Thoughts on writing science fiction with a positive view of the future

Where have all the utopias gone from science fiction? I have written on this in the past because dystopic views seem to be in vogue. I think we could all use a little optimism in our fantasies about the future and this started me thinking about what to write if trying to tackle writing a utopia.

It occurs to me that utopian visions come out of the perceived ills and thoughts of forward momentum/accomplishment of a time period. It seems to me that what offers a glimmer of hope in the midst of the darkest corner of the dread is that which is seized upon and a utopian dream comes forth.

So in the midst of rapidly expanding industrialization that was happening on the backs of “found” energy in the form of the workers was the realization that the workers had power, then there was the idea of unions, and socialism and an equal distribution of wealth came up as idea. This was the spin on the idea of “To each according to his need and from each according to his ability.” There was no assumed station or assumption of inherited or predetermined power or wealth in that idea.

In the midst of mechanized progress that created labor saving devices and generated a consumer economy to fuel the need to sell such no longer seen as luxury devices more income and a more regularized workweek became the norm and the utopian fantasy of the time became one of modern mechanized conveniences, a shortened work week and less labor. Everyone living in a dream of luxury needed items to enjoy their expanded leisure time. It was kind of like an advertisement to sell the American dream.

Out of the repression of the post war era where everyone had to be somnambulated back into their pre-war position because it was not acceptable at that time to have women and blacks holding good jobs that “men” needed to support their families came dreams of civil rights, equal opportunity, and women’s rights.

Currently, I would say that our utopian visions are rooted in a desire to find an energy source that will avert environmental disaster. Another possibility is the inklings of power that are just beginning to tickle the general public’s consciousness in regards to the potentialities of being globally networked, having information instantly constantly available, and having the entire planet in possession of social media applications. This could be another form of “democracy” the world has never seen. The problems to overcome are the short attention span and shelf life of anything that appears over the internet. Another possibility is the dream of what might arise out of medical/genetic advances. Genetics and bioengineering are moving forward and will quickly present a slippery slope of ethical decisions that will influence the human race on a species level in dramatic ways.

I think there is a human inclination to hoard, to have, to compete, to have more. The free market could be said to be rooted in this inclination. I would caution against saying anything akin to that this is “human nature”. I have a higher opinion of the species than this and validating something that causes callus decisions that harm, because free markets are predicated on exploitation, and making it an inescapable “truth” I cannot hold to. As human beings we do not need this to be considered self evident and we are capable of regulatory systems to hold the grossest applications of the “free market” inclination in check.

In all honesty, I do not see any utopia as free from conflict. A utopia is an ideal and ideals are always fraught with conflict. In a plurality, one can always say “wouldn’t it be wonderful if…”, but one person’s ideal will not be everyone’s ideal.

I concur with an idea that a friend expressed that our current time period would be considered a utopia by past generations. Often there is a backward glance through history that casts a golden light on a previous age and we see the past through a pastoral fantasy. The current time period may seem difficult but we have a greatly expanded lifespan because of much less infant mortality, better medical practice, better water and sewage treatment, better distribution of food, etc. We live in a world that our ancestors from as little ago as 200 years may never have been able to even imagine.

I think in looking to the future to try to write a “utopia” rather than striving for the “utopia,” maybe it is better to consider what the world might look like with current advances advanced farther. How might these things bring rise to new political systems? If we are globally networked, how will this affect notions of nationality? What does this do to borders? Immigration? Already we are seeing countries forming unions to have more economic and political clout on a planet where the system of interaction is a “global economy” and to wield power a “union” or “coalition” must have resources, respect, etc. How might alliances shift? What if policies and governments can never hide their secrets and public opinion holds power? What will happen if people can be genetically modified for their jobs? What if the human life span can be expanded fivefold? What if the roots/mechanism of human memory are found? What are the implications? What if a cheap clean virtually limitless power source is found or created? What will this do? What will happen to the population on the planet? Instead of seeing all these advances or progression in a dystopic way, what would they look like as part of ordinary life?

This is the stuff that a hopeful view of the future might be grown from.

Where Have All the Utopias Gone?

Where have all the utopian visions gone?

In the golden age of science fiction, utopias that promised flying cars and push button convenience, 3 day work weeks and robotic servants, and perfect health and equality for all were prevalent. The utopias were sometimes the backdrop that humankind reached out to the vastness of interstellar space from.

Socialism and communism as political theories and models for society to be formed from promised that everyone would be taken care of, there would be no poverty, and there would be a kinder, gentler, more egalitarian age. While socialism and communism in pure form could not produce the results promised, many people benefited from having such socialist notions as schools paid for by tax payer dollars, a standing military funded by tax payer dollars, public services like fire and police funded by tax payer dollars, a pension for elderly people paid for by tax payer dollars, and national health care systems that took the burden off private industry and helped economies flourish (oh and also made sure the citizens in those countries had health care). Because of the labor unions, better working conditions, better pay, and a standard work week came about.

The modern age was supposed to be one of continuous progress and increasing abundance. Communism and the socialist states that were part of the great experiment that came out of Marxist philosophies may not have succeeded and may have created problems, but the industrialized nations are much better off than they were 150 years ago. The standard of living for most people has greatly improved. Overall a kinder and gentler age has come about in many ways.

Where have all the utopian visions gone? Can we count Milton Friedman’s faith in the free markets to cure all of societies ills? Can we count on the Right Wing Conservative Christian vision to bring about a high level of morality that will restore a golden age harkening back to some distorted remembrance of when the US was mighty? If we guard our borders with enough paranoia can we maintain paradise?

Utopia was an imaginary island envisioned by Thomas Moore in 1516 in the book of that name. A utopia is defined as an imaginary place considered to be perfect or ideal. Utopias are not real. However, in envisioning a utopia a proposed plan to solve the problems of an age can be put forth.

Humanity is currently faced with some huge problems. Are we tackling these problems? Even considering them? Are we creating a possible set of solutions that tries to offer a better future? This is the essence of a utopian vision. Ideas proceed reality. From our utopian ideas what a society values can be revealed. The ideals behind socialism were that everyone should be considered equal and everyone should be provided for. Marx wrote, “From each according to his ability and to each according to his needs.” The socialist vision was a humanitarian one despite the current propaganda that would like to make socialism a dirty word. If we consider the utopian vision put forth by those who want no social services or want the free markets to run without any restriction, what values are revealed? If we consider a utopian vision of prescribed morality, who gets to say that one group’s definition of morality has more authority than another? And how is this morality to be used to dictate and achieve the societal vision? If we lock ourselves away and live in fear, is this paradise?

I would rather have a utopian vision that offers hope for all of humankind–not just the rich or the Christians or those who can prove that they are natural born citizens or those only in the industrialized modern nations. I would like an idealistic vision where all of the people of the earth have their basic needs met, no one lives in fear or is exploited, and there is the realistic possibility of a good quality of life for everyone. A vision where the earth is no longer facing an environmental crisis and where the human population is stable and can be maintained by the habitat.

I haven’t given up because possibly if we can create such a utopian vision we may not achieve entirely what is imagined but we may end up much better off.