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(en) Italy, Sicilia Libertaria: The trap of technological utopia (ca, de, it, pt, tr)[machine translation]

Date Tue, 31 Jan 2023 09:35:55 +0200

At the beginning of the film 2001 - A Space Odyssey, made by Kubrick in '68, a gorilla appears with a shin in his hand which rejoices after having killed a being of its own species, later throwing the weapon towards the sky which it is turning into a space station. The scene explicitly communicates two widespread hypotheses on the evolution of humanity: the first, that the use of tools by primates, the origin of culture, could be related to the killing of other beings; the second, that from the use of those first simple tools, through their progressive complexification, machines and space ships would have passed, a linear and obligatory path. The scene from Kubrick's film comes back to my memory, reading the exultant and not very critical articles on the announcement that in the United States they would be able to carry out a nuclear fusion without radioactive waste and producing more energy than needed to trigger the atomic splitting process ( but it will take thirty years at least for it to work). The tone in which it is spoken suggests that it is the holy grail of the search for an energy utopia: the sun finally harnessed by human technology, a dream come true, and go with the Strauss waltz...

The history of utopias seems to be a little more complex, considering that every stratified society, founded on the exploitation of human groups, ends up producing hopes of freedom and therefore the desire for a better life that serves as a driving force for resistance and rebellion . Nonetheless, this exclusive attribution to subaltern groups to produce utopias does not make much sense, since any social group, even the dominant one, produces ideas about the world and how it works (representation), also including a vision of the future, to be realized or opposed ( ideology). Which is to say, simplifying, that even the rich have their utopias, plans to maintain the status quo or increase their wealth and power.

In the case of Western history, at the beginning of our era, two visions of the future opposed each other: the Greek, potentially open to technical development, and the Christian, which promised a happy post-mortem world, the latter being hegemonic during a good part of the Middle Ages European. However, Christianity also brought with it a materialistic utopian image, derived from Jewish mythology which included the idea of an existence without the hardships of work: the earthly paradise. In this way, at least two utopian "projects" were produced in the medieval Christian world: the one concerning life after death (the spiritual paradise) and a historical variant, the search for a geographically identifiable "paradisiacal" place. From this, also the heretical idea that that "paradise" could be built on earth (the same idea of the medieval garden enclosed by walls, where naked people bathe together, has this origin). And while the church was trying to eliminate heresies, especially Cathars, shortly thereafter Columbus would arrive in America and the myth met with proof of its veracity and possibility: the indigenous Americans, who inspired the very name utopia, of the work del Moro, edited in 1516.

The conquest of the Americas meant a profound restructuring of the cultural and economic horizon of Europe, already undermined by the religious schism. And while for forty years in Trento the Roman church tried to curb the great crisis, including the refoundation of the inquisition, its control over consciences was failing, opening the doors to new ways of thinking: the religious idea of postmortem salvation it was slowly replaced by the secular utopia of progress, the promise of a good life for all, to be achieved thanks to the technical development that the industrial revolution seemed to ensure indefinitely. However this promise, precisely because it played on the exploitation of large masses of subordinates, failed to repress the powerful vision of a society with egalitarian relations (the indigenous American world still functioned as a reference), based more on the restructuring of social and gender relations than on technical development. Charles Fourier's "Phalanstery" comes to mind, described in the Theory of Four Movements, published in 1808, which inspired the creation of egalitarian agricultural communities, both in Europe and in South America during the nineteenth century; but, above all, libertarian socialist thought, inspired precisely by this type of utopia and tendentially critical of the value of the technical development of society, without necessarily falling into Luddism.

There is no doubt that it was the technical utopia that prevailed and the image of Apollo 11 flying to the moon in 1969 seemed to be its definitive crowning, while North American science fiction proposed colonization scenarios of Mars and the stars, following Armstrong's indication: "This is one small step for a man, but one giant leap for humanity"... But the leap did not take place and the same idea of indefinite progress began to limp as early as the fifties of the twentieth century (think of the "Report on the limits to development" of the Club of Rome, published in 1972) and the disaster of the Chernobyl atomic power plant in 1986 showed its fragility and danger. However, the crisis of the future did not touch only the technical utopia and the myth of indefinite progress; even the idea of a palingenetic revolution that would have generated a networked world of small free, autonomous and egalitarian agricultural communities was beginning to leak from all sides, eroded by the exacerbated consumerism that allows industrial capitalism to regenerate itself.

As the Englishman E. M. Forster wrote, at the beginning of the twentieth century, there are already no woods to escape to; and celebrating the example of those who flee has gone out of fashion (see the dedication of the film Mediterraneo by Gabriele Salvatores, 1992), including the idea of autarkic communities, near or far. It would seem that we just have to salvage the technical utopia, knowing already that it won't hold up for long; or perhaps follow the example of those who organize themselves into urban networks of solidarity, largely virtual communities, certainly driven by necessity, but also by a still utopian idea of more egalitarian relationships and mutual support. The promised technological paradise for everyone is obviously not reachable; but it is also true that few in the West can already do without technological products, from refrigerators to cell phones. Maybe it's a question of hybridizing the various utopias and seeing if we can live better and without too much exploitation. Meanwhile, the rest of the planet is experiencing its ecological and food crises, except for the local bourgeoisies, evidently, and could even end up getting really pissed off!

Emmanuel Amodio

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