The Rocheport Saga-Part 2

Last week I talked a bit about my post-apocalyptic series The Rocheport Saga. I said it was part philosophy, part family saga, part satire, part libertarian thought, part action/adventure novel, and all post-apocalyptic speculation. I also noted that the series is written in epistolary form; that is, as diary entries. I’m very fond of the epistolary format because of the intimate picture it can give us of the main character’s thoughts. Provided of course he or she is a reliable narrator. If not, then we enter a mystery world of trying to figure what is real and what is not. Either way, the epistolary novel is an ideal vehicle.

The Saga is written in story arcs, not unlike television writing, and the first seven novels form the first arc. The arc itself is divided into three parts.

Part I comprises the first two books: The Morning Star and The Shining City. And might be called “Beginnings”. This is where the story begins. Where we learn about Bill Arthur’s dream and how he intends to go about it. His dream of creating a libertarian utopia and of returning to the 21st Century’s technology.

Love Is Little, The Troubled City, and By Leaps and Bounds form Part II. The little community of Rocheport faces enemies from without and within. Our hero, Bill Arthur, is struggling to hold it all together and to do so faces the ugly reality that he will have to betray a few of his most cherished beliefs.

Nevertheless, in By Leaps and Bounds we begin to see that it does indeed look as though the community has turned a corner and will in fact survive.

Part III comprises Freedom’s Freehold and the soon to be published Take to the Sky. Whereas Part II might be titled “Conflict”, Part III could be called “Hope”. The corner has been turned and Bill Arthur feels confident the people of Rocheport will usher in a new era of peace, freedom, and technological advancement.

While The Rocheport Saga is many things, it is all post-apocalyptic speculation. The series is a realistic attempt, I think, at speculating how civilization might come back from a massive catastrophic event — and come back better than it was before the disaster. Therefore there are no zombies or other monsters in the story. Nor are there aliens from space. This is a human story of human dreams and aspirations.

The Marquis de Sade wrote philosophy in the form of pornography. And pornography was a suitable format for him to present his philosophy.

The post-apocalyptic cozy catastrophe, I found, was the most suitable format for me to express my philosophy and social views. Because, at base, the cozy catastrophe is about building a better world.

Which makes it a vehicle by which the author can criticize the current world in which he or she lives and present a model of how the problems can be solved.

S. Fowler Wright used Deluge and Dawn to portray the legal injustices against the labor class and to challenge certain social assumptions. John Wyndham used The Day of the Triffids to hint at the dangers associated with bio-engineering and to point out the dangers of military weapons orbiting the planet. In Earth Abides, George R Stewart points out how a poor black rural working family would be much more capable of surviving, than a white urban couple in New York City. Pointing out how fragile our urban worlds are. Stewart also pointed out that when push comes to shove, we are all equal by having his white protagonist marry a woman who wasn’t white. All that in a book written in the late ‘40s.

The cozy catastrophe is the perfect vehicle for world building. For creating our utopias. I’m surprised that few writers see this and utilize this form. For in the end, all writers are philosophers. Our books are either our ideal worlds or a graphic picture of what we think is wrong with the current world.

And so, in The Rocheport Saga, I present my version of what utopia would be like. No government. Sovereign and self-responsible individuals. Family centered. Social and intellectual freedom. A place where people follow the Golden Rule, respect each other, and help each other. I think it’s a vision that is very appealing and attainable.

As always, comments are welcome! Let me know your thoughts. And until next time, happy reading!

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It’s a Wonderful Life

No, I’m not talking today about the 1946 film directed by Frank Capra. I’m talking about life. About why life is worth living. Which, by the way, is the theme of the movie. We are going to spend a little bit of time today chatting about philosophy. I know, I know. Philosophy. Boring. Bear with me and see how eminently practical philosophy is.

We all have one, you know. A philosophy, that is. We may not be able to articulate its tenets, but how we live our lives tells others what those tenets are. Even if they can’t enumerate specifics either, they know exactly what drives us and what we value.

What we value and what motivates us is in fact our personal philosophy. And if we can’t utter it with our lips, we certainly do so by our actions.

I’ve been interested in philosophy for nearly 50 years, ever since high school, and the one philosopher I continually come back to is the ancient Roman Stoic, Lucius Annaeus Seneca, known as Seneca the Younger.

Seneca was a fascinating individual in his own right. A man often at odds with his own school of thought. A man who was eminently guilty of not following his own advice.

However, where Seneca, in my opinion, redeemed himself was in his old age. There, in his last years, stripped of power, position, and wealth, Seneca embraced his philosophy and wrote the best advice one person could ever hope to give to another. His Letters to Lucilius are short and pithy and cover a wide range of topics. They are very readable and enjoyable today — almost 2000 years after they were written.

What in particular do I like about Seneca? I’d have to say it is his very practical and realistic approach to life. His advice is reasonable and not freighted with pietistic or moralistic sentiment. It is pre-Christian and fits well with those of us living in a post-Christian age. Ironically enough, early Christian morality and ethics were based on Stoic principles.

As an example, let’s take a look at Seneca’s opinion about wealth. According to our philosopher, there is nothing wrong with having money. Even lots of money. The problem comes, according to Seneca, when we try to cling to our money. The solution, he offers, is to live as if we didn’t have any money. In other words, to live a simple life. By so doing our lives won’t be cluttered with the problems one encounters when one has lots of money.

Seneca himself learned this lesson the hard way. At the highpoint of his career he was one of two tutors to the very young Nero. He had tremendous power and was one of the wealthiest men history has ever known. Bill Gates’ wealth would have been casual spending money to Seneca. When Nero became of age and Seneca realized what the Emperor was truly like, our philosopher gave his money to the young man and retired from public life. Seneca went from being in control of the vast Roman Empire to being a humble patrician farmer.

From Seneca, I learned to value life for its own sake. Not for what I have, because tomorrow everything I have might be taken away from me — as it was for Seneca. The small things and the intangible things give value to life. Things like friendship and contentment. And those are found within a person, not without.

No one has friends who is not first a friend to himself or herself. I cannot love another, unless I first love me. I must, first and foremost, love myself and be friends with myself. Only then, am I capable of truly loving and befriending others.

Contentment does not come from without. It comes from within. If I am satisfied with who I am, then I will be satisfied with what I have. And I will be content.

The human being is a reasoning animal, Seneca wrote. And when reason has been brought to perfection in the soul, we fulfill the good for which nature designed us. We live then according to our nature, as reasonable beings. If we are out of control, if we lack contentment, is we lack love for ourselves, then we are imperfect beings and do not live reasonable lives. We are not living, Seneca would say, according to nature.

The goal of philosophy is to bring us to a state of mind where we live according to that for which we were designed. That is, lives marked by reasonable thoughts and behaviors.

This is a wonderful life if we live according to our nature, according to reason. If we are balanced and content, everything within us and around us will be wonderful.

That is philosophy. And why I find it such a wonderful, non-judgmental guide to life. The good life. The wonderful life.

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Rational Anarchism

Nearly fifty years ago, a writer by the name of Robert A Heinlein wrote and got published a book entitled, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.  One of the principal characters in the novel is Professor Bernardo de la Paz, who describes himself as a “Rational Anarchist”.

What is a Rational Anarchist? Let’s take a look, because the words rational and anarchy seem to be contradictory. A Rational Anarchist:

    • Believes the state, society, and government are concepts which do not exist apart from the physical acts of self-answerable individuals.
    • Believes blame, guilt, responsibility, and answerability makes it impossible for a person to shift, share, or distribute blame.
    • Being rational, the rational anarchist understands not everyone shares his or her views; yet, he or she strives to live perfectly in an imperfect world; completely aware he or she is not capable of achieving perfection.
    • Accepts all rules society deems necessary to secure its freedom and liberty.
    • Is free no matter what the rules are in his or her society. If the rules are tolerable, he or she will tolerate them. If not, the rational anarchist will break them.
    • Is free because the rational anarchist knows only he or she is morally responsible for everything he or she does.

Why do I bring this up?  Because Bill Arthur in The Rocheport Saga tries to create a new world along similar lines. He begins as an anarchistic libertarian, seeking on a societal level to create the ultimate environment for freedom.  Eventually he realizes people are people.  Even after a calamity which wipes out 98 out of every 100 people, those who survive haven’t essentially changed. The survivors are no different than they were before they were survivors. People want freedom, but actually crave security and will sacrifice freedom for security every time they feel insecure.

In the end, Bill Arthur becomes a Rational Anarchist.  He concludes the Stoics were right over 2,000 years ago: all we can ultimately do is control ourselves.

Tell me what you think about freedom and security. Is Bill Arthur right?

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