Peace in the Future

Recently I have been ruminating on a quote from a Wim Wenders film:

My heroes are no longer the warriors and kings… but the things of peace, one equal to the other. The drying onions equal to the tree trunk crossing the marsh. But no one has so far succeeded in singing an epic of peace. What is wrong with peace that its inspiration doesn’t endure… and that its story is hardly told? Homer, Wings of Desire 1987

It made me think of a conversation I have seen in science fiction, related to dystopian fiction. The idea is that rather than pursuing dystopia, that more aspirational futures need to be envisioned. I think when I was younger, the cynic in me would believe this to be naive. But the more I have experienced, I have grown a feeling that this kind of optimism is crucial to our survival.

I believe it’s important to be pragmatic. I am not talking about flying cars or Star Trek replicators. I have been thinking about what a realistic promising future could look like. I am curious to know other people imagine.

No more of such vague formulae as “The right to work”, or “To each the whole result of his labour.” What we proclaim is the Right to Well-Being; Well-Being for All! - Peter Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread 1892

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Within that discussion about science fiction, it’s sometimes forgotten that dystopian fiction is designed as warning, that it’s born from the hopeful position that disaster can be averted and that society is worth saving.

Aspirational futures are troublesome because of their prescriptive natures and the biases that would shape them. It’s worth remembering that all of the major destructive human endeavours of the past hundred years came from utopian ideals, the problem was of course what and who the instigators had in mind for their perfect futures.

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Thanks for such a thoughtful post. I have just a small thing to offer in response for now. I think that in addition to being optimistic and pragmatic about our futures, we need to be sincere. I agree that dystopian imaginaries can only get us so far in creating the futures we may find peace in.

I hope to find a way to support my own life, to support the lives of the people I love, and to make work that I feel connected to and that others may encounter. How do we use the material that is already here on earth, in our cultures, to invent new peaceful realities for ourselves?

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I’d agree that utopia is dangerous of course. Maybe a good question is: how do we frame what exists so that aspirational futures can be created together and be encouraged to evolve?

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I absolutely agree with this point. Which is why I am careful to avoid the term utopia. But I think imagination is crucial to envisioning a better future. I guess what I am looking for is pragmatic ideas of a peaceful future. In the same way cyberpunk is like a pragmatic view of a totalitarian dystopian future.

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Planting a few hundred trees is one of the most optimistic things I’ve ever done, but I was absolutely motivated by dystopian concerns.

Optimism is one side of a coin. Can’t have a one-sided coin, eh?

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There’s a whole subgenre of SF known as “deindustrial” which focuses on realistic futures, neither dystopian nor utopian, and imagines a whole variety of ways in which people adapt, transform, and respond (or don’t) to the changing planet, ecosystem, and economy. https://intotheruins.com is a good way to start getting into that. Despite the fall of industrialization looking dystopian, these are really grounded in a thoughtful analysis of when we run out of useful oil and no high tech is there to “save” us, and what life would really need to look like.

I find this train of thought beautifully hopeful, personally.

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I can see a way to recognize and encourage avoidance of what is mutually harmful, the value of a series of NOT instructions, but mutually beneficial is tough for me to pin down. If you think about something like gentrification, there is a strong optimistic impulse at its core—invest in infrastructure/property to bring clean living to mixed income cohabitants—and in practice it does bring several positive outcomes to neighbourhoods, but it also leads to several negative outcomes, like displacement of traditionally marginalized lower-income locals, rising land costs, erasure of local character/culture/history towards homogeneity, expansion of consumption, &c.

I don’t have much in the way of practical improvements to offer anyone other than maybe education/understanding, encouraging recognition of the dangers of ambition, perpetual wealth, over-development, the romantic notion of self and the individual, planning for short term gain, the cultural focus on work/growth/improvement and so on.

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TIL! Thank you so much.

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I suspect that any truly peaceful future, if such a thing is possible, would not involve coins at all :slight_smile:

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I understand the sentiment, but we’ll probably continue to trade shells and beads as long as we exist.

Derivatives and other instruments of financialization? I’d love to see those cease to exist.

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“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable; so did the divine right of kings.”

  • Ursula K Le Guin upon receiving the National Book Award in 2014

Sidenote, I think it’s interesting you mentioned star trek replicators. As a long time ST fan, it seems like there’s this whole revisionist history of star trek floating around, that the show is about solving problems with technology and “post scarcity economics” (whatever THAT means).

Actually watching the show I find again and again expressions of empathy, compassion and collectivism rather than some lofty silicon valley technocratic solutionism. The arch nemesis of the franchise, the Borg, is a completely overt metaphor for the dangers of dependence on advanced technology.

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Star Trek is really a guide on how to eat your cake and have it still. I agree on the emphasis on compassion and collectivism, but there’s also a good dose of technocratic solutionism. Interestingly, I’d even say the Borg is the negative representation of both those things.

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I guess it depends how literally you take the setting of the show, which is up to the viewer.

ST makes little effort to connect our present to its future, which is for me what makes it more of a moral play than any kind of utopian guide, but it’s also “just a show”, quoth mst3k, and for that reason will never really be a perfect guide or example… for anything. There will always be pieces missing and people ready to fill them with their own convictions, myself included.

Back on track tho, it’s also interesting how cyberpunk has shifted from a straightforward critique of 80s trends in capital to a slick aesthetic devoid of any real message. It’s almost like dystopian visions become fetishistic or even anticipatory, losing any of the power they traditionally held.

I remember once Elon Musk brightly describing humanity’s future in the stars, leaving earth, alluding to battlestar galactica. Like, dude, did you even watch the show?

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This thread is yet another example of why I love this place!

One of my favorite things to ponder in this direction is humility. The cultivation of so-called “soft skills” often associated with female-ish persons or characteristics… Listening, compassion, openness, ego-dis-armoring…

To the extent we survive as a species I believe these things will be indispensable…

Trek is not perfect but it’s at least looking in a pretty good direction…

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This seems somewhat relevant:

Completely missing from that article, but likely to be a major disruptor throughout the 21st century: climate change and how we respond to it.

I suspect the 21st century will be as bumpy a ride as the 20th was. It’s pretty hard to predict peace in the near future. Maybe there’s a stable period waiting after that turmoil?

The thing that always disappointed me about Star trek is the persistence of military hierarchy as a system of social organization.

I like Farscape as an example of a spaceship run by anarchists who make decisions by consensus.

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I agree. I recently read a whole post, somewhere, about Farscape being the true sci fi show for anarchist futurists… Can’t remember where though unfortunately.

edit: found it! https://www.metafilter.com/180236/Just-make-it-as-weird-as-you-possibly-can#7672775

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In some sense, we’re living in a cyberpunk dystopia, but a beige, bland, banal one. It’s not really any wonder to me that the aesthetics of 80s cyberpunk are the most attractive part now.

For a more message-y version, there’s stuff like Black Mirror I guess.

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The scary thing is that cyberpunk always seemed to suggest the possibility of subversion and freedom within the constraints of the world. I feel like that feels less and less realistic.

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