The Wright Perspective: New Wave Utopias

My latest is up at Every Joe:

We continue our leisurely tour through the Utopian worlds proposed by science fiction with an eye to which one would be best for raising a family.

I should mention my reason for using childrearing rather than sightseeing or adventuring as the touchstone for selecting a society to join: when you rear children, you are obligated to give moral instruction and leadership, to guide their formation of virtues and priorities. Your society at large and your neighbors (real or, through the entertainment industry, electronic) either help or hinder the process. By the thought-experiment of choosing our neighbors in utopia, the values and virtues of the neighborhood, and, more to the point, of your own soul, are brought to light.

In last week’s episode we looked briefly at three Golden Age views of utopia, from A.E. van Vogt, from Ayn Rand, and from Robert Heinlein. Each seemed to be an exaggeration of the primary virtue with which the writer was concerned: for Van Vogt’s Null-A Venus, that virtue was sanity, the proper orientation of the mind to reality; for Ayn Rand’s Galt’s Gulch, it was self-reliance taken to a logical extreme, as if the quid-pro-quo of capitalism could also be used for personal relationships; for Robert Heinlein’s Covenant, it was something of the humble yet frontier spirit of ‘grit’ and gumption that made America, oddly combined with the smug Sexual Revolution vices of self indulgence and sexual perversion which so rapidly are unmaking America.

The problem is that any virtue, if it becomes the sole virtue of a society, crowds out other virtues: there is no portrayal of artistic wildness in the sober Venus of van Vogt, no altruism in Ayn Rand’s Utopia of Greed, no chastity nor prudence in Heinlein’s vision of a tomorrow of orgies.