05 June 2007

Eutopia, no thanks

My current Teaching Co. course is entitled Masterpieces of the Imaginative Mind: Literature's Most Fantastic Works, by Eric S. Rabkin.

I'm near the end of the 24-lecture course, and he is discussing the works of Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, and Le Guin. I've been reading these authors for decades. It just dawned on me why I like SF so much: It is philosophy, psychology, and social commentary, all together or one at a time, mixed in with science or science possibilities. Right up my alleys.

In SF, philosophy and psychology are explored by making a fantastic situation (one that is 180 degrees opposed to reality) and making it plausible (by a scientific explanation). What if the world were like this, how then would people act, given our basic human-ness? Consider Asimov's I Robot series, and the three laws of robotics. What does it means to be conscious, and what does it means to be human? Could a robot ever be human?

Weren't these topics of the other Teaching Co. courses that I chose? Consciousness and Its Implications, by Daniel Robinson, for instance? Heck, yes.

Asimov has been one of my favorite authors for years. I still remember reading an essay by him on religion, wherein he mentioned that he was an atheist, and that was the first time that I had heard someone famous admit that. It affected me in a positive way. I stopped trying to explain to online aquaintenances that I was a good person, even though I wasn't religious.

Utopias are a common SF theme, and we generally think of "utopia" as a perfect place to live. However, Rabkin explains how utopia is a general term that encompasses works that "focus on the creation and maintenance of stable social systems", but it also can be split specifically into three terms:

Eutopia: "A variety of utopia in which the reader is clearly intended to admire the social system that is represented."

Dystopia: "A variety of utopia in which the reader is clearly intended to disparage the social system that is represented."

Utopia: "The subset of utopian works in which the social system is clearly intended to motivate the reader's thoughtful ambivalence is itself called simply utopian."

I would not want to live in a eutopia. If everyone were always behaving, and if you always had to behave, it would be boring. Sounds nice at first thought. But I know I have a constant pull to do good, and a constant pull to do something I shouldn't, and trying to keep a balance is (part of) what makes me human. It wouldn't be the same if people were always good.

I guess heaven just ain't for me.

"How about a cheer for all those bad girls!
And all those boys that play that rock'n'roll!
They love it like you love Jesus
It does the same thing to their souls."

Have Love, Will Travel Lyrics, by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers


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