Thursday, 27 April 2017

Birmingham And Archopolis

Next month, I will visit Birmingham again. This is relevant for two reasons.

(i) Tolkien had a place there, which I might see this time. Tolkien is relevant because he and Poul Anderson simultaneously and independently adapted Norse myths as modern fantasies.

(ii) Birmingham's multiculturalism is like an anticipation of Anderson's multi-species Terran Empire. We are entitled to wonder what contribution the former Birmingham might make to the urbanized Earth when the part of it that is called called Archopolis is the capital of the Empire.

Often, the human beings that we encounter in the Imperial period come not from Earth but from colony planets:

two men of Indian descent from Ramanujan where there is a Mount Gandhi;
a Jewish man from Dayan;
a Muslim from Huy Braseal;
a Sikh maybe from Terra but from which part? The Punjab? Birmingham? Somewhere else?

We always want to know more.


S.M. Stirling said...

In Tolkien, generally speaking the world is "diverse" but individual localities aren't, much, except when they're waypoints for people from somewhere else.

Eg., hobbits go visit Gondor, but when Aragon becomes King of Gondor he forbids Men from entering the Shire -- and obeys his own law, meeting his Hobbit friends on the border. Inside the Shire most hobbits will never so much as see one of the Big People, or elves.

Anderson implies that as the Technic history proceeds, Earth becomes more and more homogenous and has less and less regional variation, while distant planets that received particularist emigrants (like the Serbs on Dennitza) maintain strongly distinct cultures. In fact, that's often why they left Earth in the first place.

This is logical. Earth (and other single planets) in the Technic history are densely unified by instantaneous communication and very quick, very cheap transport, and by the lack of strong social barriers among most of the population.

Human cultural differentiation is the product of distance, either physical, or social.

Unless a group is separated physically or has a strong taboo structure which limits interaction it will tend to exchange memes and genes with its immediate neighbors until it becomes indistinguishable from them. The way the Norman conquerors blended into the population of England is an example, as was the way the Normans' Viking ancestors became assimilated by the Romance-speaking population of Normandy. (For that matter, French is not a linguistic descendant of Frankish, though it was influenced by it.)

"Diversity" becomes a temporary stage, not a condition.

Mind you, social distancing can last a very long time.

DNA analysis of South Asian populations shows that endogamous groups stemming from migrations as far back as the Bronze Age are still distinguishable.

Paul Shackley said...

Mr Stirling,
" distancing can last a very long time." Many Muslims are wearing the hijab as an expression of identity while at the same time some of those same Muslims are overcoming social and political divisions in other directions.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling and Paul,

I have wondered about the wisdom, practicality, or even justice of King Elessar prohibiting Men from entering the Shire. Because the Great Road which runs from the Grey Havens in the West to the Misty Mountains in the East (plus connecting with the road from Gondor in the south at Bree) would again come into heavy use as commerce and trade revived in the Reunited Kingdom. How long could such a law last given the inconveniences it would impose on travelers and trade?

Yes, I agree, as the Earth of the Technic Civilization stories became more unified and homogenized, those who felt alienated and unhappy by that would leave to colonize other worlds where they could preserve distinctive ways of life.

I would argue, however, that on the Terra of the Terran Empire, we would still some diversity. If only because many people, both human and non human, would be going back and forth on private and official business. Chapter II of THE REBEL WORLDS mentions how Admiralty Center, the very heart of the Imperial Navy, included many non human employees.

Paul, I've been puzzled by how a Muslim is mentioned in THE PEOPLE OF THE WIND as coming from a planet with the very CELTIC, non Muslim name "Huy Braseal." He could have been an example of a non fanatical, assimilated Muslim.