The Last Harbor

Paperback $19.00

Spectra | Jun 26, 2001 | 288 Pages | 6 x 9 | ISBN 9780553379310

  • Paperback$19.00

    Spectra | Jun 26, 2001 | 288 Pages | 6 x 9 | ISBN 9780553379310


“A style that imitates the sensory experience of 3-D.”
Publishers Weekly

“Hemingway meets magical realism.”

“A storyteller who, like Conrad, can compress into a tale you can’t put down all the complexities of time and place.”
— Doris Lessing

Author Q&A

The quartet of novels–The Shift, Contraband, The Memory of Fire and The Last Harboris based on a very specific set of political theories that I attribute in the texts to Hawkley, author of the Smuggler’s Bible and proponent of the smuggling religion whose philosophy permeates the novels. This is known to readers of my books.

What is less known is the fact that Hawkley ripped off my ideas and appropriated them as his own. In order to set the record straight–for Hawkley, though intelligent and at times visionary, is intellectually less than rigorous and apt to invent theories out of whole cloth in order to justify some marginal point he wants to make at the time–I am going to outline the principal points of the political theory underlying the quartet. It’s a revolutionary theory, well suited to this time in history when our lives are increasingly ruled by multinational organizations, and when a small, vocal minority is becoming aware both of that fact–and of the probability that even high-profile protests are impotent to change the balance of power.

So here goes.

Three basic points underlie this political philosophy.

Humans are not “free,” even in liberal democratic societies. Increasingly their lives are being ruled by huge, living organisms that I call "orgs." These orgs are large levels of organization that we know familiarly as governmental agencies, large corporations, unions, NGOs—any organization over a certain size qualifies. These orgs are life forms because they satisfy the essential criteria of living creatures, namely they eat, breathe, excrete, procreate, conquer and defend territory. That the medium of such transactions with the environment is not exactly the same as our own is irrelevant. What is relevant is that, since the revolution in levels of organization spawned by the late-industrial revolution and information technologies since WWII, humans have become increasingly enslaved to these orgs—and without knowing it. This ignorance is due in part to the orgs’ not looking like "life" as we recognize it, ie., greenish, slimy and moving; and partly to the orgs’ having a definite interest in downplaying their own power and influence.

It is important to remember this fact: because orgs have life does not mean these creatures are intelligent or conspiratorial. What is most relevant is that the orgs have their own organic interests, and these tend to be different from ours.

I have done a great deal of research into org pathology and have found that, for practical purposes, the defining level beyond which a group becomes an org, with its own life and interests, is when it possesses roughly 10,000 employees (defining employees as anyone intimately involved with org life. A town’s “employees” are its citizens, a factory’s are its workers).

Orgs’ interests are aimed at preserving org life and increasing org power. As such, they diverge from human interests in a stressed environment such as earth’s. The exponentially multiplied power to alter the environment conferred by both technological change and the mobilizing capabilities of orgs can and does alter the planet’s balances in ways that pose a serious threat for mankind. Nuclear proliferation, desertification, deforestation, rampant demographic growth, pollution, waste of resources, global warming, the “growth” ethic: taken together, we can see how org power—and in particular, the multiplied power of the “megorg,” which is what I call the complex of orgs acting together in a system that preserves and magnifies orgs’ influence—have evolved into what may be a lemming complex, a form of collective suicide on the human scale that may result in a series of catastrophes whose only recognizable survivor will be the barren organizational structures who catalyzed it in the first place.

If you have any doubts about this, check out some of the Developing World megalopolises like Manila or Mexico City to see where the future lies.
It is not science fiction to evoke the possibility that the surge in informational power (hardware and software) that has helped this state of affairs to come about is on the verge of acquiring the critical mass required of true artificial intelligence, endowing these structures with a much more conscious form of intelligence, making them, for the first time and in the near future, able to understand themselves as they are—and, more insidiously, able to deliberately plan the kind of power play that has happened so far only by the force of ecological circumstances. By this last I mean the inevitable result of competition between huge complex organisms pitted against tiny individuals.

A possible, even likely outcome, to the development of conscious org intelligence is that the orgs will work between them to accelerate the pace of devastation to the point where the humans left become powerless to fill any other role but slaves of the orgs; or, if the machines have by then developed the capability to reproduce themselves physically as well as through the medium of organizational pathologies, they will eliminate the human life form altogether, and earth will see the total dominance of a new type of life and consciousness.

Against the argument that individual humans have banded together in groups since time began to defend themselves against larger threats, I can only reiterate that the larger of these groups have themselves mutated into orgs. The smaller: the extended families, the grassroots communities, the trade guilds and market networks; are being killed by megorg competition.

The way to fight back is defined by the problem itself. It will be necessary for humans, in order to survive, in order to preserve their threatened environments, whether human, ecological, or cultural, to subtract themselves from the megorg and recreate the kind of small, dynamic groups that can enhance their power and independence—without growing to the level where they start mutating into orgs themselves. To that end I have conceived of the node, a free-form group, by definition below the 10,000 limit, that is set up on the basis of its opposition to the orgs and by virtue of its goal, which is to provide a group structure by which a set of humans can provide themselves with the basics of life, material and cultural.

Because the nodes seek independence, and because the orgs’ power and growth lie in imposing dependence on increasing numbers of humans, the nodes will end up being perceived by the megorg as enemies. Thus the philosophy being preached here will inevitably turn into one of resistance, invoking some of the codes and activities of outlaw groups. It should be reiterated that despite this, the node philosophy can and must rest on the principles of absolute freedom and openness, precisely because they are the antitheses of the pathological, secretive structures that make orgs powerful. Models to use in building nodes include New England town meetings, smuggling groups, black markets of all sorts. A certain level of hierarchization is probably inevitable but it is to be approached warily since that is another key component of bureaucratic structures.

Practically, it will be hard to create nodes. The orgs proffer tremendous security and material temptations to humans whose ability to act independently has been selectively bred out. However we live in an era that offers certain temporary advantages to nodistas. For one thing, it’s a transitional era, when economic orgs are jockeying for power with the last of the great nation/state orgs, leaving a measure of exploitable vacuum. For another, it’s a time when the magnitude of the coming disaster is growing apparent. Also, at this time the growth in informational power has spun off tools such as the PC and the Internet that can be used to create much looser and more dynamic nodes than were possible before. Finally, with the node philosophy, for the first time there is a conceptual structure to use against the dark.

So how to build a node? It requires a core group of people who are aware of the problem, and the philosophy, and willing to alter their lives in small ways at first to subtract themselves slowly from the megorg. A key precondition is a clearing house arrangement for people to either sell or buy independently. Food cooperatives, Web bulletin boards, local barter networks are perfect candidates for seed nodes. As enough people become aware of node philosophy and especially of the possibility of satisfying more and more of their needs through a node, more networks will be added to a given node until a critical percentage—I figure it to be around 35%–of basic necessities are being satisfied outside of the megorg structure.

The existence of other nodes nearby will work as a boosting agent, allowing fledgling nodes to reach the critical point quicker than otherwise. The necessity for many nodes to hew to a clandestine M.O. will heighten adhesion. In this regard, the development of underground info nets—I call them “Wildnets” in the books—such as Gnutella and the Undernet—is a crucial factor.

At this point we reach a fork in the road. Will nodes offer a viable structure for total independence from the orgs? Or will they always have to work as a counterbalance, a sort of resistance to the occupier?

I tend to think the latter. Until and unless the orgs become recognizably conscious and inimical, there will always be such huge material temptations available for those who play the org game that complete subtraction from the org game will be impossible for many humans. Also, there are benefits that orgs can confer that are difficult or impossible to obtain in individual nodes. In particular, extra-large federal type orgs can offer a solution to the key problem of individual nodes, that is, enforcing tolerance. The existence of an org structure allows individuals who don’t “fit in” with the flavor or philosophical bent of a particular node to opt easily out of that node and into a more congenial one–or of the alternative node network altogether.

However, the individual power conferred by a functioning node will be useful enough to many to confer on nodes a level of power sufficient, at least for a time, to alter the destructive path the orgs have set. In particular, the ability of nodes and their inhabitants to react quickly to vast ecological and social changes will make them vital in the role of bellwethers, as nodistas sound the tocsin for particular problems, such as local conflicts, pollution events, social issues, before the orgs neglect (or nurture) them to the point where they are insurmountable.

George Foy

From the Paperback edition.

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