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.

27 comments on “About:

  1. Thanks for signing up for my post. I am interested in how the idea of utopia for Europeans kept moving west as explorers went further afield. Also, the impact of space travel on notions of heaven. You have an interesting remit for your blog.

    • Rick Searle says:

      Hello Barb:

      You have a great blog, so I’m really looking forward to your future posts, and finding the time to read your past posts as well.
      In addition to the usual utopian movements in North America, I am also interested in the utopian imagination of the Spanish clergy in the New World- something I only recently came across. I hope to posts on both of those topics, at some point soon.

      Thanks for signing up.

  2. Thanks for the praise. I did a lot of research on the Jesuit Missiones in Paraguay etc. they were incredible. Also, have you come across the settlement founded by Elizabeth Nietsche, sister of the philosopher, called New Germania – was a complete disaster. As was Darien for the Scots.

    • Rick Searle says:

      No, I knew Nietzche’s sister was a bit of a wack-job, and took the interpretation of his philosophy in an anti-Semitic direction he never would have approved of, as evidenced by his brake with Wagner, but I’d never come across New Germania- Thanks for the lead.

  3. I found out about it from a really shocking photo years ago like a Pieta, of a man holding a dying woman. They were both really skinny, blond, blue eyed, survivors – of sorts – of New Germania. There’s a book on it called Forgotten Fatherland. Elizabeth misled people to emigrate to a swamp, and they never got the money to return home. she was evil.

  4. Angela Trumble says:

    Your blog looks fascinating, can’t wait to have a read! 🙂

  5. SoundEagle says:

    Hi Rick,

    SoundEagle has just subscribed to your fascinating blog, for which you write convincingly and cogently. Well done!

    Since you like to broach some important, expansive topics along the line of utopia and dystopia, SoundEagle would like to introduce you to http://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/facing-the-noise-music-grey-barriers-and-green-frontiers-of-sound-society-and-environment/, a post which also caters to those who have a deeper passion or concern for history, anthropology, sociology, musicology, philosophy and environmental studies.

    Another post in the “Facing the Noise & Music” series is http://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2013/03/02/facing-the-noise-music-playgrounds-for-biophobic-citizens/, which examines several issues from the perspective of sociology, philosophical anthropology and cultural history.

  6. refinedrandomness says:

    Okay, gotcha…you are a professor, just amazing you are. Very very intuitive, intelligent and fascinating as well. It would be a while, even as a writer myself, to come up with the enjoyable brilliance you offer to pin point and put into words. Thank you again for your response ! ~Ellie

  7. Gene'O says:

    Just followed you by email, because I haven’t been keeping up and I would like to. I ALWAYS enjoy our conversations when I stop by.

    The problem is two-fold:

    1. I follow so many blogs that your posts get lost in my reader and I miss them, and
    2. I get busy managing the social media and forget to stop by.

    I’ve corrected the first with the email follow. I’ll correct the second in the next couple of days by adding you to one of my blogrolls. My blogrolls are like reminders to go and visit blogs I enjoy and see what’s up now and then. Can’t imagine how I’m just now realizing that I haven’t blogrolled your blog.

    Also, followed you with an admin account for my blog Sourcerer – that will help, too. I don’t follow many blogs with that account, mostly just friends 🙂

    • Rick Searle says:

      Hey thanks Gene, I was wondering who Sourcerer was.
      I am way too slow on using Twitter, but will definitely check out your blog.

      • Gene'O says:

        LOL, yeah. I had to set up the admin account because about 50 blogs were getting lost in my personal reader, and because I paste in contributors underbylines, and having my own name at the top was confusing.

      • Gene'O says:

        hehe. Just realized you may have been talking about the twitter account. It’s branded that way because I’m trying to build that blog into a multi-contributor blog.

  8. Megan says:

    I admit that I find myself fascinated by this blog. The idea of examining dystopias and utopias through the lens of philosophical and political thought for use in real life is intriguing. Often dystopian fiction is meant to give some kind of message to citizens of our world, but as it is fictional it is by nature not based entirely in reality. This blog is meant entirely for reflection on our world. I noticed several references to fictional dystopias in your description (big brother, Mad Max), which tells me you are very much aware of dystopia as a genre. This leads me to wonder if you will cover any dystopian (or utopian) fiction on this blog. It is not by any means a necessity, of course, but it would make for an interesting comparison. Finally, the line “caught up in that most utopian of hopes ‘peace on earth, and good will towards men'” makes me wonder about your stance on the possibility of a true utopia. In your mind, is it something that we can actively work for, or is it nothing more than a dream?

  9. Alex G says:

    This blog is relevant to my interests and seems well written. I’ll keep an eye on it.
    Are you familiar with the LessWrong/rationalist movement? (prominent figures include AI researcher Eliezer Yudkowsky, blogger Scott Alexander at slatestarcodex.com and economist Robin Hanson at overcomingbias.com) They have a singularitarian/transhumanist bent but with some quirks, especially over issues with AI safety. They also are not above trying to design utopias in their spare time. It seems odd that I find no mention of them here because they seem to have similar interests to you.
    (I think your spam filter ate my last comment due to too many links)
    Thanks, Alex.

    • Rick Searle says:

      Hi Alex,

      I have certainly heard of Less Wrong and the writers you mention. I lot of the stuff you’ll find here can also be found at the IEET, which you might want to check out:


      Most of the writers there are trans-humanists, and while I try to avoid such labels, I am certainly sympathetic to many of their positions.

      Thanks for reading.

  10. BR549 says:

    Just published dystopian fiction: Traverse by BR549. A quick​ read and would appreciate reviews.

  11. wildcardpictures says:

    Hey Rick, I’m Jen Frankel, co-editor of a new spec fic anthology called Trump: Utopia or Dystopia. We’d love to invite you for a look inside, and to feature a comment or blurb by you on the upcoming print edition. I’m going to email you at your gmail address with some more details, but we would be thrilled to feature a line or two from you in our book!

  12. Christopher MacDonald-Dennis says:

    Hi Rick,

    My name is Chris MacDonald-Dennis, and I am the Chief Diversity Officer at Mass College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, MA. I wanted to tell you how excited I was to come across your blog because it has provided a great engagement tool with our philosophy department. Next semester, a number of us who are people of color interested in political philosophy are going to read your posts about European visions of utopia in the “age of discovery” and discuss what those visions meant for our ancestors. The philosophy department, which is homogeneous and has struggled with getting students of color in their classes, is really excited about this opportunity to demonstrate their relevancy to the daily lives of folks of color.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s