Saturday, March 15, 2014

Seven utopias that changed the future

"Though 'Utopia' means 'nowhere,' many real-life societies have been strongly influenced by various concepts of a perfect realm where humans live in harmony with each other," writes Annalee Newitz at io9. "[S]ome of the most influential Utopian visions — and how they changed our distinctly non-Utopian world," include:
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

Published in the early 1930s, Huxley's novel is one of the first truly ironic and satirical Utopian books. Though More's Utopia definitely has satirical parts, and de Toqueville's Democracy in America explores the dark side of democracy, none took their criticisms as far as Huxley. His Brave New World is about a society based on early-twentieth century Utopian ideals that has gone horribly wrong.

Huxley imagines a future where all humans are genetically engineered and given behavioral conditioning so that they all enjoy their stations in life. They live in an extreme version of capitalism, worshipping "Fordism" (yes, as in the cars), where life is all about consuming leisure products. To keep everyone happily consuming sporting goods, food, and cars, the state makes a drug called Soma available that sounds a lot like a version of opium or heroin. Basically, the future of Brave New World is an anti-democratic and anti-communist nightmare, where everybody is born into a rigidly-defined social class — but instead of rebelling, they are conditioned to love it.

Brave New World has influenced countless criticisms of Utopian thinking, and can also be viewed as the first stirrings of anti-consumerist groups like Adbusters. The novel's ideas are also a touchstone for the Occupy movement, which is in part a rebellion against capitalist societies that try to distract people with happy consumerism, instead of addressing problems with the disparity between rich and poor.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Brave New World is on Matt Haig's top ten list of novels influenced by Shakespeare.

--Marshal Zeringue