"To steer safely, we need new narratives."
June 10, 2019 7:01 AM   Subscribe

"One of the highest callings of science fiction is imagining utopia as a possible human future. I don't mean creating a fantasyland. I mean honest, earnest engagement with the question of what a better world looks like. " Writer Monica Byrne speaks on imagination, science fiction, and climate change in her Albright Institute talk, Our Age of Emergency: 2019-2100 (text of the talk as well as video).
posted by mixedmetaphors (13 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
"Doing so, and doing so effectively, won’t just require intelligence or expertise or experience. Every pundit on cable news has those. Every consultant to Silicon Valley has those. Every scholar at every think tank has those. They’re a dime a dozen. Steering humankind through this age of crisis will require something policymakers never talk about: imagination.

"Even in my mind, the word immediately connotes childishness, innocence, and fantasy. But imagination is very serious work, and it will only become more important in the coming decades."


As a high school teacher, I'm often saddened by the lack of imagination my students tend to show. I tend to attribute this to the fact their education has been an extended test prep session, though I'm sure some of my colleagues will blame cell phone or social media, etc.

All I can say is that I don't think my generation has displayed a great deal of imagination in solutions to the difficult political problems that Byrne notes, and while I'm skeptical of the feasibility of her imagined solutions, I'm glad she's made an attempt, because I haven't, really, when I reflect on it.
posted by thegears at 7:27 AM on June 10 [5 favorites]


The world she constructs sounds lovely, except for the constant destruction of pair-bonding, but then, that's an instrument for dramatic conflict. In other ways, it reminds me of Always Coming Home, which I love dearly.

(Not to derail, but I never even heard Clarke was a pedophile. The damnedest thing.)
posted by Countess Elena at 7:46 AM on June 10


> the constant destruction of pair-bonding

but enough about serial monogamy,
posted by idiopath at 8:04 AM on June 10


Nice speech. Reasonably non-hypocritical. Self-aware. Well balanced, nice ending.
posted by kalessin at 8:13 AM on June 10


> "(Not to derail, but I never even heard Clarke was a pedophile. The damnedest thing.)"

As far as I can tell from a quick web search, he was accused of pedophilia by a British tabloid, which is ... not necessarily the same thing as actually being a pedophile, although it's not evidence that it's untrue, either. I'll admit that I know neither the details or the facts of the matter.
posted by kyrademon at 8:50 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


I'd have to dig up the details, but my memory is that his (quite long-term by the time of Clarke's death) Sri Lankan partner was a great deal younger than him but of legal age in Sri Lanka when they got together. Which is a little janky but not pedophilia.
posted by tavella at 11:36 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


Here is what I have been able to find, presented without comment or judgement:

Clarke was thirty years older than Leslie Ekanayake though I cannot determine exactly when they became a couple.

The age of consent in Sri Lanka is 16.

Leslie is a man.

Homosexuality is illegal in Sri Lanka but "no one has ever been prosecuted" for it.

Ekanayake died thirty years before Clarke but they are buried together.
posted by iamnotangry at 3:30 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Good to see this, as I just started reading The Girl in the Road.
posted by doctornemo at 7:55 PM on June 10


I also did a little review of what's known about Clarke, since the last time I saw allegations come up was just after his death and they were controversial then.

The claims I have seen were never about his relationship to Ekanayake specifically, but rather implying that there was a sex tourism motive behind his residence in Sri Lanka and that he habitually hired underaged sex workers. The Daily Mirror published claims to this effect in 1998, including excepts from a purported interview in which Clarke insisted he was not a pedophile because he was not interested in boys who had not reached the age of puberty - but if they had it was all fine. Clarke denied that he had said any of this, and the government of Sri Lanka eventually issued a statement that they had investigated him and found nothing - but note that from what I've heard he was considered a Big Deal there at the time, a person with some influence.

The updates I can find since then are:

- A book published in the aftermath of the NotW hacking scandals contained the claim that a reporter for that tabloid had also been on the case, and that Rupert Murdoch had killed the story as a favor to Clarke.

- Vice published this (see Peter Troyer's story), which is the first personal account I've seen to date of a creepy experience with Clarke.

- It's actually become difficult to look any of this up, because Clarke had become an object of interest to Pizzagate types, as someone who had friends in high places in the U.K. I've seen people claiming that he corresponded with pedophile rings in the U.S., but it's unclear to me whether this is at all a real thing.
posted by atoxyl at 8:12 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


Can we put aside the Clarke derail and talk about her ideas?

My reactions:
Sure, fine, many genders, no borders, foraging and skin photosynthesis, fine.

Hmm disabled people would probably have something to say about the accommodation erasing disability idea

Taking a baby away from its mother is a Very Bad Idea and passing kids around to strangers every 9 days will induce massive trauma. Kids need a stable set of caregivers to thrive. This bit is crap.

The legislature idea is goofy, needs work. You can't solve a problem by speed legislating.

I would definitely be in the "fuck you, I'm not moving every 9 days" contingent.
posted by emjaybee at 8:54 PM on June 10 [9 favorites]


Taking a baby away from its mother is a Very Bad Idea and passing kids around to strangers every 9 days will induce massive trauma. Kids need a stable set of caregivers to thrive. This bit is crap.

Thank you, I was about to post the same thing. Also who in their right mind would sign up for nine months of pregnancy, so that you can have a newborn for... nine days? Everyone in this society would psychological basket cases.

As for the moving every 9 days, I guess they have robots to grow all the crops? And build anything that takes longer than 9 days to construct? Nobody would ever have the satisfaction of seeing a medium to long term project through to completion.

Definitely a dystopia (and not a very realistic one).
posted by puffyn at 12:43 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]


My definition of a utopia is "A dystopia that some author thinks is really neat."

Handwaving the details of production is a long tradition in the literature, so assuming magical maintenance-free robots that do the farming and manufacturing is no more unrealistic than the Culture's "Helpful AIs do everything" or Star Trek's "Replicators mean we don't have money (though Picard obviously has property). Likewise, they have advanced medical technology, evidently without the need for training or education. Then there's the baby thing, and no emotional relationship that lasts more than seven days.

And of course this is a society that would be an absolute paradise for a serial killer.

But all this aside, its interesting to me that utopias come in for the harsh criticism and dissection, and not variety of distopias in fiction. Star Trek gets slammed, but Westworld's "rape sexbots and justified genocide" gets a shrug and "Seems like a reasonable future". Altered Carbon's omnipresent sexual violence and class stratification gets the"Yeah, seems realistic" The Expanse's overcrowded hopeless Earth (straight out of a 70s SF story) and war that doesnt even take into account the setting technology is accepted easily.

It honestly says quite a bit about our own culture that we so readily accept the assumptions of horrific dystopias, over those of utopias.
posted by happyroach at 9:56 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


my memory is that his (quite long-term by the time of Clarke's death) Sri Lankan partner was a great deal younger than him but of legal age in Sri Lanka when they got together. Which is a little janky but not pedophilia.

Not to derail, and I know this wasn't intended to sound cruel, but this isn't janky. I met the love of my life when I was quite young and he was 19 years older than me. Age gaps are great when everyone's consenting, and I sure as heck trusted my thoughts and emotions way back then.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:02 PM on June 12


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