The Fifth World


I don’t understand our ancestors in the old stories. I’ve heard stories where they can’t even tell that a member of their family has lied to them. How can you not tell when your brother lies to you? How can you not feel that? I’ve heard stories where they ignore their dreams, and everyone seems to consider that perfectly normal, where they dismiss their feelings as something ephemeral or pointless, where they can’t even see the life in dogs or cats, where they can actually ask if they live alone in a universe bursting with life and intelligence all around them. I can see the wonders they left behind. How can people so clever, so smart, also know nothing? They barely even seem human sometimes. I have my doubts. Sometimes I think the elders are playing a joke on us.

Family Bond

See Family.

The family forms the foundation of life in the Fifth World. They develop a deep empathy with their family from birth. At times this bond can seem almost like telepathy, with the depth of unconscious awareness family members have for the subtle cues and microexpressions of other members. This can also cause problems, as such sensitivity means that strong negative emotions like anger can cause a major crisis for the entire family.


Raised in such a family, the people of the Fifth World develop a self-confidence that can seem amazing, even otherworldly, to modern people. They trust in their feelings as much as they trust their eyes and ears as perceptions of the world around them. They can navigate by directions of how they feel as much as by what they see. They have the confidence to embark on even the most perilous quests, to pursue even the most trifling whims, simply because they saw it in a dream. Such strength and confidence emerge from love and support the same way that a healthy plant grows in good soil and fresh water. To survive beyond civilization, the people of the Fifth World needed to become strong and confident again. Those who didn’t simply did not survive.


See Orality

Writing constitutes a powerful magic. Simply by looking at these symbols the words of an author far removed or long dead sound in your mind. A written word remains changeless, static, a series of symbols ripped from any social context or family. The domesticated notion of the world follows. Plato, the first philosopher of a literate society, saw the world of his own experience as an illusion cast by the truer world of “Forms,” just as the actual things we touch and smell and taste and see never fully conform to the static ideal of the written word that represents them.

In the Fifth World, writing has become largely useless, and oral traditions have re-emerged. Oral traditions train the human mind in very different patterns. Where writing trains us to see the world in terms of things, oral traditions train us to see the world in relationship, as a process. All communication and information appears inside the context of social relationship between the speaker and the listener. Information passes from one person to another in a series of interlocking conversations, in the context of an ongoing relationship.

Literate languages tend to use a great many nouns, and imply static relationships. In English, the many forms of the verb “to be” imply an assignment of unchanging nature. While English-speaking physicists pondered the apparent paradox that light “is” a particle and a wave simultaneously, the paradox dissolved in Hopi, where scientists had to speak more precisely, saying that under these conditions light waved, and under those conditions it particled. Many indigenous languages tend to verb more than they noun. One native observer noticed the different ways that two minds saw the same photograph: the literate mind picked out the people in the picture, while the oral mind focused on the actions happening in it.

An oral tradition adapts and changes easily; if a moderate change happens in the family’s surroundings, their stories change to reflect that and, within a generation or two “that’s the way the stories have always been.” Few arguments arise over “interpretation” of dogma. Instead, the oral mind recognizes that events may influence a person’s telling. “I tell this story as I heard it,” starts one traditional opening from a storyteller. “Some may tell it differently.”


See Animism

When civilization collapsed, few people would have considered animism a survival skill, and yet it became universal once again largely because non-animists did not survive. More than a spiritual perspective, animism has trained perception and psychology. Tracking takes more than simple mechanical skill or deductive reasoning. It takes awareness and empathy. The trail often breaks off. If a tracker cannot feel what the animal felt, think what the animal thought, he’ll probably never pick up the trail again. As the native Kalahari hunter !Nqate Xqamxebe put it, “When you track an animal you must become the animal. Tracking is like dancing, because your body is happy. You can feel it in the dance and then you know that the hunting will be good. When you are doing these things you are talking with God.”


See Witchcraft and Ogres

Humanity has defined itself in terms of its commitments to cooperation and community as an evolutionary strategy. Even our intelligence may have evolved as a secondary side-effect of our sociality. However, no matter how committed a species becomes to a particular evolutionary strategy, it can pay to keep some other strategies on hand. Some psychologists have come to see psychopathy in these terms: a sort of backup plan for humanity as a species of solitary predators, instead of gregarious socialites.

Psychopaths pose a major, if rare problem for indigenous people. The stories of manslayers in Inuit legends, folklore, and history, or stories of witches in other indigenous traditions, may point to the difficulties faced by communities who find a psychopath among them. Generally, they developed few ways to deal with them besides exile or death.

Polish psychiatrist Andrzej Lobaczewski described modern politics in terms of pathocracy. Psychopaths have a much easier time climbing social hierarchies than healthy people, so when hierarchical society developed it favored psychopaths. They rose more easily to the top, and so became over-represented among the elite. Naturally favoring their own perspective, they began to shape society in their own image — usually not as a deliberate program, but rather simply by making decisions that made sense to them. This put healthy people in the place of having to act more and more like psychopaths to succeed in the world that they had shaped, as well as favoring the reproductive success of psychopaths.

As a result, the Fifth World deals with many more psychopaths than older indigenous traditions had to. In those older traditions, people could rely on exile or death since the problem arose so rarely. While still rare, in the Fifth World it has become too common to rely only on those two options. That has placed pressure on them to find new customs to better integrate psychopaths into their society. Such customs remain, so far, novel and untested.

In the Fifth World, many psychopaths end up following the cultural script of witches or ogres.