The utopias of desire make little sense in a world overrun by cheap entertainment, unbridled consumerism and narcissistic behavior.
The utopias of technology are less impressive than ever now that — after Hiroshima and Chernobyl — we are fully aware of the destructive potential of technology.
That candidate is nature and the relation we have to it. No amount of human intervention would ever exhaust its resources. As the climate is rapidly changing and the species extinction rate reaches unprecedented levels, we desperately need to conceive of alternative ways of inhabiting the planet. The German thinker Ernst Bloch argued that all utopias ultimately express yearning for a reconciliation with that from which one has been estranged. Espen Hammer is a professor of philosophy at Temple University and the author of “Adorno’s Modernism: Art, Experience, and Catastrophe.” Now in print: “The Stone Reader: Modern Philosophy in 133 Arguments,” an anthology of essays from The Times’s philosophy series, edited by Peter Catapano and Simon Critchley, published by Liveright Books.
Are our industrial, capitalist societies able to make the requisite changes?
The utopias of justice are perhaps even more familiar.
Asking, typically, for great personal sacrifice, these utopias call for the abolition of all social injustice.
Yet it has also been ready to intervene and bring about concrete transformation. Utopias of desire, as in Hieronymus Bosch’s painting “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” focus on happiness, tying it to the satisfaction of needs.
Such utopias, demanding the complete alleviation of pain and sometimes glorious spaces of enjoyment and pleasure, tend, at least in modern times, to rely on technology.
The utopias of technology see social, bodily and environmental ills as requiring technological solutions.
We know such solutions all too well: ambitious city-planning schemes and robotics as well as dreams of cosmic expansion and immortality.