Why the Future Gives Me Hope

Why the Future Gives Me Hope

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The world today can feel soul crushing. Whether  you’re churning out emails in a cubicle for eight   hours a day, are forced to sew t-shirts  around the clock that are only worn once,   or are bombarded by headlines of sea  level rise, droughts, and disasters,   the crushing weight of global capitalism  feels inescapable. But all is not lost.   While the destruction of climate chaos and the  chains of fossil capitalism feels suffocating,   as science-fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin  argues, “We live in capitalism. Its power   seems inescapable. So did the divine right  of kings. Any human power can be resisted and  

changed by human beings. Resistance and change  often begin in art, and very often in our art,   the art of words.” The story is a powerful  tool, one that harnesses the future to create   change in the present. Stories plant seeds.  Beautiful visions that have the potential to   germinate into alternative worlds that show us  that business-as-usual is not inevitable. So,   as we struggle to upend the current status quo  of rampant emissions, and extraction at any cost,   what role do visions of the future hold?  Are they even useful, and what stories and   artistic utopias are out there that might bring  a light to the looming darkness of climate chaos? What is Utopia? (And is it useful?)  In the days of Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels,  utopias were under attack. Convinced that the   utopian socialism of their predecessors was not an  effective way to end capitalism, Marx and Engels   rejected any form of utopianism. They immersed  themselves, instead, in the material realities of  

history and developed critiques alongside a theory  of change that they called scientific socialism.   This framework, unlike utopian socialism, argued  that society wouldn’t be changed by appealing to   reason or ideals; it would only be transformed by  changing the material conditions of the economy.   Or in other words, the direct overthrow of the  ruling class by the working class. As a result,   Marx and Engels were critical of sketching out  what possible future worlds would look like and   relying on those visions to create revolution.  For them, socialism was to be achieved not by  

attempting to appeal to peoples minds, but instead  by revealing and exacerbating the already present   contradictions within capitalism. The core of  which was the struggle between the working class   and the capitalist class. This is not to say  that Marxists never once dreamed of the future,   nor that speculative fiction is useless  in the struggle for a world beyond fossil   capitalism. But instead, that as much as we need  the backbone of scientific socialism to critique   fossil capitalism and guide us through ending  it, we also need visions of the future that give   us something to struggle for. We need to imagine  what’s on the horizon. Because those imaginings,   those brushstrokes of the future, are what  fuel our fire. Visualizing different worlds,  

at least for me, gives energy and purpose  to the hard struggle of the present. So,   bringing these fictions to the page, to the  canvas, and to the screen are powerful tools   of revolution. Which is why, as Ashley C. Ford  writes, “The goal of oppressors is to limit your   imagination about what is possible without them,  so you might never imagine more for yourself & the   world you live in. Imagine something better. Get  curious about what it actually takes to make it   happen. Then fight for it every day.” But these  utopias of visionary fictions don’t have to be,   and indeed shouldn’t be, perfect goalposts  that railroad us into a strict path towards   liberation. Indeed, as degrowth scholar Giorgos  Kallis writes, paraphrasing Marxist scholar David  

Harvey “we should oppose utopias that are meant  as models or blueprints – not so much because they   are unrealistic, but because the realization of a  perfect ideal tolerates no objection and crushes   everything that stands in its way.” Kallis goes  on to say that we need “dialectical utopias,”   ones that are contradictory, messy, and incomplete  that challenge us and make us reflect. Ultimately,   this means we need to envision, in the words of  the Zapatistas, “a world where many worlds fit.”   Countless authors, filmmakers, artists, and  creatives need to develop a diverse range of   future worlds. So that it’s not just Elon Musk  [clip of elon’s future] or a white guy like me   controlling the narrative of what’s possible.  So, if we know that these visionary fictions are  

crucial to sustaining the fire of an ecologically  just struggle for a better world, who’s dreaming   up these futures right now? Which artists are  bringing light to the darkness of climate chaos? Visions of the Future: The worlds of the future are bright, and   coursing through these future worlds are political  currents that show us that a life without   capitalism is possible. Degrowth, eco-anarchism,  and eco-socialism all seek an economy beyond   capitalism that is just and ecologically sound.  But often, the political discussions of how to   achieve these tendencies lack engaging narratives.  It’s hard to get excited about the future when   technical terms like “means of production” and  “metabolic rift” are all that you hear. While   it is crucial to understand the political and  economic theory behind tendencies like socialism,   we need stories to fill those frameworks with  emotion and passion. The story is the spoonful  

of sugar that makes the medicine go down, or the  trojan horse that plants the seed of resistance by   revealing the beauty and flaws of more liberatory  worlds. Politicians in power have long understood   the pontency of envisioning future worlds.  Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, for example, didn’t just   submit a jargon-heavy Green New Deal proposal  to congress and wipe her hands clean, she,   together with Naomi Klein, painted her own vision  of what a future with a Green New Deal could be   in order to sway peoples hearts. [XXX Play clip].  And on the campaign trail, candidates will often   ground their platform in personal anecdotes.  [play clip] Because as neuroscientist Paul Zak   reveals in his research, when we hear a narrative  rich with emotion and tension, our brain releases   chemicals that influence us to create change. So,  for the anti-capitalist climate movement, we need  

not only direct action and political struggle, but  also stories. Narratives and visuals that reveal   suffering and success not just in the present, but  visionary fictions that explore the possibilities   of the future. And there are already countless  artists out there doing exactly that. One of   the core examples is Ursula K. Le Guin’s The  Dispossessed. A sci-fi classic that delves into   the specific contours of ecological anarchism. The  Dispossessed gives us two possible futures. One on   the resource rich planet of Urras that squanders  it’s abundant resources through an overproducing   market economy, and another on the resource  scarce planet of Anarres, a planet of exiled   anarchists who thrive communally on very little.  The Dispossessed is ultimately a story of opposite  

planets. Opposite in the sense that the planet  of Annarres is the moon of Urras and vise-versa,   but also opposite in the sense that, as degrowth  theorists Giorgios Kallis and Hug March write,   “Anarres is what Urras is not and Urras is  what Anarres is not: dispossessed-possessed,   barren-lush, horizontal-hierarchical.” Le Guin  doesn’t just tell us what anarchism can be,   she shows us, through, for example, the  small vignettes of Anarresti children who   are unable to conceive of a prison because their  society doesn’t function on the punitive basis   of our current world. Or through the massive  afforestation projects that people of Anarres  

collectively maintain. The Dispossessed reveals  the quiet yet messy possibilities of a liberatory   future. As philosopher Andre Gorz notes, the  book crafts “The most striking description I   know of the seductions—and snares—of…anarchist  society."And the work of speculative fiction   and ecological utopias has blossomed since Le  Guin published her book in 1974. Solarpunk,   for example, has witnessed a bright new emergence  of artists and writers developing futures that   look very different from the capitalist extraction  economies of today. Animation studio The Line’s  

solarpunk world of electric apple harvesters, lush  farming cooperatives run on solar and wind power,   and small technologies that tighten the  connection between humanity and nature is   a perfect example of a Solarpunk future. One  that mends the relationship between nature and   humanity through appropriate and community-centric  technologies, co-operatives, and decentralization.   The imaginings of Solarpunk artists reveal that  an ecological future doesn’t have to mean living   in scarcity or giving things up. It instead shows  us how beautiful the world could be when we live  

with appropriate abundance. Susan Kaye Quinn’s  short story The Seven Sisters gives us another   glimpse into a Solarpunk world. One that isn’t a  romanticized and unrealistic view of the future,   but instead reveals that struggle and loss will  still exist in a post-capitalist ecological world.  

Quinn’s future zooms in on a tea farming  co-operative in the American south that   seeks to decolonize tea through education and fair  practices. At the farm, a close knit community of   chosen family all grows the tea together, [“The  whole farm met the mandates to be net-zero on   carbon and make your own energy, but the tea  house was quite the spectacle of green tech,   from the passive solar design and geothermal  heat pumps to the solar glass windows and rooftop   windmills.”]. But in a very Solarpunk manner,  the farm doesn’t rely on the backbreaking work   of harvesting tea in the blistering sun of a  hotter world, they instead use solar powered   harvest bots. But of course not everything is pure  bliss. The Seven Sisters co-operative struggles   to stay afloat after a heat dome scorches seven  acres of their crop to ashes and their harvest   drones fall into disrepair. [“She had only four  harvest bots running, out of 10 in the fleet, and   it wasn’t near enough. Two were out for repairs,  the rest needing one thing or another. Aubree,   the farm’s bot keeper, was laid up sick in the  guest house.”] Quinn shows that while the future  

is promising, there is still loss and pain.  Revealing that an ecologically just world will   certainly be more pleasant to live within,  but it won’t be without scuffs and bruises. Alongside Solarpunk there are also visions of  decolonial, anti-racist realities embodied in   the afrofuturistic vision of movies like  Black Panther. [Play Black Panther Clip]   Specifically the capital city of Wakanda  which shows a vibrant urban center that   seamlessly melds accessible transit, with  pedestrian centric roads, local fisherie,   thrumming markets, and the integration  of advanced technology in the service   of ecological living. All the while trying to  answer the question: what does the world look  

like without the destructive influence of white  capitalist colonialism. This imagery is crucial,   and is expanded in the Indigenous futures of  storytellers like Gina McGuire who drills down   into the complicated impacts a future where  meat is banned [“It had been 20 years since   the meat industry had been shut down and  U.S. production had fully switched over to   plant-based replacements…”] and how that ban might  impact those indigenous to the Hawaiian island:   [“He, himself, had never liked the  idea of the plant-based proteins,   of meat-being-made and had watched with  fear for his people, as the rising protein   prices had come along with the industry. He had  watched as their waters had been increasingly  

fished by all those who couldn’t afford the  protein, returning to this ancestral icebox.”] Each of these fictions grounds notions of  degrowth, anarchism, ecosocialism, anti-racism,   and anti-colonialism in tangible vignettes. They  imbue these politics with humanity and emotions,   and allows us to stretch out our legs and walk  around in the worlds we’re fighting for, if just   for a moment. But there are also future visions  from scholars and activists, those that want to  

bring the power of the story to their political  framework. This includes work stretching all the   way back to utopian socialist William Morris’  1890 book, News From Nowhere, which describes a   socialist world in the year 2000. A world without  private property, hierarchies, money, class,   or prisons. Since Morris, there has long been  a tradition of transforming the political into  

the fictional to give the struggle emotion and  purpose. Fiction allows the reader or viewer to   step into another world or another person’s shoes  and feel the result. As professor of English,   Patricia Valderrama writes, “Fiction can transmit  information really effectively in non-technical   language.” Troy Vettese and Drew Pendergrass  tap into this tradition in the last chapter of   their book Half-Earth Socialism. After mapping  out the political technicalities of Half-Earth   Socialism through discussions of planning  algorithms, transitions to renewable economies,   and creating a decolonial and biodiverse world,  they paint a very tangible narrative of a person   waking up in a future that has achieved some  level of Half-Earth Socialism. While the world  

the protagonist inhabits does sound beautiful,  Pendergrass and Vettese attempt not to romanticize   their vision. The solar factory workers still want  to go on vacation, albeit in this future world,   that vacation is provided for by the community,  [“...Edith mentioned the extra vacation time,   and I do like taking the train to the beach  and staying in one of those fancy houses   they converted into a resort.”] and there are  still cafeteria arguments on exactly what the   cap on energy usage should be. [“I can’t believe  those self-righteous people you hang out with on   that farm… are pushing for a 750-watt quota…  I’ll just be voting for a little more energy;   1,750 watts is not luxurious, and you know it.”]  The characters still put in the work harvesting   at the local cooperative-owned farm that services  the regional area. But at the same time, it’s  

a completely different future from our present.  There is no fossil fuel extraction and the economy   is democratically and ecologically planned.  There are shared communal living situations, not   unlike very nice dorms, where families can raise  their kids together, share in community meals,   and enjoy quiet games of cards after a filling  meal. But this future lays out just one vignette   of political possibility. In contrast, the youtube  channel Prolekult, shows something radically  

different: a world built on hemp-based production.  An economy that sequesters far more carbon than it   produces and builds a socialist and ultimately a  communist world in the husk of a capitalist one:   [“reindustrialization of the globe with a  plant-based economy. We must increase the   production of goods using a combination of  the natural sciences engineering and carbon   negative raw materials'']. All of these worlds,  from coastal waters of Hawa’ii to the deserts  

of the Annares reveal the energizing possibilities  of a post-capitalist zero carbon world. But these   are just possibilities. To make the many worlds  of our imagination real, we need to join the   struggle of building liberatory, zero carbon,  anti-capitalist, right now. But where do we start?

Building futures today: [“Daydreams are dangerous. Daydreams are   pieces of imagination, they are bits of poetry.  They are the balloons that fly up in history.”]   That’s Murray Bookchin, a political theorist  who believed in the importance of developing an   ecological vision of the world that seeps into the  unconscious minds of the masses and sparks change.   And hopefully the glimpses of the future worlds  we’ve just witnessed do just that. But daydreams  

are a double edged sword. They can change us,  but they can also paralyze us– trapping us in   the comfort and beauty of an unrealized future.  The purpose of these speculative fictions is not   to numb the pain of the current ecological and  capitalist crisis, it’s to ignite a fire under   us by revealing that other worlds are possible.  We only get to live in those messy, complicated,   but beautiful futures if we struggle for them in  the present. This means building those decolonial  

farmers collectives right now, like the Seven  Sisters farm in Quinn’s short story. It means,   for some in Atlanta, defending their largest  remaining urban forest from destruction. It   means organizing your workplace to demand stronger  control of production, and it means developing   ecological, post-capitalist solutions like the  regional environmental planning of Half-Earth   Socialism. This work of building those visionary  fictions today, is exemplified in the anarchist   practices of Nowtopias. Developing more ecological  and just pockets of the world right now that seek  

self-administration, DIY attitudes, and  a strong relationship with nature. The   freetown of Christiania right in the middle of  Copenhagen is a perfect example of this Nowtopia   model. After a group of anarchists and ecological  archivists squatted in an abandoned military base,   the Danish government eventually ceded  rights to the community. A community that,   while still having to navigate the realities of  living in a capitalist economy, is carving out   ecological and anarchists organizational  models that are reminiscent of the Ursula   K. Le Guins’s Anarres: [“on some fundamental  areas we've tried to work on being independent   we collect our own garbage we do our own road  works for the younger children we have our own   children's institutions”] Christiania is just  one future world, realized today. There are so   many other communities out there, like the 2,500  strong Catalan Integral Cooperative in Spain,   struggling for worlds beyond ecologically  destructive capitalism. So I invite you  

to dream. Take a moment out of your day and  sculpt a beautiful, ecological, post-capitalist,   decolonial, and just glimpse of the future.  Write it down if you want to, draw it if you can,   but most importantly start the work, and  struggle to make that world possible today.

2023-04-10 00:06

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