19 Comments
Mar 29Liked by √Čtienne Fortier-Dubois

All utopias are dystopias. Any society simple enough to be engineered is too simple to embrace humanity.

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Mar 29Liked by √Čtienne Fortier-Dubois

Interesting! I aspire to write about a multiversity of challenged utopian projects. My inspiration comes from Judith Butler's undoing gender. Her suggestion is the opposite of simplicity. She says something like the task of all these movements is to cease legislating the lives of others to quit prescribing for all what is livable only for some. And the goal is a livable existence for all. When I include the land and all beings, even more complexity comes in. I think that what makes this kind of sci-fi dystopia simplicity horrible, especially with this contained production of deviance, is partly what we can imagine we would experience with an AI ruler. As you say, it has to do with what we mean by humanity (and nature) which is messy and chaotic and flawed and ingenious. Perfectionism is also hell.

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Mar 31Liked by √Čtienne Fortier-Dubois

This essay made me smashy fist on the table in a Eureka moment! Great work.

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Mar 31Liked by √Čtienne Fortier-Dubois

This is like, getting into metaphysical stuff, but I think what you're describing is that simplified societies (dystopias) cancel the dialectics of history. Without contradictions (things social planners see as imperfections, deviancy) there is no chance for process to synthethize and give rise to new things. Society can't unfold into new configurations, in a dystopia there is no future, just the unchanging present. Also the horrific aspect might be evolutionary: the process of civilization and even natural selection is getting away from simple forms into more complex ones. Evolutionarily we might also see simple things as inanimate, pliable, while complex things are living, agentive.

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Mar 29Liked by √Čtienne Fortier-Dubois

Lovely piece and spot on as always. I've only been to Paris once, but it seemed to me that the Haussman reforms of the 1860s were aimed at eliminating all that complex medieval messiness...with the result that it's now hard to observe Paris's medieval past (we did manage to visit all the few Roman remnants). So I guess Le Corbusier's plan was along similar lines, just a lot more radical.

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Yes, there is some irony in that many people love past urban redevelopment plans and hate recent/new ones. It's unclear to what extent it's because we need many years to get used to it ‚ÄĒ many cities that were originally planned have turned out great ‚ÄĒ¬†or because modernism is uniquely bad and radical.

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Mar 29Liked by √Čtienne Fortier-Dubois

Reminds me of the Panopticon. A great idea that increases efficiency and is incredibly practicle, but is utterly abhorrent to build and work within. Subtle horror, on a nearly metaphysical level. Horror movies and games are the main examples of the design.

On a smaller and mundane level there are those metro lines that opt to 'induce conversation' by facing seat at each other and far too close. Awkward silence as one person spreads legs and the other person tucks together is the end result.

Simple solutions to complex entities can not exist without eventual subversion or rejection.

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author

Do some metro systems actually do this. That's horrifying

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Apr 21Liked by √Čtienne Fortier-Dubois

Fascinating (to me) that the source of horror caused by dystopias (and utopias) is the underlying premise of the indictment of culturally-imposed monogamy in "Sex at Dawn." ūü§ę

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author

Say more?

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Apr 21Liked by √Čtienne Fortier-Dubois

The book covers an anthropological and archaeological view of human sexuality in prehistory all the way through the disruption ~10k years ago by the development of agriculture. This disruption, as their theory goes, resulted in the rise of deep concern over paternity certainty brought about by the massive increase in and concern about private property and inheritance. These concerns, in turn, gave rise to the patriarchy we all know and love as well as its deep concerns with filial piety, female sexual loyalty, and so forth. The punch line related specifically to the horror of dystopia is that immediate return forager societies do not value those things, then or now. Humans evolved in immediate return forager for the vast majority of our existence, as have our closest primate cousins (chimps and bonobos). These societies in which obsessions with paternity certainty is irrelevant (or shameful), diversity of sexual partnerships is much, much higher than the Puritanical dystopia we live in today. The authors close their book by pointing at the dramatic failure of culturally-imposed monogamy in our modern era because it denies the underlying biological expectation of high diversity in regular sexual partnerships that we evolved to expect. They cite psychiatric and medical research as widely varied as the rise in divorce rate and the "epidemic" of erectile dysfunction. The book is not written for an academic audience, but delivers a well-researched point of view that excoriates our sexual-shame-based culture in general and the pseudoscience from Darwin on down that still tries to prop up the "nuclear family" myth and the myth of natural monogamy perpetrated by marriage counselors and religious zealots everywhere. The audio book was quite entertaining.

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Apr 6Liked by √Čtienne Fortier-Dubois

Have you ever read Foucault on the distinction between the utopia and heterotopia?

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author

No, what does he have to say? (And what is heterotopia?)

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https://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/foucault1.pdf

My apologies for giving you an English translation rather than the original French. In Jay Miskowiec's translation:

"Utopias are sites with no real place. They are sites that

have a general relation of direct or inverted analogy with the real space of

Society. They present society itself in a perfected form, or else society turned

upside down, but in any case these utopias are fundamentally unreal spaces.

There are also, probably in every culture, in every civilization, real

places‚ÄĒplaces that do exist and that are formed in the very founding of society‚ÄĒ

which are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in

which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture,

are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted. Places of this kind are

outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in

reality. Because these places are absolutely different from all the sites that they

reflect and speak about, I shall call them, by way of contrast to utopias,

heterotopias."

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Mar 31¬∑edited Mar 31Liked by √Čtienne Fortier-Dubois

That human need for variety may even have deep evolutionary roots?

Per Adam Mastroianni (@experimentalhistory), https://experimentalhistory.substack.com/p/this-movie-has-a-3-on-rotten-tomatoes:

"I’m reminded of a theory (again, grad student) from evolutionary biology that we each have slightly different DNA to protect us from viruses. It’s like having six billion combination locks instead of one; a virus that cracks one person’s code can’t automatically crack everybody's. Our diversity is, literally, our strength. The same genetic variation that gives us different immune systems also gives us different minds. And that means nothing, literally nothing, is loved or hated by every single human."

Even going beyond human preferences, nature itself seems to want (update: see √Čtienne's reflection on this phrasing, below) to create endless variety among living organisms. This is speculation, but perhaps that's in part to help ensure that at least some types of life, however few, always will survive the various types of near-extinction events that occasionally strike our planet?

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In anything evolutionary we have to be careful about the framing: it's not that nature made diversity (in DNA, in species, etc.) for a reason, but rather that diversity, when it arises, is more adaptive than uniformity, so it persists. Indeed probably because it's more resilient to adversaries (likes viruses) or catastrophes.

(I really need to write more about this)

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Mar 31¬∑edited Mar 31Liked by √Čtienne Fortier-Dubois

Great point, √Čtienne!

My "nature seems to want" framing was far-too-casual, implying an actor with perspective and volition!

That characterizes nature ‚Äď or whatever the relevant entity, entities, and/or system is ‚Äď as acting similarly to the role of, say, a deity, or of a living organism that can make choices. And perhaps that's not an accurate assumption? :)

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It's not accurate, but it's an intuitive framing to use! Even I, with my degrees in evolutionary biology, do that often, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not.

In this discussion it feels like an important point to emphasize, since diversity rarely feels like something we should aim for (well, outside of racial diversity, these days, I suppose); it's tempting to identify the "optimal" option and use it for everything. If nature/evolution were an anthropomorphic god it would do the same. But empirically, just noticing emergent phenomena, this is not what works best!

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Mar 31¬∑edited Mar 31Liked by √Čtienne Fortier-Dubois

There's one illustration here of that human need for variety that's fascinating due to its utter simplicity.

https://twitter.com/the_wilderless/status/1714259963005063651

River Kenna shared a tweet with photos of two different bathrooms, one somewhat more old-fashioned and cluttered, and the second more modern and spare. And related this experience:

"When I was teaching high schoolers, I did an exercise where I put up two pics like this, And asked the students which one they‚Äôd feel more happy and comfy coming home to ‚ÄĒ touch your nose if #1, raise your hand if #2 The two groups gasped & looked at each other like aliens ...

"Thinking back, that may have been my first time teaching a gut-level lesson about how we all kinda live in different realities."

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