From a Book to Another - by Enric Bas
“Walks on his own with thoughts he can't help thinking. Future's above, but in the past, he's slow and sinking.” (“Nothingman”. Pearl Jam, 1994) In 2050, a final year study course in Tennessee (USA) is proposed to secondary students finishing their studies in a local school in Xábia: a remote, small and beautiful Mediterranean coastal town that from the 1960s to the 2020s had been one of the favourite spots for wealthy families-mainly from Northern Europe-worldwide. Xábia was a hotspot for the rich when Spain was part of the former European Union, giving rise to the current three supranational entities: Mediterráneus, The Federation of Baltic and Hanseatic States and the Eastern Europe Bloc. The students’ destination is the charming city of Nashville, the country's music capital, and since 2028, the administrative capital of the United States of America since Washington DC went underwater (almost 70 years earlier than it was expected in the worst climate projections). The group of students is international, although all are residents of Xábia. They are led by José Gasset-a Spanish teaching bioinformatics- and Mae Maslow, an Asian/American journalist and anthropologist, raised in Tampa but now living in Xábia as formal mentors. The aim of the exchange visit is “knowing other cultures”, even though this is an already very heterogeneous group of students attending the same school and classes daily. Paradoxically, they are disconnected from each other from a cultural point of view: like other coastal towns in southern Europe, the descendants of the former 20th Century foreign residents that initially settled in Xábia still live in their bubbles the ancient English community, the German community, the Norwegian community…each of them living according to their own rules and traditions, and mainly using their own language. All of them have been-for almost 100 years-living in the same town, but entirely apart from the Xábia local community-which remains a bubble in itself since the 1960s. They coexist in time and space but rarely meet, and indeed, they are not part of a community with shared values and visions. A brand new company arranges flights from Greece called “Ithaca Tours”, famous for having developed a technology that makes possible small electric planes that cover long distances, using an AI-based system to maximize the efficiency of low-weight batteries by being “empathetic” with nature: adapting in real-time the flight characteristics (route, altitude, speed, etc..) to the different environmental variables and contingencies affecting the flight, like wind streams, atmosphere temperature, etcetera. The captain in charge of the plane, Noah Antonia Pessoa, is an experienced pilot. She is a half-human half cyborg who reached her fame as the ace of the top squad known as MAD-Mediterráneum Army 82 Part 5: Social Change 83 of Drones during the seven-day war with The Federation of Baltic and Hanseatic States in 2035. This war definitively broke the remaining European Union (the Eastern Europe Bloc already left in 2030, ten years after the UK-the Brexit-) in two. The flight was taking its expected course until a strange and unexpected hurricane forced the group to land on a lost and uninhabited island called Pico. Pico is a part of a former Portuguese Island of the Azores archipelago, now almost underwater. Since the terrible floods that devastated the North Hemisphere during the decade of 2020s (Germany in 2021, UK and Netherlands in 2022, Spain and Italy in 2023, Canada and USA in 2028, etc), just after the starting of the Covid-19 pandemic, nature seems to have rebelled against man. And sudden, unexpected floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, are now the order of the day. The collapsing of the environment and nature-including the consecutive series of pandemics starting in 2019 that last until today-lead to the collapse of the economy, which, in turn, lead to increasing instability and finally, the political failure and the breaking of the European Union (as we knew it); but this is other another story. Despite the expertise of Captain Noah, with the terrible shaking and fast decompression experienced during the landing, most of the food provisions the group carried are lost. Synthetic foods were designed structurally far more resistant to physical alterations and contingencies than the “natural”/organic ones, but the damage affected the organoleptic-and-mainly-nutritional properties were lost turning most of the food useless. The groceries that survived the landing are flawed and limited, and rationing is imposed. The restriction doesn't help the group. And nobody-including the mentors and the crew-is familiar with agriculture and livestock management except Pep, the only local from Xábia in the group of 20 students. Pep is a bright student passionate about Biology who won in 2049 a TIF-Tesla International Fellowship to visit the Manhattan Underwater Natural Park in former NYC. He aspires to explore and know the world, but at the same time, he is intimately linked to his roots and culture since he grew up with his grandparents (his parents died due to a solar storm in a long-distance flight when he was four y.o.) in Xabia´s countryside. His family have been farmers in Xabia for generations and his grandfather, Antonio, taught him the basics of agriculture since Pep was a kid. After a few days of contacting the Iberian authorities (Portugal and Spain became Iberia), the group leaders, Prof. Gasset, Mrs Maslow and Captain Noah, realize that solid storms in the area will make a rescue mission impossible for a long time. So they agreed about the need to prepare for the winter. Autumn and spring don't exist anymore, so there are only two seasons, and they are increasingly difficult to distinguish due to unpredictable and sudden changes in temperature. Fortunately, all the group are wearing i-Nike smart suits and can use the airship as shelter, so the main problem-at least in the short term-is keeping safe and producing food. Captain Noah, the authority in charge of the flight security, decides to divide the group according to their strengths after interviewing all the students. Her experience and expertise in managing diverse groups in dangerous situations-like the seven days war-has made her develop a unique sense for doing the right thing to survive. But the tensions in the group 84 do not take long to appear. After a couple of weeks, a big part of the group don't agree about Pep being in charge of the farming planning and giving instructions-which are taken as orders-to other stronger-but-not-so-smart (or just without the needed know-how on agriculture to take this role) students. Pep is the only Xabia´s local, so it's a minority in the group-where other ethnic/cultural subgroups are much greater-, permanently have been excluded from the main groups, and this doesn't help the group trust him. They reject Captain Noah´s authority to decide who is doing what and claim for the whole group voting the allocation of roles. While being at a crossroad (either prioritize “democracy” or “knowledge” in the management of the crisis, assuming all the side effects of making a decision, whatever it may be), Prof. Gasset is afraid of a mass rebellion and asks Mrs Maslow for help. She is an anthropologist with a long experience teaching worldwide. The question is how to manage a situation that is a consequence of a generalized lack of empathy and sense of community , and how to prevent it from leading to a misunderstanding of the problem that could threaten the group's survival. Cultural bias, prejudices, preconceptions, apriorism are affecting the effective management of the crisis. There is an urgent need to find a way for the students to prioritize the community above themselves. They also need to value differences instead of fake ground equality, and learn to respect it and take advantage of it through mutual learning. Finally, Mae (Mrs Maslow) finds the inspiration in her hand luggage: a present for her eldest son she bought in an old library in Barcelona, a few days before departing with the group from Xabia. It's a 1st edition-of 1920-of a book called “The Papalagi” (“the strangers” in Samoan), which she used to teach when she was a teacher in Brisbane. It contains descriptions of European life and culture supposedly as seen through the eyes of a Samoan chief named Tuiavii-which could be taken as a metaphor about the social construction of reality, about reality-and the way we see ourselves and each other-as an induced perception. The anthropologist suggests to the group to temporarily stop all the productive activities (the stock makes it possible for a while) to play a game: during a week, from Monday to Saturday, in the mornings she will read out loud the book-chapter by chapter-to the whole audience, who will stand together. In the afternoon, each student will go on their own, nude and alone, around the island and think about themselves as Pico natives, trying to look the rest of the group “from the outside” while keeping themselves as pure and naïve as possible-as if they were the Samoans of the book. And taking the daily reading as a reference, they must individually identify what seems strange to their eyes about the group's behaviour, not judging it but just describing how different or weird it is for them. Additionally, they must identify at least one main strength for every group member, like: “what personal strength has X that I have not but I could learn”. Each of them has to write their thoughts in a paper every evening for six days before going to sleep. And, at the end of the process, they have to deliver the scripts anonymously. All the students accepted the challenge. After six days of the experiment, in the early morning of the 7th day, Mae collected all the anonymous scripts, randomly distributing them among the group members. Captain Part 5: Social Change 85 Noah and Prof. Gasset are with them. Now every student must read to the audience the assigned script without knowing who the author is. From dawn to dusk, for more than 12 hours, the silent crowd attends the exposition respectfully. During the process, script after script, an internal change brews within the audience some laugh, smile, and cry. It´s a cathartic process. Everyone is having a “try walking in my shoes”, a “mirror” lesson from another pal, through the voice of a third one. At the end of the day, they've got 20 different interpretations of the book, from the group as a whole and themselves as individuals, one vision for each partner. Then they had to challenge their mindsets about the value of diversity, the importance of the environment, the critical role of contextualization in priority setting, and the transformative power of a community based on the individual transformation. A challenge needed to reach empathy, have to say, since all the collective transformations-including the development of a shared vision about the future for a community-start at the intimate level. The silence in the crowd at the end of this collective catharsis was such that it was thunderous. The knowing glances were evident, the hugs even more. The crisis was finally seen as an opportunity for survival. They learned from each other and themselves. That night was for many the very first one they slept well since the landing in Pico. The day after, a brave new world emerged for them. And the rest is (future-you can complete it as you prefer) history. P.d.: The group decided to collectively share their experience in a book called “Vitalogy”-the study of life in Greek-in 2070. It became the best seller of the 21st Century and the inspiration for the original script of “ (“Learning by Doing”)–a Chinese movie directed by the Brazilian twin artists Joao & Anna Kramer Da Souza and awarded with 5 Golden Cows in the 2075 Bollywood Awards.