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Tag: future

Exhibit Piece – Philip K. Dick (1953)

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“That’s a strange suit you have on,” the robot pubtrans driver observed. It slid back its door and came to rest at the curb. “What are the little round things?”

“Those are buttons,” George Miller explained. “They are partly functional, partly ornamental. This is an archaic suit of the twentieth century. I wear it because of the nature of my employment.”

He paid the robot, grabbed up his briefcase, and hurried along the ramp to the History Agency. The main building was already open for the day; robed men and women wandered everywhere. Miller entered a PRIVATE lift, squeezed between two immense controllers from the pre-Christian division, and in a moment was on his way to his own level, the Middle Twentieth Century.

“Gorning,” he murmured, as Controller Fleming met him at the atomic engine exhibit.

“Gorning,” Fleming responded brusquely. “Look here, Miller. Let’s have this out once and for all. What if everyone dressed like you? The Government sets up strict rules for dress. Can’t you forget your damn anachronisms once in a while? What in God’s name is that thing in your hand? It looks like a squashed Jurassic lizard.”

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Science fiction when the future is now

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nature journal

AlphaGo, fake news, cyberwar: 2017 has felt science-fictional in the here and now. Space settlement and sea-steading seem just around the bend; so, at times, do nuclear war and pandemic. With technological change cranked up to warp speed and day-to-day life smacking of dystopia, where does science fiction go? Has mainstream fiction taken up the baton?

Nature asked six prominent sci-fi writers — Lauren Beukes, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ken Liu, Hannu Rajaniemi, Alastair Reynolds and Aliette de Bodard — to reflect on what the genre has to offer at the end of an extraordinary year.

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Utopia as Method, Social Science Fiction, and the Flight From Reality

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a Review of Peter Frase, Four Futures: Life After Capitalism (Verso Jacobin Series, 2016)

by Anthony Galluzzo

Charlie Brooker’s acclaimed British techno-dystopian television series, Black Mirror, returned last year in a more American-friendly form. The third season, now broadcast on Netflix, opened with “Nosedive,” a satirical depiction of a recognizable near future when user-generated social media scores—on the model of Yelp reviews, Facebook likes, and Twitter retweets—determine life chances, including access to basic services, such as housing, credit, and jobs. The show follows striver Lacie Pound—played by Bryce Howard—who, in seeking to boost her solid 4.2 life score, ends up inadvertently wiping out all of her points, in the nosedive named by the episode’s title. Brooker offers his viewers a nightmare variation on a now familiar online reality, as Lacie rates every human interaction and is rated in turn, to disastrous result. And this nightmare is not so far from the case, as online reputational hierarchies increasingly determine access to precarious employment opportunities. We can see this process in today’s so-called sharing economy, in which user approval determines how many rides will go to the Uber driver, or if the room you are renting on Airbnb, in order to pay your own exorbitant rent, gets rented.

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For a Left with No Future (T.J. Clark, 2012)

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T.J. Clark / pdf

How deceiving are the contradictions of language! In this land without time the dialect was richer in words with which to measure time than any other language; beyond the motionless and everlasting crai[meaning ‘tomorrow’ but also ‘never’] every day in the future had a name of its own . . . The day after tomorrow was prescrai and the day after that pescrille; then came pescruflo, maruflo, maruflone; the seventh day was maruflicchio. But these precise terms had an undertone of irony. They were used less often to indicate this or that day than they were said all together in a string, one after another; their very sound was grotesque and they were like a reflection of the futility of trying to make anything clear out of the cloudiness of crai.

Carlo Levi, Christ Stopped at Eboli [1]

I hope sincerely it will be all the age does not want . . . I have omitted nothing I could think of to obstruct the onward march of the world . . . I have done all I can to impede progress . . . having put my hand to the plough I invariably look back.

Edward Burne-Jones on the Kelmscott Chaucer [2]

Left intellectuals, like most intellectuals, are not good at politics; especially if we mean by the latter, as I shall be arguing we should, the everyday detail, drudgery and charm of performance. Intellectuals get the fingering wrong. Up on stage they play too many wrong notes. But one thing they may be good for: sticking to the concert-hall analogy, they are sometimes the bassists in the back row whose groaning establishes the key of politics for a moment, and even points to a possible new one. And it can happen, though occasionally, that the survival of a tradition of thought and action depends on this—on politics being transposed to a new key. This seems to me true of the left in our time.

These notes are addressed essentially (regrettably) to the left in the old capitalist heartland—the left in Europe. [3] Perhaps they will resonate elsewhere. They have nothing to say about capitalism’s long-term invulnerability, and pass no judgement—what fool would try to in present circumstances?—on the sureness of its management of its global dependencies, or the effectiveness of its military humanism. The only verdict presupposed in what follows is a negative one on the capacity of the left—the actually existing left, as we used to say—to offer a perspective in which capitalism’s failures, and its own, might make sense. By ‘perspective’ I mean a rhetoric, a tonality, an imagery, an argument, and a temporality.

By ‘left’ I mean a root-and-branch opposition to capitalism. But such an opposition has nothing to gain, I shall argue, from a series of overweening and fantastical predictions about capitalism’s coming to an end. Roots and branches are things in the present. The deeper a political movement’s spadework, the more complete its focus on the here and now. No doubt there is an alternative to the present order of things. Yet nothing follows from this—nothing deserving the name political. Left politics is immobilized, it seems to me, at the level of theory and therefore of practice, by the idea that it should spend its time turning over the entrails of the present for signs of catastrophe and salvation. Better an infinite irony at prescrai and maruflicchio—a peasant irony, with an earned contempt for futurity—than a politics premised, yet again, on some terracotta multitude waiting to march out of the emperor’s tomb.

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After Capitalism

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HOW WILL IT END? For centuries even the most sanguine of capitalism’s theorists have thought it not long for this world. Smith, Ricardo, and Mill pointed to a “falling rate of profit” linked to inevitable declines in agricultural productivity. Marx applied the same concept to industrial production, suggesting that the tendency to replace workers with machines would lead to a chronic and insurmountable lack of demand. Sombart saw the restive adventurousness of capitalism as the key to its success—and, ultimately, its failure: though the appearance of new peripheries had long funneled profits back to the center, the days of “stout Cortez” had ended and there would one day be no empires or hinterlands to subdue.

Schumpeter was the gloomiest of all. He opened a chapter titled “Can Capitalism Survive?” (in his Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy) with the definitive answer, “No. I do not think it can.” Inspired by Marx, he imagined that the very success of capitalism—the creation of large enterprises through continuous innovation—would lead to profound fatigue as innovation came to be merely routine, and the bourgeoisie turned its attention toward the banalities of office life: “Success in industry and commerce requires a lot of stamina, yet industrial and commercial activity is essentially unheroic in the knight’s sense—no flourishing of swords about it, not much physical prowess, no chance to gallop the armored horse into the enemy, preferably a heretic or heathen — and the ideology that glorifies the idea of fighting for fighting’s sake and of victory for victory’s sake understandably withers in the office among all the columns of figures.” He foresaw a world in which intellectuals, a marginalized and unhappy lot, would turn their discontent into politics and lead the discontented castoffs of capitalism toward socialism.

These predictions, however, failed to describe what was actually happening with capitalism in the 20th century. By the 1980s people had turned toward a different proposition of Schumpeter’s: that competition “from the new commodity, the new technology, the new source of supply, the new type of organization” was the source of dynamism in a swiftly growing economy. For Schumpeter, the crises of capitalism were signs not of the system’s debility but of its secret health. Business cycles were zesty, violent guarantees of continued growth. Monopolies were only temporary and could be broken up by the “perennial gale of creative destruction.” When in the 1960s and ’70s the otherwise impregnable position of American industry was broken by competition from Germany and Japan, Schumpeter seemed prescient. The response of corporations in the 1980s—enormous mergers, leveraged buyouts, union busting, corporate raiding, mass layoffs, and upward redistribution of wealth—seemed almost to be taking his words as prescriptive.

But while the economy has been dynamic, it has not been healthy. Several crashes later, the gloom has returned, and the signs of autumn are once again most recognizable in the pronouncements of free-market capitalism’s erstwhile boosters. In the past year, many have taken up Larry Summers’s remark that we have entered a period of “secular stagnation,” marked by persistent and slow growth worldwide. Fiscal austerity is general, taxes remain low, and debt levels continue to rise—which means that Western countries, by selling treasury bonds to the rich through capital markets, are actually paying their elites in bond yields to avoid having to go through the politically impossible process of taxing them. Absent any political recourse to countercyclical fiscal policy, central banks in the US, the Eurozone, and Japan have kept interest rates low and pumped trillions of dollars of fiat money into the financial system, keeping banks and dot-com companies liquid and driving the rich to put their money into the condos now flooding Manhattan, all while leaving median wages pleasantly low. It’s kept things humming along, but not much more than that. Fear courses through the veins of the free-marketers, who recognize that all is not well with the system they love.

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