Tuesday, January 15, 2013

States and Nations 3.0: Why 3.0

I'm presently working on the next States and Nations article, as well as another on future dystopias. The latter looks at some of the technological roots of nightmare societies, like the Soviet Union, North Korea, and Nazi Germany, and speculates on how future technologies could lead to novel totalitarian variations. In the meanwhile, I thought I'd do a quick explanation behind the 3.0 in the title of the States series.

For me, the 1.0 generation of states extends from early city-states in Mesopotamia, the Indus River Valley, and Egypt, to medieval European kingdoms and the Inca and Aztec empires. In a sense, these human collectives were just jumped up chieftainships, like those that had ruled over constellations of conquered agricultural villages in resource rich micro-regions. While often larger and centered on cities, 1.0 nation-states typically still featured a ruling family similar to those found in chieftainships, and those states' nascent administrative bureaucries were normally direct extensions of that family's royal court or household.

States 2.0 are products of the industrial revolution. These modern nation have far larger populations that exploded with the arrival of technologies that boosted food production and preservation -- and that slashed child mortality rates. Think canned meats and vegetables, improved hygiene, and modern sewers. The national infrastructure and services requirements of these industrial-sized populations in the 19th and 20th centuries necessitated the creation of extended bureaucries -- vast administrative apparatuses that took on lives of their own. In most 2.0 states, political power has rapidly -- in a historical time frame -- diffused from small groups of ruling elites to most of the population. Of course there have been some notable and ugly exceptions to that trend. Several of the mid-20th century totalitarian states saw a cult-like centralization of power in individuals like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and a succession of Kims.

If you'd like to take this opportunity to cry foul, please do so. In the interest of brevity, there is a lot of simplification and compression taking place here. For example, I've skipped over parallel administrative and social services provided by professional priesthoods around the world. Then there are the version 1.5 states: Empires like that of Rome, the Parthian, the Kushan, and the Han Chinese, which at the start of the first millennium of our Common Era spanned nearly all of Eurasia, from the Pacific to the Atlantic. These states saw the rise of administrative apparatuses that were not made possible by new information preservation and distribution technologies. Instead, they were created in response to the needs of ruling over vast conquered or absorbed populations, and often relied on sheer manpower and highly trained memories at a time when memorizing and reciting volumes of literature and poetry was an expected part of educated life.

While technology is a powerful force that societies respond to and even restructure around, it's not the only one in play on the field of historical change.

Still, technology should be discussed as a shaper of nations. In our present, it's a major influence that's both overt and subtle. From abortion and prenatal sex selection in Asia, to the internet's radical democratization of content creation and publishing, many of issues that human beings around the planet are dealing with are responses to developing technologies. Responses that may well reshape states, or create successor collectives, just as previous tech revolutions have.

All of which is important to a fledgling science fiction author who spends a lot of time thinking about the future. As I mentioned in the first States and Nations article, many of our descendants may well end up being immensely amused by our depictions of clumsy 20th century style nation-states operating across multiple star systems. Imagine a chieftain's scribe penning a speculative romance that depicted a future chief commanding tanks and attack helicopters against a similarly armed chieftainship. On that rules a continent of villages with only the backing of a handful of warrior priests.

Granted, predicting the future is a often loser's game. Our present is practically littered with the detritus of past predictions that have come and gone without being realized. Still, it's a fun exercise, and once in a rare while one of us does hit the mark, William Gibson style.

It's also an opportunity to come up with cool and interesting concepts. The kind of ideas that make readers go "whoa," in a Keanu Reeves kind'a way. I'm hoping that some of those ideas will be come from exploring the territory 3.0 states that are as much a product of new information, fabrication, or bio technologies as their predecessors were of past agricultural and industrial revolutions.

No comments: