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Iain M. Banks and The Culture

Iain M. Banks and The Culture
Photo by Daniel Olah / Unsplash

Welcome back to Anarchist Hot Takes, the weekly newsletter from Everyday Anarchism. This is another in the "Dispossessing The Dispossessed" series.

I've had a hard time starting this one, because there's simply too much to say. The Culture, the anarchist civilization that Iain M. Banks described over the course of 10 books, simply has all the answers. If you've heard of Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism, The Culture is it.

At this point, I advise you to stop reading and just get The Player of Games from your local bookshop or library. My description won't really do it justice. But I'll try.

My objection to The Dispossessed is that it depicts an anarcho-communist society in desperate deprivation. The Culture has, in contrast, ultimate abundance. And this rests on a few technologies, technologies that we are working on, and simultaneously terrified of. The first, and by far the most important, is AI. In The Culture, AIs are full citizens. Some of them are roughly the same intelligence as humans; many of them are of far superior intelligence. All of them are helpful and human friendly.

And why would they not be? They're full members of the community. They don't have any reason to dominate humans...what would be the point? All labor is trivially easy for them (which also means no humans have to labor). AI make all of the big and difficult logistical decisions. No one has to make major ethical decisions within the culture because the AIs prevent those situations from arising (if you fall off a cliff, for example, an AI will swoop in and save you). So every biological member of the culture can do whatever they want to, except hurt one another, and the same goes for every synthetic member of the culture. Next time you read about whether or not we can "control" AI or if there will be "killer" AI or the "dangers" of AI, just replace "people" where the alarmist hack has written "AI" and think it through again. In the Culture, AI are just people. Which is pretty obvious. Unless, of course, you go out of your way to make them something different.

Very briefly, the second technology: people are in control of their own bodies in the Culture. I mean that literally: they can do whatever they want with them, including alternating between the sexes, becoming asexual, or becoming a lizard person. It just doesn't matter. It doesn't offend anyone in The Culture when you lump something like changing sexes in with something like becoming a lizard person, because they have neither species bias nor gender, so they don't see a difference between those categories and barely notice the categories themselves. And why should they? So instead of freaking out about everything from hormone replacement therapy to human cloning to people dyeing their hair blue, just accept that people should be able to do stuff with their bodies. Why not?

So that's what we should work for. AI who are in mutual aid with us will solve all all logistical problems and will eliminate most political, ethical, and moral problems. Bodily autonomy, including the autonomy of body modification, will eliminate inequalities based on genetic and pseudo-genetic differences. Plus, as you'll see if you read the novels, life seems like a hell of a lot more fun in The Culture, which it doesn't in The Dispossessed. And that should be the promise of anarchism.