Two major dystopias have characterized our time. One is related to the nuclear war, which within seconds is thought to want to destroy entire civilizations and destroy the planet's basis of life. The other is related to climate change, to the catastrophic upheavals researchers are predicting if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated. In the shadow of this, and with the conception of all things imminent, we shall grow up, live our lives, raise children, find happiness in life, be political and perhaps artistic, find out one and the other, fish perch and fall in love.
How do we manage this? How can you live with this duality, this double vision? Is the parallel awareness of life and death – that we despite death and its reality have to live – the most crucial polarity of a human life? Can we still dream? Or are we inexorably handed to the nightmare?
The collapse of utopias. The history of the West has been full of dreamers. The utopian imagination can be found in religion, philosophy, politics, science, literature and art. Utopias come in various drops. For simplicity, we can distinguish between three different types:
Den første er lust utopia. This is the body's utopia, the dream of society where all needs are met, where one does not have to work, where suffering and illness do not exist, where everyone is happy. The utopia of desire can take on a materialistic form, as we know it from ancient hedonism to Renaissance thinker Thomas More and right up to Feuerbach, Marx and Ernst Bloch. However, it can also occur in religious versions, such as in Christian views of the resurrection of the flesh and eternal life.
The other is righteousness utopia. This is the utopia of political and social reality, related to the utopia of desire, but with its own logic. The utopia of justice is about equality and brotherhood, about dignity, being able to walk with a straight back because one is treated as one deserves. Plato's state was such a utopia, and so was Kant's eternal peace – and, it must be added, Marxism's vision of classless society. The Christian version of the utopia of righteousness is the day of judgment in which every human being has to take responsibility for his life before an absolute law and an absolute court.
The third type of utopia is the one technocratic. The technocrat dreams of a society where all human challenges can be solved through technical and administrative measures. With the optimistic optics of the 1950s, the philosopher Herbert Marcuse envisioned a society devoted to leisure and enjoyment, where the machines perform virtually all socially necessary work. Health is often central to these utopias, as is community and urban planning. The development of the Norwegian welfare state can by far be said to have assumed a technological world of imagination. Techno-utopianism goes back to nineteenth-century thinkers such as Fourier, Owen and Saint-Simon, but still prevails in today's soft information technologies, with their promises of strong experiences, new forms of collectivity, more control and endless knowledge.
Disillusionment. However, the time of the utopias seems to be over. They are over because a world threatened by nuclear annihilation and ecological disaster has no place for them. In addition, however, the specific utopia types have been realized in ways that have undermined and perverted their respective expectations.
Desire utopia has found its ironic realization in today's lifestyle advertising, the porn industry, consumer attitudes, Prozac, narcissistic dysfunctions and endless struggles against obesity. All the great thinkers of the Western tradition – from Plato and Aristotle to Aquinas, Kant and Freud – have agreed that the perfectly released desire is a slave driver that empowers, disqualifies and demonizes. In the Huxleys Brave New World people are completely satisfied. If you are not involved in leading the state, you take soma and feel the joy of forgetting and the simple routine work. What one does not do is ask questions – one does not hunger for justice or insight; one is nothing more than a cog in the social machinery.
Justice's utopia got its classic scrape under the terror of the French Revolution, when Robespierre, in the name of the Republic and the people's will, let his heads roll. In the twentieth century it is enough to mention the Gulag archipelago, Pol Pots killing fields or the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Totalitarianism has distorted and shattered the dream of the perfectly just – "perfect" society.
We all know the problems with the technological utopia. Perhaps it is enough to mention a few key words: Chernobyl. Challenger. But also Corbusiers Radius city, asbestos, plastic bags and gasoline-powered cars. If technology seems to create limitless opportunities, it also brings with it unforeseen consequences that are currently destroying the globe. We use and invest in technology – our lives are woven together with technology and follow its raging development – but the belief that technology should save We probably have no more. At best, it can repair some of its own destruction.
Big F. progress. The Utopian believes in progress, the society moving toward a future goal. The Utopian thus faces the future – it is the future that will make sense of the present, and the present is nothing more than a step towards the Promised Land in the distance. But who today believes in the Progress of Big F?
And isn't the progress idea itself dangerous? Doesn't it invite, as Edmund Burke already claimed, too easily to a frivolous deal with the reality we are, after all, and with the traditions we must after all build on when identities are to be formed and people should understand each other?
Desire utopia has found its ironic realization in today's lifestyle advertising, the porn industry, consumer attitudes, Prozac, narcissistic dysfunctions and endless struggles against obesity.
The idea of progress can be cold, ruthless and irresponsible. Terrible crimes – the European colonization of the third world, for example ̶ has been committed in the name of progress.
It can be argued that the only surviving idea of progress – the only surviving utopia – is neoliberalism's vision of a society open to everyone's free access to markets and investment opportunities. Neoliberalism interprets freedom as the ability to see oneself as an economic actor without restriction. It is skeptical of public welfare schemes and of government activities in general. Only private initiative counts. All other transactions, including collective action in general, are considered potentially unfree. Through participation in the global markets, the new homo economist Not only realize themselves as free, but also – thanks to competition – gain access to the best and most enriching goods and experiences that the market can offer.
Neoliberalism combines elements from the utopias of desire, justice and technology. It promises individual happiness (through consumption), justice (by minimizing external barriers to free, interpersonal transactions) and an endless re-creation of services and products. However, in contrast to the classic utopias, neo-liberalism – with its return to all aspects of private, private business and private consumption – is striking unpolitical. Neoliberalism has no political solutions to any of the major problems facing the world today: the climate and eco-crisis, the refugee crisis, the tensions between the superpowers, the persistent war in the Middle East, racism and exploitation, the danger of nuclear war, etc. totally dishonest version, it says only, as George W. Bush made in his first post-9/11 speech: Go shopping!
The Utopian Utopia. Modernity has long been in a dystopian phase. Is there no longer any room for utopian thinking? "U-topi" means "non-place" – the absence, what is at best a pure potential. Of course, that is possible. To me, such a Nature would be the oldest of all, and all traditional progress and liberation ideas have aimed to deny and reject our relationship with nature. Making nature content in a new utopia means a return to the old, the foundation of all life. It also means identification with a reality greater than the individual itself, a reality to which we belong and depend. Last but not least, an ecological utopia presupposes that we as collective beings must carve out a whole new policy and a whole new ideology that rejects neoliberal consumer mentality and seeks better and more respectful ways to exist as natural beings.
The content of such a utopia? Well ̶ it's easy to caricature. A world where nature has become a partner and not an opponent or resource. A world where every creature is given the opportunity to unfold and realize themselves in line with their own nature. A world where man no longer sees himself as master and ultimate purpose. A world, too, where people respect each other, and where exploitation, violence and war do not take place. A green socialism? An ecosocialism?
But all this is just a dream… and here I am. Soon the alarm clock k rings and the world pushes on in all its thirteenth facticity. Time to get up. Everything is the same – and will either remain so or change for the worse. I and everyone else know this. Yet it must be allowed to dream, and perhaps there is no more elementary expression of man's freedom than his ability to dream, to imagine possibilities that transcend the immediately given. We need the dream of the better, and we need the anticipatory, exact imagination, because without this there is no hope.