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.
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 responsibilities to be necessary.
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.
If you’d like to suggest any other books, then please feel free to create an account and write a comment below.