Thinking about Cory Doctorow's Walkaway

This is just off the top of my head. There is so much more to write about, but I thought, I better quickly write down what bugged me about it. Because, let's be honest, I want to but chances are I might not write that long and polished review:

I finished reading Doctorow's Utopia Walkaway two days ago and liked it but it keeps me thinking. True, that's maybe one of the best things a book can do for you, but in this case, it's also because I struggle with a couple things. There's loads of great stuff. I loved Cory's idea that the difference between Utopia and Dystopia is what happens when things go wrong. That the default state of mind or “beliefs/morals” really matter. There is a lot about that, which is great. And I like how he explores this walkaway philosophy in the first part of the book, as well as the many diverse and female characters. There are, as very often in his books, many explanations of important and interesting concepts webbed into the story as dialog. Which does make Walkaway feel a bit like a young adult novel. But don't get me wrong, I love that. There is something wonderful about this certain kind of seriousness, discovery and passion that seems to be lacking in an adult world filled with cynicism and irony. I find the tech jargon and the loads of action (I am not such a huge fan of) also gives it that feeling. The only two reasons, why it maybe could not be a great YA novel, is sex (though it shouldn't) and thoughts about aging (the same). But those two topics are also the ones that I keep chewing on.

Let's start with sex. Yes, there is lots of sex. I admire Cory for his ability to write very sweet and sincere about feelings, sex and love, but I have to say I still couldn't help consciously noticing that I was reading through a lot of lesbian love scenes written by a man. No, not bad but as a lesbian that is kind of is an interesting topic, because I am sure everybody knows, lesbian themed sex for hetero male porn consumers is quite a thing. Hard to blend that completely out while reading, especially because the lesbian love story, which holds the whole mid part together, kind of fades into the background after, one might say, the lesbian love scenes peaked. The mother theme didn't really help either, but it only got me really uncomfortable at that moment where Gretyl is described as (if I remember well) “She looked old, fat and unloved.” That is, if you haven't read the book yet, Iceweasel's or Natalie's “motherly” lover. Gretyl is at a moment where Natalie has been captured and tortured by her father for months and on top of that she's in the middle of an exploding war on her people, the walkaways, "Mama" doesn't look too hot under stress. Meanwhile Natalie after months of solitary confinement gets rescued by Nadie (young, slim, muscular), who is her former captor and brutally killed some of her friends. But Natalie, finally kind of safe, gets really horny and then those two end up having sex. Maybe Stockholm Syndrome or just understandable after such a long time of suffering and deprivation of human contact. But what I mean is, one of Natalie's (kind of the main character through out the whole book) love stories is framed as having to do with her mother and the other is with someone who is first brutally overpowering her physically and then turns sexy after rescuing her? Hm... I don't know, that seems a bit odd.

Then there's the cut and next time we hear about Natalie and Gretyl, it's years later and they have two sons. We are not as close to them emotionally as we have been before, and it makes it seem a little bit like that love story was a lead up to the sexy stuff. Especially when in the last battle Gretyl is described as (she calls it that way in her own head) having an affair with being part of something important (she's a math genius), while Natalie gets rescued again by Nadie. No, nothing sexy happens but then we are already at the end. The walkaway utopia. Which I won't lie, gave me a bit of the creeps. Natalie (after dying years ago of cancer and her mind having been uploaded as a Sim) wakes up in the real world again. Her mind in a new body. But not without, before opening her eyes, having a sexy dream about making out with Nadie in front of Gretyl. Gretyl we are told, has died years after Natalie (as an old, sad woman if I recall well) , and she is informed that they hope to be able to bring back Gretyl in a year. But at this point it doesn't really seem anymore (like it has been through out the book) that she can't wait to see her lover/wife Gretyl. She's definitely distracted by having that awesome new body and endless time.
There is also a hint of sexyness between her and her old male friend Etcetera. An attraction with which the story started out. But he is Limpopo's lover, whom she used to be also smitten with (there is a lot of crushing and smittenness in the book, which I like, cause well, life and love seems to be that way).  Which I think additionally sign posts the beginning of an utopia of love, where everybody has so much time (and a healthy young body) that jealousy becomes irrelevant. Not that the no jealousy part wouldn't be fantastic, but immortality as the ultimate abundance solving everything? 

I get it, makes sense, but I am not sure I like it. And that feeling was reinforced by aging being the main topic in the last part till the end. There was one male character, who had body problems with aging (Seth), but all that talk about Limpopo's wrinkles?  Somehow for me, that had a different ring (more like the age talk about Gretyl). He was described as feeling young and that his self perception didn't fit his aging body, which his lover, trans Tam, links to her own dysphoria. But with Limpopo it is the terrible life she had which made her look that way. Felt a bit like outside pity. Or maybe I am just allergic against all this already super abundant tajk in our times, that (not only) women's wrinkles and signs of aging are something that you surely should get rid of if you got the money?  But maybe it doesn't really matter, because either way looking old and being old was unmistakably a turn down. And right at that point (not because of the sex) I kind of wouldn't want it to be a YA novel (which I know it's not, but I am such a fan good ones, they do shape the future), because that feels so escapist and shallow. Like this is the one glorious solution to achieve ultimate freedom and happiness: immortality for all.

Doesn't that erase a lot of what seems, at least to me, to make us human? A non-perfect body, an age and with it, experience of change and all kinds of feelings and sensations. It made me sad. Not that I'm a fan of suffering and death at all, but I am pretty sure that would also turn out to be one of those frighteningly boring utopias, if you would have to live it. I mean, I can imagine a couple years of pure play, hedonism and sex might be fun. And sure I imagine that if you wanted to, you could eventually choose bodies, and who wouldn't want to experiment with that for a while? But then? Okay, eating up all the world's knowledge and solving math problems and such, which should be quick with those artificial brains, and then?
But most of all, no matter how hard I try, I just can't imagine that we could ever manage to invent something that is capable of giving us feelings as amazing as skin on skin sometimes does (or a summer wind or anything else for that matter).

So in the end what I liked most about the book (kind of in hindsight), is Dis. The first Sim or uploaded mind and her thoughts on what it means to be "living" like that. And I especially liked her suicidal tendencies. In the mid part, she figures out that killing her rebootable, non human self can make her feel again (albeit for a short momentum), which turns out to be quite addictive. I guess, by the end of the story her new body is supposed to take care of that problem too. But I am not convinced, because, really, this uploaded, immortal mind in artificial body utopia for me sadly flatlined the whole story in the end. I liked the beginning of the book about what walking away means so much better.

And is immortality really the ultimate walkaway?  Or is it maybe just getting trapped? Sure, it's being trapped in endless abundance but I can't help but think that would become pretty quickly a boring loop of feeling stuck. And how do you walk away from being software? What does walking away even mean if it doesn't take courage because you'll never die and therefore have nothing to lose? And what happens to that important state of mind and the walkaway version of a "Christian guilt trip"? Would and could that still be there? Even after a couple loops? 
But most important of all, how do you feel without being vulnerable? 
I think that it might be impossible, and if that's so, I'd much rather be vulnerable than immortal.

So, yes, go read the book, it's good and in it there is so much to think about and needs discussion. This is just what frustrated me the most about it, especially because I was so curious and waiting to read it for quite a while. I was very excited because it is a different (and these days so rare attempt) at writing an utopia. But disappointingly I am not happy with this utopia. There are other things that bug me too, and about which Julia Powels writes in Walking away from hard problems. I just want to add that in times when Burning man principles like 'radical self-reliance' inspire the super rich to prepare for apocalypse (read DOOMSDAY PREP FOR THE SUPER-RICH if you haven't yet), and a double faced Elon Mask (heavens, that's the scary guy! so much more than the kind of men that model Natalie's father -though I liked the exploration of their relation through explaining human weaknesses in the beginning) claims that it's already possible to kind of upload brains and says that this is necessary so humans have the slightest chance to COMPETE with AI and robots taking over. Something a lot of people in the tech world are scaremongering about, while they never seem to talk about what's already happening to our data selfs in an online world. And by that I mean, being almost right less and reduced to and exploited solely on our monetary value. No, I don't believe we are anywhere near for AI taking over, but I am pretty sure we are close (without even really noticing) to selling out on some of our most valuable human rights like for example: privacy. Which again, giving these rights up, right now often gets hailed as utopian solutions especially in education (so scary) by tech billionaires. Where are these people in this book? I think Julia Powels in her essay hits a very valid point in asking that.

It's true, walkaways maintain their own infrastructure but still, even if maybe possible and something we definitely need, right now that seems like a very far away utopia, while the real dystopia is rather pressing. The thought experiment of abundance is extremely important in our world of waste, where we since a long while are at a stage, where nobody would have to starve. And yet, still, so many children keep dying. But I am not sure humanity can win this speed race for turning our future in the already sense able direction of either dys- or utopia by thinking only about distributing abundance, meanwhile our digital identities (which are influencing ever more who we are in life) are seemingly enslaved by technology. The same technology that in this book's vision might free us, if we walk away and take over the task. I just don't why, the reason why we have to do it, is then not more of a topic and explored (apart from maybe in the passage about the problem with back ups). And I think the reason, should not only be about how to protect yourself because you must or are an unjustly declared criminal needing to hide from being caught, but about what rights we would need in a society that lives in the net. Which reminds me of Mark Fisher, when he writes about cynicism, self optimization and therapy, and that the burden of responsibility is now put on each of us us individually, even though we know we don't make a difference in the big game individually. Even if the walkaways solve the network problem by community, how do they deal with privacy? I think that would have been a great thing to explore, especially in contrast to the walkaway onsen culture. (I am such a fan of sauna, and as a German, often amazed that nakedness is such a big deal in for example American culture - there is this great essay about why Europeans and Americans have trouble understanding each other in the discussion about global privacy and data protection laws, because of different cultural values about exactly this...can't find it, anybody remember?).

This way, only talking all the time about encryption and other technical stuff (I don't quite understand) it seems, at least to me, a bit like a phantasy of maybe (sorry if I say so, but it jumps my mind) young male all mightiness? If we just get the encryption right, and are and act smarter than the others, all of this won't be a problem? Also, there don't seem to be any people (apart from Natalie's dad, who doesn't need to because he has money to pay for it) who aren't tech savvy geniuses. I for example, wish I was, but I am not. I read quite a lot about all this technical stuff, I find it interesting and know about it. But yes, I am still one of those people, who don't encrypt and fights with passwords and all this never ending security stuff. I hate it, and am quite happy if I can just work with my machine and I get it to do what I want. I seem to never have the time for the extra effort that would be needed to keep security all up. Maybe I also don't want to have to constantly fight for my privacy? I don't find that at all exciting and adventurous. It's maybe stubbornly simple as that.

So, these are my thoughts, all unpolished and just blurted out. If you want to read more and what other's thought about it, there are 10 essays about it on Crooked Timber.


The Utopian Impulse & Its Trouble With Postmodernity (Fredric Jameson) #rp17

I was a speaker of this year's re:publica, which, as every year, was an incredibly inspiring place to be and I will write more about it soon. But for now, I'd like to share my talk about Fredric Jameson's Anti-Anti-Utopianism (below also in text form) and all the further reading materials  with you. If you have any questions or comments, please let me know. Would love to get more feedback and I'm always happy to chat about Utopia.

The biggest challenge we face today seems to be our own imagination. It looks like we gave up on our future, and if we dare to think about it at all, climate catastrophe seems unavoidable. Even science fiction offers no relief. Dystopian visions are all around, and even those seem to have trouble to keep up with the speed of deteriorating reality. So, what to do. How can we get out of this?


I stole this from recent panel called Apocalypse Buffering 1., but thought I change it just a little bit.

Because I'm here to talk to you about Utopia, not so much as science fiction, but as a thinking tool that can be used by anyone, and that I hope will help us get our future back.

Utopia by definition is a 'good place that is no place'. And if one thinks about it like this, it doesn't sound very alarming, more like a rather harmless exercise of the imagination, a thought experiment. Yet, today a lot of people believe, even if maybe naïve and useless, that such imaginary exploration of difference, if taken seriously, will always and inevitably lead to disaster. If we think about Utopia, we think about it only in negative terms. It's either ridiculous or will lead to the horrors of Stalinism and Nazi Germany. It's this, our rightful fear of its totalizing powers, that made us banish Utopia. And with time it kind of almost became unthinkable.

But what if, being unable to think it, has also made us blind to see it, to recognize Utopia?
What if, nameless and hidden from our view, it still controls the world?
A world, which seems to be quickly changing, into a bad place for people everywhere.
What if, we have been trapped by what we fear?

I want to argue that Utopia is inescapable 2., and that we have indeed been trapped. But that it's not Utopia that we should fear, but our denial of its powers. Because, as I will try to show you, Utopia is not only the cause, it is also the key to get out of what Fukuyama calls the end of history.

But to make my point I first will have to clarify some terminology, because words and their meanings are important to understand the story, I want to tell you afterwards. It's the story of neoliberalism, the most successful utopian ideology to date, yet we never call it that. I will explain why, by taking you back to its beginnings, rooted in Anti Utopianism. And how this curious, but seldom acknowledged connection, resulted in our current state. Locked into the present, seemingly unable to imagine any change, despite knowing that without it, we seem to be destined to perish.

Fredric Jameson calls this predicament 'late capitalism' or Postmodernity. A time that is best described by its rampant cynicism. How to get over it, using what he calls Anti-Anti-Utopianism will be the second part of my talk.

But first let's start with clearing up some common misconceptions about Utopia.
Anti Utopianism's most powerful weapon against Utopia has always been the claim that a perfect society can only be achieved by coercion. Therefore Utopianism will always usher totalitarianism and the use of force and violence against people. 3. But it is important to remember that Utopia, by definition, is a 'good place that is nowhere', it's not supposed to be perfect. It's also very rarely just escapism that tries to deny and dream away all negativity. Far from it, by imagining alternatives, it high lights and brings into focus what it seeks to overcome.

Or as Jameson puts it: “Utopia is not a positive vision of the future so much as it is a negative judgement of the present.” 4.

Utopias are not blueprints to build societies on, they are tools for criticism, opening doors to debates about problems that often didn't even have a name before. And seen in this light, it becomes clear that Utopia has always been the driving force of human development and history. The fact that it is haunted by reversals into its dark side or Dystopia, only helps to underscore that the utopian impulse is a process, a self correcting, critical mechanism, that aims for a better rather than a perfect world.

There is one more thing: the difference between Anti Utopia and Dystopia. Those two terms often get conflated, but there is a distinction between them, and it's important to understand. According to Lyman Tower Sargent, Dystopias are imagined by their authors, to be societies substantially worse than the ones they are living in. The term Anti Utopia in contrast, and I will quote him here: “should be reserved for that large class of works, both fictional and expository, which are directed against Utopia and utopian thought.” 5.

Maybe one could also say, that Anti Utopias are about the dangers of seeing Utopias as blue prints and acting on it. Whereas Dystopias (as well as Utopias) are tools for analysis and criticism on the contemporary. 6. Which especially in our times, because Dystopias are so popular, seems to express a collective yearning for a rupture. A collective desire to somehow break free from an all oppressing, inescapable totality. But yet, this yearning, in its wish for an end and a new beginning, is in itself inherently utopian. It doesn't matter how humble it is in aspirations. It still is a wish for difference.

So, let's look at how we got here? How did we loose our ability to imagine anything beyond the status quo or global capitalism?

It started as a lot of history does, with an utopian desire to change the world. 1938, five years after the first concentration camp was build in Dachau, and at the height of Stalin's Great Purge, two refugees from Austria met at a conference in Paris. It was a gathering of intellectuals who aimed to construct a new liberalism, one strong enough to fight, what they saw as threatening the world, socialism. 7. And it was there, that neoliberalism was born. The two men, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, went on to define this new ideology through what only can be called a fierce Anti Utopianism. They believed that social democracy and its programs, like Roosevelt's New Deal, were just another form of collectivism that would ultimately lead to the same terrifying results as communism or nazism. For them, any form of state planning could only lead to tragedy and terror. And both went on to write books in which they ridiculed the socialist idea by calling it utopian.

In 'Bureaucracy', published six years later in 1944, von Mises writes:
“Nobody doubts that bureaucracy is thoroughly bad and that it should not exist in a perfect world.” and therefore “socialist utopias are entirely impracticable and must, … result not only in impoverishment for all but in the disintegration of social cooperation---in chaos.”

That same year Hayek's book 'The Road to Serfdom' was published too. It dedicated a whole chapter to attacking utopian thought, and argued that socialism, by destroying individual freedom must always lead to dictatorship. He concludes this chapter with:
“To those who have watched the transition from socialism to fascism at close quarters, the connection between the two systems is obvious. The realization of the socialist program means the destruction of freedom. Democratic socialism, the great utopia of the last few generations, is simply not achievable.”

But during those times their Anti Utopianism was still at the margin of political thought. Or as George Monbiot writes 7., it was still a time when governments tried to achieve “social outcomes without embarrassment.” Not only in the US but in most of Western Europe, full employment and poverty relief were common goals, and pursued by developing new public services, paid for by high taxes on the rich.
It was another economist, John Maynard Keynes, whose policies and ideas were on the rise and became widely adopted. Keynes rejected neoclassical economics, which claimed that the free market would naturally establish full employment, if unfettered by the government. It was an older utopian idea, and Keynes replaced it with his own. Having witnessed the hardships, of the Great Depression, his 'General Theory' stated that the economy could stay trapped in a high state of unemployment if the government didn't help boost consumption or investment. He argued that state intervention was necessary and went as far as to recommend that governments should spent money, on these interventions, even if they didn't have it. That was a radical idea, which Robert Reich later proposed “may have saved capitalism.”

But nowhere is his utopian dreaming more evident than in his conviction, that his new system of state managed capitalism could promote peace rather than war in the world. 8.

And even though the ideas of Hayek and von Mises stayed at the margins for decades to come, the very rich immediately identified the new theory as a promise of freedom from government regulation and those hated taxes. Think Tanks were born and lavishly funded to refine and promote the new ideology through out the world. And It grew and evolved, away from Hayek's belief that the state still had a role to play in preventing monopolies, to Milton Friedman, who saw them as a reward for efficiency. Those were decades at the margins but they were not spent idly.

And then it happened, something that according to Keynes, shouldn't be possible. High inflation and high unemployment at the very same time. It was the 70s and his dreams of a crisis-free 'transformed' capitalism hit a brick wall, and those who had been waiting, seized their opportunity.

Friedman recalls : “when the time came that you had to change...there was an alternative ready.” 9. Astonishingly, though, this alternative had already started to loose its name. And maybe what's odd about that slogan with which it, a couple years later under Reagan and Thatcher, finally came to power, is not only that it promoted freedom and choice by claiming that “there is no alternative” 10., but that the slogan itself celebrated something nameless.

And this namelessness, turned out to be a brilliant marketing idea. It played on gut feelings instead of trying to explain a new theory. And what, in rough times when people are disoriented and scared, could feel better than a bit of common sense? Because if something is not even worth mentioning, surely somehow that must be common sense. So, the namelessness enabled Neoliberalism to present itself as the answer to what they successfully sold as a natural law. A law that reduced humanity to self-interest and competition. Its theory then, was just like a cherry on top, the way one had to deal with the facts. In a spectacular reversal the blueprint on which to build societies on, which Anti utopians had spent years denouncing as the root of all evil, became nature itself and therefore was already given. Just like that, Anti Utopianism achieved the impossible. In one ingenious move, Utopia, this time as the best of all possible worlds, was not only declared and established but also hidden from view. Because not surprisingly, those Anti Utopians didn't claim that their Utopia was a perfect world. Instead it was merely the best and all that we could hope for. All-encompassing but not a place, this utopian enclosure was grander than any ever before. And it placed its new borders, firmly, in the nowhere of our minds.

But as any Utopia, recognized or not, it started to become haunted by strange reversals. If the world was one big competition, it was essential to figure out who was winning. Everything needed to be compared and quantified. And, suddenly the bureaucracy that von Mises had so despised and wanted to eliminate, became the foundation not only of economics but of everything.

And even worse, once privatized, banks and public services, turned out to be too vital or too big to fail, making it obvious that competition didn't ensure efficiency. But by 2008, when neoliberalism should have lost all credibility, bailing out banks while still maintaining that the same couldn't be done for actual people, it seemed that we simply couldn't imagine anything else anymore. What had been a slogan had become reality. There really was no alternative. Neoliberalism's utopian enclosure, the big wall in our heads, didn't allow for one. And almost ten years later, there still isn't.

This is where we are now, and it seems a political crisis even bigger than the economic one. We all know that it can not go on like this, but neoliberalism's Anti-Utopianism, exactly because it is Utopianism in disguise, has colonized our future. The only way to get it back, is overcoming our cynicism that things can not be otherwise.

So, let's turn to Jameson's Anti-Anti-Utopianism and see how it might help free our imagination.

Instead of explaining, I want to show you how it works by comparing it to one of the few examples of political ideas today, that still express some utopian longing. And that I am sure you are all familiar with: UBI or Universal Basic Income.

According to Jameson the radical difference of Utopia is achieved by two processes. One he calls Utopian Imagination, the other Utopian Fancy. The former builds on the reason why we set out to imagine it, and the latter how such an Utopia could be achieved. Utopian Imagination, as a kind of wish fulfillment, identifies a root of evil and imagines a world without of it, while Utopian Fancy, is the construction of this world, the details or what in a traditional literary Utopia would have been demonstrated by the guided tour. 11.

The Utopian Imagination of UBI, as a reaction to technology's achievements, identifies automatization as the root of evil and proposes a solution. The argument goes that automatization will obliterate the need for most of human labor, and that to deal with it, governments should pay each citizen unconditionally a monthly fee to cover their basic needs. But to find out if this solution could in fact produce systemic change, we have to ask if it would result in a truly different world. And the moment we look at the Utopian Fancy of UBI or the details of how this world is supposed to work, we look at a problem.

UBI lacks a global vision in a globalized world. Its Utopian Enclosure is, at least for now, envisioned and proposed depending on national or regional borders. The same borders right wing politics, ignoring the complexities and interdependencies of an already globalized world, is so fond of emphasizing today. And in times when refugees die at those very same borders, when they are seen as a threat, not as people we need to protect, could UBI, without a global vision, really accomplish systemic change? Or is it just a patch for the same old system, a prolongation of what we already have?

Despite that UBI as political program feels quite utopian, it still seems to keep our imagination trapped.

In contrast Fredric Jameson, admitting that all political programs today are destined to fail, because they have to work inside the system, doesn't even aspire to imagine one. Instead he simply sets out on a thought experiment and asks himself what the most radical demand on our system would be, that could not be fulfilled without transforming the system beyond recognition.
And he comes up with an old answer: full employment. 12.

As economists will frankly admit, capitalism runs on profits and eternal growth, and needs its masses of the unemployed to keep inflation in low. 13. If workers weren't threatened by cheaper unemployed competition they would start to demand fair share of those profits, and therefore full employment, would no doubt, transform the system radically.
But one rather quickly comes to realize that the system would have to be changed in advance, for such a change to ever take place.

And it looks like a vicious circle with no escape. But still, imagining such a future allows us to read the dark spots of our current situation as symptoms of that root of evil we identified. Jameson writes: crime, war, degraded mass culture, drugs, violence, boredom, the lust for power, the lust for distraction, sexism, racism – all can be diagnosed as results of a society unable to accommodate the productiveness of all its citizens. 14.

But what's the difference then to UBI you might ask? Doesn't UBI want to solve the same problem? It does, but the difference becomes clear when we look at the main arguments brought forward by its proponents from the left and the right. And which can be summed up to something that sounds rather familiar: There is no alternative. The focus lies not on the value of all human beings for society 15. but on an inevitable progress that simply can not be stopped.

The left might highlight the promise of new, social productiveness unleashed by the freedom of not having to worry about food or a roof over your head, but the discussions always seem to end up at the same question: Could we afford the freeloaders? The people that can't or won't compete to proof their value.

I really want UBI to rid us from our belief in this fake human nature of self interest and competition, that neoliberalism so successfully implanted in our brains and hearts, but how could this be achieved, if UBI won't change the system itself?

I believe what most of us hope, is that UBI could create alternative spaces for collaboration inside the system. But the problem becomes painfully visible, when even its defenders admit, that its success depends on the amount of money that will be handed out. Could that ever work, in times of global inflation? And even if the money will help us build those collectives and co-ops. Wouldn't we still end up being forced to compete with each other? Measuring human value by economic gains?

So, although Jameson's proposal of full employment also misses global aspirations and seems less likely than UBI to ever come true, it still offers something that UBI does not.
It makes us realize much more clearly those walls in our heads. And once we seen them, we can start to examine what they are made of and wonder if there might be any cracks.

If the problem seems to be that we can't imagine a society where all humans have value, then a good crack to start with, might be the realization that our cynicism is just the frank acknowledgement of exactly that. Because the truth is, that even if we still try to believe in them, we lost all our values by replacing them with money.

And if that's so, it might be a great idea to return to and ponder one of the oldest utopian dreams: abolishing money, and imagining a life without of it. 16. Because even if seemingly impossible, the mere thought experiment of it, not only brings an immediate aesthetic relief but unmasks all kinds of individual and social relationships, that have been disguised by the abstraction of value through money. Imagining a world without it makes visible the immense, often already unpaid human collaboration on which even our system rests. And instead of the deadlock that a supposed human nature based on competition used to create, the utopian impulse finally is released to imagine other forms of being.

What Jameson's Anti-Anti-Utopianism proposes is, that the answer to our conviction that no alternative is possible, is the utopian form itself. Not by offering a blueprint or a plan, but by insisting that difference is possible and that the break is necessary.

In our times where we are at the stage of massive protests and demonstrations, but without any conception of how a globalized transformation might proceed. Where we want to act but we don't know how. And where any political program currently offered only fuels our cynicism.
Our state of mind might be best reflected by Utopia's radical break from reality.

It's former weakness, lack of agency and plans for a working political transition, paradoxically now turn into a power. Forcing us, to concentrate on, and to think the break itself.

Anti-Anti-Utopianism does not offer immediate solutions for the problems of our globalized world, but it also isn't cynicism or capitulation and hopelessness. Instead much stronger than any rhetoric about the future of our children ever could, it helps us see what keeps us locked in the present and through it develop a fear of losing the future by locating it directly within ourselves.
It's grasping and rattling the bars of our cage in an intense spiritual preparation for an impossible future that yet has to arrive.

We may feel helpless and we don't have a plan, but we do have power.
The system of money making and profits may not need us to believe in it,
but it still needs us to believe in its eternal permanence.

1. Recommend checking out this wonderful recent panel from #TtW17 Apocalypse Buffering Thank you Ingrid Burrington for the awesome gif idea!

2. Another idea I thought I had writing without realizing that I heard it before.
Lucy Sargisson - "Utopianism in the twenty-first century"

3. Tom Moylan - Scraps of the Untainted Sky p.75 (Lyman Tower Sargent)

4. Sean Homer, Anti Anti Utopianism - Imagining Alternative Spaces (Fredric Jameson)

5. Tom Moylan - Scraps of the Untainted Sky p.72 (Lyman Tower Sargent)

6. For further reading on this I recommend all books by Tom Moylan who coined the terms: critical utopia and critical dystopia.

7. In this part of the talk I rely heavily on a fantastic essay by George Monbiot I highly recommend reading: Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems

or directly get his book about the topic How Did We Get into This Mess?: Politics, Equality, Nature

8. To really see Keynes Utopian Dreaming in action, do yourself a favour and read him in his own wordsJohn Maynard Keynes, Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren (1930)* and here is a quote from it,that I think shows the reason why his approach was destined to fail.
There are also various fantastic blogs and articles about Keynes online but I recommend The Ideas of John Maynard Keynes by Sam Williams who also touches on the dark sides, namely Eugenics which was a very widely accepted and promoted idea during those times

9. George Monbiot The Zombie Doctrine"

10. If I can make you read one book, let it be this: Mark Fisher - Capitalist realism: Is there no alternative?

11. If I can make you read two books, read also the one this whole talk is based on. It's fantastic and also the reason why my talk ran on the Science Fiction track, eventhough in the end because of time and to not make it too confusing (this is packed with ideas and thoughts you can chew on for years to come) I had to constrain myself and talk only politics and economics.
Fredric Jameson, The Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia

12. Jameson always argued that Utopia is incredible important but not possible, but lately been working on concepts how to make it happen anyhow. This is my favorite talk by him and I am pretty sure you'd enjoy it too.
An American Utopia: Fredric Jameson"

13. John Henley - What does full employment mean?

14. Fredric Jameson - ARCHAEOLOGIES. OF THE FUTURE. The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions p.147

15. Peter Fleming - What is human capital? Human capital theory was invented as an ideological weapon in the Cold War. Now it is helping to Uberise the world of work

16. Fredric Jameson - ARCHAEOLOGIES. OF THE FUTURE. The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions p.229

Further reading materials on Fredric Jameson and Anti-Anti-Utopianism:

Fredric Jameson - Archaeologies of the Future - The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions

Thomas More’s Utopia - in it's free and open online edition by Stephen Duncombe

Fredric Jameson - The Politics of Utopia  

Fredric Jameson - Utopia and Failure

Fredric Jameson - The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism  

Fredric Jameson - In Hyperspace

Fredric Jameson - Cognitive Mapping

Sean Homer - Anti Anti-Utopianism: Imagining Alternative Spaces

Another World - Michelle Kuo talks with David Graeber

The New Utopians - Kim Stanley Robinson and the novelists who want to build a better future through science fiction. Solarpunk

Liam A. O’Donnell - Preserving the Possibility of the Impossible  


Pekka Kilpeläinen -Reading Politically: Fredric Jameson, Ideology, and Utopia

Pekka Kilpeläinen - In Search of a Postcategorical Utopia: James Baldwin and the Politics of "race" and Sexuality

Robert T. Tally Jr.  - Power to the Educated Imagination!: Northrop Frye and the Utopian Impulse

Hyong-jun Moon -The Post-Apocalyptic Turn: a Study of Contemporary Apocalyptic and Post-Apocalyptic Narrative


Ralph Dumain (autodidact project) - Science Fiction & Utopia Research Resources:
A Selective Work in Progress

Positing Futurity: The Possibilities of Utopology

Utopia, Dystopia, and the Myth of Neoliberalism

Demanding the Impossible: Utopia, Dystopia and Science-Fiction  

Joshua Glenn - Back to utopia - Can the antidote to today's neoliberal triumphalism be found in the pages of far-out science fiction?

The Golden Age of Creativity

Last year I was invited to hold a short speech and be part of a panel discussion about IP exploitation at TheArts+ Frankfurter Book Fair. Thought I post what I had to say:

A Golden Age of Creativity?

Hello and thank you all very much for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today.

I am one of the many freelance creators, that could be called the foundation of the creative industries.

Our numbers are exploding but in the discussions about IP our voices are almost never heard.

One reason is, we all work alone, and there is no organization yet representing us.

But I think, the main reason is, that IP in our day to day work life is almost irrelevant.

How could that be?

The biggest problem creatives face is precarious work, or the gig economy.

As a creative I provide a service. I offer my skills, expertise and labour to create customized, mostly one-off products.
An animation, an advertisement, a website.

But my customers don't see me as a service provider, they buy products. Why does it matter?

In my field a good example would be the countless explainer video start ups. Competition is fierce and prices have been falling dramatically.

They are so low now, that fixed prices are offered,
often with guarantees that the clients will get the product they want, no matter how many changes will be necessary.

That's the value crisis as it looks like from my perspective. Work hours have been decoupled from the prices of products, that are really service work.

IP as a freelance creative is irrelevant to me, because almost always work for hire excludes me having any claim on IP.

Contracts are mostly take it or leave it.
And I usually don't have the commercial negotiating power, nor the funds for a lawyer, or the time to achieve the legal skills necessary to defend myself.

So why don't I start creating original work and license my IP? Platforms to do this already exist.

But to make money on graphic river or any other online market place, I have to invest my labour & expertise, expensive equipment, time to learn about and conform my files to the platforms standards.

And I will still have to read pages and pages of technical legal language, I do not understand.

In the end I will have spent days for a product, I don't even have the right to set a price for.

In fact, the pages on how those platforms calculate what I will earn are the most difficult to understand. But I guess the gist is, prices are set quite arbitrarily, the percentages I get are tiny, hard to calculate and sprinkled with fees. And the only way to earn more than pennies is to become what they call an exclusive. Meaning my work will be locked into a platform that isn't even transparent about their algorithm. The algorithm that decides if and who gets to see my work.

And you know what, these companies won't even protect me from others infringing my work. Graphic river states on its help page about piracy:

that they have to be "realistic about not being able to deal with all piracy."

What it means is, that they won't help me if somebody uses my files without paying. They only take legal actions against big infringer sites.

You might understand by now that the golden age of creativity doesn't look so golden to me.

But at least creative work is safe from automatization, right?

I spent lots of time learning and perfecting skills that today one can do with a single click.

And there are already things like Jukedeck.
Trained deep neural networks writing original music. You can customise the resulting track with the touch of a button, download it and use it completely royalty-free.

The price for a track? 99cents

So, Is this the dawn of a golden age of creativity?

I do believe so.

I work as a freelance creative but I am also an artist.
Arists have always worked in the precarious world of the gig economy.

There are many of us, and very few ever succeed. Even fewer get rich. But that doesn't stop us, we just have to create.

We share this trait now with everybody. We are all artists and creators now.

We do it daily. We use software to edit our photos and family movies, style our profiles and presentations, post on instagram and facebook.

And truly amazing things happen when we collaborate.
I am still amazed that wikipedia is possible, or that twitter revolutionized how the news get reported.

But if you think about it, most platforms owe their success in huge part to their users unpaid work.

Even if there was a way to implement strong IP protection without breaking the web, it could never recover the value lost by all this unpaid work.

But just because a value isn't monetized doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Wall street might think twitter has failed, but its users do not.

That's why those users are trying to buy twitter now. And platform cooperatives are on the rise.

The business model of collaborative work is creating value for society.

That’s why in the future we won't measure growth,
We will measure collective value created for and by communities.

If the creative industries wants to benefit from this mayor emerging value shift, we all have to explore new ways of being useful to society.

The future is not about IP transactions but collective intelligence.

And it's not our finished products but our services that this future needs. Open Innovation, Co-design, call it what ever you want, but it needs mediators who have experience in how to combine, express and translate ideas.

Who, if not the creatives, are better equipped to work with ideas on such an incredible scale?

We could help governments and companies communicate with their citizens and users. We could lead the way in implementing the resulting changes.

We could be the facilitators in a process that will lead us, eventually, to the sustainable socio-economic models we all know, we need.

All of us could really matter. Thank you. 

Science Fiction, Cities & Utopia - Eden Kupermintz

How postmodernism and its cities prevent us from Utopian Dreaming

Science Fiction is the art of thinking about new ways to be.
As Henri Lefebvre says: "'Change life! 'Change society!' These precepts mean nothing without the production of an appropriate space[...] new social relationships call for a new space, and vice versa".

"The first utopias, whether Plato's Atlantis or More's eponymous Utopia, were conceived as cities and insulated ones at that. This isn't a mistake or coincidence as the history of society and that of the city are closely interlinked, whether in Europe or outside of it. So too, science fiction's cities. Their ideas and ideals spring from and grow with changes in society: feminist, post-colonial and neo-liberal ideas seep into these conceptions and representations, changing them as the face of society and its cultural discourse changes. aim can be seen as political: as we have learned to do with other parts of our lives, we must not look at urban planning as a “naïve” attempt at pragmatism or efficiency but rather as a “deeper”, often subjugating, attempt at control of discourse and our ways of life. Science fiction, like in many other fields, can either assist us in our critique and struggle or further solidify and serve the current, entrenched order of life. It can conceive of cities as spaces containing news ways to be or as maps for the ways power wishes it to be."

Eden Kupermintz  EMBASSY//TOWN #rpTEN

"what matrix tells you is be docile except the one of you who is the genius that's a mainstay of the non-radical science fiction group sure rebellion is possible but it's only the exceptional human who can perform it."

There were many great talks @re:publica this year but this one is great, about Utopia and mentions Ursula LeGuin! Plus I had never heard of Henry Lefebvre before. Started to search for good online links about him with not too much luck yet. But I found the book/quote below after reading: Why do we need utopias? where Malene Freudendal-Pedersen mentions it. If you happen to know about good reading materials or talks about him please let me know.

This consciousness of the possible-impossible replaces consciousness of the past.

Henri Lefebvre: Key Writings

Henri Lefebvre - The Survival of Capitalism

Anybody has subtitles for this?

Political Space in the Work of Henri Lefebvre: Ideology and Utopia
Grégory BUSQUET, UMR LAVUE (Mosaïques), Université Paris Ouest Nanterre

Another book still on my reading list, which I post here, because it seems to be another twist on the "mainstay of the non-radical science fiction group sure rebellion is possible but it's only the exceptional human who can perform it."

When the Sleeper Wakes. A Story of the Years to Come. - H.G. WELLS

Great podcast episode about The Sleeper Awakes The SFFaudio Podcast #266 

"Struck by a strange ailment, a Victorian gentleman called Graham falls into a sudden coma. When he wakes up 203 years later, he discovers the trust set up by executors of his estate has grown so much that he is now the owner of almost everything on the planet. Under his name his trustees rule the planet, bringing in an age of total peace and startlingly advanced technology, but at a steep price — democracy is dead, the rich are brainless and hedonistic while the poor are all but slaves overseen by brutal military police.Broken free from the trustees prison by a politician called Ostrog, Graham finds himself stuck in the middle of an uprising as Ostrog promises to restore Graham's power and bring an end to the council's reign."

Ernst Bloch - The Utopian Function of Art and Literature

As he put it: "processus cum figures, figurae in processu" (The process is made by those who are made by the process), so that he restored honour to the idea of utopia by seeing it not as a pre-existing programmatic state which had to be reached under wise and all-knowing leadership either of the party or the church, but as an autopoietic process driven by the labouring, creating and producing human being driven on by their material hunger as well as their dreams of overcoming that hunger. 

Peter Thompson - The Frankfurt school, part 6: Ernst Bloch and the Principle of Hope

A giant post of links and ideas I will be chewing on and coming back to for a long while. If you have any recommended readings or talks, especially ones that use these ideas and connect them with today and use popular language, please let me know. For example I didn't find many (or recent) articles in English. I found recent German ones in the press, but they weren't too exciting. 

The Text in English of this discussion you can find here:
Bloch and Theodor W. Adorno on the Contradictions of Utopian Longing

Bloch, Ernst. _The Utopian Function of Art and Literature_. (1988). "Something's Missing" (1964)

"For Bloch, Thomas More’s conception of Utopia in space meant that the utopia was here now, but that I/we are not there.  However, in placing utopia into time meant that not only were we not in utopia, but also that utopia wasn’t here yet.  Placing the utopian into the future did not empty it of its meaning and critical purpose as though it did not and could not exist.  Utopia does not exist yet but depends on people living and working now to realize it in the future.  Bloch imaged this as the more we travel toward the future isle of utopia, the more it will arise from the sea of the possible – out of the present chaos, which the sea represents."

To say that something’s missing means that the seeds, the incipient foment of that something is already present, without which no one would know that it is missing.  The concept of God or utopia already contain the elements of the utopic reality that is missing, and it is from this knowledge and experience that utopia can be realized.  Without this eschatological dynamic, no notion of utopia or of thinking itself would be possible. 

"Hope can be thwarted, but for Bloch [1999:16-17], that does not mean it is defeated.  Even in the midst of its decline and disappointment, hope still nails a flag on the sinking ship’s mast, for the decline is not accepted. For the hunger of hope is “an irrepressible sense of the awakening of meaning,” and, as such, true hope is an expression of never-ending defiance against all odds for the Not-yet-being, whose ultimate realization will be the beginning of the true Utopia."



Adorno to Bloch on the Blockage of Utopia

(with much more links to further reading. I am speechless (just sounds: woooahh!). Go have a look around that site. It's amazing: - Ralph Dumain)

Compiled by Ralph Dumain:

Science Fiction & Utopia Research Resources:
A Selective Work in Progress

and his Reason & Society blog / #Utopia

"There was a real reluctance to speculate about the future, for two quite explicit reasons. The first is the argument that it is impossible to think oneself out of present circumstances and predict the needs and conditions for their satisfaction that will be created in the future; in this sense, the imaginative construction of utopia as a political goal is strictly speaking impossible. 
e. Secondly, and this was the essence of their attacks on the utopian socialists, the construction of such blueprints carries with it the danger of idealism. Where the utopian socialists -leaders and followers - chiefly erred was in thinking that the propagation of a plan for the good society would, through the operation of reason, result in its own realisation."

Bloch's cosmology requires utopia in order that we may be able to imagine, will, and effect the future. And since 'the hinge on human history is its producer' the future is effected through our action; the content and quality of utopian anticipation are therefore of fundamental importance.  

"Bloch's central thesis is that human dreaming has always reached towards utopia, with varying mixes of the abstract and the concrete; but only with Marxism has it become possible for utopia to be fully graspable in the imagination and hence in reality. Bloch claims Marxist credentials for this position by repeated reference to a letter from Marx to Ruge, dated 1843, in which Marx wrote: Our motto must therefore be: reform of consciousness not through dogmas, but through analysis of mystical consciousness which is still unclear to itself. It will then become apparent that the world has long possessed the dream of a matter, of which it must only possess the consciousness to possess it in reality. It will become apparent that it is not a question of a great thought-dash between past and future, but of the carrying-through of the thoughts of the past."

"Bloch also quotes the more well-known passage about purposive action as a distinguishing characteristic of the human species: We are assuming work in a form in which it belongs exclusively to man. A spider carries out operations which resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts many builder to shame with the building of its wax cells. But what distinguishes the worst builder from the best bee from the outset is that he has built the cell in his head before he builds it in wax, at the end of the work process there is a result which already existed in the imagination of the worker at the beginning of that process, i.e. already existed ideally. Not that he only effects a formal change in the real; he also realizes his purpose in the natural world."

Ruth Levitas:
Marxism, Romanticism and Utopia: Ernst Bloch and William Morris

Podcast:  German Philosophy Seminars
The Romantic-Revolutionary Gnosis of Geist der Utopie

Johan Siebers (IGRS, London)

"As global culture is once again pregnant with the urge to formulate alternatives to the neoliberal politics and cultural politics of the last three decades, there is a need to return to the rich tradition of utopian thought in philosophy. In this semester the German Philosophy Seminar will be devoted to a single book that has played a central role in utopian philosophy: Ernst Bloch's Geist der Utopie. Published in 1918 as Bloch's first book on recommendation by Otto Klemperer, it occupies a place as a secret source at the beginning of important currents in 20th century German thought.

Nevertheless, its reception has been limited in recent years. Barocque from the outset and written in a modernist-expressionist style which some have called dithyrambic and with which Bloch immediately placed himself outside the accepted forms of academic philosophical writing, he sets out in this book to reformulate and rescue the ideas of transcendence, totality, longing and purpose in a materialist, existentialist and revolutionary context.

In doing so, Bloch reconstitutes philosophy from the start -- it is this feature that makes this work an eminently philosophical one and that gives it a unique place in the history of German philosophy; philosophy appears here, in its form as much as in its content, as a meditation on the forms of utopia and our travels towards it. It defines its efficacy, also its existential, critical, cultural and political efficacy, in that context."

The Bloch Series @ Nyx A Noctournal :


Again this fits in philosophically with his general approach which sees history not simply as a series of events but as something which carries within it all sorts of lost opportunities, traces of unrealised potential and sparks and dreams of future possibilities. This is why he talks of the “ontology of not yet being” as the central philosophical expression of our time. In other words, the process of the fermentation of world history will throw up all sorts of strange constructs that have to prove themselves in the world and we have to try to come to terms with them within what he calls the “darkness of the lived moment”. As we experience today, it is not always easy to get it right.

Peter Thompson also The Frankfurt school, part 6: Ernst Bloch and the Principle of Hope
and The official Blog for the Centre for Ernst Bloch Studies based at the University of Sheffield and maintained by Peter Thompson.





Ernst Bloch Gespräche mit einem Philosophen

"Franz Marc (February 8, 1880 – March 4, 1916) was a German painter and printmaker, one of the key figures of the German Expressionistmovement. He was a founding member of Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), a journal whose name later became synonymous with the circle of artists collaborating in it."