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December 05, 2010

Charlie Stross -- We Need Better Utopias

Utopia - Charlie's Diary
Anyway: it seems to me that the post-cold war neoliberal dominated political consensus (which is a consensus of the Right, insofar as the flagship of the Left hit an iceberg and started to sink in 1917, finally hitting the sea floor in 1989) is intrinsically inimical to the consideration of utopian ideals. Burkean conservativism tends to be skeptical of change, always asking first, "will it make things worse?" This isn't a bad question to ask in and of itself, but we're immured a period of change unprecedented in human history (it kicked off around the 1650s; its end is not yet in sight) and basing your policies on what you can see in your rear-view mirror leaves you open to driving over unforseen pot-holes. To a conservative, the first priority is not to lose track of what's good about the past, lest the future be worse. But this viewpoint brings with it a cognitive bias towards the simplistic outlook that innovation is always bad. Which is why I think we badly need more utopian speculation. The consensus future we read about in the media and that we're driving towards is a roiling, turbulent fogbank beset by half-glimpsed demons: climate change, resource depletion, peak oil, mass extinction, collapse of the oceanic food chain, overpopulation, terrorism, foreigners who want to come here and steal our women jobs. It's not a nice place to be; if the past is another country, the consensus view of the future currently looks like a favela with raw sewage running in the streets. Conservativism — standing on the brake pedal — is a natural reaction to this vision; but it's a maladaptive one, because it makes it harder to respond effectively to new and unprecedented problems. We can't stop, we can only go forward; so it is up to us to choose a direction. Having said that, we should be able to create a new golden age of utopian visions. A global civilization appears to be emerging for the first time. It's unstable, unevenly distributed, and blindly fumbling its way forward. But we have unprecedented tools for sharing information; slowly developing theories of behavioural economics, cognitive bias, and communications that move beyond the crudely simplistic (and wrong) 19th century models of perfectly rational market actors: even models of development that seem to be generating sporadic progress in those countries that were hammered down and ruthlessly exploited as colonial assets by the ancien regime and its inheritors.

November 18, 2010

Hunger Games fanfilm captures the stark beauty, barbarity of the books

The Hunger Games trilogy is really a delight. It's set in a post-war future, where America has been reduced to a series of serf states that are enslaved to The Capitol. As punishment for a past revolution, every year the Capitol holds the Hunger Games. Each of the twelve districts sends two randomly chosen children to compete in a complex, booby-trapped death match that is part Battle Royale and part American Idol. Our hero, Katniss Everdeen, ends up in the Games and perseveres. In this clip, Katniss witnesses the youngest girl of the tributes, Rue, get murdered by one of the kids from district two and she sings over the girl's body as the mockingjays listen. They really are great books. Hollywood's version, bound to be gutted of so much of what makes the books powerful, is due out in the next few years. [via IO9]

November 14, 2010

On the misogyny of Lady Chatterly's Lover

DH Lawrence has much the same view of women as Stephen Fry | Books | The Guardian
One thing the innocent reader will not learn from Lady Chatterley's Lover is how to fuck. If you are a woman, you learn that you do "wild little cries", the same wild little cries that you will hear porn stars faking on every video. It seems to Mellors that women are "nearly all Lesbian" and when he's with a woman who's really lesbian, he fairly howls in his soul, "wanting to kill her". The evidence that women are lesbian is that they move during sex. Connie just lies there, apparently hallucinating. The mere fact of Mellors's ejaculation in her vagina brings her peace, simply because hers is an act of deep submission and self-abnegation. The reader should not be suprised to find that for Mellors the greatest intimacy is anal intercourse, of which Lawrence provides a description that is at once prudish and rhapsodic. As in all the other descriptions of sexual response, he commandeers Connie's point of view. "… And how, in fear, she had hated it! But how she had really wanted it!" Here is the common rapist's delusion embedded in literature, as if it were a truth. Mellors has had a wife who, after one of his brief spasms of wordless intermission, would bring herself to orgasm. Baden-Powell himself could not have managed a more horrifying account than Lawrence's of the consequences of masturbation. Bertha couldn't stop frigging herself "as if she had no sensation in her except in the top of her beak, the very outside top tip, that rubbed and tore". At one point Mellors "took her by the neck and squeezed the life out of her". Nice.