Why the Culture Wins: An Appreciation of Iain M. Banks
Compared to the other “visionary” writers working at the time – William Gibson, Neal Stephenson – Banks is underappreciated. This is because Gibson and Stephenson in certain ways anticipated the evolution of technology, and considered what the world would look like as transformed by “cyberspace.” Both were crucial in helping us to understand that the real technological revolution occurring in our society was not mechanical, but involved the collection, transmission and processing of information.
Banks, by contrast, imagined a future transformed by the evolution of culture first and foremost, and by technology only secondarily. His insights were, I would contend, more profound. But they are less well appreciated, because the dynamics of culture surround us so completely, and inform our understanding of the world so entirely, that we struggle to find a perspective from which we can observe the long-term trends.
What happens when culture becomes freed from all functional constraints? It seems clear that, in the interplanetary competition that develops, the culture that emerges will be the most virulent, or the most contagious. In other words, “the Culture” will simply be that which is best at reproducing itself, by appealing to the sensibilities and tastes of humanoid life-forms.