Darwin is seen as the source of the idea of ‘survival of the fittest’, but it is a notion that expresses only part of human nature — those words perhaps give it its best voice, which is why they resonate still. ‘The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains,’ said Marx, painting a picture of human society as a struggle between groups, with one of the groups a victim of another — a picture which appealed hugely to some and which was horrifying to others. Freud said, ’I have found little that is “good” about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash, no matter whether they publicly subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine or to none at all. That is something that you cannot say aloud, or perhaps even think,’ tarnishing his fellow human beings with irony. All of this was part of a trend towards a world view which we live within today and which I have called Ironic.
In this world view, we are convinced that we are engaged in a perpetual struggle to survive, not only against the environment but against each other, and our striving seems to be just for that: raw survival, rather than anything more meaningful. Coming to see this as a mere world view, rather than an absolute truth, is the beginning of wisdom. Authors who are attempting to sell books, in having this revelation about the world around them, can sometimes experience an epiphany more potent than anything they might have been expecting when studying the subject of marketing.
But what other world view could there be? We are so immersed in this one that others recede from view almost entirely.
In the last instalment, I used a term, the ‘ecology of ideas’. The word ‘ecology’ is defined by the dictionary as ‘the branch of biology that deals with the relations of organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings’ but here it has a wider application, obviously. An ecology of ideas could be stated as ‘the subject of the relations of ideas to one another and to their cultural surroundings.’ The key phrase, and the one thing which it seems to me central to get across, is ‘the relations of ideas to one another’.
In our Darwinian universe — a universe forwarded in different ways by Marx and Freud and generally accepted in the 21st century — those relations are fundamentally hostile: individual organisms are engaged in battle with their environment, human classes are at war, the single human is a festering mass of unconscious, struggling impulses. But these are not absolute truths, just ways of perceiving the world which chime with the overall world view of our times. They echo off each other and thus reverberate around the whole culture.
Times change. And so do world views. We tend to sneer at the past with what C. S. Lewis called ‘chronological snobbery’, imagining that, through the marvels of a mystical agency known as Progress, we have left our primitive ancestors behind and are more ‘enlightened’ than they. But our world view is based on cosmic entropy, chemical accident, shallow and conflicted social interactions and a psychology of chaotic impulses. Hardly enlightened in a classic sense.
Picture instead a perspective founded upon the notion of an ecology, an interrelationship of ideas which were not necessarily in conflict with each other and where struggle and disparity were largely alien notions. We get a flavour of this from some interpretations of the ecology of the natural world which seem to have escaped pure Darwinism. Orders, species and families of animals exist in cooperation, according to some approaches. Where the 19th century saw ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ (according to Tennyson’s phrase), later generations of ecologists have stepped slightly away from the Ironic zeitgeist and pictured the natural world as a single organism, its parts operating in harmony. We are encouraged, as human beings, to recognise our relationship to other parts of nature and to change our behaviour so as to fit in better with them. This is not an Ironic notion; this is different.
The easiest way to view this, to bring these esoteric concepts back to earth, is perhaps through the image of a garden. A Darwinian garden would be a battleground, in which one plant or set of plants fought to establish dominance and perhaps even aimed for the extermination of all others in order to ensure its ‘survival’: plant versus plant, each seeking to outwit and outgrow the others. A non-Darwinian garden would be based on the principles of husbandry, the care, cultivation, and breeding of crops and animals, the management and conservation of resources. In such a garden, no plant would be seen as inferior to another; each would have a role within a larger, complex ecology. A gardener, in removing weeds, would not even destroy those but seek to transform them, through composting, into a reusable resource. Far from seeking the extermination of species, such a garden would only find its true glory when each element within it was truly itself.
I know this is all a little theoretical, but I wanted to give you the necessary background to view your books and marketing in totally different ways because we have all been brought up immersed in a Darwinian mind-set and we probably cannot help but view these things in that Ironic, hyper-competitive, individualistic kind of way. To step outside that framework takes effort and might take time, with all the while the voices of protest loud around and within us.
The intellectual property that is your fiction can be seen as exclusively ‘yours’, engaged in a battle to project itself into the minds and hearts of others through the warlike arena of the marketplace — or it can be viewed as an element in a garden, finding its proper place within an ecology of ideas and themes, permitted and encouraged to blossom for what it is, and finding its true reward in such a blooming.
How does this translate into practical terms?
Common practice is to take written books and devise marketing campaigns (even the terminology we use is militaristic) with the aim of 'conquering territory', in this case reader attention. These campaigns are often wasteful; they are even more often unsuccessful. Writers attempt such marketing and frequently come away drained and feeling as though they are compromising their honour and integrity somehow. Like soldiers from a battle.
Better practice — ecology-based practice — would relate to the patient work of a gardener, finding the right ‘soil’ and spot for a particular book, feeding it the right amount — and the right kind — of attention, giving it time to grow its roots and establish itself, and encouraging it to bloom in its own unique way as part of a larger system. The downside to this approach is that it requires time and patience, like gardening, and, also like gardening, a certain wisdom about what a particular item needs, in this case appropriate audiences and correct placements. The rewards are not only a proportionate commercial return on the book but a deeper validation of its innermost qualities. In other words, treat a book like a plant in a garden created and managed by a skilled gardener, and it will not only bear sweet fruit but reveal a beauty within itself that might have hitherto been unsuspected.
Right readerships are like proportionate sunlight and rainfall: they bless a book with growth, inwardly and outwardly. As soon as we step outside the Ironic framework and begin to see individual books as parts of greater wholes, then sanity can be restored and real forward development can occur.