Utopia/Dystopia December 14, 2012

Next semester my freshman course “Faith, Doubt, and Reason” focuses on “The Quest for Community” and in particular on utopias and dystopias. We read a range of works, from the real to the fiction and from the ancient to the modern – including a significant dose of science fiction.

Science fiction provides a great way (although by no means the only way) of taking seriously what our allegedly ideal society would look like, extrapolating along the trajectory into the future to see whether its consequences are utopian or dystopian, or a bit of both.

So why am I posting about next semester’s course today? Because a Facebook friend shared this image:

I can imagine some objecting very strenuously to the labels. But is there not an element of important insight even if there is also an element of caricature? Can anyone think of a depiction of a future where government has been entirely or largely eliminated, that is utopian rather than dystopian?

Which science fiction future would you most or least like to live in, and why? And how do your current stances in government and economics relate to the vision of the future that you consider most positive? Are they a step on the path to get there, or surprisingly at odds with where you hope humanity may one day end up?

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  • Eric Frank Russell had a nice SF story called “And then there were none” in 1951. A starship lands in the middle of an anarchist community and tries to take it over, but is defeated by the anarchists’ tactics of passive resistance. The anarchist society is based on mutual obligation. It’s not a utopia – people who don’t work will eventually starve – but good enough that all the starship crew eventually desert.

  • PS. There is of course also Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Dispossessed and her Always Coming Home, as visions of small-government utopia. And possibly Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia.

  • I’m not sure about books which include eliminating government and utopia but I do think that most dystopias involve large/controlling government – Nineteen Eighty-four and The Hunger Games are examples. The Mad Max “Libertarian” example above is more post-apocolyptic than dystopian I think.

  • Michael Wilson

    Someone once described Star Trek the Next Generation as facist because whenever their is a dangerous menace, they don’t think twice but to send a millitary ship that also carries the famillies and children of the crew into harms way. I aways wondered why they never left the saucer section of in deep space and just send the engineering section.