Sunday, June 6, 2010


Yesterday, we went to see Utopia in Four Movements at SIFF. It's "live documentary." And it's interesting enough that if it comes to your town, it's worth a viewing. The scene from Incubus, where Marc (played by a young William Shatner) is trying to seduce Kia in Esperanto, is, by itself, worth the price of admission. But don't put yourself out for it. Despite what the filmmaker says, you could package up the voice-over narration and the soundtrack and put it out on DVD without missing too much. The movie doesn't have enough interactivity to really require the physical presence of the movie makers.

But that's neither here nor there. During the film, you are left with the idea that it's only the Left that has any interest in working towards a Utopian vision. Now, I've never read Thomas Moore, so I'm not really familiar with his vision, outside of what was said during the film. Sam Green tells us that two major components are everyone has a high standard of living and everyone has meaningful work. Now, I don't know at all what it means for work to be "meaningful," so I'm going to re-define that into everyone has productive and useful work (that is, everyone is creating a good or a service, and there is actually some benefit in that production, other than simply keeping the worker off the streets).

During the Q&A session after the movie, had a chance to query the filmmakers. My basic question was this: Most Utopias are based on the idea of collectivism - everyone working for the greater good, rather than their own. In situations like this, once self-interested people start coming to the party, things can go downhill pretty fast. So, I wanted to know, were there any Utopias that sought to make naked human self-interest into the engine? Then, if people wanted to work for the greater good - bonus! I was disappointed with the answers I received back, which were in a nutshell, the writings of Ayn Rand and the state of Montana. Perhaps it's just me, but neither of these seem particularly Utopian.

This, for me, raises a greater question. Why on Earth wouldn't the Right want to have a society where there was enough to go around, and everyone was productive? I understand that the Right isn't on board with collectivism, but shouldn't the collectivist impulses of Communism be viewed as a means, rather than an end? I came away with a feeling that there was a deep, and perhaps even deliberate, misunderstanding between Right and Left in this country. Surely, if you gave a Conservative the assignment to describe what they felt would lead to a society where everyone had meaningful work and a high standard of living, they would be willing and able give you an answer. (Personally, I suspect that answer would jettison the collectivism of previous attempts, while holding tight to the authoritarianism.)

1 comment:

Brian Barker said...

I was uhappy to see the claim by Sam Green in his "Utopia in Four Movements" that Esperanto had failed, as this is untrue.

In order to understand the cause of my ire see

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