For much of history human beings have been enchanted by visions of future paradise, transformation and doom.These visions, their effect on human thought and history, and the periodic attempts to realize them on earth are what I call the utopian-dystopian tradition. This blog is an attempt to understand certain contemporary political ideologies and trends in light of the this tradition.
The visionaries who imagined utopias and dystopias were the first to grapple with technologies and social developments that we are only now forced to fully face in reality: technologies such as artificial intelligence, or genetic engineering. In doing so they were among the first to grapple with the social rather than just the philosophical implications of questions such as what is mind? What is life? What is freedom? What is the proper relationship to nature?
These thinkers were also trying to grope their way towards solutions to acute social problems of which we are only too familiar: inequality and failed social institutions, social break down and individual isolation. They tried to find answers to deep social questions such as: What is community? What is the state? How far should the state’s power extend? What is the proper relationship of the individual to the community and the state?
In many ways we turn to the utopian-dystopian tradition to understand and act in our own world though we seldom understand that we are doing so. We label intrusive surveillance as “big brother”, social disintegration “Mad Max”, genetically engineered organisms “franken-foods”. We believe in a degree of educational and social equality that would have brought a smile to the lips of many utopian writers, and during the holidays finding ourselves caught up in that most utopian of hopes “peace on earth, and good will towards men”.
Because the utopian-dystopian tradition retains such a powerful hold over the human imagination, and was the first tradition to deal explicitly with certain present and looming trends, people in the 21st century are likely to increasingly turn to that tradition to understand and respond to events. This blog will explore the nature, promise, and perils of utopian and dystopian thought.