We began with the prompt: The year is 2066, and what if there’s no school, no teachers, and all learning is tribal.
One of the group played a Social Event card, declaring that biohacking had become common as a technology. Another person added climate change caused ecological disruption. I thought about tribes, and how they differ from current societies. The key differences are that tribes are about strong inclusion and exclusion rather than universality, and charismatic and traditional leadership rather than legalistic procedural leadership. What we needed to seed this world was a leader and a boundary.
Biohacking, the modification of human beings by diverse groups for diverse ends, without central oversight or purpose, has become the major driver of change in society. In the Valley of the Sun, the elder of the biohacking community is Azaria. Witchy, queer, and brown, Azaria is leading a movement of desert adapted humans, Homo sapiens sonorans, as part of a broader movement of ecologically defined new human sub-species. Her aesthetics are half Navajo and half narcocorrido; her ideology radical; her commitment to the cause absolute.
This matters, because the United States is falling apart. In the Southwest, it’s all about water, and a literal shooting war between California, Nevada, Arizona, and Colorado over the drought-stricken remnants of the Colorado River and the major aquifers. President Ironwood, a staunch patriot and Christian, sends in the Army to restore order and to crush Azaria’s biohacked tribe in defense of human nature.
The first two disruptions were political unrest and climate disruption, which we invoked on our own as a group. All of this is based on the near present. Water conflicts are barely being held in check, and a 2010 Arizona law bans the creation of human-animal hybrids. Azaria’s radical transboarder biohacking movement is a natural target for a government seeking to exert control.
At first, Azaria’s tribe had grown slowly, a few initiates at a time, but now she needed a way to fill the ranks of her army fast to beat the Federals. Azaria pioneered her greatest biohacking creation, The Snake, a custom creature that which each bite injected a cocktail of synthetic neurotransmitters and retroviruses, reprogramming ordinary humans into H. sonorans and sharing the knowledge of the tribe in a new kind of collective mind, carried by the biological transmission of small molecules.
These initiations became massive rituals, raves and ecstatic dances where the knowledge of the tribe expanded exponentially in psychedelic communion. Somehow, and no one yet knows because scientific investigation is no longer a thing in this world, Azaria’s people achieved what the Ghost Dance attempted. Her warriors, immune to bullets and conventional weapons, triumphed over the American Army and achieved political independence.
Someone else suggested “dance” as important, and I proposed that it was the Ghost Dance and it really worked using my Wild Card. At this point, there was a rather sharp divide about biohacking and the aesthetics of this world. Some people pushed for a more conventional look, the shiny steel of a surgical clinical and the anonymous beige machines and pipette tubes of the biotech lab. I wanted Azaria’s technology to work on an entirely novel basis, biohacking accomplished within the body and in plants and animals through meditation and ritual, rather than the manipulation of genetic base-pairs in a lab. Because I’m writing this history, I’m taking my approach to the aesthetics as true. The third disruption was Technological Revolution, and biotech without the tech counts there. Also, I know I’m conflating Navajo and Paiute religious practices. In this case, I plead Rule of Cool. Azaria is a syncretistic fictional character.
Azaria’s invention was also her downfall. Before the war, ecological tribes expanded slowly, living in the interstices of conventional society. Now they were everywhere, and a group of Channel Hoppers switched from tribe to tribe as they wished, taking knowledge with them, and trading new adaptations. Azaria did her best to protect the integrity of the Sonorans, inventing new organisms and a new group of exorcists to seek out foreign molecules and clear them from the tribe. But her ideology was too rigid for the rapidly changing climate, and the desire of humans for change.
A new leader emerged, Coyote. He preached ecological adaptation to the entire world, chasing the pleasure of joining a new tribe, and the need for humans to be free, rather than following the ecological strictures of any one niche. His followers freely traded identities with sloppy kisses and unprotected sex. With every trade, the collective intelligence of humanity and their mastery over the Ghost Dance grew, and eventually even Azaria was forced to give in to the new human nature. Now united, the ecological tribes used their powers to reverse the damage of climate change.
Pretty cool, if I do say so myself. I put a lot of my own ideas in this world, and they were definitely stronger for bouncing them off the group, and for the surprise inclusion of biohacking and dance as major themes. I’d even say that we managed to stay more grounded than most groups, with a basic three act structure around Azaria’s rise, defeating President Ironwood, and finding an accord with Coyote.
I did wind up inventing magic, which is bad practice as a futurist, and apparently a mistake in reading the rules. “Wild Card” was supposed to mean pick one of the other options (Object, Event, System, Person) rather than introduce an Outside-Context Problem. My more substantive critiques are that resolution of negotiations in game, and the inclusion of quieter participants and more grounded ideas, need to more robustly represented, but these are durable and tricky problems for any foresight game. I haven’t had much luck solving them in Eventuality either. One thing which I did, which was not in the rules, was good names. Azaria came out of a handy RPG name-generator app. Coyote was a natural fit for trickster and someone broadly involved in North America. Ironwood was added after the fact. Names have power, and a way to name things quickly could be an interesting methodological advance.
Futurist Peter Schwartz was on hand to sum up the event, and he noted that in all of the ten or so futures presented, the common solution was universal empathy, a new way to connect human minds. This is because we’re all geeks, and we know where we’re weak. Is empathy really the issue at hand? And if not, what real ‘critical uncertainties’ is a quest for universal empathy hiding?
Thanks to Trisha and Joe, and to Adam Collis and the Hollywood Invades Tempe team, for giving me the opportunity to participate in this workshop.