Back on July 10 I announced the (mere) possibility of writing a book that takes Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 as its point of departure. Call it Kisangani 2150 (reconstructing civilization on a new model). I’m still liking the idea. Will I actually write the novel? As I said at the end of the post, probably not. But perhaps I’ll do something, maybe even some kind of collaborative web project. But who knows?
But “Kisangani 2150” is a useful rubric (a word, I believe, that I have from the late Dick Macksey) under which to gather materials about the future – something I think about a lot. By materials I mean both my own thoughts, but also the thoughts of others. The idea, as I indicated in that first post, is to imagine a post climate apocalypse world more or less within the parameters Robinson established in his novel, but nonetheless along somewhat different lines. After all, he set his novel in New York City. Kisangani is in the central Congo, a very different world. What were they likely doing in Kisangani when the events of New York 2140 transpired? And once those events had (quite possibly) altered the course of history, what would have been happening in Kisangani ten years after?
It’s the level of detail that’s important, down to the thoughts of individual people. Since Robinson’s already done such a good job of imaginatively realizing a possible future I can’t see any point in my trying to do it again from scratch. So, take that world as given, and work within and around it, from some other perspective.
Anyhow, I’ve been thinking about the Kisangani 2150 Project, as I’m now calling it. What materials do I have readily to hand?
Let me tell you about Zeal
There’s my friend Zeal. I wrote about him in 3 Quarks Daily: World Island: Zeal means hope [The World’s Got Talent]. He’s had this idea he calls World Island, which I’ve blogged about. You can find some documents at Scribd, PDFs of two PowerPoint presentations and the executive summary of the proposal we’d submitted to the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation (aka GIPEC). He even submitted a proposal to the MacArthur Foundation fairly recently, though I was no longer working on the project at that time. World Island? Think of it as a combination of the best features of the United Nations, Disney World, a kid’s rumpus room, the trading floor at the Chicago Board of Trade, the Bibliothèque nationale de France, and the Japanese exhibit at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.
I worked closely with Zeal for, say, three, four, five, years and have kept in touch with him. I went with him to many meetings with all kinds of people, people who were interested in the World island project. Many of them are the sorts of folks who’d be working at building the kind of world I’m imagining for Kisangani 2150. And they’ve got friends, children, cousins, nieces, and so forth. So I’m imagining chains of resonance emanating from Zeal in the early 21st century, rippling out over the next century, and then coalescing in Kisangani in the middle of the 22nd century.
How did I meet Zeal? At a meeting at Columbia University. I was introduced to him by Takeshi Utsumi, a Japanese American who has spent three or four decades traveling in the developing world on behalf of what he calls the Global University System. The idea is to funnel Japanese development money two centers in the developing world interested in distance education. Maybe one of those centers is in Kisangani, now. Maybe it persists through 2150. Who knows?
And then there’s Paul Sladkus and his Good News Broadcasting. More connections to conjure with.
Tyler Cowen’s Yonas project
Tyler Cowen is an economist who blogs at Marginal Revolution. He also travels a great deal. Last year he traveled to Ethiopia – in Africa, but a different part of Africa from Kisangani – where he met a man he calls Yonas (not his real name). He decided to donate the royalties of a recent book to Yonas:
So having written Stubborn Attachments, I now wish to live the book, so to speak. I am donating the royalties from the book to a man I met in Ethiopia on a factfinding trip earlier this year, I shall call him Yonas [not his real name].
He is a man of modest means, but he aspires to open his own travel business. He has a young and growing family, and also a mother to support. He is also hoping to buy a larger house to accommodate his growing family. In his life, he faces stresses – financial and otherwise — that I have never had to confront. When I visited his home, his wife had just had a new baby girl, but Yonas’s income depends on the vicissitudes of tourist demand, and by American standards it is in any case low.
I met Yonas when he served as my travel guide around Lalibela. I spent a full day with him, touring the underground, rock-hewn stone churches of that city. He struck me as reliable, conscientious, well-informed, and I was impressed by the quality of his English, which he had acquired on his own. He also took me by his village to meet his family, and they performed a coffee ceremony for me, cooking freshly ground coffee beans (it was delicious, something I had never imagined). Based on my impressions from that day, I believe an investment in Yonas will help his entire family and perhaps his broader community as well. Since then, he and I have kept in touch by email.
As another way of “living the content” of my book, I will be sending the funds via Stripe, Stripe Press being the publisher of this book. Stripe, a payments company, really has made it easy to send money across borders, thereby helping to knit the whole world together. I hope someday Yonas is able to apply for incorporation through Atlas, a Stripe service that helps entrepreneurs incorporate in Delaware, with his travel business, or with whatever else he may do.
What if Yonas succeeds in establishing his travel business? What if it is wildly successful and establishes offices throughout Africa, perhaps even in Kisangani?
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You get the idea. On the ground NOW, but one can imagine plausible chains of resonance reaching to Kisangani in 2150.