In defense of left-wing space utopias

Brianna Rennix wants to know why the major current in "space utopianism" is right wing -- Elon Musk floating a "creepy private colony on Mars for ultra-rich survivalists who can shell out $200,000 for their spot" and punched Nazi Richard Spencer bloviating, "We weren’t put on this earth to be nice to minorities, or to be a multiculti fun nation. Why are we not exploring Jupiter at this moment? Why are we trying to equalize black and white test scores? I think our destiny is in the stars. Why aren’t we trying for the stars?"

Even though there are plenty of counter-examples in literature -- Iain Banks's Culture novels, Ken Macleod, Charlie Stross's Neptune's Brood and so on -- she's put her finger on something, and I believe it's the same something that Leigh Phillips captured so well in Austerity Ecology & the Collapse-Porn Addicts: A Defence Of Growth, Progress, Industry And Stuff: the death of the "Promethean left," which believed in Engels' maxim that "progress is as unlimited and at least as rapid as that of population," and that we could use technology and revolution to elevate peasants to the lifestyles of kings -- not just drag kings down to the living conditions of peasants.

Star Trek's future had no lawyers, no money, no politics to speak of -- but the benighted worlds that Starfleet visited were horroshows of trial-by-combat, political corruption, and cronyism. The Starfleet vision is one step away from Fully Automated Leisure Communism, a Postcapitalist world of abundance, one of the four futures that we can use to dissect the policies we're crafting today: communism, rentism, socialism, or exterminism.

I've been obsessed with this idea, which so many of us are circling from different directions. I don't know what it will be when it has fully coalesced, but I can feel it emerging.

Fictional narratives are a huge factor in shaping our expectations of what is possible. However, as discussed earlier, utopias are hard to write. You have to forfeit a lot of the cheap tricks that writers use to generate dramatic momentum. After all, it’s always easy to create tension when all your characters are self-serving, back-stabbing bastards; less so when your characters mostly get along. (The writers of Star Trek: TNG famously tore their hair out over creator Gene Roddenberry’s insistence that all the main cast had to be friends.) Constructing plots that are based primarily around problem-solving takes a lot of intricate planning. But we’ve seen a thousand narrative iterations of societal collapse: why not write some narratives about societal construction? What would a better world look like, at different stages of its realization—at its inception? Weathering early internal crises? When facing an existential threat? We should put more imagination into thinking about what this could look like, and how to generate emotional investment in the outcome.

Aspirational fiction seems especially important at this moment in our national history, when a significant number of Americans cast a ballot for a candidate they disliked, or were even disturbed by, simply because they wanted something different. There’s always been a gambling madness in the human spirit, a kind of perverse, instinctive itchiness that suddenly makes us willing to court disaster, simply on the off-chance of altering the mundane or miserable parameters of our daily lives. If we could transform some of that madness into a madness of optimism and creativity, rather than boredom, rage, and despair, that could only be a good thing.

THE REGRETTABLE DECLINE OF SPACE UTOPIAS [Brianna Rennix/Current Affairs]

(via Naked Capitalism)

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  1. It had all those things, they just weren't the focus if the show. Kirk owed his freedom to a principled Space Lawyer in the episode "Court Martial" and Harvey Mudd Cyrano Jones wasn't giving those furballs away for free in "The Trouble with Tribbles."

  2. "Elon Musk floating a "creepy private colony on Mars for ultra-rich survivalists who can shell out $200,000"

    Putting them all there seems like a win.

    Golgafrinchans
    The Golgafrinchans first appear in Fit the Sixth of the radio series. In the novel series, their appearances are all in the novel The Restaurant at the End of the Universe and they appear in episode 6 of the TV series. In all formats, the story is essentially the same. Following their adventures at Milliways, Arthur and Ford teleport onto an "Ark Ship" containing a number of Golgafrinchans. This particular group consists of the Wodehousian[8] "middle class" who have common, middle-management types of occupations. They were sent away from their planet under false pretences by the (upper class) "thinkers" and (working class) "doers" of their society, who deemed them useless. They were told that the entire society had to move to a new planet, with a variety of thin excuses, and that it was necessary for them to go first to prepare the new planet for their occupation. However, it turns out that one of the middle-men was necessary for survival, and as a result, the rest of the Golgafrinchan society died off (see below). They arrive on Earth, where they become the ancestors of modern humans, except in the novel Life, The Universe, and Everything, in which in the beginning it is mentioned that they ended up dying out instead of the cavemen.

    Small quibble - there were certainly lawyers in Star Trek.

  3. Yri says:

    I'm all for Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism.

    The Culture is what I hope we finally achieve, instead of this "Snow Crash but worse" dystopia we are falling into.

  4. Well, you know the trouble with quibbles.

Continue the discussion bbs.boingboing.net

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