Ada Palmer: Terra Ignota
No nation-states, gender, or nuclear families — or questions.
Full Worlds is an ethnography podcast where we meet the worlds of its creators. In this episode, we talk to Ada Palmer and her political sci-fi series Terra Ignota, with many interesting concepts around identity and “questioning complacency”.
Geography and Identity are decoupled
As Earth has a transit system so fast that you can go anywhere on the globe in under two hours, suddenly geography means a less.
This means that the place where people live, were born, and work are completely divorced from their identity. This leads to the strengthening of diasporic communities. Not just the classic diasporas of displaced communities, for example, the Jewish or African diaspora of today, but larger diasporas of people who’s major contact in life don’t live near where they are.
This changed national identities. They are not gone, but instead of your national identity to be defined by where you were born (or fought hard to belong to a new nation), it is something everyone is up to choosing. The different new “Nation bodies”, or Hives as they are called are Humanists, Cousins, Masons, Gordian, Europe, Mitsubishi, Utopia, and the three levels of hivelessness Black, Gray, or White.
When you have come of age and taken the adulthood competency exam, you choose which of a number of globe-spanning non-geographic nations you feel best represents your identity, your values, laws that you respect and want to be governed by, and you sign up for that nationality. and you pay taxes to that organization. This organization now supply your social services, and you’re governed by its laws, regardless of where you live, and your next-door neighbors or spouse might be living under a completely different legal system.
This is a system true today only for expats, but in Terra Ignota everyone is a “global expat”.
Suddenly it becomes a buyers market for citizenship. And, if a state is doing things that are unappealing to people, people will not choose to join that, that hive or leave, which is a major check on tyranny.
Crime and law — and religion
The laws of these bodies are very different, and there is a Hive with almost no laws and within that murder is for example legal as long as both parties belong to that Hive. People who do commit crime are not sentenced to prison unless they are very high risk, but they are committed to life-long service.
Servicers live in dormitories that are run by the system, can’t own property, and travel around the world, doing helpful work for people who need help for work. They live as permanent service of the state, but not of the government, but of the people.
Organized religion is one of the few things that are just completely banned from the globe, independent of what Hive you are in. But everyone has a coach for the bigger questions.
Getting together in groups for group prayer, having a building, and so forth is not allowed, but private belief and spirituality, is considered to be absolutely necessary for a healthy and happy human life. So, now everyone has a Sensayer, a person whose job it is to discuss different theologies and philosophies of world history and help you engage with them.
Your world view is your own though and not to be discussed with others. Your parents, school or friends can’t coerce you into their beliefs. The whole system is built on paranoia that organized religion is the root of war.
And the things one don’t think about or discuss: Gender & Trackers
Gender is something one first notice is “gone.”
People wear generally gender neutral clothing. No gendered language is used anymore, everybody uses singular they in English, rather than he or she. Society believes itself and takes pride in being gender neutral.
It could sound good, but it leads to a “gender complacency.”
It is a future that “botched” the end-game of feminism and of gender liberation. This is a society that grew out of ours, but then came to a certain point of equality in jobs, pay, views, and laws, etc — and declared “Okay, we’re done!” It is a society without gender studies, a watch for glass ceilings or gender gaps, and with a discussion in public of the unconscious bias and structures, because it denies that they’re there.
The second thing people don’t even think about are trackers — essentially just a mobile phone or smartwatch, but with all data connected to the nation.
Trackers constantly monitor everything about you — from your location to medical wellbeing — and would alert the police if something seems to be happening to you. Everybody has one and nobody talks negatively about this being surveillance. The reason is that one trusts their government, just because of the fact that they can leave it.
What is scary in this world?
There are many fascinating things in the Terra Ignota world, the concepts brought up here are just some of them, but what is also interesting is what is lacking. And, that is just what you as a reader starts to fear — and just what Ada gets scared about the world.
It’s a world with a lot of silences. It’s a world with a lot of censorship, and a lot of people genuinely believe that being forbidden to talk about religion is good for society, or that one does not need to think about gender or surveillance. The scariest thing is what questions are absent from the minds of people.