So Charlie Stross has posted a lament about the dearth of Utopias in SF of late. If you follow my blog, you may already have a good idea of what I think about that. There are several issues I have with his post. (Probably all having to do with us being so politically opposed to each other that if we collaborated on a story, the manuscript would annihilate itself in a burst of gamma radiation.) I mean, when I read the following:
Burkean conservativism tends to be skeptical of change, always asking first, “will it make things worse?” This isn’t a bad question to ask in and of itself, but we’re immured a period of change unprecedented in human history (it kicked off around the 1650s; its end is not yet in sight) and basing your policies on what you can see in your rear-view mirror leaves you open to driving over unforseen pot-holes.
I tend to see the false dilemma created by assuming that conservative policies are the only ones that fail to forsee potholes. I mean, look at all the great centralized economies of the 20th Century. But that’s neither here nor there. What Stross would like to see is an attempt to deal with the future in a positive manner:
We need — quite urgently, I think — plausible visions of where we might be fifty or a hundred or a thousand years hence: a hot, densely populated, predominantly urban planetary culture that nevertheless manages to feed everybody, house everybody, and give everybody room to pursue their own happiness without destroying our resource base.
Ok, I can see that. But even that paragraph starts radiating the inherent bias that gives the lie to the final clause. All Utopias, since they ARE the solution, are synthetic monocultures that accept no dissent. The above essentially tells us in this particular “Utopian” vision, we all must adapt to densely-packed urban living. Those who much prefer to live in a small town or rural environment would be SOL when it comes to peruse their happiness. But we can fix that, by controlling the population… Ooops, now we have China.
The problem is inherent in one of Stross’ premises:
[…] we should be able to create a new golden age of utopian visions. A global civilization appears to be emerging for the first time. It’s unstable, unevenly distributed, and blindly fumbling its way forward. But we have unprecedented tools for sharing information; slowly developing theories of behavioural economics, cognitive bias, and communications that move beyond the crudely simplistic (and wrong) 19th century models of perfectly rational market actors […]
There is the assumption that some universal global order is inevitable and in some sense desirable. It’s neither. It is not inevitable because the cultural and societal norms across the entire planet are divergent enough that a truly universal social order is only going to be possible by either making it so diffuse as to be largely irrelevant, or so powerful that it can crush the outlying populations into a thin paste. It is not desirable because you are giving your whole social order a single point of failure. With a single global order, you insure that when things finally go pear-shaped (and the one immutable rule of history is that things will) it takes down the whole planet with it. Our current series of crises are a demonstration of the principle: If Greece had bankrupted itself fifty years ago, no one would have cared.
So one answer to Stross’ final lament:
Because historically, when a civilization collapsed, it collapsed in isolation: but if our newly global civilization collapses, what then …?
Is to say, “don’t put all your eggs in that particular basket.”