Monday, January 26, 2009

Why Expect a Utopia?

A Utopia isn't a new idea--lots of people have imagined a world that they'd prefer to the one they are living in. Mostly these have been systems which benefit the particular subgroup that the author belonged to. That isn't the kind of thing I'm talking about. I was trained as a scientist and my Utopia isn't a system ruled by scientists, like some of H. G. Wells' Utopias.

What I did was try to figure out the dynamics of the past systems of infrastructure we lived with (mostly because of the degree of sophistication of our technology) until I got to an explanation of what we were doing now. Then I tried to make a reasonable estimate of where we were going. The requirements of a Utopia aren't that complicated.

In particular, there are three things that are necessary principles for a future global Utopian infrastructure.

First, equality. There is no reason why any person or sub-group of the population should have any privilege or deprivation that is not applicable to any other person or group based on the supposed characteristics of that person or group. Exceptions might be made for things like the use of dangerous materials by persons not aware of the risk. The necessities of life, such as a sufficient level of food, shelter, clothing and healthcare, should be available to all on demand. There is no reason why these necessities should be withheld from any person for any reason.

Second, ecological responsibility. No action should be taken that constitutes a wasteful use of resources, including conspicuous consumption for symbolic purposes. Any choice of necessary action should prefer the sustainable option. Any consumable produced should be the best of its kind so that it is not wasted by non-consumption.

Third, creativity, especially scientific creativity should be encouraged. Even with the strongest encouragement of ecological responsibility resources will be consumed. Scientific creativity is necessary to make a system that consumes resources sustainable.

There is one characteristic of our civilization that creates a contemporary crisis: the use of resource consumption as the certification of a elevated position in a stratified society. As long as our civilization facilitates the waste of resources as a status symbol we can't have a Utopian civilization because there aren't enough resources to allow everyone to expend resources at the same rate as the elite of Western Civilization expend today.

It is not clear how that can be resolved within the context of the mindset of 21st century Western Civilization. It could be resolved by a "decline and fall" leading to the extinction of Western Civilization. Such a "decllne and fall" is typical of the transition between civilizations. However, it also typically involves a transition period of chaos and anarchy, which seems an inefficient way to evolve.

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