Avoiding Armageddon: (2) Cracking the utopia code

The development of new, alternative perspectives define utopia’s most basic function. May we not say then that imagination itself – through its utopian function – has a constitutive role in helping us to rethink the nature of our social life? Is not utopia – this leap outside – the way in which we radically rethink what is family, what is consumption, what is authority, what is religion and so on? Does not the fantasy of an alternative society and its exteriorisation “nowhere” work as one fo the most formidable contestations of what is?

Paul Ricoeur, “Lectures on Ideology and Utopia”

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.


In Part 1, we looked at the futility of trying to get to a better future through the rubrics of the Polarization Industrial Complex. Since that post, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has provided a real-world example of how intractable the PIC has rendered the American political gridlock. Trump has laid out the appropriate strategy for a crusading GOP: the real problem is not Putin and his ilk, but the stupidity and weakness of the Democrats. The greatest enemy, the PIC whispers, is within.

Rather than a long, drawn-out followup post, I’m going to make this one tight and bulleted, mainly because that’s how my brain has lately been plumbing the depths of our concentric circles of collapse. As things get worse on so many fronts, the hallway doors are rapidly slamming shut on us, making it harder to see any way out that is actually still doable.

  • So first, let’s remind ourselves of the baseline condition, the prime mover in our need for expediency:
    • The natural support systems of the planet are unraveling quickly. We probably have another 10 years before things will be damaged beyond repair. Human civilization will probably continue after such a cataclysmic collapse, but in a starkly dystopian template.
  • There are a million and one great ideas out there, but here is a quick list of approaches that will not work to save us in time:
    • Winning the political polarization battle for good, vanquishing the other side. Can’t be done, because the PIC itself is designed for stasis.
    • A grand political compromise, finding ultimate wisdom in the commonsense middle. Also can’t be done, because of the power of the PIC and entrenchment of the plutocracy.
    • Green economic growth. Can’t be done on a finite planet, nor would the plutocrats allow it to happen.
    • Business as usual, delivering a shimmering future through technology and the alchemy of finance. If you think this will happen, I am envious of your blissful state, but we know what the equivalent of bliss is.
    • Everything else: again, there are many, many great activist causes out there: worker-owned businesses, free college, free daycare, universal basic services, reparations for African Americans and Native Americans, ending of gerrymandering, un-defining corporations as people, the living wage movement, etc. All of these things are important, and most should be pursued. But they will not change things fast enough, and they don’t reach deep enough into the basic social building block of American society: household format. It is the household form itself that has to be dismantled and reconfigured, before any other solutions could work on a meaningful, long-term basis.
  • So what do we do? What are the steps to a better future? Here it is, the road to salvation:
    • A consortium of wealthy donors from all sides of the political spectrum funds the creation of 15-20 example communities, spread out across the country. These can be called BHBs (Bigger Home Bases). See here for more details on these BHBs. But long story short, these communities get the equivalent of a Universal Basic Income, and they are committed to a charter of de-growth.
    • By the mid-to-late 2023, these communities are humming along with great success, and their desirability is splashed all over social and traditional media, creating a groundswell of popular support for UBI and BHBs. These prototypes would demonstrate just how quickly and simply we could pivot to a much different lifestyle, without massively complex and long-term bureaucratic programs.
    • A high-profile candidate commits to running for President in 2024 as an Independent, with a platform wholly committed to UBI and BHBs as central policy goals. This would provide a clear, face-saving political exit strategy for committed Trumpists and other people dug too deep into the polarization landscape. At this point in time, I would suggest Andrew Yang, because of his track record with UBI, and his visibility from running in 2020.
    • This person wins in 2024, with a massive popular mandate, as pro-UBI and pro-BHB candidates are carried into office across the board, and as the American people are now loudly demanding federal support for these new policies.
    • UBI and BHB-support are rolled out nationally, which also paves the way for a totally different understanding of labor, money, morality, and economic life. The federal government embraces an MMT (Modern Money Theory) approach to national finances, and government programs are massively downsized, in favor of direct federal spending into people’s pockets. The systemic favoring of big banks fades away, as popular demand for direct federal support to individuals and their now-larger communities is too great to allow backsliding.
    • Over the course of a few years, the ecological impact of the US comes down substantially. The proliferation of BHBs and the stability that UBI brings to households result in drastically-lowered production and consumption, while new measurements of people’s actual wellbeing show unambiguous improvements in physical, mental, and financial health.
    • These massive changes in ecological impact allow the United States to approach the global community with more humility and substantive commitment, which makes international cooperation on global warming and other environmental problems that much easier. Other countries could borrow from the US example if desired, instituting UBI and BHBs as their particular cultural contexts allow. These American policies are also an example of popular will overriding entrenched power, which could even potentially serve as an inspiration for Chinese, Russian, North Korean, and other populations living under autocratic rule, providing a blueprint for overthrowing tyranny.

So that’s it, a quick primer on how building some ‘utopian’ communities is actually the most practical path to a livable future. I know it seems counter-intuitive to think that creating a few examples of a new household format could impact our overall socioeconomic landscape, especially since we’re so accustomed to hearing about deep, ‘systemic’ causes for everything. And I get that, because I myself generally view things through a historical materialist lens, where long-terms trends and algorithms are the name of the game. And after all, haven’t people been trying this utopian thing for hundreds of years, to no lasting avail?

But what makes this UBI-BHB strategy workable are two recent and related realities, both enabled by technology: the ability to quickly and substantively influence millions, if not billions, of people at the same time, through digital media; and the ability to quickly give millions of people money electronically. These two developments absolutely allow for the desirability of BHBs to spread like wildfire, and for the government to directly fund people’s ability to create their own BHBs in a matter of months, not years or decades.

It can be done, and it will have to be done. There is no other way.

(Cover image: BedZED ecovillage, London)

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