How to build Utopia

We are already there. “We are living in paradise and we need to talk about Utopia,” is what Rutger Bregman claims in this documentary (in Dutch). Basically, this means that things are pretty damn good at the moment, and we can make active choices about the future. The second part in particular touches upon a feeling that I have had for quite some time: that we need to talk about where we want to go, instead of where we are going.

I picture this future as a point on the horizon, let’s say 2050. The road towards this point is the development from now to then. In my opinion, we do not talk enough about changing the point on the horizon. What do we want 2050 to look like? I think that we are able to make conscious decisions that (slightly) change its colour. It could be slightly more indigo, or slightly more yellow. Usually we assume that there is only one option, which will inevitably happen: the destination. But as Rutger suggests, we have a choice. We need to start thinking and talking about what we want Utopia to look like. Where do we want to go?

The documentary describes the idea of ‘The world has never been as good as it is now’. This doesn’t mean that everything is perfect and that there are no problems. Rather, it means that the increasing connectivity and interdependency in the world has allowed many humans to have the material wealth and individual freedom to make choices about how we want to lead our lives. This is not true for everyone, of course, but for increasingly more people.

Neil Gaiman suggests to read more books, fiction in particular. Reading makes you imagine that things can be different, he says. It makes you dream and empathic. (I’m going to find that old copy of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy again.)

Rutger talks about choosing between Distopia or Utopia, but I think that that’s a false dichotomy. The meaning of Distopia or Utopia will differ per person of course. But I definitely agree that by discussing what we want and by making active, conscious choices, we can make a difference. We can shift that dot on the horizon. Even just a little. One person, or we can make a difference. And that’s a great idea.

This is how you can make a difference:

  • Start talking about what you want society to look like in the future
  • Read more fiction

P.S. The idea that the world has never been as good as it is now remains debatable. Perhaps it’s never been better for (a certain group of) humans, but it probably has never been worse for the rest of the planet a.k.a. ecosystems, animals, and plants. And everything ultimately depends on what you think is ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

P.P.S. Rutger’s observation that our future visions often neglect the great impacts of technology on the rest of society, reminds me of this article (Technology Blindness) by one of my favourite scholars, Adam Dorr. He states that future visions usually highly underestimate the acceleration of technology and the impact that this will have on society.