A Magazine about the Hudson Valley’s local economy, published by Hudson Valley Current.

Book Review: Looking for Guidelines

Future Planning Needs to Take the Eternally Small Into Account

The fantasy books I cut my imagination’s teeth on have proved a useful means of imagining better systems moving forward.

I grew up a Borrower, ready to live as a small person beneath a home’s floorboards, making do with whatever I could scavenge from normal human life. I wanted a hobbit’s home nestled into the ground with a round front door. I figured that being shipwrecked would be more an opportunity than a life-or-death challenge. The Swiss Family Robinson’s elaborate treehouse seemed idyllic, as did Crusoe’s life, even with the negative aspects displayed in his relationship with his sole companion, Friday. 

Sure, Lord of the Flies wasn’t as fun as Peter Pan’s Lost Boys simulation of a parent-less paradise. And an underlying scent of colonialism—of creating new lives on others’ land—permeated many of the fantasies I still harbor somewhere deep within that latent child’s imagination we still carry with.

The “isms” we like to use as rapiers in our adult battles over visions of a perfect world tend to alternate between rosy images of perfect worlds for our childhood selves and dystopias to avoid. SciFi, from Star Wars’ worlds to A Clockwork Orange, comment on bad realities.

Maybe it’s best to imagine what can be by referencing what has worked best in the past. Like looking into those works in literature and film where we want to be, from close families to roving adventures buoyed by the safety of, say, Huck and Jim’s being embraced by a friendly natural world, including the great Mississippi River. Or the ways in which characters always find a home in Dickens, in Roth, in Kingsolver, and even Atwood. 

Which means we all look to communities that treasure closeness, architecturally and societally, while also treasuring and protecting diversity in all its connotations. We like an unthreatening form of nature that we can work with, even if it’s as simple as The Little Prince’s sole flower on a bare planet, or places one can escape terror from in Jesmyn Ward’s dark novels.

Smaller systems are an almost universal goal; one never reads fictional renderings of happy corporate environments, or relationship-nurturing governmental systems. Small is always better. But so is the empowerment embodied in people making their own decisions when facing challenges. 

The systems we’ve built have become their own frightening behemoths. Even when we read nonfiction, we herald stories of those who can bring them down to size, who can make personal the impersonal.

How we build that all into new systems may be best handled by those who imagine worlds beyond ours—be they fictional or of the past. But also those who see what is, and constantly remind us when dreams slip into isms.

It doesn’t make sense to f— it all up yet again.