Monday, July 19, 2010

Utopias and dystopias

I was watching the news last night about the oil spill in the Gulf, and one of the stories was about long-term social and psychological consequences of ecological disaster on those who live and work where the disaster occurs. At the macro level, perhaps nothing much changes, the powers renege on their promises, people here forget what bad things happened to people there, the news cycle grinds on. But those who are left behind when the news goes can never get their lives back, even if their lives were less than wonderful. This starts from the very long-term sequelae of major ecological disaster: the herring don't return to pre-disaster levels in the lifetime of a fisherman, there is oil under every rock for 100 years, the jobs youth were expected to get no longer exist, or there are fewer of them and they don't pay a living wage. What sets in among the "working class" is frustration, depression, resignation, conservatism, that is, nostalgia. Great realistic novels have been written about those who are left behind. Even their pain and distress is left behind, and is covered up as ignorance.

I was also thinking about the "little ice age" that lasted in Europe from perhaps the 14th to the 19th centuries, documented in many ways, such as the freezing of the Bosphorus or the Thames, things that would be hard to imagine now. This period was accompanied by famine, war, various other hardships, and of course, progress.

My future world is not post-apocalyptic, or even dystopic, in the normal sense of novels like The Road. What I imagine is a slow, then rapidly accelerated, movement aways from petroleum, with serious economic and social consequences. But along with this, I imagine either man-made or a natural antidote, or outcome, to the warming caused by CO2 emissions, even after the emissions have more or less ceased. One man-made scenario would be the setting off of small scale nuclear weapons in uninhabited regions to produce short nuclear winters, to cool the planet. Or, more prosaically, either large volcanoes or meteor strikes causing another little ice age. In my new world, everything "we" wished for has come to pass: nearly all food is grown locally, alternate energy is the rule of the day, long-distance transportation of people and goods is either very expensive or very slow, digital global technologies continue to thrive and develop, government is both global and local, with the return of some version of the city-state, where concentrations of population are separated by large tracts of virtual wilderness, or "nature." Government and civil society operate on a more rational basis, drawing from Rawl's notion of justice as fairness, and on the importance of tolerance and mutual acceptance. Entrepreneurship and capitalism are encouraged with limits, but poverty and income differentiation persists, and is often claimed to be the choice of those who "do without." The great civil projects are manned/womanned by Servants, young people cooperatively engaged in mostly manual labor after having been assigned alternate ethnic and sexual identities, with their personal memories suppressed until graduation.

Some of the civil projects include re-constituting the interstate highway system for more accessible mass-transit between metropolitan centers, the maintenance and expansion of food and energy farms, the cleaning and ordering of the city-space, the overseeing of youth leisure and recreational activities, and the pacification of the wilderness insofar as it infringes in various ways on the above.

the "pacification" of the wilderness

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