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Inside The Hive Mind

Something fundamental is changing in the hive mind. The thousands of human hives have been subject to globalization. These cultural, language, and faith colonies are interconnected in ways unimaginable a hundred years ago.

It is not just the way we communicate. It is more the desire of people who are born, educated, work, and die inside their cultural hive to see the influence they have to reshape the content and means of delivery of such communication. The hive is glued together by language, culture, and religion. Most of our lives we see ourselves as individuals; we see others the same way. But there is a collective life just below the surface—a life that lurks rising up here and there like a submarine surveying the angry seas.

When tourists visit a foreign land they see the outlines of the collective in the churches, mosques, museums, palaces, and government buildings. Those are the artifacts of the hive’s past. Within these places is the collective life which remains largely out of sight as the tourist is cut off by language, custom, tradition and ethnicity. Tourists by their very nature are “strangers” or “outsiders” and while the locals are happy to provide hotels, restaurants, and attractions to take their money, they know such people can bring a threat to the hive. Every hive has a list of taboos—things you can’t discuss or talk about in public—and each hive has guardians that vet public discussions. These guardians, who patrol the public communication lines, are generally distrustful of new ideas, ways of thinking, critical opinions or different values about authority, power, justice, fairness, and wealth. Each hive creates a mentality that it is exceptional and unique. Survival depends on protecting such a delusion. Writers, the best ones, are delusion busters. In parts of the world such writers are murdered or imprisoned. It is the way a human hive works.

No hive is stable, unchangeable over time. The balance between the place of the individual and the role of the collective ebbs and flows, shifts, transforms, and this can cause disturbance. Internal disagreement about the structures and values of the hive can break out into open rebellion, revolution, insurgency or civil war. We are cooperative by nature but also disagree as to the terms exacted for cooperation when they become a burden. I suspect that our private and collective selves are different expressions flowing from the same pathways. It is the personal mixture of private and collective selves that merge to create consciousness and identity. What looks like a patchwork of overhead Bangkok telephone and electric wires on Sukhumvit Road from the outside feels like one smooth, single transmission cable (from inside).

For authors of novels, this possibility of change has great implications. Our task has been to recreate the emotional temperature inside the various chambers and follow around the players to see who does what to whom and for what reason and what consequences follow. In books we work the hive’s definition of hell and characters caught in the clutches of such belief. Writers dramatize these fears using belief in ghosts to everlasting punishment to illuminate life inside the hive. Our books are snared in these belief systems that create consensus and keep hive members in line. Also we like the rebels. Those who refuse to consent to the beliefs and suffer the consequences. Because to question the guardians of the hive takes courage. Most of us aren’t that brave.

The Wat Phra Kaeo temple in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo by vteen,
The Wat Phra Kaeo temple in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo by vteen,

We engage readers emotionally. That is our power and our limitation. Others would argue books provide escape. Fantasy packaged to waste hours otherwise spent in boredom. I am of the school that you read (or write) a book because you want to know something beyond the surface of life. In this world, there is no time for escape into fantasy; there is too much to find out about the edge between fact and fiction. A novel is a good place to explore that borderline.

The hives depend upon communication links and communicators who use the links. Books, movies, music, newspaper, gossip, idle chatter created a community. You can have face-to-face storytelling. The oral tradition. Or you can use modern technology for the hole in one: you narrate face-to-face storytelling and then use modern technology to transmit it to thousands or millions of strangers. Those strangers read the face-to-face story and believe that it says something about the characters, their motives, intentions, and has causal connections that make for the scaffolding of a story. What is built inside the cultural hive comes out through the process of storytelling. It is rarely on the surface as a cultural artifact. Most storytellers are talking about their own history, through their own language, and finding and sharing a common identification of values, history, and ethnicity.

We have a need for face-to-face interaction with others. We are foremost social beings; the kind of creatures that are happiest inside the hive. One of the worst forms of punishment in ancient times was banishment or exile. In current times, it would be solitary confinement. Books reach out and bring others into the mental life of the reader. It is a simulation of the face-to-face interaction that the reader is looking to find.

Then there are authors like Matt Beynon Rees, Colin Cotterill, Barbara Nadel and myself who inhabit various foreign (to us) landscapes and are writing books about the face-to-face interaction that happens in very difficult and different circumstances than the ones we’ve been raised to deal with. I can’t speak for the other bloggers, but I wasn’t raised with an eye in mind to prepare me to write about the broader geography of Southeast Asia. As a reality check of many books shows, at least to those who know, the writer only has a superficial understanding of the hive mentality where he or she has set the book. They’ve scratched the surface, but they haven’t gone into the backrooms where the guardians live and work.

People are becoming more immobile, more stationary; heads stuck in front of a screen for many hours more than anyone would care to admit. It makes what we do all the more odd. The irony of the Internet is that while in terms of screen time they have never been so worldly, in terms of non-screen time people are becoming more insular and isolated from larger communities. The death of newspapers and foreign bureaux has contributed to the blackout; the same with TV coverage as the major networks and government stations have cut back on foreign correspondents, a dying breed if there ever was one. It is becoming more difficult to find out what goes inside the collective mind of people inside other cultures. Authors who have embedded themselves in such hives are a continuing communication link to the collective mentality, and the view from inside the hive becomes more important over time. Because that is where the true differences in values, perceptions, ideals, and goals are manufactured and delivered to the next generation. 


Christopher G. Moore

Christopher G. Moore is the author of 20 novels, most recently Paying Back Jack.


The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 09-JAN 10

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