A big thanks to those who attended our third meeting of Utopia Cafe, where we discussed The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin. It was quite small but intense! (I stupidly booked us at the same time as a major party’s political conference 😉)
Here’s the vote on the next book. Our candidates are (by popular demand):
Island by Aldous Huxley. A thematic sequel to his more famous dystopian work Brave New World, Huxley wrote this in response both to his spiritual experimentation and to his previous book, hoping to correct what he saw as philosophical oversights in the earlier work.
Red Star by Alexander Bogdanov. One of the foremost proto-Soviet utopian works, where a visitor travels to Mars and discovers a technologically-advanced socialist society.
Postcapitalism by Paul Mason. This one keeps coming up but not getting voted through! A handbook to, and background on, ideas around the latest wave of ‘utopian socialism’; using a combination of technological and policy innovation to eliminate compulsory work and provide far better public services for all.
We’ll count the votes for the next book on the 17th November in time for the next meeting on the 8th December.
As many of you’ll know, the plan from the inception of the reading group has been to get people thinking about Utopian ideas and hopefully starting their own projects. 👍
To get things started, we’re running our first meeting for project ideas and any contacts or groups we should connect with on the 24th November. Hopefully this can become a great venue for communication between different people and groups who want to make society a better place, but who may not normally talk to each other.
Bring some ideas to the meeting! I’ll be chatting about Utopia Cafe & Forum as an overall project, and then open up the floor to chat about different projects that people have in mind.
And as all always, feel free to come along even if you’re just curious to see what kind of ideas and discussions will come up. 😊
Our second meeting went incredibly well: thank you to everyone who came for making it a very special afternoon of cake and conversation.
We discussed several approaches and difficulties to utopian projects. While we covered many topics in this discussion, our key conclusion was that a utopia must support diversity and a plurality of different political positions. Some other themes to emerge:
On the idea that utopia requires greater economic or technological development: we already have the technology to eliminate poverty and create utopia-like societies, but choose not to do so. It’s more of a political question.
Utopia and projects related to it shouldn’t be waited on – instead, people should work to create their own forms of utopia, as there are many different ideas of what ‘utopia’ might constitute.
Money (i.e. the profit motive) is not an efficient way to organise society, and does not necessarily help innovation: it prevents investment in socially-important areas such as environmental protection and poverty alleviation while promoting slight improvements in consumer products such as smartphones.
We also split into groups and discussed some key questions around the themes of immigration, metrics and work.
Immigration Our group generally supported the idea of a utopia having open borders internationally, but recognised that having open borders poses a threat to people’s identities in some cases. In order to help negotiate between different groups’ collective identities while preventing nationalist violence, we considered a single global government with peacekeeping responsibilitiesto be necessary.
Equality: Metrics We looked at which metrics are best for measuring success for a utopian society, and considered that the most important metrics are subjective quality-of-life and equality. The reasoning is that your perception of quality-of-life is based on the lifestyles of those around you – if your neighbour enjoys a much higher standard of living than you, you are likely to become jealous. So equality directly impacts on people’s quality of life. (For more on this, see The Spirit Level). So a utopian society should focus on promoting quality of life and equality to be considered truly utopian.
Work (or, Bullshit Jobs) While we didn’t come to a single conclusion around themes of work, we recognised two points: firstly, a lot of work that’s done today is pointless (as David Graeber points out in Bullshit Jobs), and yet people need to work to survive. We therefore generally supported a form of citizen’s income or universal basic income to reduce the number of pointless and depressing jobs. There was a concern that if people didn’t have to work (perhaps due to automation) they would lose dignity, and this led to a discussion on whether people naturally want to work, or if they learn to want to work. Even in a society where compulsory work was eliminated, though, there’d still be a need to work to improve society, whether by producing art, engineering, or working in caring roles.
All in all, a fantastic start to the conversation and some definite starting points for future projects.
Several people present were interested in getting started with utopian projects (in line with the principle that utopia shouldn’t be waited on), and we want to help facilitate them: why not sign up and start posting about them on the forums?
Our next book wasn’t discussed at the session, so it’s up for debate again. Most likely our next theme will be Technology and Utopia, but other suggestions are also welcome.
Here are my suggestions:
The Dispossessed: Sci-fi book by Ursula LeGuin with an anarchist and capitalist society existing alongside each other, and the conflicts between them. The Player of Games: Sci-fi by Iain M. Banks featuring a utopian society run by super-intelligent machines as it interacts with a much less enlightened civilisation (similar to our own). Inventing the Future: (Rather academic)manifesto by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams on the importance of utopia and an idea of the future to progressive politics.
The Dispossessed (43%, 3 Votes)
The Player of Games (29%, 2 Votes)
Inventing the Future (29%, 2 Votes)
Total Voters: 5
If you’d like to suggest any other books, then please feel free to create an account and write a comment below.
The votes are in, and it looks like Utopia for Realists is going to be our first book!
Time to get reading. 🙂
The next meeting will be in around a month from now, depending on where we can organise the space for. We’re doing some work to bring in more people and expand the conversation, as well as generally organise a space and agenda. If you’re interested in helping out then please get in touch.
Watch this site for more info on the next meeting!
A very sunny Bank Holiday weekend for our first meeting, and we ended up heading to the park to talk about what Utopia means to us and what the group should be.
As it turns out, it’s really hard to define what Utopia is. In Greek and in Thomas More’s original book it means ‘nowhere place’, a non-existent and impossible place. But that doesn’t work for us – we want to understand ideas about making Utopia real.
So we spent a lot of time asking questions like:
Is Utopia the absence of dystopia and problems, or can it exist by itself?
Is it possible and/or desirable for many ideas of Utopia to co-exist, or must Utopia be a single universal concept?
Is work necessary for people to feel fulfilled? If so, would full automation be a threat to human dignity?
Would anyone want to live forever? What would the consequences of people living forever be for society?
The bigger questions here are: What does Utopia look like to us as individuals and as a group? How does Utopia interact with the way that we see human beings and the source of human happiness?
Feel free to post your ideas in the comments below or in the forums!
We’re deciding which book to read out of the following three options:
Utopia for Realists by Rutger Brennan – a good overview of ideas around modern utopian thought, such as reducing the working week and introducing a universal basic income, as well as some interesting reflections on how these ideas could come into reality.
Postcapitalism by Paul Mason – a journalistic account of how capitalism is collapsing in on itself in the wake of the 2008 crisis and the rise of AI and automation, as well as considerations on where future alternatives could come from, why we need them, and how to get there.
The Dispossessed by Ursula LeGuin – a novel playing with different ideas of utopian society between anarchist and communist thought, and presenting utopia as ambiguous.
You can vote below!
Which book shall we read next?
The Dispossessed (67%, 2 Votes)
Postcapitalism (33%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 4
For next time…
Next meeting we’d like to explore the foundational values we associate with Utopia. We’ll do a group exercise next time but want to start a debate right now – see our forums for more info.
We also really want to bring as many people as possible to meetings! So please jump on Tweetbook and invite your friends to come – we’ll be announcing the time, date, and place very soon and in a separate post, but every little bit of publicity helps. If you’re interested in helping with our social media channels please get in touch and we can set you up.
Finally, we want to come up with ideas for charitable and utopian projects which we could make happen and look at how to get the people / resources to make them real. Again, please suggest any ideas you have below or on the forums.