Wyrd Society

 
Take a good look at the world around you, the social world in which you and your family and friends and colleagues all live and work and play. It all seems so... well, not necessarily sensible, perhaps, but normal enough, anyway. Not weird at all.

Really?

Take a look at our 'normal' world again with a wyrd perspective, and very little of it will seem so normal any more. That's part of what makes the wyrd so hard to face at times... but it does show us where our choices lay - and what we can do with those choices if we so choose.

Walk this way with us awhile...

For a start, let's take a look at our worldwide economy. The word 'economy' literally means 'the management of the household'... and in that sense, the much-promoted 'economic rationalism' is neither economic nor rational. What it is is expropriation on a scale so vast that it becomes almost impossible to see - or to face. In fact, it's a pyramid-game of global proportions, dependent on an illusion of infinite 'growth' and the myth of 'the trickle-down effect' to conceal a far, far larger transfer 'upward' from those who have little to those who already control far more than they could ever need or use. And this, we're constantly admonished, is 'normal', the way things should be, the only way in which an economy can really work: economically rational, economically efficient. Rational for whom, though? Efficient for what? Weird indeed...

Look deeper into that supposed rationality, and some even uglier truths emerge. 'Expropriation' is the polite term: the shorter and more accurate word is 'theft'. What underlies that concept of economy is a concept of property which is exactly that: theft. To our society, ownership is deemed to be 'the right to exploit with reference to others in the present or elsewhen'. Often it does indeed seem that "the only crimes are to be old, to be ill or to be ugly". And if 'possession is nine-tenths of the law', no doubt the other tenth can be stolen somehow if the need seems to arise... that's effectively what happens, anyway. It brings an illusion of short-term profit for us right now, but at what loss to our future - or to our past? What wyrd are we bringing upon ourselves by this obsessive ignorance - literally - of what we're doing to our world?

Monetarism - the idea that the only way of measuring value is in monetary terms - is certainly no solution. But money itself is not the problem, though our society's concept of money - as 'rights to resources' - certainly makes things worse. There's so much of a mismatch between monetary income and monetary needs in the standard life-cycle - from child to young adult to partner to parent, and on to middle-age and elderhood - that everyone is kept off-balance between scrimping and saving, boom and bust. Unlike the main religion - which really was designed to keep people divided against themselves, on behalf of an empire which collapsed anyway under the weight of its own corruption more than a dozen centuries ago - our money-based economy wasn't actually designed to create abuse without end, but that in effect that's all that it does. Yet this too is called 'normal'.

Money is power, we're told: or, more accurately, we're told that without money we have no power, no resources, no right to live. That seems at first to be true, certainly. But what is power, anyway? In practice, in the imagery of advertising, media, politics, commercial competition and almost everywhere else, power is deemed to be synonymous with 'power-over', with abuse and violence and blame... which is not exactly a helpful definition. Our much-vaunted political system of 'majority-rule democracy' is not so much 'the least worst of all political systems' as a method by which most people evade responsibility for anything, and those least suited to rule actually end up doing so by default. To make things even more tangled, our society has an almost total taboo against acknowledging the fact, let alone the scale, of abuse and violence by females - even though it's demonstrably no less common than violence by males. On gender-issues themselves, many still demand special support for women, on the grounds that ours is a 'male-dominated society'; yet in fact, in terms of who actually spends the money, and whose needs actually get met, it's far more accurate to say that ours is an almost totally female-dominated society - and has been so for centuries. And so it goes on: the more we look, the more we can see that is wildly wrong, or just plain weird.

This is our wyrd... the wyrd we choose to share with everyone... no matter how 'normal' our society may seem at first, the more we look at it, the more obvious it becomes that it's no so much weird as seriously insane. It's not a pretty sight...

We shouldn't be surprised at this, though: whether it's the result of malicious misinformation or muddleheaded myopia, if the basic ideas behind a society are that far removed from reality, the only possible result is this kind of chaotic confusion. We're all part of it, too: if you're able to read this, you too are part of a society in which all, without any exceptions, act as entrepreneurs - literally, 'between-takers' - grasping for our supposed 'rightful' share of the resources passing by in the pyramid. Yet it's not easy to face our own role in this miserable mess, because the more we do so, the less honest and honourable it looks. This is the results of our choices too: if there's anyone to blame, we're also it. And that's not a pretty sight, either...

Yet this is the wyrd, the wyrd: which also means, that by its nature, we do always have choices, though they can be pretty twisted at times! The choices are there: it's up to us as how we make use of them.

When insanity seems normal, most other choices will tend to seem weird - to others, if not always to ourselves. But it's worthwhile working with the weirdness, rather than trying to ignore it or fight against it. So let's take a wyrd look at some of the twisted choices in our society, and see where they might lead.

For example, what's the point of money? At present it may seem to be the only way in which an economy can work, but in practice it doesn't work well - the people who most need it, such as parents of young children, are least able to get it - and it's an incredibly inefficient use of our society's resources, given that something like thirty percent of all jobs are tied up primarily or entirely in managing monetary transactions. Many societies throughout history never saw the need for it: so why should we? Why bother? In principle, at least, we could replace every monetary transaction with the one phrase "What do you need?" - so it's interesting to watch the weird excuses that come up immediately whenever this possibility is presented!

Money is not in itself a problem: no matter what religious folks might argue, it's not 'the root of all evil', though it certainly distorts our society's sense of values so severely that it's hard to know what value is any more. Money is simply a standardised form of barter: and the real problem we need to face there goes deeper than either money or barter, but into the concept of ownership itself. We talk about our 'possessions', but take little or no responsibility for what that really means: so it's worth trying a weird twist in which we understand that it's not so much that we own our possessions, but that they possess us. It's 'my car', 'my house', I might say: but if I'm willing to defend these possessions with my life - as many people do - who or what is actually possessed? Yet once we accept that weird twist, and take its logic at face-value, the concept of ownership actually becomes simpler, less fraught, less frenetic: we own only what we use, because we use it, because we take responsibility for it - and for no other reason. Our 'consumer society' drives, and thrives on, an obsessive accumulation of possessions: but when possession is also responsibility, possessing more than we actually need or use simply becomes a burden. Seeing it in this way, it then becomes interesting to wonder why we bother with possessions at all...

One of the reasons, of course, is fear: and our society is very good at manufacturing fears where none need exist ("do you have enough insurance?") in the muddled belief that fear is 'power'. Again, many people say that they want to be powerful - and hence need resources, and money, and more money, and yet more money - when what they really want is to avoid the fear of feeling powerless... which is a very different matter, and one which no amount of money or resources can ever resolve in itself. (For a more detailed explanation of this, see the Power and Fear chapter in Wyrd Allies.) Yet once we start to understand power as 'the ability to do work, as the expression of choice' - with 'work' in the widest possible sense, and where the word 'work' is also synonymous with 'play' - we also start to understand that we're already powerful: and that we can learn to use that power in ways which are efficient, reliable, elegant, appropriate. It really is that simple: surprising, perhaps, but true.

Despite everything we're taught, a functional economy needs neither money nor our society's concept of possession: and it would certainly operate better without our society's muddled belief that abuse and violence are the only kind of power there can be. In principle, at least, it should be easy enough to create a society which fully supports, for everyone, "the right to work, to be supported whilst working, and to share the product of that work with all who need it" (as Ursula le Guin once put it). So why, in this society, do we meet up with so many absurd obstacles just in trying to live at all? Something's a bit weird somewhere...

Our disastrously dysfunctional society is the way it is right now as a direct result of its failure to understand the weird nature of concepts such as money, possession and power. Not just its failure, though: our failure. "There's always a choice", says the wyrd, "but there's also always a twist". This chaotic mess is our choice too: that, perhaps, is the real twist.... And given that that's so, and seeing the true results of those 'normal' choices, what would you now choose? Something a little weirder, perhaps?