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.