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A Multitude of Futures

By Paul Watson on .

Dryad (detail) by Paul Watson

I’m starting to see more people talking about the need to imagine the future, which is both fantastic and absolutely necessary.

What follows is a series of quotes and outward links with some of my own opinions interspersed as segues between them, or, as this format was called back in the early 2000s, a blogpost (AKA the Isles of Blogging).

I wrote in a previous post here (apologies for quoting myself) back in May this year:

Back in the 1970s there seemed to be such a myriad of ideas about potential shared futures, exploring all aspects of the political, social, and cultural. The aim of neoliberal capitalism of the 1980s onwards was, and still is, to close down all these possibilities - as someone (Fredric Jameson? Slavoj Žižek?) once said, now it is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism. And this is what Mark Fisher called Capitalist Realism.

I came across a recent article (via Paul Graham Raven) called Picturing a Way Forward by SF author Kim Stanley Robinson:

“I would invite everybody to think of the Green New Deal as it currently exists (a document which is quite impressive in its amount of detail and substance) as a science-fiction story. It’s a utopian science-fiction story written in the form of a proclamation or a blueprint for action. In my short-story collection, The Martians, I experimented with all kinds of formats, including a short story in the form of the Martian Constitution and a short story in the form of an abstract in a scientific journal. In the case of the Green New Deal, and in the best possible way, I want to suggest that seeing it as a kind of science-fiction story is what we need. We need that kind of vision.”

I think we need to go way beyond the Green New Deal (or any other policy document) as the blueprint for a future society, but it’s a good enough starting point as any to start re-imagining a future rather than being stuck in capitalist realism’s interminable present.

But what would a re-imagined future based around Mark Fisher’s Acid Communism or Jeremy Gilbert’s related concept of Psychedelic Socialism be like? What would the anarcho-syndicalist society of Anarres described by Ursula K. Le Guin in her award-winning novel The Dispossessed be like if it was somehow relocated in time and space to Great Britain in the late 2020s or 2030s?

In his blogpost that led me to this article, Paul Graham Raven notes:

“…KSR is here advocating specifically for multiple such blueprints, rather than simply advancing a single vision; that plurality is one way of avoiding the pitfalls of the solutionist technotopia.”

…and I firmly agree that a multiplicity of visions is necessary - not just to weed out the potential problems but also to prevent a single holy text of dogma.

I mentioned (but probably didn’t stress enough) the importance of a multiplicity of visions in my own post back in May:

“One of the main aims of my Acid Renaissance series is to help to re-birth that myriad of possible futures, unrestricted by the constraints of Capitalist Realism. It may be easier to imagine the end of the world - frighteningly easy - but I’d rather try to imagine the end of capitalism and the birth of a new world.”

I’m using elements of myth, folklore, and fantasy to take a somewhat metaphorical approach to re-imagining the future (although a forthcoming work-in-progress with the working title Bacchanalia Beneath the Wind Turbines eases off the fantastical elements that have dominated Acid Renaissance: Albion’s True Standard Advanced so far) because it helps trick my brain into breaking out of the trap that makes it easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism.

The alternative is to be stuck with what we’ve currently got, and as XenoGothic recently wrote:

As the 2020s loom on the horizon, the decades ahead feels poised to define themselves through a similar sort of gross state incompetence. Today the West, increasingly unsure of itself and its relationship to the truth, is mismanaging the unfolding climate crisis just as criminally as the Soviet Union mismanaged the Chernobyl disaster. The only difference is that the collapse which took the Soviet Union a decade is taking the West five times as long.

We need a multitude of other visions of the future, and, to coin a slogan with an inherent contradiction, we need those futures now! We managed just that on just 3 channels of TV back in the 1970s. We now have limitless channels, and we need limitless futures.