More on Practical Utopias
Here is the certificate that all Fellows of 2022 Practical Utopias are receiving. They are the pioneers who participated in the first-ever season!
And here are the words I used to introduce the concept to them:
Hello, my name is Margaret Atwood. I’ve been interested in utopias – worlds we would like to live in – and dystopias – worlds we would hate to live in – for a very long time. My novel The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopia – most of us wouldn’t like to live there. It’s a totalitarianism – so, fun for those at the top, just not everyone else.
My novel series MaddAddam is a dystopia with a couple of utopian communities embedded inside it.
And in my non-fiction book, In Other Worlds, I talk about quite a few of these invented worlds.
I even drew the endpapers -- very impractical!
Literary utopias are impractical – we can’t actually live there.
Real life attempts at perfect societies have been made – we’ll talk about those later – but they’ve tended to go pear shaped and turn into dystopias, or else just peter out.
So why should we try?
All utopias have addressed the pressing issues of their day – in the 19th C they were poverty, disease, pollution, the “woman question”, to name a few – and we have a bunch of pressing issues of our own day, as I’m sure you have noticed.
We’ve heard a lot of doom and gloom… but unless there is also hope, nothing is done, because why bother? So Practical Utopias is an experiment in hope.
Our goal is to create, as a group, some future worlds that would be better than what we have, and that could actually work. Our worlds should be: Carbon neutral or carbon negative; scalable, that is, our plan can be built out, and cheap enough so it’s largely affordable; and attractive enough so that people will actually want to do it.
This is not a competition. There are no grades, though there will be evaluations from people who can help us decide how practical we have been. That is: Could it work? And: is it an improvement?
We are not trying for perfect. Ideas about what is perfect differ anyway. We are trying for better.
And this Practical Utopias course is not perfect either. It’s an experiment –we’ve never done it before – and it’s an experiment that we will help to shape together. Perhaps we will emerge with a template and a list of resources that can be useful to others.
Our constraints are: We have to use building blocks that exist today, or that have existed in the past. We can’t just invent non-existent magic wands. There’s no one size fits all: a house that might be good in the artic wouldn’t work in a tropical rain forest.
We’ll devote ourselves to the material world first.
What sort of dwelling might we live in?
What might we wear?
What could we eat?
Where will our fresh water come from?
How about energy?
How about waste disposal?
Once we’ve built our material worlds, we’ll turn to social worlds:
Health care, education, wealth distribution, gender roles and relations, and forms of governance – who says who does what? Will we have a monarchy, an oligarchy, a democracy of some sort? A totalitarianism? A benign dictator? How will we make decisions and enforce them? Lots of models have been tried – what will ours be?
We’re not predicting The Future – because there isn’t only one The Future, there are many possible futures. That’s what we’re hoping to develop – a range of possibilities.
We don’t have the answers. We’re hoping to discover some of them, along with you. This is a shared learning experience. When I write books, I don’t write about things I know completely. I write about things I would like to know more about. So Practical Utopias is like that. I’m not a Sage on a Page. I’m working with puzzles – just like you.