Letters to my nemesis, part five.
A few things. Yes, we are living in a world of better medicine and higher average living standards.
But in your correspondence, you make several important assertions I do not believe are true.
1) There is no country where medical care is equal. If you are wealthy in any country with socialized medicine you will seek care outside your system because the care will be better. This is not an argument against socialized medicine, it's just the reality that the doctors who can earn the most money tend to be those who practice outside socialized medicine. And the treatments and the tests for people for whom money is not a constraint will be more readily available outside the system.
2) The decline in extreme poverty statistic you cite may come from the World Bank. I used ti believe it too until I looked into it. The statistical methodology the World Bank uses is circular and even the World Bank itself realizes this. This was sadly eye-opening to me as I believe in free enterprise, properly balanced, as by far the best system to improve the world. It just hasn't done the "magic" claimed for it in the developing world, yet.
More importantly, a myth that we've come close to eradicating extreme poverty actually hurts progress. Because it can make us self-satisfied and falsely confident, especially if we believe in capitalism.
Please read the below. (The first part is some personal stuff about false praise, so you can skip down to the part about extreme poverty.)
Great post! I whole-heartedly agree with this: "The only importance of utopian fiction is that it shifts our mindscape from imagining the worst to imagining the best."
I do think R.G.'s concerns about the cultural imperialism of "utopian" efforts is valid, especially in a world in which so much colonialism and imperialism have already taken place. What's utopian for one person or group might be dystopian for another. For instance, to take one of the examples you mentioned, I live in Michigan, where the mandatory helmet law was repealed a few years ago. The motorcyclists have achieved their utopia!
I guess what I'm saying is that utopianism is like sex: consent is of paramount importance, or it's not utopian.
Which, come to think of it, is one way to state the theme of my novel.
There are certain folks, liberal and conservative, who fall into a rage when anybody has the temerity to opine that the United States is a better place than it has been in the past—that in some ways it's exponentially better. As you note, there are myriad ways to show that life is better for Americans now than at any time in the past. Today's most popular politicians, pundits, and artists are those who are firmly dystopian.
As usual, very well done! Your posts embody a utopian ethos. I believe that many people find the dream of a brighter future to be a reason and purpose for moving forward, striving to do their best, and often, this aspiration extends to leaving the world in a better state than how we found it. These ideals are laudable and should be encouraged. Even if utopia is merely a goal for some, that goal should be embraced.
Personally, I am driven by spiritual motivations to improve and treat my fellow beings and the environment in a more idyllic manner. Therefore, I wholeheartedly endorse the pursuit of utopia, and it would not surprise me if those on such a quest find a connection to the divine along the way.
If we ever reach it, it’ll be a dream come to life...☝🏻
This is really great stuff -- truly a literary salon feel. I love finding impossible syntheses btwn truly contradictory things, so I’d say I’m with you on fiction and the imaginary, and I’m with RG on skepticism towards progress.
I think we can create a good place, Earth is pretty good already. The problem is we have an economic system destroying it and making a growing number of people miserable while allowing only a few to live in utopia. Bezos riding on his yacht, for instance. This severe limiting of utopia can be reversed by changing the money system from a private profit-motivated system creating all money as debt to public care-motivated system creating all money as a permanently circulating asset issued into the productive economy for the common needs of the people and the planet as its 'first use.' This is what Greenbacks were and the banks hated them because they were eliminating debt. The mistake was to allow banks to continue creating money as debt. Now most new money goes into speculation instead, increasing power for a few and leaving the many without. monetaryalliance.org
Late to the conversation. Yes, we need to dream about the good outcomes and how most lives have improved and how improvement might not just continue but be accelerated. There's value in that.
I offer two caveats.
1) Humans will likely always judge themselves not only on A) absolute welfare but B) their welfare compared to others, and C) compared to the current potential for their welfare. Standards of living for the working poor improved significantly win an absolute basis during the Victorian era, but it was only toward the later Victorian period that there was nearest attempt to relieve poverty. Because inequality had grown and with it a realization that the gap between potential and actual living standards had grown.
2) Portraying fictional Utopia in a gripping way has always been a challenge. In Paradise Lost, Satan and hell are far more interesting than God and heaven.
This has been a great exchange of thoughts. Very clear and comprehensible and a malleable definition of utopia which makes a lot of sense. Thanks for sharing this exchange, Elle.
Fantastic overview here of an ever-evolving terminology. Thanks for debunking this erroneous idea that the term necessarily means perfection.
Also I love this: “We need an optimistic version of Black Mirror, instead of the pessimistic one that has defined how we think about technology and our worldview.”
Let’s call it Creamy Opaque Wall. It’ll be about how wallers in the 21st century are able to use laser guided levelers to paint picture-perfect pictures.