Saturday, July 12, 2008

Why read Utopian Fiction?

I read a lot of books about politics, economics, psychology, ecology, science, sexuality, spirituality, and even things like peak oil, gardening, writing, and music. (Let's just say I read a lot.) Mostly these days I read nonfiction. When I do read fiction, I read mostly speculative fiction: science fiction, fantasy, and utopian fiction.

Speculative fiction, particularly utopian fiction, allows the writer to perform thought experiments. What would happen if...? In a sense all fiction does this but speculative fiction allows greater latitude and experimentation.

For those of us trying to imagine a new world (and I think we need to imagine it in order to create it), utopian fiction gives us glimpses of what could be, what we could go for. In each book, the author has put together a world which works, at least on paper, and is far different from this world. We may not agree with everything in the world that is presented to us, but it often contains ideas that may prove useful in working for the world that we want. If nothing else, reading a variety of utopian works gives us a panorama of what's possible.

I mentioned several posts back that in order to change things, we need to really understand what is happening now, to know clearly what we are going for, and to come up with a way (or maybe a lot of different ways) to get from here to there--analysis, vision, and strategy. I mentioned that there are plenty of good analyses around and I talked some about strategy. Vision is an essential part of the picture. If you don't know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?

In a sense, social change groups without clear goals are like buses without destination signs (hey, I live in the city--I take buses all the time). I wouldn't get on a bus that didn't have a clear destination. Why would I ride it if I didn't know where it was going?

So we need goals and visions. We particularly need dreams and visions in order to create change. And I think that reading utopian fiction encourages the most creative type of dreaming. So you don't like what the author wrote. How would you do it better? What exactly do you want? Even the worst of utopian fiction can be an inspiration to clearer thinking about what we are going after.

In my next post, I will provide an extensive, annotated list of some utopian fiction. Feel free to email me with some of your favorites--or comment on the list after I post it. The more we read and think about possible futures, the more creative we can become about building the one we want.

Next up: The List!

Quote of the day: "I am leaving this legacy to all of you ... to bring peace, justice, equality, love and a fulfillment of what our lives should be. Without vision, the people will perish, and without courage and inspiration, dreams will die..." - Rosa Parks
Word (or phrase) of the day: Peaknik
Hero(es) of the day: Dom Helder Camara

No comments: