In Part 1 of our blog series on building utopia, we talked about how we can define utopia in a useful way. In Part 2, we talked about how to tell whether or not the society you’re building, either in fiction or real life is utopian. One of the things that we discussed in Part 2 about determining if the future we’re building is utopian or not is the placement of that future along a spectrum of conflict versus harmony between humanity, technology, and nature. It’s this set of relationships and source of potential conflict, both literary and real life, that we’ll look at more closely here in Part 3 of our Building Utopia series.
Of course, like anything else there are multiple perspectives and different conceptions of what it means for there to be harmony between humanity, technology, and nature. Some believe that the only way to achieve such a balance is through a great retraction and reduction in our use of technology. This eco-primitivism finds utopia in a return to the pre-industrial age before we invented the methods of energy consumption that are in many ways at the root of the climate crisis and other environmental problems.
This philosophy has the benefit of the fact that greatly reducing our use of industrial technology would certainly reduce our global carbon footprint and help significantly reduce the effects of climate change. But primitivism is also problematic for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it can be a gateway to an eco-fascism in which the conceptions of utopia are not practical and livable for people with disabilities and other marginalized groups. For people with disabilities and people with chronic illness in particular, many rely on modern technologies and medications to survive and thrive in life. If we don’t consider the implications of taking those things away, then are we really building a utopia?
On the other hand are those who look to current technology, and the dream of new, better technology as a vital tool in both preventing and, if necessary, adapting to the worst effects of climate change. For this camp, the solution doesn’t lie in a luddite rejection of technology. Rather, it lies in creating a society that uses technology to support and foster a thriving natural world, as well as both thriving human and animal communities.
The benefit of looking to technology for solutions and utopia building is that we need all the help we can get. Creating a balance where humans don’t use technology to dominate each other and nature, but rather to create more harmonious relationships between the three is a beautiful vision of utopian future. Certainly there are real and potential, developing technologies that at the very least could be a big help in reducing the amount of carbon and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.
The drawback of this tech-based philosophy and approach is the potential to get too sucked in and start believing that technology alone can save us from climate change and other global social problems. The fact is that without serious changes to our economic systems, institutions of power, and social relationships, more technology will only serve the current dystopian reality in which we live. If we can’t recognize that and create the social movements necessary to get it done, then this route poses as many problems as does primitivism.
Maybe the answer lies somewhere in between. Maybe not. I’m certainly not of the mind that the best answers are always found through compromise and centrism. But still, some kind of futuristic high tech agrarian society could be really cool.
In part 4 of this series on building utopia, we’ll dive further into the idea of harmony with nature by looking at more closely at what the relationship between humanity and other animal species could, or perhaps should look like in a utopian future.
Justine Norton-Kertson (they/he/she) is the co-editor-in-chief of Solarpunk Magazine. They live in rural Oregon with his partner, puppies, cats, goats, and beehives. She can be found on Twitter @jankwrites.