From “The Distributive Passions”

The Distributive Passions, my fiction project, will return in The Mutualist #2 – “Owning Up,” but, for now, I’m going to leave KAli to fend for herself in the far future, and get back to Gabriel Solly and more contemporary concerns. Gabe’s world is my idea-workshop, the place I go when I need to work out the practical implications of theoretical concerns. It’s a world where lots of little things went differently than they have in our own—and many things worked out in very much the same ways. Fourier ended up with the prominence of Marx—and vice versa. Agassiz was available to review The Origin of Species. Stephen Pearl Andrews’ New Catholic Church took off. The United States remained about half Confederated Territories. And so on. The sections that I’ll be running in The Mutualist come from a long section, “Papillon,” which introduces daily life in the year 2005, in a variety of locales, and gets Gabe off on the adventures that will eventually lead him around to a variety of mutualism. They actually immediately precede the material I posted back in 2007, but the order isn’t particularly important, and those notes contain some good background for the more focused bits—on decentralization, multiple currency systems, etc.—to come. So here, in slightly rewritten form, are some of Gabes notes and musings, as he travels to the 2005 Intergalactic Encuentro on Kwajalein, where the seas are turning to something like lemonade…

NOTES

Enewetak. Rough landing, but I guess I’ve lived through worse. Took us a few minutes to get cleared for the Recovery Area. Might be here a couple of days. Might be a blessing in disguise.

There’s no preparing for this. I can get my rap down for the Intergalactic, but it’s like going to a conference on another planet. We were hardly into our descent before I could feel the ocean and, frankly, I’m freaked the f*ck out.

THE WATER: “Looks like piss. Tastes like paradise.” Not exactly the most couth of slogans, but whatever works. A dirty joked, passed around, and waterbars are packing ‘em in in no time flat. It’s a good joke, a Fourierist FreeFor joke, teasing and sly. “From the Sea of Lemonade” would hardly have hooked anyone over the age of about seven. “Gimme a pint of the Wondrous” on the other hand…

THE CAMPAIGN: Worth thinking about, here on the Free Fourierists’ doorstep. With Nato and the Bloc doing their level bests to contain whatever is brewing out here, I would have bet on real urine getting by the FDA before “the wondrous.” But, sell it to the Japanese, always ready to buck the trend for risky eats. No amount of negative propaganda could make Isles water look half as dangerous as, say, fugu. Then sell the idea to all the alternatechs, hemp farmers flush from legalization, the natural health crowd, anti-genies, and to the free traders. Smuggle a bottle or two in a diplomatic pouch, and make sure the right folks get a taste. It doesn’t hurt if, like the FreeFors, you’re not averse to a little urine-drinking, assuming the passions lead that way. It doesn’t hurt if, like the FreeFors, you seem to be sitting at the heart of some sort of miracle. Brash is good. Kink is good. The bloggers love it, and the surfers love the bloggers when they latch onto something good. And suddenly it’s like the gov’t is holding back the water of the Fountain of Youth (not that there’s any scientific evidence for that yet) and something gives way in Washington and the President is talking about turning WTO rules on the FDA. Wham-bam, Congress authorizes the WATER talks, and it’s no time before the GATI initiative is hammered out, and the alternatechs suddenly take all the stock markets on a rocket ride. It’s on! The Isles weren’t starving anyway, but they were isolated. Now it seems like everybody’s in the game. And when folks stop to think about that, it isn’t clear who exactly is likely to be served. Which makes the 2005 Intergalactic, out here on Toupki-Ameeko (Kwajalein, for you Old Nomenclature types), about the least likely must-attend summit imaginable. What does it all mean? Why the sudden reversal on the part of The Established Powers?

MY GUESS: If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em.

The Network needs to get it’s stuff together. I need to get used to this crazy place. The test craters bubble and glow. That tingle you feel when you drink your “pint of wondrous” is a force out here, and whatever is happening out around the craters feel like some epic, manichaean struggle. Coming down in the dusk I think i had a bit of a panic attack. The whole scene took on a rather Lovecraftian cast. “Too much life,” the pilot said. Too much fecundity, maybe, which is just a little different.

I won’t say that I’m used to the feeling here, all static electricity and technicolors, but it helps to walk around in it. I met a traveller kid at the canteen, wearing a “Tom Paine died for your sins” T-shirt. Patriot art, horrible stuff, with the mob scene like something out of Goya. Not exactly the way I remember the story being told. But he was willing to show me around a bit. Walked out to where we could see the big crater clearly, and the cement dome on Runit. The colors are disorienting, and the air seems to sizzle slightly, particularly down by the water, but it’s less of an assault on the senses. “Too much life,” the kid said, when I mentioned the effect. Apparently, that’s the standard line. “The Har-Mats loved it when we bombed this place,” he said. “Settled some old scores.” Then he drifted back to “work” around the canteen, which didn’t seem to amount to much, but prevented any further discussion. I made arrangements to go out tomorrow to one of the marine arcologies, which glint in the distance, and got a short tour from one of the radiological abatement officers. “Abatement,” he said. “It’s not entirely in our hands at this point.” And he headed back to the canteen for a beer.

There’s a part of a story here, something about the Free Fourierists, the Harmonian Materialists, and the Bomb. Either that, or the kid is leading me on. Not unlikely, but still. The big Encuentro is here, or just a couple of atoll-hops away, in the midst of the “wondrous isles,” in the tropical paradise of the Free Fourierists, in the midst of the Golden Seas. And here I am, by the side of a bubbling bomb crater. Free Fourierists: hippy-dippy infantile disorder? Hell, nobody took any of the Fourierists seriously until after the Revolution.

But the Harmonian Materialists were always shrewd, always emphasizing the orderly elements of Fourierist doctrine, always capitalizing without looking like they were poised to spring. In the International, when Marx’s machinations threw everything into jeopardy, they were ready to take the initiative, finding allies among the libertarians and individualists, fending off the obvious authoritarians, talking harmony. By the 1890s, of course, all such alliances were cashed in, dissolved, but by then Fourierism had made its transformation. Fundamentalists, Reunionites, and Godinists could complain all they wanted. Nobody was listening. As far as the world was concerned, like it or not, the Butterfly had hatched, and change was upon everyone. After then Revolution, when the People traded the Winter Palace for a multitude of social palaces, the tale was almost believable. When it grew thin, when the mixed economy and “work palaces” appeared, the doctrines still had their apologists in the West. Internal histories became masterpieces of the opportunistic interpretation of “signs,” with the distributive passions trotted on and off stage as required. Which meant the Russians were about like the rest of us, justifying each twist and turn of policy with our various national myths. Death or glory. . . just another story. I don’t have to tell you.

If Harmonian Materialism ever had a sense of humor, it lost it, along with so much else, in the Second World War. Canny politics or opportunistic amoralism, the Nonaggression Pact was hardly sustainable, as the rest of the world was drawn into the conflict. When the Confederated Territories finally agreed to follow the lead of Washington and the States, the Russian Union was about the only player not in the game. Perhaps Hitler thought “harmonians” would make poor soldiers. Clearly he, like most of the rest of the world, was unaware of what the Etzler-engines had become in a hundred years of development. The Japanese learned early on, when they tried to claim the Marshalls, only to find them awash in strange tech and stranger refugees, missionaries from the West. Free-Fors, who fought as lean and smart as the Russians fought hard. The Russian engines were quaint compared to the German panzers, but there was nothing quaint about the power of the phalanx-turned-war-machine, with every member, even the “little hordes” committed to a role in the combat. They bled and drew blood, fought and died, with a frightening efficiency and passion.

By the end of the war, the Butterfly had pretty well been displaced by the Bear, as bizarre a metamorphosis as you could ask for. But the party was over. Harmony from now on meant the lock-step. The phalanx never recovered, and remained, through the Cold War and on until the fall, first and foremore a vast war machine, a modernization machine. The Etzler paradigm gave way to conventional western industrial models, and with economic liberalization, the “shopping palaces” began to sprout like toadstools. Nuclear technology became the chief military-industrial priority, even before the war’s end, and we all know how close the race for the bomb ultimately was. Joe One, on the eve of Operation Crossroads, was a technological leapfrog move that took everyone by surprise. But the Russians raised no objection to Western development at that stage, even after the A-tests scared the pants off nearly everyone. “Pay the price of change,” said Dzhugashvili, in a speech invoking the Butterfly. And the people of the world paid and paid in the decade that followed, at Bikini and Rongelap, at Cheliabinsk and all across the South Urals, in Alaska and in the deserts of Nevada.


On Enewetak

[This section originally appeared on the defunct Distributive Passions blog. Bradford Peck was the author of The World A Department Store, and prime mover, along with the Vroomans, in the cooperative movement in New England. Much of this has already taken another shape in the rewriting, but I was reminded of this version by Charles Johnson’s comments on the different ways of envisioning markets. The contrasting visions have certainly been around for a long time…]

The Canteen

It’s more like a swap meet than a food stand or restaurant, with a menu of rough categories of foodstuffs so obviously arbitrary in its pricing and arrangement that the complex negotiations actually required to get a meal come as no surprise at all. The larder is remarkably extensive and diverse, and the haggling all good-natured. I end up with a large fish steak–some local species, and delicious–a bottle of French mineral water, and, largely because it’s there, a can of Moxie. I try to pay in dollars, and can see immediately that this is too conventional. There’s an amusing back and forth, at the end of which I’ve parted with a pair of Kaweah 2-hour time tokens and an ancient, dog-eared Kim Stanley Robinson novel. My young guide from earlier gets a look at the New Earth Mutuals folded up in my clip, before I tuck them away. I have a sense that novelty may be as good as security here, when it comes to currency (but also maybe other things), and I figure I might as well hold something in reserve.

The hipper travel guides suggest that commerce in the islands is largely a ritual activity, less an opportunity for profit than a chance for the distributive passions to have their play. Sitting by the golden ocean, with the sea-breezes blowing “too much life” in my face and through my hair, with the dark waters of the test craters simmering at the edge of sight, it certainly seems like something more than just the usual game is afoot. But I can’t yet go further into it, disentangle profit and passion so that I can really find my feet here.

The Mainer

“Christian Vrooman, Maine. How do you do? Out here for the ‘Galactic?”

“Em. Gabe Solly. New Earth Institute. Oregon. . .Territory.”

Broadsided. Handshook before I know it. I take another sip of Moxie, and try to take him in. His tropical suit is either brand new or a phenomenally well-kept relic. The cut is distinctly 19th century, but it would be, even if it was fresh off the racks of an Association store. Bradford Peck may be long dead, but the look still lives on, at least in Maine. A Vrooman. That means pioneer stock, most likely. That doesn’t necessarily mean “true believer” (as I know so well), but. . .

I can tell he’s sizing me up, that he knows enough to know what the Solly name means in my neck of the woods. I can tell I don’t quite measure up to the legend. Note to self: cultivate a more extreme dishevelment, stare off into space when possible. Rant more. Mere scruffiness is insufficient for the sons of the prophets. The heritage demands display. Further note to self: forget it, kid. The Man From 1890 has you beat, out of the gate.

“A Babelite. . .”

I hardly let him get the word out.

“An Eclectic. . .” Which isn’t really true, but it might buy me some space. “Or Seeker, take your pick. Nice to meet you. Which is almost true, and anyway it’s a small island. Might as well make nice for now.

“So, Vrooman. . .”

“A minor branch.”

He seems disappointed, and maybe he is. It’s damned hard to imagine Mainers being dissappointed with themselves. Hmm. Beneath the quaint, but, honestly, beautifully cut suit is just what you would expect: a vision of health, a young man of obvious intelligence. A perfect specimen of the Down East Master Race. “Another Maine Miracle,” as the slogan goes.

I nod, trying to convey something friendly and noncommittal.

“Yeah. My hopper had a problem. Engine. Got a layover day while it’s fixed. Work to do anyway, you know. Getting ready.”

“Yes?”

Damn. He’s not sure. I guess Mainers are just born ready, and, anyway, they don’t cram for presentations. I look around and wonder how all of this translates for him. How does it compare to his Department Store World? Do the Mainers dance to the tune of the distributive passions too, however sedately?

“‘The World a Swap Meet’?”

“Why. . . Yes!”

He half shouts it. (Bully, old boy!) But he’s smiling. And looking at me curiously.

“That helps, actually. I fear I was missing the model here.”

He’s got a bottle of Poland Spring Water, and he’s fidgeting a bit with it. And that helps me a bit. That, and the fact that dinner seems to be ready. I can see the crew gearing up. All of a sudden I really want to see Christian Vrooman tackle island fare and island commerce. Then the call comes, and the negotiations start, and the dance takes up both. Shark and shellfish. Goat steak and stir-fried veggies. The relative merits of the cast-off coins in the bottom of my satchel. I make what I think is a killing, turning experienced heads with a five-spot of closely-held Aurora Mutual, and, flush with victory, buy myself a bottle of the wondrous with a handful of mixed change. Too little, or too much? There’s no telling, really. But I sense that, for a moment or two, I have entered the dance of this place. And that goes straight to my head, like the shot you second-guess on the way down, before the feast (which is epic) and before the golden water. I half-stagger down to the thin beach to devour my haul. Too much life, I think, but why shouldn’t there be?

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2215 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.