Re: LIT: Culture

The Low Golden Willow (
Wed, 2 Apr 1997 15:02:58 -0800 (PST)

On Apr 2, 9:43pm, Guru George wrote:

} 'Twas me. Banks is a great writer in the page turning sense, and full
} of interesting and amusing conceits, but he does have a good old Red bee

_Ultimate Ship the Second_...

} I dunno if the Culture could stand co-existing with other Beyond
} cultures, at least not the way Banks describes it. In fact, isn't
} Consider Phlebas about that very thing: a conflict between a kind of
} hold-out-for-individualism culture and the Culture? Those Culture AIs
} are just too damn bossy!

Um... no. I've just read _Consider Phlebas_ ("a minor spoiler consists
of knowing that it _is_ a 'Culture book'") and that's not how I'd
describe the conflict. Unless you consider the Idiran religious drive to
expansion and domination of weaker races, including nuking their cities,
a "hold-out-for-individualism" culture. The protagonist is a mercenary
of principle who doesn't so much agree with the Idirans as he opposes
the Culture as a machine-worshipping cancer in the galaxy. The Culture
seems to be rather high on ability to realize individual potential,
frankly; that's the whole point of the utopia. The question is the
productive underpinnings.

True, you might not be able to realize your potential as dictator of
some Third World planet. This is partly because the members of Contact
will be realizing their individual potential to interfere with you.

Banks seems to consider money just "an inefficient form of rationing".
As I understand it money can be considered a form of rationing, but one
mathematically proven to be efficient under ideal circumstances. Not
that Earth has any ideal governments to outcompete the real markets. In
the Culture production mostly is automated, supervised by people who
want to as a hobby. I've never seen the distribution system; I'd guess
you ask for something, and a robot is sent by the Hub or ship Mind to
deliver it. Rationing doesn't seem to be necessary for any "reasonable"
need; anyone can have what they want.

No one seems to ask for a mole of widgets. Possibly because everyone in
the Culture is supposed to be sane. I'm not sure what happens if you
demand a mole of widgets. Presumably the local Mind says "no." But the
Mind would give you a ship (no AI) and factory stuff, so you could go
out and make your widgets out of junk no one claimed. Unless your
widgets were thrall-AI warships, in which case someone might stop you in
self-defense. For which I can hardly blame them.

Thing is, there's no reason there couldn't be money in the Culture. But
money facilitates trade, and there isn't enough regular trade to support
money. Stuff gets grabbed and turned into things. This isn't a
socialist economy; it's a slowly-growing frontier economy.

Also, if the Culture was run (or admitted being run) by the Minds, it
might be able to claim having an ideal government. The number of
components of the Mind in _Consider Phlebas_ seems to imply that single
Minds can outthink the population of Earth. And his numbers are
probably conservative, given the technology he's playing with.

} Certainly, the key point about the Culture, its tremendous technological
} ability, its power beyond measure, couldn't be *arrived at* by a
} socialist path, since technological *progress* is a function of the kind
} of utility testing that only capitalist cultures allow. But perhaps

I don't know what that means. Just about nothing is actually forbidden
in the Culture, certainly not experimentation. Competition for
scarce resources gives an incentive for improvement, and competition
allows diversity. Progress would happen in the Culture via play; no one
has to work for a living, but people want to explore and try new things
to keep boredom away. And the Minds have an efficiency fetish and
curiosity built in. Such viewpoints certainly shouldn't seem odd to
anyone on this list.

} I suppose if we're going to get machines to look after us and drop the *
} necessity* of work, the Culture's as good a vision of that as you could
} hope for. But Banks is always wrestling with the inherent boringness of
} such a situation.

Boring to write about, yes. That's why all his books deal with abnormal
circumstances. Boring to live in? Hah. Only for those who don't know
what to do with their lives, but never have time to worry about it
because they're too caught up in or exhausted by working for their

Merry part,
-xx- Damien R. Sullivan X-) <*>

"Food is much cheaper in Hong Kong than in Japan--
primarily because Hong Kong has almost no farmers."
-- World Bank report, on the political clout of farmers