Re: Invitation to contribute essay



Jim,
I found this a very thoughtfully informative piece.  Thank you.  

Grant Venerable
Atlanta, GA (near the King Center for Nonviolent Change)

In a message dated 2/1/01 1:57:19 AM Eastern Standard Time,
jim dot mathews at usa dot net writes:


Subj: RE: Invitation to contribute essay
Date: 2/1/01 1:57:19 AM Eastern Standard Time
From:    jim dot mathews at usa dot net (Jim Mathews)
Reply-to: future-studies at sculptors dot com
To:    future-studies at sculptors dot com (Future List at Sculptors)




In the early 21st century there are only two possible loci for utopias -
other
worlds and the future.  Everyone can be reasonably certain that there are no
utopias here on earth, so other worlds have replaced unknown lands in the
utopian pharmacopoeia.  This puts utopias in the realm of science fiction
writers.  As Peter Bishop pointed out, films and science fiction tend to
portray dystopias.  That’s because when it comes to stories, dystopias are
more fun.  A good story needs conflict and dystopias provide more
interesting
backgrounds and a rich variety of villains.  Utopias, on the other hand,
begin
with one major disadvantage: they are perceived as worlds without conflict.
The best way to bring significant conflict into a utopia is from the
outside.
From an author’s viewpoint, the human dramas that would occur in a utopia
could be portrayed with our world as a backdrop while avoiding the science
fiction label.  

One stream of utopian thought present in late 20th century U.S., and
probably
in the early 21st century, is the entertainment phenomenon known as Star
Trek.
Star Trek presents an image of a positive future for humanity, if not for
the
rest of the universe.  The universe of Star Trek is usually portrayed as
interiors, usually a star ship, and exteriors far from the planet earth.  
That
makes it far less expensive to produce the shows.  Hints about the utopian
status of planet earth, however, have been dropped in films and TV episodes
over the years.  We know that within 50 years of the first contact with an
alien civilization, the people of earth had resolved their differences and
formed a world government.  They have abolished poverty and money (except
when
needed for gambling or trade with other species), but have not managed to
change human nature.  Education is pervasive and learning is respected.
Government and the military are meritocracies except when exceptions are
required for plot mechanics.  Mankind lives in balance with the
environment.
Their technology violates more than one of the foundations of early 21st
century physics, but this is science fiction.  Humans play a leadership role
in a federation of planets that respects and protects newly discovered or
primitive worlds and cultures rather than exploiting them.

So how does the conflict so necessary for drama (especially the
action-adventure variety) enter this utopia? The federation’s dysfunctional
neighbors provide the conflict.  Star Trek’s Star Fleet combats evil cyborgs
and a collection of totalitarian and militaristic empires.  Their
governments
are usually corrupt and definitely not meritocratic.  Star Fleet officers
are
frequently hindered from taking the most expedient action to resolve a
dangerous situation by their code of ethics.  If you can judge a society by
its enemies and its actions, the earth of Star Trek is a utopia.  It is a
utopia pretty well aligned with (or slightly ahead of) American and middle
class values, except for the absence of money (obviously a major stumbling
block).  The future earth in Star Trek is not presented as a utopia, but it
is
one.  When considered as a cultural meme, it has not spread enough in 35
years
to have a significant influence or impact on our behavior as a nation.  That
is unfortunate.

===

A list of modern utopias resulting in societal disasters would have to
include
Jonestown, the Branch Davidian compound, and Celebration, Florida.  All
three
are visions gone terribly wrong; the first two encompassing much more evil
than the third.

===

I would consider Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech to be a
vision of a utopia for people of color, and for people of all colors.  We
all
should dream this dream.

===

Bernadette Buck’s description of the Silicon Valley startup culture as a
utopia was interesting.  A world where everyone has a fulfilling career
doing
a job they enjoy and are good at in a fun environment would be a great
improvement on the present and is a worthwhile vision.  Unfortunately, the
knowledge workers described there are in the top 20% of American workers
whose
compensation is rising, while the compensation of the other 80% of American
workers (who don’t have jobs even remotely like these) is falling.  Indeed
40%
of American workers are functionally illiterate, or close enough to it, that
they have no chance of ever having such a job.

--Jim Mathews




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