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Doctor Multiverse, Episode 2: Daleks and Diversity

If we want diverse societies, we have to be willing to put up with what diversity asks of us. But how far are we willing to go to support diversity? Would we be willing to tolerate Daleks...? Join renegade philosopher Doctor Multiverse as he explores the mysterious and disturbing world of 'intolerant tolerance'.


Doctor Multiverse, Episode 1: Bats and Balrogs

What do we see when we look at a photograph? Much more than the picture itself. We are so skilled at 'filling in the blanks' that we don't always realise how much of ourselves goes into our seeing. Join renegade philosopher Doctor Multiverse in a strange and wondrous exploration of photographs, protests, and bats that might lead you to ask the unlikely question: do Balrog Lives Matter...?

Introducing... Doctor Multiverse

DrM.IntroducingIt gives me great pleasure to introduce you to my ludicrous superheroic alter ego Doctor Multiverse, appearing in a series of 15-minute videos on Doug Lain's Diet Soap Media starting Saturday 19th February! From Balrogs and Daleks to thought experiments and science fiction, Doctor Multiverse: Renegade Philosopher is a mind-melting journey into the moral multiverse, with yours truly as your guide.

I've been writing essays at Only a Game for nearly 17 years, and I have never come close of running out of things to write about. But I've been mindful for some time that the zeitgeist for the exchange of ideas is now video. There are disturbing costs to this transition that we do not acknowledge or indeed yet understand, but there are also remarkable possibilities, and it is with these potentialities that I hope to now supplement the power of my essays to foster understanding and forge peace.

Four episodes will run in this first series, and I shall not be posting new essays until they are over - but fret not, my philosophical nonsense resumes in writing once again on March 15th, and I plan to link the Doctor Multiverse episodes here in the meantime. I welcome discussion on these or anything else you'd care to engage on.

Tune in this Saturday for the debut of Doctor Multiverse: Renegade Philosopher!

The Ascenturian Saga

The Ascenturian Saga was a serial in five parts that ran here at Only a Game from January 18th to February 8th 2022. Blending science fiction with philosophy, it set off from an examination of the roots of Frank Herbert's novel Dune to explore a purely imaginary people - the ascenturians - who have committed to ensuring that all human diversity reaches the Tenth Millennium after the founding of civilisation, 48 centuries hence. Each of the parts ends with a link to the next one, so to read the entire serial, simply click on the first link below, and then follow the “next” links to read on.

Here are the five parts:

  1. The Tenth Millennium
  2. Assembling the Future
  3. Sustaining the Present
  4. Restoring the Commons
  5. The Ascenturian Collectives

If you enjoyed this serial, please leave a comment. Thank you!

The Ascenturian Collectives

Borg Cube with Enterprise D.wideWhat are the ascenturians? A movement? A revolution? A collective? Although I began by calling them 'a movement', I would suggest that of all these terms, only 'collective' could possibly apply to the science fictional people capable of taking human civilisation a further 48 centuries to the Tenth Millennium. Yet 'collective' is a risky phrase to take on in the context of sci-fi. After all, the most famous deployment of this phrase comes from Star Trek: The Next Generation's Borg Collective. Why would you even want to suggest a comparison with something that has this as its monstrous chat up line:

We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.

I think it's clear that the Borg's use of the term 'collective' is euphemistic. A better descriptor for the Borg's modus operandi would be 'empire', and they represent the science fiction exemplar of technocratic empire. In fact, it is easy to rewrite the Borg's opening gambit for use by the ancient Roman Empire, once we knock out contemporary terms like 'biological', 'technological', and indeed 'culture':

We are the Roman Empire. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your people and tools to our own. Your tribes will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.

Whatever the imaginary ascenturians might be, they are certainly not an empire. But it would be equally wrong to call what is being proposed 'the ascenturian movement' or 'the ascenturian revolution'. All of these terms - movement, revolution, collective - are metaphors of motion, and the images they conjure align with how these terms are used in our language.

Movements have a direction; they start by mobilising people sympathetic to their cause into aligning with their chosen direction, and end by incorporating that direction into everyone in society by reconciling with those that at first had to be opposed. I admire political movements, although it has been half a century since the last successful one, and the 'left' has seemingly entirely lost the necessary virtues, skills, and communities required to even attempt a successful movement. That's because in the contemporary political landscape we are forbidden to ever contemplate reconciliation with 'the enemy' - and that makes all movements impossible. All that are left are attempts at revolutions.

Revolutions, as the name suggests, tend towards being merely rotations. They seek to replace one set of people or values with another set of people or values - spin the wheel, take your chances! Revolutions have a dubious track record... the American Revolution arguably succeeded, while the French Revolution that followed soon after ended in bloody disaster. The question of whether the Iranian Revolution of 1979 succeeded depends upon what criteria for success you are inclined to count, while the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising was brutally crushed. Generally speaking, revolution rotates the people in power, but it does not by itself bring about social change. In so much as the American Revolution succeeded, it did so because it was both a movement and a revolution... the ideals that were instituted in the Declaration of Independence would come, by slow but inexorable roads, to become the ideals of the British as well. This reconciliation and thus eventual alignment of ideals is the mark of a successful movement.

The progressive and conservative factions that blight political discourse today are not even remotely attempting to work as movements, but are merely posturing for either imagined revolutions ('left') or their prevention ('right'). You might even call them 'unrevolutions', but perhaps their failure to bring about meaningful social change is already embedded in the term, especially if you accept my supposition that the few revolutions that do manage to effect a lasting change might be distinguished as 'revolutionary movements'. Even dignifying contemporary progressive and conservative politics with the name 'revolution' might be too generous. What is a good metaphor for a forceful swirling into ever decreasing circles...? A whirlpool? A vortex? A maelstrom?

Collectives imply motion of a different kind. The imagery here is not of movements in a specific direction, but rather metaphors of gravity and orbits. Saturn can be understood as a collective comprised of the planet, its moons and satellites, along with the disparate particles that are seen to our eyes as rings. Many different things held together by a gravitational system that they all participate in. Ascenturians too can only be a collective in this sense... disparate societies and culture bubbles orbiting around the same truth: the intent of ensuring another 4,800 years of human culture, the hope of human diversity lasting to the Tenth Millennium in some form - and we need not imagine what or how that happens for the thought experiment to render aid to our thinking today.

I suggested in the principle of assembly that the ascenturians might 'assemble a plurality of reciprocal collectives of any viable kind.' The metaphor of Saturn and its satellites provides an image of what 'reciprocal collective' means, but there is a danger here. Our mythos is still dominated by Feudal tendencies: it is not by chance that we talk about Saturn as the entity of merit, and everything else as secondary to it, nor indeed that astronomers felt the need to exile the dwarf planets like Pluto and Eris from consideration as planets. I maintain that 'dwarf planets are planets' on purely pragmatic grounds, and this might even serve as an ascenturian rallying cry if it is understood, because accepting dwarf planets as planets necessarily means admitting we do not know everything about planets yet. Likewise, recognising reciprocal collectives entails admitting we do not know everything about humans yet.

To found reciprocal collectives, or to recognise which societies and culture bubbles are already reciprocal collectives, requires us to appreciate what reciprocity entails, namely co-operation for mutual benefit, exchanges both actual and conceptual within collectives where everyone shares an equal status. Yet 'equal status' is far more flexible than we think. Consider just a few examples from the religious traditions. I have always admired the Jewish community for its lack of overt power structure: Rabbis are as much a part of that community as anyone else. But if we try and contrast this negatively against Catholic Christianity's role for a figurehead for their community, the Pope, we may mislead ourselves - for the Pope is as much a participant in Catholic tradition as any other practitioner, and contrary to the way it is usually understood, Catholics these days follow their own conscience far more than they are blindly obedient to edicts from their symbolic leader. Both examples, the Jewish community and the Catholic magisterium, are examples of reciprocal collectives, as is every major religion that successfully holds together a community, just as Saturn holds together its community of celestial objects.

Neither are religions the only source of reciprocal collectives. What impressed me about the LGBT community of the 1990s was precisely this: it was a collective, one of mutual aid, solidarity and love that endured despite its differences. That it later came to fail in this regard does not undermine its earlier successes, but rather an invitation to renew what has been lost. Similarly, I admire the way those who play games around a table together form reciprocal collectives - both in the sense of the wider community of board gamers and role-players, and also in the sense that playing games together strengthens the unity of a family. So too musicians and their fans, who reciprocate asymmetrically (like Catholics and their hierarchy of clergy) but with the same sense of solidarity and community that every religious community engenders - everyone engaging in the musical collective is brought together by a common love, every gig is its own ceremony of solidarity.

All that is required for a reciprocal collective are people united by a common mythos, common practices, or indeed, actual commons. But they must reciprocate, which is to say, share, hold, or exchange certain things collectively, and they must be a collective, which is to say a community of human interaction. This is not simply a matter of holding certain shared identity characteristics: having ginger hair does not magically create a reciprocal collective, not until those with that mere biological feature begin to relate to one another as a community. Likewise, it is no good declaring that we belong to a reciprocal collective because we have chosen to identify as such-and-such. Whether black, woman, lesbian, Asian, Latino, or whatever, these terms do not mark our reciprocal collectives automatically, and so assertion of identity is not sufficient to claim membership (although neither can it preclude membership). There are indeed black communities, communities of women, lesbian communities, Asian communities, Latino communities (although never Latinx communities) and so forth - but what binds them together is not these identity characteristics, which are incidental rather than essential. It is reciprocity, not identity, which binds any community together, and thus those 'on the outside' who want in must begin by respectfully knocking on the door, or else expect rejection.

Collectives do not preclude movements - they can indeed commence them, as the black Christian community began the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1960s. Likewise, we could imagine ascenturian movements in terms of steps to bring reciprocal collectives together, but as a whole there could not be an overarching capital 'a' Ascenturian movement in the singular, nor should there be any talk of ascenturianism... The suffixes 'ism' and 'ist' imply a certainty not available to an ascenturian, at least not in the context of thinking about ascenturian ideals. Rather, some ideas, concepts, movements, and collectives can be ascenturianish in their approach to the past, present, and future. More than this would be against the ideals of any imagined ascenturian. This implies that even 'collective' is too restrictive a term. There could not be something we could call 'the ascenturian collective', only many things that we could call 'the ascenturian collectives'. This is something the Borg, by stark contrast, could never permit!  

The progressive maelstrom is too focussed on the future and too divorced from the past, such that it casts out as demons and devils its 'enemies', which starts with its conservative opponents but always risks ending with the condemnation of anyone and everyone. You cannot make a successful movement or collective on the principles of the witch hunt. Progressive politics, as currently practiced, is not only alienated from ascenturian thinking, it is a danger to everyone who cannot keep track of the shifting future it happens to be imagining from one moment to the next. Having enthusiastically severed the rope tying it to the anchor of the past, progressive politics has acquired the schizoid paranoia of the French Revolution, where the heroes of one day are to be executed the day after.

Likewise, the conservative whirlpool, while more predictable in its gyrations than the maelstrom that opposes it, is far too focussed upon the past and insufficiently open to imagining the future. It is not even that great at connecting with the past most of the time, although in the last half century it has surpassed the progressives in this regard, since the most recent progressive attitude towards history is to burn it down entirely as offensive to our present sensibilities. In this regard, and quite paradoxically, the unimaginative, future-blind conservative whirlpool is somewhat easier to imagine leaning into ascenturianish thinking than its progressive opponents.

Crucial to the ascenturian concept is that it is not just about trying to ensure human civilisation celebrates its Tenth Millennium, but that it does so by preserving today's human diversity. This might raise objections. Am I saying racism has to be preserved? That warfare will be part of the future? That superstition will last forever? Well, I think pragmatically that all these things and more, depressing though they might be, will last in one form or another for as long as there are humans. We can try to minimise ignorance, prejudice, and fighting, of course, but we will certainly not achieve this through either empire or revolution, and it is telling that the most vehement attacks on bigotry today have in no way reduced hatred but have merely produced new forms of utterly unrepentant bigots espousing radically new forms of hate.

Neither am I saying that the ascenturians fail if the composition of the collectives of the Tenth Millennium do not contain all the diversity of today. I do not doubt this was never on the cards. Some societies and culture bubbles will fall along the way, some ways of thinking and being will become untenable to future situations we cannot imagine, and new ways of being and thinking will doubtless arise to supplement those we are familiar with now. It is not because ascenturians are obligated to build a human zoo that I claim that their imaginary task is to sustain the present - it is that they must be agnostic to the idea that 'the future is on our side' or that 'only the worthy survive'. For this ugly rhetoric, advanced in one form or another by both progressives and conservatives, is just another way of making enemies, of sustaining hatred, warfare, and ignorance.

Ascenturians do not have enemies, only opponents. While technocracy demands that we all follow one path, ascenturians merely hope that our many paths might yet converge upon the Tenth Millennium. Thus the first and most difficult step towards an ascenturian future is to deny our seductive technocratic desire to enforce a singular understanding upon everyone else, even against their will. The truth can only emerge when our own collective is able to talk to all the others and reveal what is true in all worlds, for the truth is the centre of gravity about which we orbit. It is a mistake to say all those moons and fragments orbit Saturn: the centre of gravity of the Saturn collective just happens to be inside the heaviest object, and its true position cannot be found without counting the contributions from every one of them. Likewise, the truth is forever hidden while the most powerful collective asserts its dominance. Rather, truth emerges from the practice of assembling. Everyone is welcome in the collectives, and nobody can ever declare what might or might not belong to these future collectives. All we can do is try to discover these possibilities together.

Throughout this 'Ascenturian Saga', I have proposed principles that might serve to guide our science fictional ascenturians in their thinking about how to sustain human diversity over a further forty eight centuries... but it could never fall to me or to anyone else to specify such principles in perpetuity. What makes a collective ascenturianish is its commitment to thinking about the future in the constant and reaffirming presence of the past - that is, the ascenturianish tendency is that of imagining a future worth having and sustaining a present worth cherishing, because both are informed by the past that made this particular present come to pass. This positive relationship between past, present, and future is the quintessential aspect of all imaginary ascenturians, for it is only by undertaking such a temporal connection that we can welcome all of human diversity - what has been, what is, what is becoming, and what is yet to come.

I proposed six specific principles for my imaginary vision of ascenturian philosophy, but I only ever meant these as a draft, an unwritten constitution for the collectives that is "merely possible", as Immanuel Kant said of his similarly imagined 'realm of ends'. Kant's moral and political philosophy is one of the many things from our collective past that inspires me in this science fiction adventure... Indeed, my ascenturian philosophy is little more than a specific way of imagining Kant's 'realm of ends', although what I am gesturing at is only bound to Kant's philosophy in the way that any present is bound to its past. These future ascenturians probably won't be Kantian in their thought... but they will still owe a debt to Kant, Mary Wollstonecraft, and all the other thinkers of the Enlightenment, for it is they who sought to unite as 'humans' what had previously been divided by differences presumed to be irreconcilable. Ascenturians are the inheritors of the ideal of the human that has been passed on to us.

Let me end with a confession. If I have tried to present my six principles as viable ways of thinking about the ascenturian problem, I have done so as much through the artifice of the science fiction author as by the conceptual artistry of the philosopher. So as a final rhetorical flourish let me now present these principles in the order that was always intended:

  • The Principle of Assembly: Assemble a plurality of reciprocal collectives of any viable kind.

  • The Principle of Sustainability: Reject accelerating technology for perfectible techniques.

  • The Principle of Commonisation: Create commons that are open to aid in the subsistence of all.

  • The Principle of Elevation: Secure solidarity by eliminating poverty.

  • The Principle of Normalisation: Achieve neutral population growth without abandoning families.

  • The Temporal Principle: Act in the memory of time past and the knowledge of time to come.

For where philosophy cannot persuade, sometimes a good acronym can still manage to take hold. Thus, if you do not wish to think of ascenturians as a future people, you might instead talk about the principles of ASCENT that I have outlined here - not as a gospel to remain unchanged, but as an offering to the present collectives, that we might yet become future collectives capable of healing the break between past (conservative) and future (progressive).

We live in time. Perhaps we should try to discover everything that means to us.

Restoring the Commons

Frakes and Roddenberry.wideWhen actor Jonathan Frakes auditioned for the part of Commander Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation, he knew nothing about the Star Trek franchise. In one of his last screen tests for the role, he asked how he should understand the future that Gene Roddenberry, the franchise's founder, had in his head. Roddenberry replied: "In the 24th century there will be no hunger, there will be no greed, and all the children will know how to read." Rather like our relationship to the imaginary ascenturians capable of sustaining human diversity into the Tenth Millennium, Roddenberry did not have any idea how such a future would come about. His purpose was to envision a future worth having, not to unpick the philosophical and political problems of how to get there. For our ascenturians, however, we might need to establish some kind of principle that could lead to a future without hunger or greed - a future, in other words, without poverty.

The ascenturians are a science fictional people capable of taking all the diversity of human life today and sustaining it for another 48 centuries. Both co-existence and subsistence over such a long time span require some basis by which the different societies comprising this imagined future can interrelate with one another without exploitation or oppression. I take it as quite essential to the ascenturian dream that poverty is eliminated, or at least defanged in some way, but I leave open the manner in which that might happen. This is important, as we are frequently confused whenever we try to think about wealth.

We tend to look at the ultra-wealthy either with admiration and pride, or else with envy or disgust. Those who sway towards the positive (including the billionaires themselves) tend to underestimate the enormous advantages that helped them build (or more commonly, further build) their fortunes. But equally, those whose bile is raised by the 1% fail to recognise how our own comparative wealth (in global terms) contributes directly and indirectly to the poverty of others elsewhere. As aggravating as it may be to see wealth unnecessarily concentrated in a few essentially random individuals, the political problems of wealth inequality need not be addressed to eliminate poverty, and the issues certainly run deeper than the disdain of the well-off for those with even greater wealth.

To assemble the collectives that might provide a basis for the imaginary ascenturian world of the future, we need some principle under which solidarity can prosper, as I sketched in the principle of assembly. But to secure that condition, we will also need to tackle the problem of poverty. I therefore suggest a principle that can lift those who struggle to subsist out of the horrendous conditions of poverty, where there is not enough water, food, or adequate shelter. The following principle of elevation, while vague, might still be sufficient to establish our intentions:

Secure solidarity by eliminating poverty

It is important not to be mislead about what 'eliminating poverty' actually implies. It need not mean bringing those in the poorer nations up to the wasteful standards of living we have become accustomed to ourselves. I would remind everyone reading that despite the conveniences of contemporary technology, we are still a rather unhappy people, and my experiences in Africa taught me not to misunderstand the relationship between convenience and happiness. The Africans I met in Burkina Faso were far happier people than the Europeans I know, despite having incomprehensibly less of what we presume matters. We may also have to confront the possibility that eliminating poverty means bringing us down to a less wasteful form of life than we currently take for granted. The imaginary ascenturians will have to solve these problems, but we (like Roddenberry) can settle for establishing our ends, while leaving open the question of our means.

This brings us back to the question of the ultra-wealthy. The situations that create extreme concentrations of wealth always entail some essentially random circumstances beyond anyone's control. They rest on starting with access to capital-scale money, like Warren Buffet; on being within the circle of contacts that can supply capital, as with Jeff Bezos who gained such connections by working on Wall Street; upon having access to enough wealth to establish a company can be acquired by a far larger company, like Elon Musk; upon creating a technology that happened by chance to be capable of deployment into a previously unforeseen context for massive profit, like Mark Zuckerberg; or upon a fortunate oversight from a wealthy client corporation, like Bill Gates sleight-of-hand with IBM. Being white and male seems (unsurprisingly) to provide significant assistance too. This is not to say that ultra-wealth is purely a lottery: billionaires do contribute significant decisions towards their own success, and many potential billionaires fail to capitalise on their advantages. Yet it is unavoidable that the circumstances behind all billionaires depend to a great degree upon mere chance, just as the majority of people who live in poverty suffer the random misfortune of having been born into it.

What this implies is that while the ultra-wealthy have the means to change the world in whatever way they desire, they have no special qualifications to understand how or why the world ought to be changed. This is an enormous liability. Tech magnates have a nasty tendency, for instance, to view as 'philanthropy' their desire to spread their technology around the world... this is an understandable impulse - like calls to like - but it is overly generous to consider this merely as beneficent charity. Rather, this ought to be seen as a kind of colonial philanthropy... the empires of the Age of Sail, after all, also viewed their occupation of other nations as a beneficent 'civilising mission'. We are at great risk of continuing to repeat this mistake through our dogmatic propagation of accelerating technology.

The only truly altruistic form of philanthropy would be blind to its own agenda; this is not something that can be claimed of organisations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has fostered a form of corporate globalisation that is unquestionably made in the image of its founder. From the perspective of wealthy nations, the charitable activities Bill Gates conducts seem worthy enough... but this is all too frequently an illusion caused by our own cultural biases. Eradicating polio, for instance, seems like a worthy enough end. Yet every campaign to eradicate a disease entails co-opting the health systems of numerous countries where that disease wealthy white people fret about is a rather insignificant health risk, thus turning a blind eye towards (or even exacerbating) more immediate health concerns. Colonial philanthropy enforces its own ideology onto the world.

What I propose as an alternative is something radical: the use of the surplus capital that has accumulated (in part by pure chance) around the ultra-wealthy to create access to funding for anyone who needs it. Rather like the micro-finance non-profit organisation Kiva, which provides small loans to small businesses in places where money is hard to come by, access to charitable finance could be arranged by request, rather than by imperial magnanimity. Imagine the creation of a common pool of money that provides access to the small scale funding that communities need to solve their problems. This can operate rather like a bank, but a bank with the unprecedented remit to be allowed to lose money to overcome poverty. This is far from unthinkable. And the creation of such a fund - what might be called 'a capital commons' - would only require the ultra-wealthy to demonstrate the charitable impulse they are so fond of telling us they possess by giving money to a common fund over which they themselves no longer possess authoritative control.

I call this 'a commons', but we are quite far from remembering what this term means. In its original sense, this referred to land - village commons, common pasture, or wastelands on manor estates that any 'commoner' was free to use to gather wood or hunt game. These concepts date back to before the the rise of industrial economics, and Ivan Illich is surely correct to suggest that the arrival and acceleration of industry in the 19th century saw not only the enclosure of the commons, but the corresponding transformation of all forms of common lands into resources. Although ecologists managed to keep 'the commons' as a term in circulation through environmental concerns via what Garret Hardin dubbed in 1968 'the tragedy of the commons', almost immediately these terms were degraded back into industrial economic terms. Nobel prize winner Elinor Ostrom, for instance, preferred the term 'common-pool resource', and although her work was important and worthy of the praise it received, this framing of the commons as resources falls prey of everything Illich warns is entailed in the war on subsistence that industrial politics unleashed.

Most discussions of the commons focus upon the term as it was used in England, which is understandable given that most international law descends from English jurisprudence to at least some degree. But this is also highly problematic, as it will tend to draw us into thinking about these issues in terms of property, and a compelling case can be made that the commons are diametrically opposed to property claims. If we stick to thinking in terms of the history of English law, the commons were always owned by the manor and hence by the nobility, for all that free use of the spaces unfit for farming were granted to the commoners. The danger in looking at it this way now is that we might place 'law' above 'custom' in a situation that blurs the fact that the law is in itself only custom. As a result, there is much to be gained from looking at these problems in terms of the situations facing many different nations.

India, as just one example, inherited English law from colonial occupation, but has recognised a concept of village commons under a variety of different names for millennia. These lands were used as grazing pasture, or to maintain pools of water for cattle to drink or bathe in, for storing harvested grain, as a threshing floor, as playing fields for children, carnivals, and circuses, even as cremation grounds or graveyards. As legal systems grew up, they incorporated these communal lands as inalienable property of the villages that used them. Since Indian independence, however, these village commons have been gradually and unscrupulously acquired or occupied by property developers, either by illegal encroachment or through nefarious political machinations. Yet in January 2011, the Supreme Court of India took a heroic stand in defence of the village commons in the case of a village pond in the State of Punjab, which had been filled in by property developers. The courts forced the developers to restore the lands to the community.

This idea of the commons as land also provides an alternative or supplement to the capital commons I previously suggested. Another way that the ultra-wealthy could act in an authentically philanthropic manner would be to buy up land in order to restore it to the state of commons. Land purchased in this way would be secured for the use of everyone but only for the purposes of subsistence or everyday life, never as a commercial resource. This differs from the notion of a national park or similar reserve, and I do not want to downplay the merit in these kinds of land protection as well. But if our interest is in eliminating poverty, one previously unconsidered way to do so would be to turn land back into commons that are no longer eligible for the extraction of commercial resources, nor for the construction of buildings or factories. These new common lands would be free for anyone to roam, to gather wood, to grow or forage for food, to take water, to graze cattle, to bury or cremate the dead, or just to amuse themselves. It is heresy to propose such a regression of the state of property. Yet it is a heresy with the power to end poverty.

Why even suggest recreating common land? Why not focus on spreading wealth in the form of money? The answer is that just like a casino, the game of money is inherently stacked towards the house. What we call 'the developed world' has all the advantages, while what we call 'the developing world' are merely punters invited onto our gaming tables. It's far from clear that it is in their best interests for the poorer nations to play this game, since the essence of all industrial development is that whoever got there first has the insurmountable advantage (and this is especially true for banks). Extending these conditions to those places that have not yet succumbed to industrialisation is far less likely to end poverty than has been assumed, especially while we continue to raise the bar via ever more luxuriant technologies. Conversely, a patchwork of land commons (that are free for everyone) and reserves (wild lands) offer a potential path back to subsistence - a wholly unthinkable yet nonetheless utterly viable alternative solution to poverty that also happens to be more sustainable than any industrial solution yet proposed.

These two ideas - that of a capital commons, and that of restoring land to the commons - are compatible, and are doubtless not the only ways that we could fulfil the purpose of the principle of elevation that aims at eliminating poverty. Nonetheless, I would suggest as another guideline for our fictional ascenturians a principle of commonisation that could be stated as follows:

Create commons that are open to aid in the subsistence of all

I leave out the mention of 'capital' explicitly here (I don't want to rule out those fanciful futures where 'capital' loses its meaning) but the principle works for both capital commons and land commons, and indeed for many other kinds of commons that offer mutual benefits through cooperation. We have only just begun to explore creative commons, for instance, although perhaps it would be truer to say we have only just rediscovered them, since folklore was a magnificent cultural commons right up until the point we invented 'cultural appropriation' in order to both monetise and puritanise it.

It might be doubted whether the ultra-wealthy would consider supporting anything like these proposals for a philanthropy of the commons. Yet if this were to become what our future ascenturians saw as the only legitimate form of philanthropy - because all commons possess a certain immunity to colonial impulses - billionaires would have little choice but to accept these ideals as the conditions for charity going forward. What's more, they could still salve their vanity by choosing which of the many possible commons to donate funds towards. Perhaps it would be necessary for a few nations to contribute a tiny proportion of their tax revenue to get the ball rolling, but given how much money is squandered on things unnecessary or even harmful, it is far from unthinkable that this could be achieved. As with every aspect of this science fiction story we are writing, it does not have to be likely for it to be capable of being imagined. And I can imagine no better way for Jeff Bezos to atone for using the name 'Amazon' than to be personally responsible for buying all the land encroaching upon that rainforest and restoring it to the commons.

Creating a capital commons provides a route out of poverty by assuring that access to money is available to everyone, which would be a novel path to consider in itself. But creating a network of global land commons would be even more revolutionary - especially if, like the English bridleways, these lands could be connected. On such a path to the future, it becomes possible once again for people to choose to live through subsistence instead of being dependent upon the products of industrial production for their continued existence. It does not matter, from the perspective of our imaginary ascenturians, how many would choose subsistence and how many would prefer the seductive conveniences of industrial life. Either way, the principle of commonisation opens doors to previously unthinkable future forms of life where poverty can be rendered impossible. We cannot all become Kings and Queens, no matter how we organise society, but anyone can be a commoner - and the more we hold in common, the richer we all become. 

Gene Roddenberry's dream was that in the future there will be no hunger, there will be no greed, and all the children will know how to read. The dream I want to put into the minds of our science fictional ascenturians is that the restoration of the commons might protect against hunger, that greed might be blunted by the transfer of surplus wealth into community assets that are then no longer available as industrial resources, and that by learning how to share these newly restored commons we might discover how to live together. As for every child knowing how to read... that would be nice. But it is more than enough for me that we can imagine a future where children might still have a world worth living in.

Next week: The Ascenturian Collectives