Chapter 3: The utopian quest for an alternative
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There is no alternative! Margaret Thatcher once proclaimed in order to defend neoliberalist reforms and – implicitly – the capitalist regime. But if one doesn’t agree with Thatcher’s definition of the situation and her (and her many followers’) subsequent analysis, what viable options does one really have? Is it possible to come up with an empirically grounded alternative to the dominant modes of production and consumption – an alternative that does not entail climate crisis, economic inequalities and democratic deficits? The starting point of this chapter is that we, in the shadow of the apocalypse, witness the return of the utopias. From Ruth Levitas via Fredric Jameson to Erik Olin Wright, an array of different understandings and notions of the future are envisioned. At the same time, however, a troublesome paradox reveals itself: the more the utopias are turned into realpolitik, the more they are inverted under the influence of bleak TINA rhetoric – and/or by their unintended consequences. This paradox is a recurring theme within science fiction, for example in Ursula Le Guin’s novel The Dispossessed about the frustrating life on the anarchic planet Anarres. Focus is here put on upon the dark sides of the covert power structures on the planet, and Le Guin’s narrative, it is argued, proffers important insights for all those who engage in political debates on utopian alternatives: the very notion of a permanent ‘good society’ is both dangerous and unrealistic. Those who honestly want to argue for an alternative must be able to convince their opponents that all its costs, problems and unintended consequences are preferable to the existing state. The utopian endeavour is therefore something other than a project of opposition. It is a challenging quest, an appeal to hope, weighted by an impossible burden of proof. Perhaps this quest is the only thing we can with certainty attribute to a ‘good society’.

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