A second printing of the paperback edition of Atlas Hugged provides an opportunity to revise the foreword. Here is a sneak preview. Comparing the two forewords to each other makes me realize how insecure I was about publishing my first novel! Thankfully, the response to AH has been gratifying, enabling me to be more confident about its aims in the second foreword.
My decision to gift, rather than sell, AH has also worked well, in keeping with the ethos of the book. Go here for the e-book, audio, or paperback editions, for whatever you would like to gift in return.
Foreword to the Second Printing of Atlas Hugged
Atlas Hugged signals a revolution in the way we see the world and our rightful place within it. Not a violent revolution, thankfully, but an intellectual revolution.
An intellectual event is called revolutionary when it changes the way we see the world so much that it transforms the way we act. When science was established as an alternative to religious thought, that was transformative. When Copernicus established that the earth revolves around the sun, that was transformative. When Darwin established his theory of evolution, that was transformative.
Atlas Hugged introduces the reader to the transformative concept of society as an organism. In some ways, this concept is not at all new. As a metaphor, it stretches back to antiquity. It is a mainstay of religious thought, and also a mainstay of science fiction. In a modern context, however, it deserves to be called revolutionary for two reasons.
First, for the first time in the history of ideas, the concept of society as an organism has been placed on a solid scientific foundation. It is no longer just a metaphor.
Second, the last seventy years of intellectual thought, in western societies at least, has focused on the self-interested individual as the one and only organism. Economists named this exclusively individual focus Homo economicus. Social scientists named it Methodological Individualism, as if it could be justified by its practical utility, regardless of its philosophical underpinnings. Evolutionary biologists named it the Theory of Individual Selection and Selfish Gene Theory. Margaret Thatcher immortalized it with her quip that there is no such thing as society—only individuals and families. Thus, not only is the science-based concept of society as an organism revolutionary, but it is especially so in comparison to the Individualism that has preceded it.
There is no single person, comparable to Copernicus or Darwin, to associate with the modern scientific concept of society as an organism. In fact, personifying major intellectual developments in this way is something that we need to go beyond. I have certainly been part of this thing that is larger than myself, however, and therefore feel qualified to tell stories about it.
Until Atlas Hugged, I have been a nonfiction storyteller, in books for the general public such as Evolution for Everyone, The Neighborhood Project, and This View of Life. I have also adapted to the online storytelling environment with articles, videos, and podcasts that can be accessed on my website DavidSloanWilson.World.
Atlas Hugged takes me into new territory, although I am well prepared as the son of the novelist Sloan Wilson, who helped to define the 1950s with books such as The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit (1955) and A Summer Place (1958). As the son of a novelist who became a scientist, part of me has long wanted to return to my father’s craft.
Fictional stories, which freely depart from factual reality, have always been part of what it means to be human. Anthropologists tell us that all cultures have a proto-scientific mode of thinking, where it is important to stick to the facts of the matter, and a mode of thinking where anything goes. But “anything goes” does not mean “senseless!” The fictional stories that we evolved to create and that we are so eager to hear provide guides for living. They don’t directly correspond to the real world, but they help us to survive and thrive in the real world. In that regard, fictional stories are better than real.
Another thing about fictional stories is their way of becoming factual reality. We inhabit a world that exists apart from our own existence. If you need convincing, stand in the path of an avalanche and see if you can think it away. But the world that we inhabit is also socially constructed. The social identities, norms, and institutions that enable us to cooperate in groups of hundreds of millions and even billions of individuals didn’t exist ten thousand years ago. When it comes to our socially constructed worlds, we can think them in and out of existence. To a remarkable degree, we first imagine our futures through fictional stories and then make them come true.
Atlas Hugged, which thinks the concept of the whole earth as an organism into existence, is written as a sequel and antidote to Ayn Rand’s iconic novel Atlas Shrugged, which is the fictional embodiment of Individualism. My novel stands on its own, so it isn’t necessary to read Rand’s novel first. Suffice it to say that the hero of my novel, John Galt III, is the grandson of the hero of Rand’s novel, whose father has turned Individualism into a world-destroying empire. The intellectual revolution that needs to take place in the real world is portrayed as a battle between father and son in Atlas Hugged.
All my talk about intellectual revolutions might make it seem that Atlas Hugged will require a PhD to read and appreciate. If so, then I haven’t done my job as a novelist. The whole point of communicating through fiction is to pull the reader in through the characters and let the ideas emerge from the plot. John Galt III, Eve Eden, Professor Howard Head, and my other characters have become as real for me as flesh-and-blood people. I hope that they also come alive for you and that, through their story, you will begin to appreciate the very real possibility of becoming part of something much larger than ourselves.