Image by Mario Mimoso & Monika Bielskyte

Protopia futures framework ⊗ The art of negativity ⊗ We’ll radically transform our cities — No.174

This week → Protopia futures framework ⊗ The art of negativity ⊗ We’re going to radically transform our cities — or abandon them ⊗ Can climate fiction writers reach people in ways that scientists can’t? ⊗ After neoliberalism: the politics of place

A year ago → The most clicked link in issue No.127 was to the Jack Schulze interview on Tellart’s Design Nonfiction.

Getting Tech Right podcast → Funding for the Web We Want with Stephanie Rieger (full disclosure I forgot on the podcast: I’m currently completing a Grant For The Web grant myself).

Read the Sentiers newsletter on technology in society, signals of change, and prospective futures.

As I was reading the first featured article, about Protopias, I was thinking that they covered a lot of ground, and that for some it would probably read as too much. Trying to right too many wrongs. There are currently various models of which axis politics might be placed along, it’s why I included the last piece, on the politics of place. I think one of the fractures, from which comes my “for some” comment above, seems to be between progressives who want to progress from the status quo, and what today I’ll call “protopic progressives” who want to progress while also righting the wrongs that came before. The first are often mired in the fight against the right, while the latter are thinking from a broader historical perspective and multiple viewpoints of various minorities and disenfranchised peoples. For some, it might seem like too much, but look at each, and everything in there needs tackling.

Protopia futures framework

For the last couple of years, monika bielskyte has been working on Protopia, a vision of futures not between utopia and dystopia, but beyond their “two sides of the same coin” habits. Now, together with the community that has assembled around her vision, bielskyte presents a framework, “not a one-off ‘manifesto’ but rather a scaffolding that will be adjusted and expanded with every new learning and unlearning.”

According to the group, a lot of foresight is “bound by the constraints and suppositions of dominant perceptions of reality,” which they want to go beyond. They anchor their narratives in principles of plurality, community, celebration of physical presence, regenerative action, symbiotic spirituality, creativity, and evolution of cultural values.

I love this vision, although as I said in the intro, they are packing lots of stuff, almost too much, trying to hit every possible thing they feel is wrong or incomplete. However, that doesn’t mean the vision or values are wrong, just that it makes for a bit of a heavy read, even has they propose many important points about creating futures, and come up with more than a few fantastic phrasings. I’m also going to dig trough other material or reach out to monika, I’d like to understand the difference between Protopia and solarpunk. I’ll keep you posted.

Low-context seclusionist thinking brought us to the brink of biosphere and societal collapse. We must resist isolationist approaches at all costs. We support the integration and melting of disciplinary boundaries. Contextual ecosystems education is vital; research and development within isolated fields, ideas, and discourses is leading towards obsolescence. […]

Technologies are extensions of our mind and our biology. They should expand, not bind, human potential: intellectually, physically, creatively, spiritually, emotionally. […]

The living world seeps into our cities, and cities must nourish rather than consume the living landscapes they occupy. We imagine “built” environment and the living landscapes in symbiotic relationship with each other as living, breathing entities. […]

In the age of technological automation, creativity is the true survival skill of the future, especially when matched with critical and analytical thinking. We honor creativity as permeating everything that quests new pathways and brings joy — not just aesthetic and cultural but also scientific, social and political. […]

We explore the emergent values and recalibrated cultural constructs of humanity on a path towards material degrowth. The sole civilizational aspect in which we could encourage infinite growth is knowledge.

The art of negativity

Through the years, I’ve been called negative more than once (¯\(ツ)/¯ ), which is probably why I clicked through on this essay by Enis Yucekoralp. He proposes a number of other ways of seeing negativity not as a curmudgeonly or depressive answer, but as a critical act, working through a struggle, acknowledging emotions, not engaging in performative positivity, and “to represent absence in a more abstract sense – the positive potential of ‘being without’ something. In this case: knowledge or certainty.”

But, at least in passing shades, negative emotions can hold great power. There resides in negativity the seed of critical thought and a beneficial duty to engage with one’s internal feelings. […]

Wellness capitalism is the symptom of a much more corrosive condition; as if more consumption were the answer to healing the wounds of capitalism. In reality, the promises of ‘mindfulness’, ‘positive mental attitude’ and ‘healthy living’ pledged by the industrial wellness complex are exposed as just one more arrow in the quiver of exploitation. […]

When faced with unemployment, poverty, the housing crisis, family issues, the vast mess of life – how could one not express a certain negative attitude to living? And surely the toxically positive should be banned from preaching sermons about ‘looking on the bright side’?

We’re going to radically transform our cities — or abandon them

At The Science of Fiction, Maddie Stone combines lessons from the past in Annalee Newitz’s Four Lost Cities and prospective ideas of the futures from the anthology Cities of Light: A Collection of Solar Futures to consider how our cities might transform, grow, or disappear, in the transitions off fossil fuel amidst the climate crisis.

Cities, like biological organisms, are in a constant state of evolution, reinventing themselves, growing in new directions, or dying out in response to both societal shifts and climate change. […]

“It took me a while to appreciate the fact that a capitalist city as we know it… is a sub-genre of city,” Newitz told The Science of Fiction. “There are many, many examples of trade cities and port cities, but not all cities do that. And in fact, a significant part of what cities do for us is not countable. It’s something spiritual, or communal, or political.” […]

But what we build instead may be every bit as interesting and vibrant, whether that’s a densely packed, car-free, AI-optimized solar city or a vast constellation of lithium battery-powered caravans that migrate with the shifting seasons.

Can climate fiction writers reach people in ways that scientists can’t?

In this one, the title kind of says it all in terms of summary. Good read nonetheless for the various examples, including VanderMeer I mentioned last week, and a passing comment about Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower which was also given as an example in the Protopia article, both mentioning aspects of it that have come true. Otherwise, the last quote below is the for me the best conclusion: we need as many entry points as needed for everyone to accept and act.

There’s something to be said for the idea of really trying hard to understand what the science is saying right now, and then extrapolating it into the future.” […]

“The thing I think we [fiction writers] can tell you about the future the most is how it’s going to viscerally surround you,” says VanderMeer. “More than the actual accuracy of the details, what I’m mostly concerned about is what is it like to live in a particular moment.” […]

Climate change is such an “enormous, wicked problem,” adds Brady, that we need a lot of pathways to conversations about it. “While novels may not change the world, they at least offer one entry point into that conversation, and I think the more entry points we have into it, the better,” she says.

More → Apocalypse movies need to imagine climate solutions, too. On roughly the same topic, Maddie Stone again, this time at Polygon and focusing on movies and the influence they can have in thinking and mobilizing.

But while these examples are diverse, nearly every box office hit that’s touched on climate change in recent years has overlooked a key part of the conversation: how to solve it.

After neoliberalism: the politics of place

This one is a “I’ll have to think about it” kind of article. It’s an interesting view on how the left – right axis might be shifting, where mostly western countries would be “moving to a new form of political alignment based on geography rather than social class.” To me it reads more as a framework to understand the transition, than how the parties’ visions might be evolving. In other words: that’s not how they would see it.

At the very least, interesting to attach the closing around cities with the radically transformed cities above, and of course the parallel to my comment on progressives.

Both are based on place, but while the populist versions are based on authority, the left versions (for example: Greens, Podemos, the Momentum element in the British Labour Party, the early Syriza, and so on) are constructed around notions of rights. This can even be thought of as a literal construction, of the right to the city, and of the occupations of public space that marked the indignados, nuit debout and the Occupy movement. […]

Alliances of cities will bypass national governments to promote more progressive agendas that are more aligned with the values both of their citizens and their business leaders.