Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Theme-Character Integration Part 9 - Trajectory of Cultural Change

Theme-Character Integration
Part 9
Trajectory of Cultural Change
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts in this series are indexed here:

We discussed creating the Convincing Elder Character, and why your story might need such a Character here:

So now let's look at the foundation of Worldbuilding -- long before you start to build the "world" your Characters live in.

The key notion is that the Characters live.

Not you, the writer, but the Characters you create live in the artificial world you create for them.

One error beginning writers make is to consider that any bright, glowing, marvelous, loud-chuckle Idea they have belongs in THIS CHARACTER's world.

A novel is not a hodgepodge of randomly chosen (but great) ideas, practical jokes, homage to great past novels, or uproarious, tender, and delightful "getting to know you" moments.

If two Characters who will fall in love first meet in a certain way, on page one even, that certain way must speak to the reader and explain to the reader "what this novel is about."

What the novel is about is the Theme.

The novel is about "the story of this Character's life" and how, through the plot, this series of events brings this Character to new realizations about existence, about his/her world, about reality, heritage, and potential great-grandchildren.

Every novel is about "an awakening" of the main character -- that is called the Character Arc, and at the top of that arc, the Character has an awakening.

What the Character learns may be mistaken, and what the Character does as a result of not knowing the mistake can generate endless sequels, but learn' he must.  Change, he must.

There was a study published about how human intelligence (human not Alien) exists for the purpose of allowing humans to form groups all moving and coordinating in concert, in harmony, toward the purpose of survival.  The thesis was that we seek to conform and fit in, so we adopt and hold our opinions to be compatible with the Group that protects us, or that we depend on.

We discussed why humans don't change their opinions to fit new facts, referencing this article:

That was in this post:

That article did not encompass how that "Group" evolves over lifetimes, through generations.

It is obvious to us, today, that humanity as a whole, worldwide, and the USA (a very young country) have evolved in opinions, ideals, and views of the world over decades and even centuries.

But the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Consider modern science and the layman's attitude toward the pronouncements about Climate Change -- resulting in articles about schemes to engineer Earth's climate so it doesn't "change" so much we go extinct.  Of course, this is a reasonable response because humans caused this spurt of change, so we ought to un-cause it.

Compare that general public attitude with the attitude that had to prevail in the time of the building of the Tower of Babel.  Storm the heavens and take over the control room from God.  From their perspective, that makes perfect sense to a modern person.  We know we can jigger the climate needle because we can see, from Big Data, that we have indeed already done that.

The Earth is fragile, if you take a perspective longer than your own life.

If you take a perspective of millions of years, though, it is clear the Earth is robust.  Species rise and fall, glaciers come and go, but life infecting this world keeps surging back after every blow.

We, today, are not so concerned about "life" as we are about our own civilization's life.

"The Earth Is Fragile" is a theme.

"The Earth is Robust" is a theme.

"Humans became herd-thinkers to survive," is a theme.

"Humans think for themselves and change their minds," is a theme.

"Only female humans change their minds too much," is a theme.

"Doom Looms," is also a theme -- and it works at any point in history, or pre-history.

Going toward a Doom is a trajectory.

Going toward space exploration and survival isw a trajectory.

"Life is getting better," is a trajectory.

"Life is getting worse," is a trajectory.

These are huge themes that move whole cultures (a survival Group composed of hundreds of millions of people).  And the perceived trajectory of such a huge group is one of the components the writer can use to lend depth and realism to a novel.

But again, the dimension of generations -- the trajectory of a civilization -- is not under close scrutiny.
Yet, to "build" a "world" for Characters to live in, the writer must have in mind (though rarely mentioned in the novel) the trajectory of the main character's civilization.

That trajectory of cultural change is the slow or fast running river the Character is swimming across.

The novel may span a week, or a year, or a generation, but it is still a still-photo, a snapshot, of the trajectory of cultural change.

For example, human-caused-climate-change could never have been a thematic element that an 18th century author such as these would have selected to stir emotions in his audience:

Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne (1759–67). ...
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1719). ...
Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (1749). ...
Clarissa by Samuel Richardson (1747–48). ...
Candide by Voltaire (1759). ...
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726, 1735). ...
Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding (1742).

So while the culture of your Characters may not change substantially over the time of the novel, it has been somewhere in its thinking, is now somewhere else in its thinking, and will get to yet another stage eventually.

In other words, as noted in the Convincing Elder Character, your Character has a great-grandfather and potentially a great-grandson.  If your story is set in the year 900 CE, all 6 generations on that same cultural trajectory may not feel or see any change at all.

The Wisdom and aphorisms, old wive's tales, sayings, adages, maxims, proverbs, and precepts, etc. that led the great-grandfather to a Happily Ever After life will work just as well for the great-grandson, and very likely for the great-great-grandson.

If you set your novel in 2017 of this Universe on this Earth, that continuity of Wisdom will not be true.

If we don't self-destruct politically, we will run into what the experts now call a Singularity -- a point of such rapid change from year to year that no human nervous system can adapt.

This is where the Alien Romance shines.

Can you bring to Earth - or contact in the great Dark - an Alien species that has lived through the Singularity approaching humanity?  Is there example, precept or advice, an Ancient Wisdom we can learn and use to survive with humanity intact?

"The Singularity" is a popular term for the sweeping change human cultures are in for when the Artificial Intelligence (think Skynet) takes over the world, or tries to.  Even if we win that battle, nothing will be the same.

Elon Musk has been talking about it a lot, as have Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, and dozens of other tech gurus.

How abrupt will it be?  Will the Earth be laid desolate in that battle?  Will humanity have to abandon Earth to the machines and colonize space?

If we had to do that, could we?

Given the studies about how humans just will not change their minds when new facts come to light, given that it takes 4 generations to deploy real cultural change (human refresh rate is about 80 years) and the prediction that the Singularity will hit within a time frame of months, not decades, CAN WE deploy to space?

As I've often referred you to Alvin Toffler's book, Future Shock, I assume you understand what kind of psychological devastation such a cultural shift would wreak.

It would be a paralysis of everything human.  Think of an entire global civilization with the worst case of PTSD -- every last living adult human with PTSD.  That's what "The Singularity" could bring.

So, can the trajectory our current culture is on be bent a little, redirected, flexed, offset enough to avoid universal PTSD?

Can Love Conquer All?  Is that actually true?  Is it possible?

Can A.I. be programmed to Love?

Artificial Intelligence with Soul is the prediction.  Is that possible?  What would it mean for, say Romeo and Juliet (the original fictional characters, not the archetype).  Could there be star-crossed lovers among A.I.?

In the last 20 years, we've seen a cultural shift toward complete social acceptance of LBGTQ people.  Marijuana went from illegal and horrible to legal and maybe problematic, but no more so than alcohol.  In fact, Marijuana may have life saving medicinal applications.

In the 1960's, adults had to depend on their children to program a VCR.  Today, dependence on teens for tech support for all sorts of gadgets is the joke, and the subject of TV commercials.

A ten year age difference can mean the ability to work your household, or not.

What if that difference were just 3 years?

We have examined many brain studies showing how new tools can detect actual brain circuitry changes created by experiences, trauma, learning, meditation, etc.  The brain is, at younger ages, most plastic, pliable, responsive to the environment.

As the tree is bent, so grows the tree.

You know I love adages, aphorisms, cliches.

Once the tree is grown, bent in a certain direction, you can't bend it back without cutting or breaking it, very likely killing it.

Mystically, the human being is likened to a tree -- for a reason.

A storm is coming that will crack many of our Elders, or blow them helplessly over.  What that storm is composed of, driven by, and what the cultural response to that loss of Elders will be, is fodder for Theme.

Projecting us into that world requires a full grasp of how Culture has responded over thousands of years, and a knowledge of what kind of storm is coming.

It will be like the Industrial Revolution, but as if the Industrial Revolution happened in 5 years, draining the family farms of workers before automated tractors and giant farms could be built.

10 year olds will be able to train for the new jobs, but 15 year olds will be too old and ossified to grasp the newest innovation.

So what will humanity do?  Slow down change?  Destroy ourselves?

Draw a picture of that trajectory -- find your Character on the curve of cultural change, and then you will know that Character's story.  Find the story, and you will know the plot.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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