Classes ended for Cogswell College last week. It was kind of an insane semester, for obvious reasons, but my students adapted OK to an all-online format. On the last day of my Visions of Western Dystopias course, we discussed what dystopias and utopias we expect to see in the next five to ten years. The courses is a survey of utopian literature, and one of the key arguments of the class is that what we fear or hope for today, becomes the utopias and dystopias we read/watch/listen to/play tomorrow. Also, of course, that their narrative structure and characters haven’t shifted much from the blueprint laid down by Wells, Zamiatin, Huxley, and Orwell. Anyway, here is the list:
- More dystopias involving pandemics, biowarfare, martial law, lockdowns, etc
- Economic depressions, the collapse of capitalism.
- Anti-capitalist utopias and dystopias in general.
- A world of mass automation, allowing for Universal Basic Income, and the removal of jobs most people don’t want to do. This was one many of my students wanted both to read, and to come true. They’re very tired of living their whole lives aware that the American Dream has failed, and they have to work whatever is available, and forgo their art and interests indefinitely, in order to not starve.
- A world of omnipresent deep fakes, which are too realistic too detect, leading to an end of rationalism, empiricism, and a kind of tribalistic nation state or other fragmented political order.
- A utopian solution offered to the above, was a kind of opt-in telepathy, or an omniscient surveillance technology (a la Arthur C. Clarke and Stephan Baxter’s The Light of Other Days) which would allow anyone to watch anyone else, anytime, worldwide. This would lead to the end of privacy, but it wouldn’t be selective, at least.
- More utopias depicting true post-racism, post-genderism, or post-heteronormativity. These could either be through positive change in society, and an actual redressing of historical and institutional inequalities, or through technology. For example, a kind of instantaneous, or very easy ability to alter our skin color, physical features, gender, or sexual orientation. Obviously, this could become dystopian as well, but the positive expansion of consciousness and empathy seemed to outweigh the downsides.
- A post illegal drug utopia/dystopia. The two biggest visions of this one we saw were basically the fartherish right and left’s position: a world where everyone is so high that family, country, and civilization are ruined, or a world where—after one really fucked up generation—we all clean up our acts and only do drugs in moderation. Also, this brings about a mass increase in healthcare and rehab programs, and a huge drop in the prison population.
- A post-second amendment utopia/dystopia. We talked about this one for a long time. Eventually, we only saw this realistic depicted in only a couple ways: one, some kind of massive civil war, or civil conflict, and after the devastation, people decide it isn’t worth it to own private firearms. Or some kind of gradual decline in gun ownership, due to long-term economic prosperity and a drop in crime. Or a shift in political organization, that would limit firearms to those who’d served in the military, police, or other similar organizations. Or an acceptance of regular psychological evaluations for every gun owner every six months. Last, eventually getting to a point where our medical technology was so advanced that guns were no longer capable of killing someone, and would be abandoned. Leading to . . .
- Post death! Most of us don’t want to die, and with a lack of faith on the rise in America, a hope for a technology to preserve our bodies, or our minds for a long, long time, has become more popular than ever.
So, for all you short story, novel, and scriptwriters, along with musicians, and video game designers, get to work! Now you know what the youth of northern California are afraid of, and hope for, and will read/watch/listen to/play for the big bucks. And as I always remind my students, our current hopes and fears for the future are never a good guide to what will actually happen. The world is far too complex and unpredictable for that. But they can tell us quite a bit about ourselves.