UTOPIA A or B
Two visions for the future
by Mike Mercer
The Montreal Review, May, 2010
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Along side all the talk over the institutional structure of utopia, was a debate over the physical structure. Some people, especially those in the Green Movements, claimed that the City was so bound up in the unjust social order that it must be radically altered for serious change to have a real effect. They reasoned that the capitalist system had given control of the environment to thousands of self seeking landlords, who each acted in short sighted ways, for his own profit. The result was urban disorder.
Camp-A agreed with the radicals, who wanted a strong authority to take control of city planning from the blind forces of the market. A grand plan for a sweeping change of the urban and rural landscape was laid out, according to ideas both rational and artistic. The garden city concept of Howard was combined with the high density urban towers of Le Corbusier. Some heritage buildings and small sections of towns would be spared, but most of the urban areas would be torn down and rebuilt. The new cities would be fully integrated with all the best technology, utilities and public transport. They would be built with an eye towards the eventual doubling of the population.
It was argued that building civilization from the ground up, literally, would enable values to be embedded into the physical structure of Utopia. We would not simply try to make the city more Green with small cosmetic changes, we would establish a new and better relation between man and nature. The new cities could benefit from the experience of the old, being built to take full advantage and more reasonably protect people from natural features and climate.
Camp-B flatly rejected such wild ideas. There was nothing wrong with the urban environment that regular planning mechanisms could not fix. The idea of tearing down much of civilization to rebuild it was wasteful never mind horribly expensive. Some even argued that diversity and disorder in the urban landscape were good, as they supported individuality and freedom of expression.
Technology and Technique
The basic question here is: How can we best employ technology to improve the quality of life? The answer is not simply by having the latest gadgets and allegedly most efficient devices. We must examine how we use our technology or conversely how we are used by it. Franklin talks about two types of technology: 1. Work related tools that actually make doing a job easier, like a typewriter and 2. Control related tools that let you direct how a job is done, like a computer word processing program. A certain amount of human adaptation to the machine is required in both cases. But in the first most of the technique and skill is left in the hands of the operator. While in the second there are increasingly tight restrictions as the operator must use the correct process. What this amounts to is an argument between the holistic approach to work, usually associated with craftsmen, and the specialization approach, associated with industrial assembly lines.
Camp-A considers our fascination with technology to be unhealthy. Just because a device is new it is assumed to be good and it is rushed into use. Techno-critics claim that not enough thought is given to the wide ranging social effects a product will have before it is put on the market. The market itself can be predicted to push any given technology in a way that is most profitable, not necessarily most beneficial to the population. Although only a few in Camp-A consider themselves Leudites and recommend disposing of technology, many do call for limitations to its use.
Camp-B considers the industrial revolution to be a major mark of progress. The specialization of labor is key to an advanced society and healthy economy. The scientific study of the work possesses and management technique is the road to the best way to accomplish a given task. We do not need to fear our technology, we need to embrace it. Our inventions have provided us with far greater conveniences than inconveniences.
The main concern of Camp-B is that we stay ahead of other nations in the fields of research and development.
On the doorstep of Utopia
Thus we come to the eve of the great North American election, after a decade of debate. Tomorrow Camp A or B will be installed as the new ruling authority. Their plans will be made into reality, one Utopia or the other will begin the transition from a city in speech to a city in stone - to paraphrase Plato's comment in The Laws.
This paper has been an attempt to outline the arguments between the two Camps over how Utopia should be built. It may be taken as the introduction to a much longer volume, as each section would properly require an entire chapter and involve greater examination of what the established authors have said on the subject. Because of time and space restraints I have presented my thoughts on the matter with minimal reference to the works that helped form my opinion.
What has this got to do with Alternate Political science as a field of study?
It is a thought experiment in how we understand power. It offers two views: Camp B which is a slight exaggeration of the modern world and Camp A which pushes many aspects of society into unpopular extremes. Both examples were constructed with the aim of being credible societies that you may want to live in; as opposed to the creation of a clearly good and evil set of examples.
What I found by following the logical inference of positions for both Camps is that neither one will provide an ideal civilization if it rigidly upholds its basic ideology. In other words to provide a good society for humans Utopia must include some contradictions. Policy cannot always follow the obvious logical path from the underlying ideology through the specific issue at hand into the practical realm.
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Genealogy of Utopias A & B
The Question of Human Nature
Addressing Marx's claim about social structure
Who should rule Utopia?
Urban Planning & On the doorstep of Utopia
Bibliography for Utopia A or B
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