Friday, August 25, 2017

Four futures

When I saw a review of Peter Frase’s “Four Futures – Life after capitalism”, I was immediately reminded of my own undergraduate thesis that I defended fifteen years ago. Reading the actual book, I would say that Frase makes a fairly reasonable argument about where certain trends (automation, ecological destruction, capital accumulation etcetera) could be heading. Also in terms of methodology, Frase makes a good point:

“Science fiction is to futurism what social theory is to conspiracy theory: an altogether richer, more honest, and more humble enterprise. Or to put it another way, it is always more interesting to read an account that derives the general from the particular (social theory) or the particular from the general (science fiction), rather than going from the general to the general (futurism) or the particular to the particular (conspiracism)”

In terms of ideology however, I think Frase misunderstands not only what social democracy historically was about but also its future potential. In theory, it should be such an easy sell, to explain to the economic elites of this world that their own future wealth depends on investing in other people. Yet in practice, thanks to globalization, it has become possible for these elites to instead benefit from the productive ingenuity as well as consumer demand of people in other countries, and thus failing to recognize the need for long-term social investments at home. Similarly, with regard to technology, I think Frase’s work would be more convincing if he made clear that the possibility of cheap and abundant energy is not some great cosmic unknown variable but rather an ideological choice, as most vividly illustrated by debates over nuclear energy. These shortcomings aside, I think the book is a great read and I especially appreciate that it engages, at least in part, with the question all too rarely asked: what to do on the day after the Revolution?

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