This guest editorial featured in edition #8 of So Fi Zine. Read the full edition here.

Editorial 1

Earthseed: World-building 101
Ruha Benjamin

The crisis is everywhere, massive massive massive. And we are small.
But emergence notices the way small actions and connections create complex systems, patterns that become ecosystems and societies. Emergence is our inheritance as part of this universe. It is how we change…
— adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy

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Photo courtesy of Ruha Benjamin

Beekeeping takes me back to me b-girl roots. But instead of breakin, I am learning how these small creatures build. The world-building strategies of bees is, after all, legendary. By some estimates, humans would have about four years to live if bees went extinct. So, at the start of the pandemic, I became of student of bees.

My family’s apiary, Earthseed, takes its name from science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower:

Seed to tree, tree to forest;
Rain to river, river to sea;
Grubs to bees, bees to swarm.
From one many; from many, one.
Forever uniting, growing, dissolving, forever Changing…

Bees remind us that collaboration is how we survive, that decisions should be made collectively, and that we each have a part to play in creating livable ecosystems. In Honeybee Democracy, biologist Thomas Seeley writes that “Every year, faced with the life-or-death problem of choosing and traveling to a new home, honeybees stake everything on a process that includes collective fact-finding, vigorous debate, and consensus building.”

Bees also teach us we don’t have to choose between working hard and creating beautiful, sweet things… the exquisite shape of honeycomb, the delectable taste of nectar, their breathtaking “shimmer” dance to ward off predators.

But, perhaps most important of all, bees are visionary. They respond to the ultra violet reflectance of flowers, seeing beneath the bland surface to the breathtaking reality of their environments. So must we be… visionary, in the midst of so much planetary upheaval and collapse.

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Photos by Craig Burrows

This isn’t just about pandemic dystopias, but the decaying social, political, and economic systems that wreaked havoc on people’s lives before COVID, and that demand new visions of sociality, governance, and prosperity. We desperately need to question all that appears given.

In reflecting on what it will take to imagine and build another world, I was struck by an essay by one of my favorite writers, Arundhati Roy, titled The Pandemic as a Portal: “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next… We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

The image of dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, really struck me. I see us moving through this portal as individuals, communities, and institutions. At all levels, we have the opportunity to either drag outmoded ways of thinking and doing things with us, or we can begin to imagine and craft worlds that are more habitable, more just and joyful. To do this, though, we have to reckon honestly with what we have been holding on to – not only decaying structures but outmoded stories – so that we can even begin to let them go. Otherwise, what is sure to happen is that many dead ideas will be repackaged as new and innovative “tech fixes” for the problems we face.

The poems, images, and stories in this issue of So Fi Zine prompt us to look beyond the bland and often depressing surface of reality, exposing buried historical connections, bringing to light hidden social patterns, and envisioning future possibilities. This wonderful assemblage of authors and artists entice us to become visionaries – not with the platitudinous, pie in the sky rhetoric – but by deepening our understanding of how small things really do matter. Taken together, this issue encourages us to dismantle oppressive structures, rewrite distorting narratives, and craft worlds where we can collectively thrive, work, and dance.