With a plethora of scientific and technological developments such as sustainable energy, interstellar mining operations, in vitro (laboratory grown) meat, synthetic biology (from genetic modification to artificial wombs), 3D printing and extensions such as the chemputer we are steadily advancing towards a different kind of world. Towards a world in which energy, food, medicine and resource conflicts could become redundant – a world with no need for the dichotomies of rich and poor, haves and have nots, a world with few limits and Ferraris for all.
Many would see these utopian imaginings as a naive idealism, a mere quixotic fantasy, or even a negative, dystopian drive for ‘progress’, but it seems clear that where once these developments were plain fantasy we are now facing the prospect of a world without need, a world in which suffering can become a thing of the past and some stronger semblance of equality can be easily realised. We can help forge a world in which the current paradigm of capitalism, based on individualism and conspicuous consumption, can fall by the wayside without necessitating a reduction in our living standards or a restriction on our freedoms, be it through authoritarian government or sheer redistribution; these radical technologies can engender unprecedented changes and fantastic realities for the future.
Yet defenders of privilege and conservative fear-mongers will no doubt remain; these thoughts of utopia, free of want, and a realisation of equality are by no means new. Technological developments have been quick to enliven the minds of idealists throughout the ages. Economists at the beginning of Europe’s industrial revolution dreamt of and foresaw the end of want and desire, yet the goal posts consistently changed whilst Malthusian fears remained, continuing to do so to this day as the rich and powerful further their expectations, desires and demands. Early 20th century economists such as Thorstein Veblen helped to develop the Technocratic movement, a utopian dream not dissimilar to Plato’s Republic, the theorising of an egalitarian system of abundance based on constant technological advances, alongside stable socio-political positions, enabling the provision of leisure, education and equality for those nations with adequate natural resources. Veblen dreamt of four-hour working days with a focus on the pursuit of education, sport and design; a fulfilment of Enlightenment ideals, yet greed got the better of us and equality is increasingly a state of reverie.
Of course alarm bells may justly ring at the thought of this technocratic fantasy; devoid of democracy, with the risk of sidelining humanity in a ceaseless pursuit of progress. Yet at least in theory these dreams offer much appeal against the unrestrained and immoral capitalism which sees the rich get richer whilst the poor stagnate as we offer lip service to the virtues of egalitarianism.
Although powerful and dominant groups will always seek to stifle the revolutionary potentials of new technologies, as they have in the past these impending developments look set to see the democratisation of production. Specifically with technologies such as the 3D printer, as resources are gathered from the stars or created ex nihilo (out of nothing) we must question our desires and expectations of the future in earnest. As we have seen from the technological revolutions within the music industry through peer-to-peer sharing applications such as Napster or BitTorrent, 3D printers will only exacerbate issues around intellectual copyright and the sharing of information, attempts at protectionism are already fighting a losing battle against an internet that cannot be reined in by futile laws and restrictions. Intellectual copyrights, protection and internet regulation will increasingly become the fundamental battlegrounds for an equitable society whereby mine and future generation’s openness to sharing will struggle against corporate interests and the established hierarchy.
We need to ask ourselves what kind of world we want to leave for future generations and what values we are content to raise our children with. For a start we must move away from insidious individualism and thoughts of personal protectionism. Whilst there is no doubt that these are issues for the future we must begin shifting the paradigm in order to prepare the ground for the changes that will be seen, if not in our lifetimes, but in our children’s. Already we are struggling to reframe the narrative from one of constant employment with lengthy and oppressive working lives to one of employment for all, an end to retirement, shared workloads and a stronger emphasis on leisure, community work, sport and education.
As the developments outlined earlier move towards reality we must ensure that we do not repeat the failings of the industrial revolution, that we ensure a lifetime of education to the highest standard for all, not simply those who can afford it. Genuine equality must not be viewed as supererogation as these technologies and scientific pursuits are making its actualisation possible. It is therefore up to us to ensure that entire future generations are encouraged to live meaningful lives, and to do so we need to look beyond capitalism.