Science fiction and the human tribe

As a science fiction writer I’m always imagining what the future might hold for us human beings. I imagine us travelling to the stars and new worlds.  It represents an almost unlimited opportunity for a species that has always had a thirst for the new, exploration, pushing the boundaries.  In scifi land we think of global societies or even multi-global societies.  However, what history tells us, along with what is happening in the world today, is that that may be incredibly simplistic or just plain wrong.  That human beings will never feel comfortable living in some form of global society.

There are always those with the big plan for how the rest of should live and prosper.  The EU is the prime example.  Leaders of European countries sharing the same vision for this multi-country society that will benefit all.  United we stand, divided we fall and all that.  And this is not in any way a new model.  Alfred the great shared the same vision when it came to uniting the kingdoms of England under one ruler.  However, it seems the flaw in these plans is that many of the individuals who live under these regimes don’t see it that way, or at least don’t see what it gives them personally.  And unlike in Alfred’s day those people have the collective power to object, vote out thier leaders and change things, as demonstrated by the UKs Brexit vote and the rise of anti EU feeling in the rest of Europe.

So, why don’t we share those lofty ideals of more global societies?  Why do we find it difficult to accept the advantages it’s supporters tell us there are in such visions?  Perhaps, to some extent, the grass always seems greener on the other side i.e. the EU has been getting bigger and bigger over so many years that we now feel it is too big with huge problems, that we could do better as a smaller unit.  We don’t know that, but hey, let’s give it a go!   Also, perhaps the bigger it gets the more isolated the individual feels from the process and it’s leaders and the more we’re suspicious of their motivations.

The bottom line for me is that we human beings have a natural aversion to being part of a big group.  We are a gregarious species, but only to a point.  There is a limit over which we simply feel lost, that it loses relevance to the “me”.  In other words human beings are tribal, we like to feel part of a group that we share values with, where we know the other members of the tribe and that they think like us etc.  We join clubs and societies for that very reason, shared interests.  We feel happy and safe with like-minded individuals.

So for a science fiction writer perhaps I’m kidding myself when I dream of global and multi-global societies.  As human beings we’re just not programmed to thrive in those circumstances.  Give us a tribe to belong to.  And to some extent why not?  We are more likely to help, have sympathy and empathy for people we feel we know.  The danger?  That we retreat behind those tribal walls and we see our way as the only way.  We then become suspicious of those other tribes and view them as a threat, which again we are seeing in today’s world.  Although, again that has so obviously been the case throughout history.

Perhaps the trick is to accept our tribal nature with it’s good and bad points and try to work with it.  Give people those feelings of comfort while trying to suppress the negative.  That’s where we need strong leaders.  However, strong leaders could also lead us in the opposite direction with the inevitable conclusion that has also repeated itself.

Back to being a science fiction writer.  The more I think about it the more I can’t see those global / multi-global communities.  However, perhaps if we shake off the claustrophobic boundaries of a single world, with endless worlds to explore and inhabit we’ll find room for our many tribes to live side by side.  Or perhaps not.

As always comments are welcomed

Ian Martyn

Author: Ian Martyn

Science Fiction Writer

4 thoughts on “Science fiction and the human tribe”

  1. Good stuff. I’m in agreement – except for your ‘strong leaders‘ point. I think human society is at a scale that individuals are inherently unable to lead. I foresee (or hope for) a future in which A.I. makes rational, unbiased decisions which are only announced and spun by human politicians, not devised by them. Perhaps then we can get away from the politics of competition and distrust we have now.

If you have a view on this, let me know: