far enough, and so to try to make the tribe the outermost boundary of human connection meant living in a dangerous and unsustainable lie that would eventually fall to the truth.

The innovation of “tribe” simply went further into the truth of human connection.

The humans had innovated, and learned, and now there were more neighbors. The nationalist humans learned that more neighbors meant more resources, not less.

The tribes that feared loss of resource were wrong, because the nation is a natural human system, and natural human systems are shared, invisible, foundational, generative, automatic, inextricable, configurable, and inherited.

The tribe had been the boundary of the neighborhood. Now it was the nation.

The nation created new ties providing the mutual interconnectivity that allowed for shared values, which allowed for trust, which allowed for cooperation, which allowed for cohesion, safety and survival. The arrangement provided each human with collective value available only through the innovative creation of the nation, while allowing them to continue enjoying the benefits of being familial and tribal.

The innovation of the nation didn’t put an end to conflict or abuse among the humans. In truth, the creation of nations involved more conflict, and new abuses, as the bad priorities already present within families and tribes were inherited to national systems. For example: tribes and families resistant to the new concept of “nation” were captured or conquered or forced to comply, or isolated and starved of resources as they tried to compete against a new and more effective type of natural human system, by nationalist humans who had no interest in the humanity of tribes not of their nation; meanwhile, families and individuals who most benefitted within the nations tried to use their influence to configure this new human system, to unnaturally seize even more influence, to solidify these imbalances into tradition, and codify them into law.

Logic demands there would be more conflict, and more danger of abuse; this was, after all, a more efficient human system. It would naturally be as efficient at delivering corruptions and harms in the same way it delivered its benefits—and there would grow among nationalist humans the awareness that the harm this new and efficient system could deliver could compromise their entire country.

So among nationalist humans there grew an awareness, checks, taboos: that to harm one was to harm all, in a way that simply wouldn’t be relevant if applied to anybody outside of the nation. However, among nationalist humans, no common cause with outside nations existed, nor any need for that common cause, other than this awareness—they were not us. They were rivals for our resources. They were not to be trusted.

What sat at the bottom of this false belief was the great foundation lie: the people who are us matter, and the people who are not us do not matter at all.

And so, the nation was good. It was useful, and remained useful. But it wasn’t the end.

What happened was that some humans within nations began to realize something that has always been true but hasn’t yet been realized. They learned that what they did affected the nations nearby, and what nations nearby did affected them, and that conflict over the resources they needed represented a waste of energy and resource, and could even risk the destruction of the resources upon which all nations depend.

What sort of resources? Oh, things like soil that produces food. Vegetation. Breathable air. Drinkable water. An ecosystem. A planet that continues to sustain life. In other words, the future of human existence.

What happened was some people in nations learned something that had always been true but hadn’t yet been known: that there were actually enough resources for all the nations, and that nations joined together over their commonalities of a shared human need and a shared human planet could create a human system that generated much more influence and value than single nations acting apart.

Here was the name of this new concept: Planet. The humans were nationalist. They became planetary.

I recommend we set our story about the humans right here, in the midst of a great shift from nationalism to planetary thinking.

Let’s make this planet the humans live on spherical. Globular. We could call the planet “the globe.” We could call their planetary thinking “globalism.”

Here’s what’s going on with our humans.

Some of the tools of globalism these humans have developed are empire and commerce and alliance and war and incorporation—which are largely the same tools used by families and tribes and nations, too. Some of these tools are imperfect, which means they can be improved, and should be. Some of them are bad, which means they can be abandoned, and should be. “War” in particular is a real stinker. "Incorporation" is perhaps the most popular, at this particular moment in our story.

Let's talk about war and incorporation.

So, in our story, the human innovation of planetary thinking hasn’t put an end to conflict. Our nascently planetary humans are still governed by the bad priorities already present within families and tribes and nations, shaped by bad ideas with no place within a healthy system, that have configured their natural human systems into something potentially unsustainable, inherited up from families and tribes and nations into the global system. In truth, the creation of globalism has involved more conflict, and new abuses. There have been, and are, nations resistant to the new concept of “global,” who have been captured or conquered or forced to comply, or isolated and starved of resources as they tried to maintain insularity rather than compete against a new more effective type of natural human system. There are nations that most benefit within the global system of empire and commerce and alliance, who have used their influence to seize more influence and more benefit. It’s some of these conflicts between nations that humans call “war,” and it happens a lot. Alliance is a much more effective way of managing conflict than war. The humans know this, and yet war has not ceased; rather, it has increased.

In the story, nationalist humans will have innovated a lot of ways of warring between nations—which is generally seen as involving physical combat. 

They also have created "incorporation," increasingly elaborate and effective systems of finance and commerce and jurisprudence, which are able to deliver astonishing amounts of wealth and benefit to some humans. Unfortunately, the "incorporation" is aligned to the same foundational lies, configured for abuse, to deliver inherited theft and harm to some with the same level of astonishing efficiency as it employs to deliver the inherited plunder to others. 

The nationalist humans still have incorporated war and theft because there are families and tribes and nations, who wrongly see the planetary view as a danger threatening to put an end to families and tribes and nations entirely; because there are families and tribes and nations infected by the oldest viral human lies, that some people matter than others; that the people who are us matter and the people who are not us do not matter at all.

And we readers will clearly see that just as their precursors were wrong, they too are wrong. The global view won’t put an end to nations, any more than nations put an end to tribes or families or individuals, but it has already put an end to the idea of the nation as the outermost boundary of human connection. And yes, in our story there will still be nations that fear the idea of a global humanity and resist it, to the determent of all. All nations in our story do this, in fact, to one extent or another. It’s here the humans in our story find themselves, caught in the teeth of this centuries-long transition between a nationalist realization and a globalist one, applying old harms on a global stage, in ways that compromise the entire planet.

Here’s the conflict of our story, the stakes: Either the humans will learn to move into the truth of a connected planet, and, having reached the furthest imaginable boundary, begin at last to address their oldest foundational lies, or they will deny that truth and remain in the lies. Either they will move into new and sustainable models of living, that recognizes the responsibility of global connections, or else they’ll go on putting their tribe or family or nation over the planetary interest, and in so doing live an unsustainable lie.

If that happens, our humans will go extinct. 

Pretty big stakes!

If we write the story with skill, our readers will hope that the humans do not go extinct.

Eventually (and in our story we might introduce at least one crisis that makes this timeline more immediate), our humans are going to have to understand that anyone who puts their nation or tribe or family over a planetary interest would be seen as creating a dangerous corruption of everything including nations, tribes, and families, because, unless these humans make some sort of unimaginable interplanetary discovery, the planet is the natural human system.

We might even write the story so that planetary humanists were starting to realize that actually what humans were going to need to do to survive was not only learn to live in harmony with other humans, but with all other systems on the planet—that in fact the natural human system was only a component of a natural system upon which all humans relied in a way that was shared, foundational, generative, automatic, inextricable, configurable, and inherited.

The humans in our story won't be able to go back from global humanity, because global humanity, like all innovations, is the discovery of something that was always true. They can’t separate themselves from it, because innovation is part of a natural human system as well, delivered to our humans as automatically and inextricably as are the benefit and harm.

If we follow the pattern of human development, we, reading the story of these humans, must conclude that a peaceful joined noncompeting globe will simply be a more effective natural human system than the nation, just as the nation was a more effective system than the tribe, and the tribe more effective than the family. 

If the pattern of human history is to be trusted, a unified cooperative globe would create more value and potential and opportunity than the nation or the tribe or the family—would, if our humans let it, create new ties providing the mutual interconnectivity that allows for shared values, which allows for trust, which allows for cooperation, which allows for cohesion, safety and survival. 

We readers might begin to suspect that such an arrangement might, if the humans let it, provide each individual with collective value that is automatic, inextricable, invisible, natural, and inherited, and available only through the innovative creation of a unified non-competing globe—an arrangement within which it would be clearly understood that to harm one was to harm all, in a way that extends to the very boundaries of planetary existence. No common cause with outside planets will yet exist, nor any need for that common cause, not because the humans seek no common cause, but because there remains within human awareness no common cause left to seek.

But let's end there for now.

Let’s make this a happy ending. Let’s say the humans lead themselves into the new truth their innovation has uncovered.

The problem with being nationalist, our humans will discover, isn’t that the nation is bad—it’s good, in many ways that still continue. The problem with nationalism is and always was, it didn’t take human connectivity far enough, and so to try to make the nation the outermost boundary of human connection meant living in a dangerous and unsustainable lie that would inevitably fall to the truth.

No, the humans learn, the nation isn’t bad—it’s uniquely good and useful, and remains so. But it won’t be the end.

Planetary thinking simply goes further into the truth of human connection.

The nation will have been the boundary of the neighborhood. But now it is the planet. It always was.

The nationalist humans will have learned that more neighbors meant more resources, not less.

And our humans will have innovated, and learned, and now their entire planet is full of neighbors. Logic insists that the families and tribes and nations that fear loss of resource will have been proved wrong, because the report of human history demands that more neighbors means more resources, not less; and the globe is not a natural human system, it is the natural human system.

But story can’t start with the resolution. We’ll need to make this a conflict, so the story really has some fizz. Let’s start the story at a point where it really looks bad; as if our humans are going to cling to the old unsustainable lies—choose extinction over expansion, life over death.

What would be the situation that threatens a bad ending? What would that look like?

Well … if we were to find that these humans were still captured by our worst priorities, the ones most aligned with harmful ideas that have no place in a healthy society, they might find themselves with a leader who always puts himself before anybody else, who always puts his family ahead of any tribe to which he might belong, who always puts the interests of his tribe before that of the nation he leads, and who always puts his nation’s domination over the global sustainability of human life.

Worse, our humans might have chosen that leader, and be seriously considering choosing him again.

Yes. We might start there.




President Donald Trump campaigns in Toledo, Ohio, on Jan 9, 2020
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

It's a sci-fi premise. It’s not meant as anthropology or history.

Understand, I am aware that progressive innovation of natural human systems of family and tribe and nation didn’t happen anything like as cleanly or uniformly as presented here—but these innovations did occur, and I think the fact that it happened gives us significant insight into the question of who our neighbors are.

It’s worth repeating the reason we’re contemplating neighbors. We’ve learned a present danger to our neighbor means an eventual danger to us, no matter how much it presently favors us.

This suggests that—even if we are only driven by self-interest—we would do well to watch for dangers to our neighbors, and then change our human systems to protect them.

How far will the change have to reach? To the very boundaries of our city—our natural human system.

Which demanded the question: What are the boundaries of our city?

And then, as answer, another question, an ancient one: Who is my neighbor?

 

A question: Who is my neighbor?

An answer: Who isn’t?

Another question: Who is your neighbor’s neighbor, if not you?

So: Who stole the value from my neighbors, and who gave it to me?

And who stole the land for my house, my street?

Who stole value away from my neighbor’s street, and who gave it to my street?

I’ll answer it with another question, one I’ve already answered:

Who put my street there?


A.R. Moxon is a writer. His novel The Revisionaries, is available now, with the paperback edition releasing December 1, 2020.

Back |  Forward >

0. NEXT

PART I: HERE
1. STREET
2. VALUE
3. CONFIGURE
4. NEIGHBOR
5. INHERIT
6. ALIGN

PART II: NOW
7. CONVICT
8. CONFESS
9. REPENT
10. REPAIR


Saturday, October 17, 2020

Streets 3 - Configure

 

Photo of a street; caption "3"
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Let me say some obvious things about streets.

A street has direction. It leads from one place to another. It leads from the same place today as it did yesterday, and to the same place today as yesterday. Where our streets are built—where they start and where they lead—reflect our community’s historical priorities, which we have inherited, regarding which places are important for people to be able to easily travel, and which are not.

If a street isn’t maintained, it will fall into disrepair. If the disrepair isn’t remedied, it will get worse, not better. A city that won’t maintain its streets will eventually become a city incapable of creating or receiving the value of transportation. So: we maintain our streets, if we’re wise. And so, simply by observing the conditions of our streets, we can make determinations about our community’s current priorities; not just which places are important for people to be able to access, but which places are more important.

And, which are less important.

If we want to make the street longer, we can extend it, but it will still lead out further in the same direction. If we were to decide that where the street led wasn’t a useful destination any longer, or if we realized the destination was harmful, or if for some other reason we wanted it to no longer lead to the destination it did, but to some other place, we’d need to greatly modify the street we had, to the point that it would begin to seem like a different street entirely.

If we wanted to allow easy access to some new location that had as yet been afforded no street, we’d need to build an entirely new street. A casual observer would easily be able to detect the new priority within our community. A place that had not previously been important to access has now become important. There is a new airport on the outskirts. A road has been built to the airport. The airport is important. If no road were built to the airport, the airport would be a boondoggle.

If we no longer cared about a location that we previously deemed important, we might stop maintaining the street, and allow it to fall into disrepair. A casual observer would easily be able to detect the underlying truth about priority; about a place the community once valued, which it values no longer—and, if there are people still living on that street, about those people, too.

And the people living there would also understand, of course. They, too, would understand at a glance what message was being delivered through their neglected and decaying street.

You might say that our streets are a tool—one of many—whereby a community delivers its priorities—its real priorities. The ones that can’t be denied, because they are what’s being done.

A rundown street.
Photo credit: Tamar Charney

And, if we were to chart the full history of changes to our streets—of enhancement; creation, modifications, construction; and also of neglect, removal, and demolition, too—we could conceivably create a map of our community’s historical and ongoing priorities regarding human access.

So, our streets are configurations of our community. They, like all human systems, are changeable. Configurable. They will deliver the more core and underlying priorities of the part of the community that has power to decide on priorities. That’s the human part of the system.

Let me say some obvious things about configuration to human systems, once again using streets as illustration.

If we wish to maintain our streets, or extend them, or modify them, or build new ones to serve new needs, we would have to … do it.

But some time before we do it, we’ll have to realize that there’s a need to do it.

And some time after that, but still before we do it, we’ll have to accept that doing it is our collective responsibility.

And some time after that, but still before we do it, we’ll have to determine to actually do it, and make the necessary plans.

And some time after that, but still before we do it, we’ll have to agree to pay what it costs.

And some time after that, the cost will actually have to be paid.

And only once all those steps have taken place will the street actually be changed or maintained.

If these steps don’t take place, then the change won’t happen. The street will remain as it is.

Streets are configurable. People made them. People can change them.

We can set them upon a foundation that is even, or uneven.

We can use materials that are sturdy, or shoddy.

If they’re uneven or shoddy, we can make them better.

Or … we can make them worse.

We can configure them to generate opportunity and value and health equally for all. Or we can configure them to steal opportunity and value and health from some and give to ourselves.

This configuration will reflect our community’s priorities—the real priorities.

And the natural qualities of a natural human system mean that the theft and harm will be delivered to those it victimizes in the same way that the opportunity and health is delivered to those it favors: in a way that is shared, invisible, foundational, generative, automatic and inextricable.

That's the natural part of the system.

As I said: obvious.

I think these are very plain and obvious things to say. I’ve learned that this is an age in which it has become useful and necessary, even powerful, to state plain and obvious things.

____

Let me say some obvious things about human priorities: They tend to have a momentum. They act upon reality, and create effects. Those effects bend reality toward that priority, making reality more aligned with that priority, making it easier for that priority to further bend reality toward itself. They lead from one place to another. And so, like the streets, human priorities, too, have direction.

A priority, unchecked, increases its effects. Left entirely unchecked, it will eventually reach a state in which the priority’s intention is indivisible from reality itself. So, a priority based upon a desire for a sustainable system will allow itself to be checked toward sustainability, while a priority based upon an unsustainable lie will eventually check itself toward unsustainability; will inevitably destroy that system itself in favor of itself.

You might think of a priority based on a lie as a virus. A thing that exists only to promote itself, which has no place whatsoever within a healthy system, which will eventually consume that system if left unchecked.

Imagine the most extreme example: a system so unfair that every bit of value my street generates—every wage, every increase to property, every bit of food, permission to drive on the street or walk on the sidewalk, permission to access the homes for living or storage—goes only to me, and to me alone. The only result can be that eventually my neighbors are crushed, leaving me alone, receiving only the value I can deliver to myself, for however long that lasts.

In time, I would become a bizarre and unsustainable curiosity. Having cut every other human out of my natural human system, I have made an unnatural human system; a system that no longer generates the value that a community of humans naturally makes. Eventually I, too, will fail—not despite the fact that I have all the wealth, but because.

If I live in a system that eats my neighbors, I live in a system that will eat me in the end—even if I'm the one the system feeds.

An unjust system is an unnatural system.

An unnatural system is an unsustainable system.

And the defining quality of an unsustainable system is, it doesn’t sustain.

____

Think of a recent picture I’ve provided. Think of the rain, a natural occurrence, necessary for life, which my house receives invisibly, automatically.

Imagine something: Imagine a city where a few people decided to capture the rain. Imagine they built a series of gutters and downspouts and barrels and cisterns, so that when the rain fell on all the houses, they could divert most of it away from some of the people and bestow it to a select few others. Imagine a city comprised of islands of perfect lush green, swimming in a vast sea of blasted and parched and unnatural desert. Imagine a city that manufactured drought during a rainy season, then horded water, unused, in times of drought.

Or, less metaphorically: imagine a city that recognized the intrinsic value that a collection of people naturally generates—inextricable, automatic, inherited, shared, invisible—and decided to configure it to capture all that value for themselves.

Imagine, if you can, a society founded on a series of unjust lies—a series of propositions which, like a virus, have no place in a healthy society; which, like a cancer, grow out of systems that would otherwise be necessary for health; and which, like both virus and cancer, exist only to propagate themselves at the expense of health until those systems were consumed.

Suppose the founders of this society had learned that they could maximize the foundational, generative value that is the natural output of human society, by stealing all value away from millions of other humans, and giving it all to themselves. Suppose they did this by utilizing the idea that it was not only possible but desirable, not only desirable but righteous, for human beings to own other human beings as possessions. Suppose they founded their society on the proposition that the Owners should be the only people within the society allowed to partake in the collective will of the natural human system they’d built, and to control all the value delivered, and to parcel value out to the Owned only to the exact extent to which such an allowance would profit the Owner.

I would suppose that such a society would begin to believe, at the very core, that some people have value and others do not.

I would suppose that such a society would conclude that a person’s value is a matter of power and wealth, and to lack power and wealth is to lack any value.

I would suppose that such a society would conclude that for those who lack value, life must be earned by providing profit.

I would suppose that such a society would conclude that for a valueless person to receive some value beyond the profit they could provide would be a grotesque and offensive theft; that a person who could not be used for profit had not earned life, represented theft, and had therefore earned death.

I would suppose that such a society would believe violence to be an acceptable way to redeem such a debt against such a valueless thief.

Photo of police rioting violently against people protesting the police murder of George Floyd.
Photo credit: Jim Vondruska


If my theories are correct, such a malicious idea would do what unjust lies always do: it would collapse the system. It would make institutions that in a healthy system would be vital to continued health into something grotesque and malicious; would make these institutions susceptible to practices, ideas, and intentions that have no place in healthy society. Eventually these foundational injustices, built on foundational lies, would devolve into unrest and internal war until either they captured the system entirely, or else they were defeated.

A society founded on many such lies would likely face a series of such collapses.

An Alabama State Trooper swings his baton at the head of the then-25-year-old Congressman John Lewis on March 7, 1965. ( Everett Collection Historical, Alamy Stock Photo)
An Alabama State Trooper swings his baton at the head of the then-25-year-old Congressman John Lewis on March 7, 1965. ( Everett Collection Historical, Alamy Stock Photo)


For example: such a society might find itself into an observable historical cycle, whereby all resources and power would become unnaturally allocated with fewer and fewer people, until most people struggled to find what they needed to survive even though plenty existed all around, and found themselves with less and less recourse to effect any change, while a very few ruthless people managed to capture for themselves more resources than they could ever possibly use, which they would credit to themselves as proof of their right to own it.

Ku Klux Klan parade in DC in 1927 (GETTY IMAGES)
Ku Klux Klan parade in DC in 1927 (GETTY IMAGES)

If such a society managed, through some combination of luck or effort to push back these unsustainable scenarios, it would be necessary for them to engage in the same practices any survivor of cancer or virus finds it necessary to engage in, if they were aligned with ongoing health. There would need to be a diagnosis— acknowledgement that the unjust lies and their unjust practices existed; then there would need to be a short-term change—radical, targeted, painful—to eliminate the threat; then a long-term remedy—a permanent, holistic, watchful, strategic, systemic restructuring—to monitor for and prevent recurrence.

But if they refused?

If they did that … then, if my theories are correct, you would inevitably see the healthy systems compromised and captured by the same old foundational lies, until everywhere you looked you would see the terrible old assumptions: that some people have value but most do not, that wealth is the measure of value, that the valueless must earn life through profit, that being unprofitable earns death, and that violence redeems.

A woodcut from the abolitionist Anti-Slavery Almanac (1839) depicts the capture of a fugitive slave by a slave patrol.
A woodcut from the abolitionist Anti-Slavery Almanac (1839) depicts the capture of a fugitive slave by a slave patrol.


And such a system would inevitably begin to collapse.

Can you imagine it?

As a novelist, I might be able to manage such a thought experiment.

Let’s see … what would it look like?

____


Imagine a fictional city. Let’s call it something random, like, oh … Randopolis, in the land of Galtopia.

Let’s say Randopolis was the sort of place built on the sort of foundational lies I’ve just described.

Imagine they believed the lie, that some people had value and some didn’t.

Imagine they believed the lie, which attributed worth to wealth.

Imagine they believed the lie, that for anyone without wealth to receive any value equaled theft.

Imagine they believed the lie, that violence redeems.

And imagine that these people believed these lies to such an entrenched state that when they founded their city they owned other human beings as property.

Imagine a city like Randopolis, that had captured the natural human systems of society; had harnessed the mechanisms by which humans provide value to one another, and subverted it to unnatural ends, to instead deliver harm and theft to many for the enrichment of themselves.

To assist our world-building efforts, we might give this subversion a name, like injustice.

Imagine the more powerful members of Randopolis decided to optimize for injustice—to purposefully engineer the mechanisms by which cities decide things, so that when the city decided things, certain types of people were much more likely to be included in making those decisions, and all others were much less likely, so that the concept “the city decides” inevitably meant, in ways both visible and invisible, only a select type of people. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that the favored people resembled the historical Owners: mostly older, mostly whiter, mostly wealthy, mostly male. Imagine that this happened to such an extent that it became an assumed thing, to the point that whiteness and wealth and age and maleness became the default assumption for decision-making in Randopolis, even an automatic and invisible assumption, a comforting thing, and anything breaking this mold was seen as a break from precedent, a special case, a risk—identity politics. In fact, for the first let’s-say 150 years of Randopolis’ let’s-say 250 year history, this restriction was not just an assumed preference, but codified as law.

Imagine the underlying configuration of such a foundation.

Imagine the ongoing inheritance of such a configuration.

Imagine now that because Randopolis had decided, over the course of generations, to route the value that a collection of people naturally generates, so that some received most of it while others received less, it so happened that no matter what sorts of remedies they put in place to configure against these unjust effects, the effects would inevitably come through, because the deeper intentions of Randopolis had never changed—the deeper intentions, the ones that matter, because they reflect what actually happens. These intentions came through because human intentions have a certain momentum. The effects of Randopolis’ founding lies always told the tale, not because those making the decisions always consciously believed those who the system robbed deserved to receive less (though they often did believe that), or because those making the decisions always consciously decided they’d rather keep more for themselves (though often they did so decide) but because the deepest intentions of Randopolis had become inseparable from reality in ways that were invisible and inextricable.

Imagine if for decades, people who had been stolen from in this way inherited that loss. Imagine they were systemically and not-so-secretly considered, simply by their existence, to be considered not victims of theft, but to be loss of value itself, to the point that houses were perceived to lose value simply by having such a person live within it, or even in proximity to it.

Imagine if that perception became so powerful that people treated it as reality. Imagine that those who had inherited all the stolen value used the fear of loss of value to remove all their stolen wealth elsewhere, to avoid sharing it with those they perceived as representing that loss—and so more value was withdrawn. Imagine that when this withdrawal applied to certain functions that are essential to a sustainable society—like for example schools—it was framed as choice, and notice how the framing conveys an assumption about who is permitted to choose.

Imagine if the people who were perceived as loss of value had once upon a time been the slaves that had built the older foundational roads, whose value the rest all inherited. Imagine if they were allowed to be perceived as loss of value because their ancestors had once been property, and, having repatriated their selves back to themselves, had stopped being property. Imagine that by no longer being property their former owners decided their very bodies represented not freedom for the freed, but theft from the owners.

Imagine if, in Randopolis, when people talked about the manumission of enslaved people, they said things like “we freed the slaves,” as if freedom itself were a gift that had been bestowed by Owners to Owned, rather than a natural right unnaturally stolen and rightfully returned.

But let’s go back further. Let’s imagine that this example of theft of value and displacement wasn’t just a single event, but a cycle. A foundational pattern. An intrinsic cultural methodology, to be found, once one had eyes to see it, everywhere; quite literally, everywhere. Imagine if the land upon which the houses and streets of Randopolis had been built by enslaved people had been stolen from somebody else entirely, and the people who lived there previously had been send off to live elsewhere. 

Imagine if that value, which had once belonged entirely to them, no longer did, and, it seems, never would again? Imagine a theft so total as that.

In Randopolis, these were assumptions so rooted in the public consciousness of those who benefitted from it, so buried beneath the soil, that they were entirely invisible to their consciences, even as they picked and ate the fruit of those unnatural roots. Imagine if all of this was, to those who never suffered the consequences of these decisions, but who mainly reaped the benefits, largely invisible, and automatic, and inextricable, and shared, and inherited.

And because injustice inevitably occurred in their society, the citizens of Randopolis began to conclude, that injustice was an inevitable reality, rather than to suspect that they were foundationally unjust.

You’d be able to see this sort of dynamic play out wherever you looked, literally anywhere—in Randopolis, remember—the fictional city I’m asking you to imagine.

Watch:

Imagine if in Randopolis the city decided at some point to build its streets primarily to convey cars. Imagine the city decided to put only cursory thought into the fact that some people possess insufficient wealth to own a car. Imagine that a city did this, until Randopolis became a much more difficult and expensive place to live if you didn’t have a car than if you did. Where not being able to afford a car made it less likely you’d be able to afford one in the future, either.

Imagine if some of the people involved in making such decisions owned car companies, or companies supporting or fueling the automobile industry, or owned large interests in such companies, or were friends with people with such interests. Imagine if most of the rest received generous payments from such companies to assist them in holding their plum positions.

Imagine something more: Imagine the streets in Randopolis were built in such a way as to cut some people in the city off from easy access to the rest of the city. Imagine if streets in those parts of the city were not maintained. Imagine if the city decided to do this.

Imagine if the city decided to divert less of its investment to those cut-off streets than others, year after year, decade after decade, until one could easily perceive which streets Randopolis had deemed worthy of investment and which it did not, and, by inference, the people living on those streets.

Imagine if the city decided to send municipal forces down only some streets to enforce laws, but not others, year after year, decade after decade. Imagine they were sent down streets that were presumed theft, presumed threat, presumed poverty, to secure “safety” for streets that were presumed safeness, wholeness, wealth. Imagine that over the years these forces were more and more equipped like military, like soldiers. Now imagine that the effect of all this policing was that the people who were perceived as presumed theft were charged with far more crime than any other, and as a result they also became presumed danger.

And so, the people who had inherited the injustice of theft also inherited even the culpability for the crimes committed against them, which was used as license for further theft. In Randopolis.

Imagine if year after year, decade after decade, the people living in houses on those streets had the shared, intrinsic, inextricable, inherited value of those streets deliberately diverted away from their street, and into all the other streets.

Imagine if for decades (in Randopolis), the city decided to help certain types of people own houses, while at the same time the city decided to not help other types of people own houses, or even to make it much more difficult, or impossible. Imagine after time those who had received this assistance were able to leverage the value they’d gained from having their houses to actually be able to buy other houses, which they would then rent to those who hadn’t been given the opportunity to create such value. Imagine if the city decided that these rented houses only needed to have as much value put into them as the owners decided they wanted to put. Imagine that, in Randopolis, a system was invented by which those who sold houses all tacitly agreed not to sell property in areas that had received stolen value to certain people who everyone tacitly agreed represented loss of value. 

Imagine it were easy to do so, because those who lived on streets with stolen value all just so happened to have darker skin. Strangely, even though the neighborhoods whose value had been stolen contained mostly people with darker skin, no individual person with lighter skin could remember ever discriminating against any person with darker skin. Somehow it was just something the city decided, without deciding to, with no intention. Almost as if it had happened invisibly, automatically, inextricably.

And imagine then, that those in Randopolis who had inherited the benefits of all this diverted value were able to leverage that stolen value against the lessened value of the plundered areas, to purchase those areas at a discount, as an investment, then realize fantastic profits, as the presence of the assumed value of their selves, who had inherited a deliberate disproportionate value, replaced the assumed loss of value of those who had inherited a deliberate disproportionate loss, and so the city decided to once again invest in the maintenance of the streets, to allow value to flow once again into a place that had for decades seen the natural flow of value deliberately cut off.

Imagine some of the older streets, paved new, covering over the older roads, built on land stolen by others, constructed by child labor, underpaid labor, or by slave labor, allowed to fall into disrepair, until people perceived valuable arrived to bestow their assumed value upon them.

Imagine the collective weight of all that unnaturally diverted and stolen value. Think of the centuries of theft. Think of the centuries of inheritance—because natural human systems are inherited. As with the benefit, so with the harm.

Imagine a land optimized for injustice, as it slid into complete injustice.

Imagine a land where only a few people held almost all the value and influence the society provided.

Imagine a land where they used that value and influence mostly to try to get the rest.

Imagine a land that had become an unnatural human system optimized for injustice.

Imagine a land built on a bad foundation, as it began to collapse.

Imagine Randopolis.

Atlas Shrugged movie photo; mausoleum engraved "'I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine"
Imagine millions of people believed they could actually live by this maxim.

____

A hypothetical: say we discovered that the streets were discovered to be the cause of 95% of all cases of cancer. What if the very composition of our streets was discovered to contain some substance, which over time had become radioactive. Suppose they had made our streets so radioactive that they were causing active fatal harm to the people who used them. An asbestos of transportation, let’s say. What then?

Well, then: we’d need to replace all the streets. How many? All of them. How far? To the very boundaries of the city. Or we’d have to accept that the streets would kill us.

It would be the same steps for a larger modification as for a smaller one: Realize the need. Accept our responsibility. Agree to pay. Then actually pay.

Enough of us will have to want to enact these steps, so many that the city would decide it would be done.

Or, if the city refuses to change them, we’d have to conclude that this is because our city refuses to enact one of these steps. Which means either we have refused to enact them, or else that we are no longer what is meant when we say “the city decides,” and the controls have been unnaturally stripped from us.

Say we came to the point where most of us had decided to take these steps, yet those who held the controls by which the city decides still refused to take them. Either they refuse to accept the need, or they refuse to accept responsibility, or they refuse to determine to act, or they refuse the cost.

If this were our situation, then we will have to reach the conclusion that the problem of our radioactive streets is only the immediate problem, that the larger undergirding problem is that the way that our city makes decisions has been unnaturally misaligned, intentionally stolen. We’d have to conclude that such a city has decided to filter decisions on whether or not to let people live or die based on whether or not they were worthy of the effort—that it was a city aligned along matters of profit, rather than matters of life. That it was a city willing to take all the value an individual provided it, and then finally extend none back—and was a city that had learned ways of performing such an action.

But hey, listen to this: What if we only fixed some of the streets?

What if we only fixed the streets that were predominately … crazy hypothetical here, but oh, let’s say, let’s say white?

Or what if we only fixed the streets that had houses on them that were, to use a completely insane hypothetical that you’d never see in the real world, worth $1 million or more?

I think we’d have to conclude that the city had decided to let the streets kill some of us, based on our race or our wealth.

Which would suggest that each of us has a valuation, beyond which our lives are not valued.

Which would mean there exists some danger that would cause our city to abandon each of us, because—as we’ve learned—the opportunity and the health that society passes to us is automatic and inherited and invisible, but so is the injustice—the theft and the harm.

Which means that I have now learned that my community’s priorities—the real ones, the ones that are undeniable because they are what is actually happening—have bent reality toward the consumption of people to secure profit, and they have now reached a momentum that can no longer be denied.

Which means that a present danger to my neighbor means an eventual danger to me, no matter how much that danger presently favors me.

Which means that—even if I am only driven by self-interest—I would do well to watch for dangers to my neighbors.

If the way the city decides has become as broken or useless or harmful as our streets, then it is unable to solve problems—any problems. It might even start to organize itself around the principle like “government is the problem”—that solving problems of people isn’t a suitable matter for cities to engage in. If our city is organized in such a way that it is unwilling to save people from death unless they are deemed worth it, then we are vulnerable, not only to the problem of the streets, but to any danger to which our city decides our lives are disposable. If we are people who wish to live, we will have to change the way the city decides.

____

It's a science fiction premise. I put it forward for the same reason most science fiction premises are put forward, which  is to demonstrate something true about our present reality.

Here's what my sci-fi premise demonstrates: when the city deliberately decides not to fix a problem, something needs to be fixed about the way the city decides things, because it represents a clear indication that our natural human system has been optimized for injustice, which will eventually consume everything, including ourselves. Today's threat to my neighbor is tomorrow's threat to me, because to live in a system that eats my neighbors is to live in a system that will eat me in the end—even if I'm the one the system feeds.

It is a wise society, then, that takes care of its neighbors.

How will we fix the way the city decides? The same way we change the streets. The same steps: Realize the need. Accept our responsibility. Decide to act. Agree to pay.

How much will have to change? Everything misaligned.

Which neighbors will we have to protect? All of them.

How far will the change have to reach? To the very boundaries of the city.

Because the good news is, if human systems can be configured, it cuts both ways. If we’ve configured our streets for harm and theft and injustice and collapse, we can also configure them for health and restoration and justice and sustainability.

How do we change the configuration? By changing our priorities—because priorities have a momentum that bends reality.

It starts with priorities—real ones, ones that cannot be denied, because they reflect what is actually happening.

Yes, and how do we change our priorities? The same steps we use to do anything. The same steps we use to build or change or maintain our streets.

Realize the need. Accept our responsibility. Decide to act. Agree to pay.

If we don’t do it, it has to be assumed it’s because we don’t want to.

I think these are very plain and obvious things to say. I’ve learned that this is an age in which it has become useful and necessary, even powerful, to state plain and obvious things.


Amy Coney Barrett holds up an empty notepad and flashes a shit-eating smirk. (TOM WILLIAMS / CQ-ROLL CALL, INC VIA GETTY IMAGES)
TOM WILLIAMS / CQ-ROLL CALL, INC VIA GETTY IMAGES


A.R. Moxon is a writer. His novel The Revisionaries, is available now, with the paperback edition releasing December 1, 2020.

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0. NEXT

PART I: HERE
1. STREET
2. VALUE
3. CONFIGURE
4. NEIGHBOR
5. INHERIT
6. ALIGN

PART II: NOW
7. CONVICT
8. CONFESS
9. REPENT
10. REPAIR