Writing Nice Futures

Wayne Mack

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 12, 2020
Messages
1,222
Location
Chantilly, Virginia, US
if it were possible to have a utopian world without any problems, any story set there would be very dull. Where is the conflict to come from is everyone is satisfied?
Conflict does not need to be among people; man versus nature is another option. A utopian society could very well face an environmental problem and it could be an interesting tale to see how they deal with it within the constraints of their beliefs. There have been many a disaster movie made where, though it may not be utopian, societal conflict does not come into play.
 

Dave

Non Bio
Staff member
Joined
Jan 5, 2001
Messages
21,699
Location
Way on Down South, London Town
I don't think that's what's being suggested, just a world that's better than our own, if only slightly.

Do we? Not everyone does this, just A-holes. The question is: how do you keep the A-holes from ruining everything? That, surely, is the interesting bit.
I was deliberately over-exaggerating my point, but I do think we (as a species) are horrible and probably don't deserve to live in a Utopia.

I'm reminded of the film The Matrix where Agent Smith says, "Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world. Where none suffered. Where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed that we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering. The perfect world would dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this, the peak of your civilization."

The Machines set the Matrix to run in a permanent 1999 world. Of course, we didn't know about 2020-21 back then or how well those years would be going.
A utopian society could very well face an environmental problem and it could be an interesting tale to see how they deal with it within the constraints of their beliefs. There have been many a disaster movie made where, though it may not be utopian, societal conflict does not come into play.
Can you give examples?

I still believe that you still need the police chief who no one will believe, the young man achieving against all the stacked up odds, the relationship salvaged by being forced to work together and put aside anger and past mistakes, or even just needing the apocalypse to bring out the best in people.
 

Toby Frost

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
Jan 22, 2008
Messages
6,862
I think it's safe to say that, humans being humans, no society will be perfect and that there will be people trying - either deliberately or because they're mentally wired to do so - to undermine it. The question is how you prevent that from happening, and that is probably where the story comes in. It's clear that demagogues, aspiring dictators, narcissists and psychopaths are extremely attractive to a fair percentage of people, who would rather submit to a Glorious Leader (or even a jolly lord of the manor) than take their own decisions. Again, the society has to protect itself against such villains. But over and over again the question comes up of "Who watches the watchmen, and how?".

I have to say that I'm unconvinced by the idea of "group rights", because history is full of examples of the majority turning on the individual or smaller group that doesn't fit in with the state, nation, religion, race and so on. It continues now, and the places where such persecution happens the least tend to be those with "western" "individual" rights. I think any futuristic society would consider the individual to be of pretty high importance, assuming that I'm not getting this point wrong.
 

.matthew.

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 12, 2020
Messages
1,129
Plenty of ripe storylines there for sure, not really fodder for Nice Futures, though.
The system could be for the greater good, and I would say there are plenty of people who would prefer freedom to overarching control though, and that would be an interesting conflict to have. What would the people desiring liberty be willing to do to obtain it, and what would a 'benevolent' state be willing to do to preserve their ideal world.

Conflict does not need to be among people; man versus nature is another option. A utopian society could very well face an environmental problem and it could be an interesting tale to see how they deal with it within the constraints of their beliefs. There have been many a disaster movie made where, though it may not be utopian, societal conflict does not come into play.
This. Plus it could be expanded into other avenues. For example, on a galactic scale, the upcoming total destruction of a world and the need for resettlement across human space. Who would take them in? would anyone? would they be forced to invade a neighbour to survive? etc.

I think any futuristic society would consider the individual to be of pretty high importance, assuming that I'm not getting this point wrong.
I would hope, but historically the rights of the individual have only really existed when the group hasn't had the ability to enforce their will or indoctrinate a population. Any sort of galactic civilisation would likely be highly bureaucratic with a high degree of technological surveillance and control.

Someone already mentioned 1950's America as a baseline for a lot of optimistic sci-fi, and this works because of the far lower amount of these apparatus and a foundation of decentralised government. The only way I could see this working in a future world would be having some hard 'constitution' severely limiting the power of not only governments but also what I would assume to be megacorps.
 

Fiberglass Cyborg

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 13, 2021
Messages
433
I'm in a similar boat with a setting that's been brewing in my head for a while. My feeling is that /on balance/, across several inhabited planets and the thousands of years the civilisation has existed, it should be a pretty sweet place. But that doesn't preclude the odd nuked city, outbreak of weaponised memetic plague, simmering ideological conflict or horrific orbital disaster. And there should be a lot of local variation in politcal and social structures, not a one-size-fits-all monoculture.

I wonder if a good approach is to make most aspects of life generally better, but let political instabilty still exist?

Post-scarcity but NOT moneyless may have legs. If everyone's basic needs are met, many people are still going to want more. And the people who do still work are going to be split between those who do it for the the work itself, those who want the money, and those trying to build power and influence. Room for conflict there.

Becky Chambers' "Wayfarers" books are set in a galaxy that is generally a pretty civilised and comfortable place to live in. But it still has long-running wars, colonial hangups, anti-AI discrimination, secret sweatshop planets etc etc.

The "Stainless Steel Rat" books are set in a society that is described as perfect except for being really, really boring.... after the three prequels (all about Jim deGriz's life of crime) the threats come from Outside, as they do in most of the Culture books.

That sounds like her ace (but not terribly well received) book "Always Coming Home." I remember buying that when it came out, and being surprised by the sniffy reviews.
I love that book! And I had no idea the critics didn't. Only read it quite recently. She does a good job of describing a sane and wholesome society that isn't an unrealistic paradise. (Paradise usually has fewer horrifying congenital illnesses than that.)
 

WSDuffy

Well-Known Member
Joined
Oct 1, 2021
Messages
70
I second the Chambers books as a series that does a tremendous job of creating conflict and stakes in a quasi-utopian setting. However, I think that the utopia/stakes dichotomy is a false choice. The people living in utopia just see it as reality, with all of the associated gripes, unfulfilled dreams, and jerks associated in it. As awful as 2021 has been for many people, if you described industrialized world 2021 to someone living in 1400 it would sound like heaven, only better. 2621 will hopefully be way better than now, but I guarantee that there will be people there who are sure it sucks.
 

sknox

Member and remember
Joined
Mar 25, 2013
Messages
1,766
Location
Idaho
>if you described industrialized world 2021 to someone living in 1400 it would sound like heaven, only better.
Yes. And at least for us, one-third of the world didn't die within the span of five years only fifty years ago.

Although, I doubt members of the upper nobility would be all that pleased. I mean, paying taxes? Get outta here!
 

paranoid marvin

Run VT Erroll!
Supporter
Joined
Mar 9, 2007
Messages
4,221
>if you described industrialized world 2021 to someone living in 1400 it would sound like heaven, only better.
Yes. And at least for us, one-third of the world didn't die within the span of five years only fifty years ago.

Although, I doubt members of the upper nobility would be all that pleased. I mean, paying taxes? Get outta here!


Materially it might sound great, but it wouldn't surprise me if anyone transported 700 years forward in time wouldn't be asking to return home sooner rather than later.

The world of 'Demolition Man' is an interesting one. To some it is a utopia, to others the complete opposite. Do you want to live in a sanitised world with no swearing, no crime and everyone being nice to each other 24/7? Great for anyone who can bear to live without any vices such as unhealthy eating, drinking, smoking, listening to rock music and other things that make life fun (for some at least).
 

Valtharius

Thinker
Joined
Apr 19, 2021
Messages
277
Location
Undisclosed
Materially it might sound great, but it wouldn't surprise me if anyone transported 700 years forward in time wouldn't be asking to return home sooner rather than later.
I can certainly see why you would think that, but I don’t agree. People today who live in traditional societies typically choose material comfort over preserving their way of life when given the opportunity to leave their home countries and move to the West, perhaps because they do not realize that is the choice they are making.
 

Montero

Senior Member
Supporter
Joined
Jan 2, 2008
Messages
3,057
Location
Up the clum
I can certainly see why you would think that, but I don’t agree. People today who live in traditional societies typically choose material comfort over preserving their way of life when given the opportunity to leave their home countries and move to the West, perhaps because they do not realize that is the choice they are making.
But there are also the people who leave the automated comforts and go back to nature or downsize. People just like different things. I like living in the countryside, and have a reasonable compromise - modern conveniences available as in electricity, washing machine, other appliances, car but the shops are beyond comfortable walking distance (especially when carrying food) and that is just the small local shops. Want a department store, drive for an hour minimum. In weather like the moment, mud, mud, glorious mud - but I'm not that bothered by it - yes it is cold and squelchy, but it also has footprints - so can see what ran through in the night. We do get power cuts in rough weather - but we are prepared.
I've done re-enactment, living history, and lived without anything later than the 17th century - and it is fun for a week or two - but very hard work. So totally wouldn't want to live without pumped water, appliances, electricity etc. You can wear out your body very quickly without all the labour saving devices as they used to be marketed.
 

Fiberglass Cyborg

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 13, 2021
Messages
433
I can certainly see why you would think that, but I don’t agree. People today who live in traditional societies typically choose material comfort over preserving their way of life when given the opportunity to leave their home countries and move to the West, perhaps because they do not realize that is the choice they are making.
It's a nuanced situation. Some view it as a necessary sacrifice, but a sacrifice all the same. Couple of examples: I read an article by a women who pretty much had to flee Burundi or die, but finds life in London isolating and depressing compared to life back home. In Mumbai, I met an elderly couple who had escaped poverty by moving to Britain, lived and worked there for decades, but then decided to return to India when they retired because they missed it so much. (Their British pensions helped.)
 

Montero

Senior Member
Supporter
Joined
Jan 2, 2008
Messages
3,057
Location
Up the clum
The lady from Burundi might be better off in a rural area in terms of chatting to the neighbours - but then there is less employment.
 

Montero

Senior Member
Supporter
Joined
Jan 2, 2008
Messages
3,057
Location
Up the clum
Although, I doubt members of the upper nobility would be all that pleased. I mean, paying taxes? Get outta here!

So I thought everyone paid taxes? There was the Doomsday book tax assessment and the monarch needed dosh from somewhere.....
Or was it just soldiers on demand?
Please enlighten. :)
 

paranoid marvin

Run VT Erroll!
Supporter
Joined
Mar 9, 2007
Messages
4,221
So I thought everyone paid taxes? There was the Doomsday book tax assessment and the monarch needed dosh from somewhere.....
Or was it just soldiers on demand?
Please enlighten. :)


You'd just go round the local peasants and rough them up a little!
 

Montero

Senior Member
Supporter
Joined
Jan 2, 2008
Messages
3,057
Location
Up the clum
You'd just go round the local peasants and rough them up a little!
No, I get that the peasants and not nobles were taxed, I was asking @sknox why the upper nobility wasn't taxed.
I'd vaguely though that it was a pyramid scheme with everything working its way towards the king with the intermediates getting to take a cut.
 

paranoid marvin

Run VT Erroll!
Supporter
Joined
Mar 9, 2007
Messages
4,221
No, I get that the peasants and not nobles were taxed, I was asking @sknox why the upper nobility wasn't taxed.
I'd vaguely though that it was a pyramid scheme with everything working its way towards the king with the intermediates getting to take a cut.

That's kind of what I was referring to. My understanding was that (as well as providing soldiers) the King asked his nobles for money who in turn went round their estates collecting the cash from their tenants. Whatever they can collect over and above what the king demands goes into their pockets.

I may be wrong though!
 

sknox

Member and remember
Joined
Mar 25, 2013
Messages
1,766
Location
Idaho
paranoid marvin has it about right. There's a distinction to be made between donations and taxes. We don't really see regular taxation until the late Middle Ages. First in cities (there's the famous catasto of 1427 in Florence ... though I guess saying "famous" somewhat marks me as a historian <g>). A city provides a limited citizenry--you can keep rolls--and limited geography. So it becomes possible to staff the enterprise.

Much harder to do that for a kingdom. The early examples come from France (maybe England; I'm on surer ground on the Continent) with the salt tax (the gabelle). Here again, you aren't having to deal with the entire kingdom. You can control (somewhat) points of entry and points of sale, enabling a tax to be levied, though it's really closer to a toll, which has a longer history.

An unexpected consequence of general taxation was that it gave the general population a point of protest. You start to see peasant rebellions at the end of the Middle Ages (starting with some famous ones in mid-14thc, but those were special circumstances).

As for the upper nobility, that gets really complicated, but the easy version is this: privilege.

It's a great word. Compounded from "private" and "law". The more powerful and connected you were, the more exemptions and special treatments you could get. This included simple dodges such as moving possessions out of the house when the assessor came around (Italian cities were great at this), hiding possession of real property (medieval equivalent of off-shore accounts), but extending to getting laws passed that specifically exempted whole groups of nobles. One of the real complaints of the wealthy merchant class in the LMA and early modern eras was exactly that: the nobles had privileges they did not. For the most part they couldn't win that war, so they just married into the noble class. Lucky for me, tough for you, mate!

I've said it before but it bears repeating: the Middle Ages were *way* more complex than modern times. When people talk about how complicated modern life is, it's always good for a chortle.
 

Justin Swanton

Loving the view from up here.
Supporter
Joined
Aug 18, 2015
Messages
741
Location
Durban, South Africa
I would suggest creating a society that is on the up and up. Historically a pleasant and optimistic society is generally a fairly recent arrival and is expanding, either technologically, economically or territorially, or a combination of the three. An unpleasant society is usually one that is in decline and which the state is trying to hold together with draconian measures. The Roman Empire transitioned from the Principate, which was quite enlightened, to the Dominate, which was absolutist, only when the succession system broke down and barbarians poured into the Empire. The major persecutions of the Christians took place in that time - the third century - when the Emperor expected absolute loyalty from his citizens in a time of crisis and Christians were seen as disloyal.

Hitler began to execute Jews in numbers only after Barbarossa stalled before Moscow and the Wehrmacht was forced on the defensive for the first time. The Holocaust in fact took place from the time Germany started losing the war. Stalin and Mao created their own manufactured crises, inventing conspiracies to justify a state of emergency and mass arrest, imprisonment and execution of their citizens - the first time in history that this had been done.

Empires that are new and expanding don't need to be totalitarian. The Second Empire in The Mote In God's Eye has an Emperor but a fairly easygoing government, much like the early Roman Empire. And they're certainly optimistic.
 

paranoid marvin

Run VT Erroll!
Supporter
Joined
Mar 9, 2007
Messages
4,221
paranoid marvin has it about right. There's a distinction to be made between donations and taxes. We don't really see regular taxation until the late Middle Ages. First in cities (there's the famous catasto of 1427 in Florence ... though I guess saying "famous" somewhat marks me as a historian <g>). A city provides a limited citizenry--you can keep rolls--and limited geography. So it becomes possible to staff the enterprise.

Much harder to do that for a kingdom. The early examples come from France (maybe England; I'm on surer ground on the Continent) with the salt tax (the gabelle). Here again, you aren't having to deal with the entire kingdom. You can control (somewhat) points of entry and points of sale, enabling a tax to be levied, though it's really closer to a toll, which has a longer history.

An unexpected consequence of general taxation was that it gave the general population a point of protest. You start to see peasant rebellions at the end of the Middle Ages (starting with some famous ones in mid-14thc, but those were special circumstances).

As for the upper nobility, that gets really complicated, but the easy version is this: privilege.

It's a great word. Compounded from "private" and "law". The more powerful and connected you were, the more exemptions and special treatments you could get. This included simple dodges such as moving possessions out of the house when the assessor came around (Italian cities were great at this), hiding possession of real property (medieval equivalent of off-shore accounts), but extending to getting laws passed that specifically exempted whole groups of nobles. One of the real complaints of the wealthy merchant class in the LMA and early modern eras was exactly that: the nobles had privileges they did not. For the most part they couldn't win that war, so they just married into the noble class. Lucky for me, tough for you, mate!

I've said it before but it bears repeating: the Middle Ages were *way* more complex than modern times. When people talk about how complicated modern life is, it's always good for a chortle.


Yes, part of the problem with general taxation is that citizens stop blaming their local lord and instead blame the ruler. Much easier for a monarch when the blame is being deflected.

I think as far as the nobles were concerned it was a case of keeping the monarch happy with money and men whenever he/she needed them. That way you secured for your bloodline influence and power in the form of hereditary titles; far more important than wealth in those days.
 

Similar threads


Top