Utopia Cafe 4 & Forum

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.

Next book?

View Results

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Utopia Forum

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. 😊

Utopia Cafe Meeting 3: Next Book

So after a long contest it looks like The Dispossessed has edged out the other two books on our list to be number one!

Aiming to run the next meeting in around a month, and further details forthcoming. Time to get reading!

Meeting 2 and Next Book

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 responsibilities to 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.

Next book?

  • The Dispossessed (43%, 3 Votes)
  • The Player of Games (29%, 2 Votes)
  • Inventing the Future (29%, 2 Votes)

Total Voters: 5

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

All best,
Frank

Utopia Cafe 2: What is Utopia?

We finally have a time and place for our second meeting.

This time Newspeak House have kindly agreed to host us in their drawing room and patio. The book this time is Utopia For Realists by Rutger Bregman, and our theme’s What is Utopia? 

The meeting’s on 21st July, 2:00-4:30pm at:
Newspeak House
133 Bethnal Green Road
E2 7DG
London

Please do register for the event on our Eventbrite page as this helps us to keep an eye on the numbers.

Looking forward to seeing you all there! Bring your friends! Cakes and drinks, as always, will be provided.