David Thompson
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August 25, 2013

Comments

sk60

that person might enjoy his work so much he would want to work longer at it without more pay.

Er, no. Not really. But thank you Mr Skidelsky for telling me what would make me happy.

Simen Thoresen

This seems appropriate;
http://cdn.iwastesomuchtime.com/81520131413123.jpg

(from a thread at WattsUpWithThat, from a thread at SmallDeadAnimals)

David

But thank you Mr Skidelsky for telling me what would make me happy.

The Skidelskys seem rather sceptical about happiness, which they refer to as “a false god” – by which I assume they mean they’re sceptical of your ability to fathom and pursue whatever it is that makes you happy, and sceptical of your ability to make whatever choices and trade-offs seem likely to achieve it. However, despite this terrible shortcoming on your part (as determined by them), the “good life” can be yours if you live as they tell you. Because they, unlike you, know what’s best.

Joan

There would I think be a huge proliferation of hobbies and adult education. A big expansion in travel

From the comments:

"When he writes that there would be a big expansion in travel all I think is who will fly the planes, run the airport, do security checks, man the shops selling food, manage Gate Gourmet, cook at the hotels, clean the sheets, drive the taxis?"

And Skidelsky's an academic?

Peter Risdon

There's a 'best of all times' fallacy here. Why is it uniquely right now to throw on the brakes, rather than in the mid-seventeenth century, or the eighth century? Can we do without cures for spinal injuries or the inventions of the 22nd century?

It's a fatuous justification for absolutism, yet again.

Here's a useful corrective that just appeared in my inbox:

http://www.samuelbrittan.co.uk/text465_p.html

tempdog

it is possible that person might enjoy his work so much he would want to work longer at it without more pay.
And if you don't feel like working longer without more pay, well you're just a bad person, aren't you? We're really going to have to have a serious conversation about your lack of public spirit the next village/community/block/staff meeting. We're doing this because we love you.

And then: feasting.
Seems unlikely, given the lack of economic productivity

"We must keep in the race, or the Chinese will overtake us." I mean, races must come to an end; they don't go on for ever.

The limits of a metaphor are not an argument. Detroit thought it had won the economic race, but others weren't ready to end the contest. Some people, it seems, just aren't prepared to accept their assigned status. A better metaphor might be a never ending insurgency. Lose that war to the Chinese, and you might just become the next Nepal.

I guess that's always been the real socialist dream: Freeze the economy with everyone in place.

David

And Skidelsky’s an academic?

An Emeritus Professor, and a Baron. His thinking may be lacking and his replies evasive, but in his sphere that needn’t matter. The point is he makes the kind of noises that fit a preferred worldview. And apparently that will do.

It’s also worth noting that of the people excitedly tweeting links to his interview, as if it were daring and profound, I could only find two who raised objections. Colin McInnes notes that Skidelsky is “arguing to reap the benefits of economic growth while condemning economic growth” and Christopher Snowdon, whose blog I recommend, asks, “If Skidelsky’s vision of the good life is so persuasive and self-evidently correct, why does it require coercion?”

rjmadden

before blaming Margaret Thatcher.

Rule of leftism #6: Always blame Thatcher.

R. Sherman

Of course, what's left unsaid is that this utopia will be attainable only for the select few. The rest of us will be shunted off somewhere out of sight, preferably to expire after a brief period of making fois gras for the upper crust.

Stuck-Record

It reminds me of a much more up-market and well-dressed version of the fantasy I used to encounter with my teenage dope-smoking friends which could be summed up as: “See, dude. When I get older, like, I'm going to get a massive house and have all my mates round, all the time. And there'll be a massive bag of dope in every room, and you'll be able to smoke as much as you like. It'll be great."

Col. Milquetoast

He seems to have a lot of faith in organization. That it will be efficient that it will be done correctly, that it'll work best as a monopoly and that organization doesn't have limits to its efficiency.

Also interesting that he seems to think that people can't choose to live a simple life without the threat of coercion from the state and that it must be forced upon everyone regardless of their preferences. Coercion is probably too mild of a word. Would he have the government send a polite request to do less from the Department of Leisure Enforcement to someone who works too long and produces too much or would he send people to threaten him with punishment and seize by force whatever he has worked too much on?

If I spend three hours doing interpretative dance will the organizers still tell me I must spend 3 hours filling potholes?

Col. Milquetoast

Perhaps what we really need is for everyone to stand a uniform distance from one another and hold up the correctly colored card at the correct time then we could form an enormous image out of human pixels and that way we can pick out the wreckers who are insufficiently organized. (Sorry, this won't count as part of your 3 hours of labor)

dcardno

The Thatcher years created a great regression in that belief, I think. We were getting there and then it was reversed.

Yes - because even from 6,000 odd miles away, I can recall observing the bucolic pre-Thatcher years in the UK. General strikes, garbage worker's strikes, coal miners on strike. Of course, those were happier times. No doubt, England's fields and cities 'crackled with laughter' and people smiled more.

Do these people have any internal validity check, or do they just spout vapid nonsense to pass the time?

watcher

How would working only three hours a day help with travel? Oh i get it, the pilot of your plane from London to America works his three hours and then sits back because he doesn't want to work any more. The plane, understanding how utopia works, automatically lands itself in New York.

Connor

Dear everyone on the left,

Please stop trying to organize my life, stop taking my stuff and leave me alone.

Thank you.

David

And then there’s the implication that you, a lowly peasant, shouldn’t want to work long hours and earn more than is deemed “enough” by Mr Skidelsky and his peers. The implication that you shouldn’t want to travel the world, as Mr Skidelsky does, or sunbathe by the pool at the Caracas Hilton, as Mr Skidelsky did, or own a house as comfortable and spacious as his. “Keynes never owned a house in his life,” says he, “neither for that matter did Virginia Woolf.” And so why should you?

Mr Skidelsky’s vision of utopia would “require some restriction” – of you, not him. You should only want what you’re permitted to have, whatever is deemed “enough” for you - by them, your egalitarian betters.

Charlie Suet

One has to work quite hard to be as stupid as Robert Skidelsky. It's not the ordinary stupidity of the man who believes that the universe is 6000 years old or the ignorance of someone who doesn't know what the capital of France is. Skidelsky has been in academia for decades and has, presumably read a number of books and attended a number of lectures - some of which will have offered him views at variance to his own.

At any stage he could have read or heard something that might have caused him to consider that he was not the sole arbiter of what happiness is, that he was fitted neither intellectually nor morally to reshape the lives of millions or billions of people. Yet he has finished the race and fought the good fight and remains as intellectually arrogant and ignorant of his own flaws as he could possibly be. You have to admire him, really.

Henry

Sort of sounds like the fine words and empty promises spoken by politicians have morphed into a treatise on the Big Rock Candy Mountains, where - as I recall:

There ain't no short-handled shovels,
No axes, saws nor picks,
I'm bound to stay
Where you sleep all day,
Where they hung the jerk
That invented work
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

pst314

"Advertising… could be limited to a certain number of hours a week."

Turnabout is fair play: Limit Skidelsky's speech to a certain number of hours a week. I suggest one hour. at 3:00 in the morning. On alternate Mondays. If the wind turbines are operating at full power.

pst314

"And Skidelsky’s an academic? An Emeritus Professor, and a Baron."

He longs for the days when Barons could actually rule over their peasants.

But unlike the medieval barons, who would only exercise their droit du seigneur once on each year's crop of young maidens, Skidelsky wants to exercise this right on all of us, every day, for ever. Bend over, David, and experience the full wonderfulness of modern Progressive thinking.

newrouter

it is possible that person might enjoy his work so much he would want to work longer at it without more pay.

what's that snappy german expression? oh right: Arbeit macht frei.

ACTOldFart

And someone, someone much wiser than the herd, would have to be put in charge ...

... a publicly subsidised “class of intellectuals” ... who would correct the public’s preferences and guide us to “the good life.”

"It would require some restriction, I suppose."

Errr, Umm, didn't some guy called Plato suggest something very similar to this? And didn't some other chap called Karl Popper point out just what a closed, repressive society it would lead to? It makes me wonder, why is the so-called 'progressive', forward-looking left dredging back 2,400 years for its ideas? And why is it so totally, mindlessly impervious to any sorts of alternative ideas and/or rational criticism?

George Orwell's comment on intellectuals never loses force.

Tom

"Do these people have any internal validity check, or do they just spout vapid nonsense to pass the time?"

No, and Yes.

Col. Milquetoast

Don't worry!
Once you give them the power to reorganize society and enforce what and how much they feel people "need"; they would never, ever renege on the promise of only 3 hours of work/day unless they feel they really, really should.

peter horne

Ah yes, the old "death of economic man" argument popular with the intulekshuls of the 1930s. Don't these people ever learn? Didn't they notice that exactly this type of lunatic claptrap leads directly to totalitarianism with its final destination being the death camp? Did they miss the 20th century completely?

carbon based lifeform

There's so much dumb in the comments it's hard to pick the dumbest. This one maybe?

"How was communism "wicked"? What is "wicked" in the proposed end of communism (equality and the withering of the state)? Certainly there were wicked governments in some communist countries… However, it was these governments that failed, not communism as an ideal."

http://discussion.theguardian.com/comment-permalink/26331222

David

This one maybe?

You’ll notice it has twelve recommendations from other readers of the Observer.

As I’ve said before, you have to marvel at people who can read Marx and Engels and somehow not notice the psychology of it all and its obvious implications. As if the sadistic ravings about “revolutionary terror” and the “complete extirpation” of dissenting voices were somehow unrelated to the horrors that followed.

Jacob

Society would be organised...

Amazing how sinister four words can be.

witwoud

We'd all have to live in places like this. Horrid.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23799590

Ted S., Catskill Mtns., NY, USA

Skidelsky has been in academia for decades and has, presumably read a number of books and attended a number of lectures

Zero is a number.

David

We’d all have to live in places like this.

Whenever someone says, “I have a plan for a new type of society” that rarely bodes well. Likewise, I had to smile at the phrase, “We don’t want to order anyone to do any exercise…” It’s odd how when people like Mr Fresco get utopian they tend to imagine cashless anti-capitalist scenarios, with enormous gardens that no-one gets paid to maintain, enormous buildings that no-one gets paid to build and which no-one gets paid to clean. They assume that people – other people – will spend their days strumming instruments and radiating good feeling, with no need for jobs or resources of their own. And no need for weapons or prisons or armies or national boundaries… because the state will be everywhere. “They will learn how to live,” as Mr Fresco puts it. Because he, unlike you, knows “the meaning of a human being.”

And Mr Fresco can picture these things, lovingly and at length, without pausing to wonder how slavery and rebellion might be avoided.

dicentra

Anyone who frets about "other people having too much" needs to be dumped unceremoniously in Madagascar to spend five years or more in indentured servitude.

I'd gladly chip in for THAT.

WTP

Anyone who frets about "other people having too much" needs to be dumped unceremoniously in Madagascar to spend five years or more in indentured servitude.

But that's the gist of a huge share of the problems we face, not just economically/politically but internationally. The vast majority of people out there believe that in order for one person to become wealthier, another must become poorer. This thinking is rife in the academic world among philosophers and such. From a simplistic standpoint, based on how the average person makes their daily economic transactions, it is somewhat understandable. For the average person to believe this, as Charlie Suet above refers, this is not as much of a concern but for academics who have been given the tools to know better this is a serious problem. These "academics" replicate their ignorant thinking via "instruction" of the hundreds of students that they "educate" each year.

Sam

And no need for weapons or prisons or armies or national boundaries… because the state will be everywhere.

Once the global super-state has forced everyone to be equal there will be no crime, greed or war. Because… er, socialism!

Spiny Norman

Henry,

Sort of sounds like the fine words and empty promises spoken by politicians have morphed into a treatise on the Big Rock Candy Mountains

I'm sure Mr Skideslsky's utopian, drudgery-free paradise would produce more than a few disillusioned acolytes, like the youngster in Harry McClintock's original, uncensored 1890's hobo ballad:

The punk rolled up his big blue eyes
And said to the jocker, "Sandy,
I've hiked and hiked and wandered too,
But I ain't seen any candy.
I've hiked and hiked till my feet are sore
And I'll be damned if I hike any more
To be buggered sore like a hobo's whore
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains."

Ex-yoonion

I bet you can only work your allotted three hours a day if you a member of union, too. None of this you'll do three hours on your own initiative: you'll do the three hours we say, when we say and pay a union for the privilege.

Elephants Gerald

Rare footage of E. Skidelskys' students planning to implement Utopia....

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcE5aDTszrY

dicentra

At any stage he could have read or heard something that might have caused him to consider that he was not the sole arbiter of what happiness is

Narcissists do not accept challenges to their worldview. If they were capable of such introspection, they wouldn't be narcissists.

Emotionally frozen at age six. Yippeee!

Didn't they notice that exactly this type of lunatic claptrap leads directly to totalitarianism with its final destination being the death camp?

Dude.

Feature, not bug. It rids the world of unworthies and wreckers and opponents and tacky people.

As if the sadistic ravings about “revolutionary terror” and the “complete extirpation” of dissenting voices were somehow unrelated to the horrors that followed.

Again: the horrors fall to their enemies, not to them. Where's the downside?

David

Where’s the downside?

It’s quite strange, listening to people who are unwilling to consider that what they profess to want is, to say the least, morally obnoxious and personally insulting. I’ve often said that Marxists might at least have the courtesy to be more honest in their sadism. Declaring oneself a Marxist is rather like saying, “If I had my way, I’d control you and ruin the lives of everyone you care about.” And yet the people who call themselves Marxists, as if it were a marker of moral sophistication, don’t seem to appreciate the fact one has shown some restraint in not punching them insensible.

dicentra

don’t seem to appreciate the fact one has shown some restraint in not punching them insensible.

Of course you shouldn't object to their project with violence. Why would they deign to appreciate that?

Objecting to one's opposition with violence is their job, you usurper, you.

David

Objecting to one’s opposition with violence is their job, you usurper, you.

Heh. But the imperviousness is odd. In my experience it’s not just naiveté or random stupidity; it’s a cultivated obliviousness. It must take daily practice.

Rob

So, academics and Guardian columnists work for three hours a day? Phew, cappuccino break needed!

Col. Milquetoast

Anyone who frets about "other people having too much"

The assumption that the gap between rich and poor is a useful definition of poverty does lead many to the solution of "screw the poor, ignore the causes of poverty, let's just take from the rich and once there is less of a gap then the poor will be better off, er… somehow."

The vast majority of people out there believe that in order for one person to become wealthier, another must become poorer.

If wealth can't be created then just think how incredibly rich everyone was in 1804 when there was only 1 billion people : they must have been over 7 times as rich as people in the present!

Some ideas may not be correct but they are considered useful enough to continue propagating.

WTP

Some ideas may not be correct but they are considered useful enough to continue propagating

Yes, useful to the Moonbats I presume you mean. Challenge them on that and perhaps it will undercut all the nonsense built upon that assumption. If repeated often and loudly enough, perhaps their legions will start to question it themselves. Granted, you'll never change the Moonbats, but attack their foundations and the hopefully next generation will see them for the fools that they are. It's either that or wait for the whole s*thouse to fall in and pick up the pieces. But the latter might take a few centuries and I don't know about you but I don't have that much patience.

dicentra

But the imperviousness is odd.

It's odd to normal people, most of whom prefer to take their cues from reality—no matter how cold and hard—because they've already learned that it's best to take as much information into account as possible, thus to prepare for if not avoid the occasional 2x4 to the back of the head.

If you've landed a gig that shelters you from reality (show biz, politics, academia), however, you have the luxury of being impervious to all but that which indulges your vanity.

It doesn't hurt to also have a personality disorder. As one who was raised by an NPD who was also a professor of psychology, I can testify to the utterly puzzling imperviousness of PDs to feedback and input. My dad could spot personality disorders from a mile away but had no clue about his own. None. Because if he were a narcissist, he'd know, you see. Even though he knew intellectually that NPDs are always the last to know of their disorder, if at all.

A subset of NPDs are sociopaths, which means they're extremely clever, utterly charming liars who are attracted to any system that tells them that they ought to be in charge. They're the ones who end up at the top of the pyramid, leading the party or the revolution or whatnot. And they're the very ones who are eager to exterminate their enemies without remorse, because they see all other people as bit players in their grandiose psychodrama: those who refuse to learn their lines or conform with the blocking are just cluttering things up and need to be eradicated.

Oh yes, they know that centralized power — whether political or economic or both — comes at the tip of the sword. That's what they LIKE about it. But they also know that they have to gull the masses into believing that it's an equality or justice thing.

Only Alinsky was shameless enough to state this out loud, that all claims to "morality" are just a pose used to acquire power over others. He was interested in the gamesmanship of inverting current power structures, but he had no illusions about the new order being better than the old. He said outright that the New Boss Is The Same As The Old Boss, but hey, wasn't it fun?

dicentra

This just in: 1 of 25 peeps is a sociopath:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/23/11-signs-dating-a-sociopath_n_3780417.html

Swell.

T.K. Tortch

It rids the world of unworthies and wreckers and opponents and tacky people.

It's the peasants, you see - they are revolting.

Anyway. Just me or do more and more public personages seem like escapees from a Dickensian alternate reality populated solely by risible caricatures?

And where are our satirists? Boy are they needed. You don't even need talent, with content like that available.

David

If you’ve landed a gig that shelters you from reality (show biz, politics, academia), however, you have the luxury of being impervious to all but that which indulges your vanity.

Well, there is an extraordinary arrogance and a tendency to beg the question. Not the most ideal traits for a professional thinker.

Skidelsky junior is scarcely less dogmatic and tendentious. And no less eager to coerce. He doesn’t like the idea that individuals might make their own determination of what makes them happy, and make choices and trade-offs with those preferences in mind. It’s an “orthodoxy,” apparently, one he intends to challenge with the force of government. He wants the state – and people like himself – to make the rest of us embrace “less acquisitive modes of living.” Bugger what we may want; he wants to correct us and make us see the light. His light, that is. He even thinks the state can make us feel loved.

When Skidelsky junior refers to the rest of us as individuals, it’s as “individuals under capitalism,” which in turn he defines as “a system that puts a premium on the continuous accumulation of useless products.” This doesn’t describe my experience of living “under capitalism.” I’m not in the habit of buying things I don’t want and that serve no purpose. But apparently that’s how Edward Skidelsky sees the rest of us. Apparently he knows what is useful to you, as opposed to someone else, and what isn’t. And he knows that “we” spend “our” time and money uselessly.

If that’s the standard of his articles for a national newspaper, you have to wonder what his teaching is like.

Tim Newman

The funny thing is, idiots like this would be the ones straight up against the wall if their dream ever came true. It wasn't the architects of the USSR that held power (with the exception of Lenin). They were gradually sidelined, and some later shot, by the ones who took over: ruthless, workaholic, administrators. Stalin made his way up the Soviet ranks by being a competent and enthusiastic administrator, known then for his ruthlessness. There quickly became no room for thinkers and dreamers. I wonder how good Skidelsky is at actually organising something? I bet he couldn't organise a shit-fight in a sewer.

Steve 2

"It’s odd how when people like Mr Fresco get utopian they tend to imagine cashless anti-capitalist scenarios, with enormous gardens that no-one gets paid to maintain, enormous buildings that no-one gets paid to build and which no-one gets paid to clean. They assume that people – other people – will spend their days strumming instruments and radiating good feeling, with no need for jobs or resources of their own."

I blame Star Trek: The Next Generation. It posits an absurdly utopian vision of the future where money doesn't seem to exist (at least, it isn't widely used by humans, the acquisitive and troublingly ethnically caricatured Ferengi are another matter) and yet people apparently still open restaurants, tend bars (where, for some reason, other humans choose to drink non-alcoholic booze), and do all the other mundane jobs that you'd think would disappear in the absence of a profit motive.

Sure, being a starship captain would be fun, what with the adventure, shore leave on Risa, and limitless supply of Earl Grey from your personal replicator. But who would choose to be a redshirt in that universe? Why would you get up every morning to do the dangerous, difficult, or tedious jobs, when you can enjoy the holodeck instead?

Firefly was a far superior show, with a more realistic view of human motives and the nature of government.

Just don't get me started on Avatar.

Torquil Macneil

"which in turn he defines as “a system that puts a premium on the continuous accumulation of useless products.”"

Yes, I find this sort of rhetoric painfully irritating too. It is so glaringly question begging. What is a 'useless' product? I am guessing anything the professor doesn't have a use for rather than anything that does not have instrumental value.I bet opera tickets and French novels aren't 'useless', for example.

Torquil Macneil

"But who would choose to be a redshirt in that universe? Why would you get up every morning to do the dangerous, difficult, or tedious jobs, when you can enjoy the holodeck instead?"

Mind you, I don't find this sort of speculation entirely convincing. A friend of mine recently volunteered for a round the world yacht race and, being inexperienced, he was pretty lowly in the order of things. But he didn't need to be paid and the yacht worked. Similarly at the diving club near here, the bar works on a rota, none of us get paid.Seems to function OK and I am not sure we would prefer having drinks served by a sullen, clumsy minimum wager.

Jake Haye

As with most leftist 'thinkers', I get the impression that Skidelsky's critics expend far more thought on his ideas than he does. I also get the impression that he finds this situation immensely gratifying to his comically inflated ego.

David

I blame Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Heh. Absolutely. Given that so many of the writers, producers and actors have stressed how we, the viewer, should desire their moneyless one-world scenario, it’s odd that those same writers, producers and actors never got round to explaining, even notionally, how it could possibly work. They didn’t seem very interested in sketching out the operational premise of their own fictional universe.

the acquisitive and troublingly ethnically caricatured Ferengi

For a series that was often insufferably PC, if not morally absurd, it did rely on some very odd racial assumptions. Did its audience ever complain about the fact that almost every Klingon is surly and violent with terrible hair, that no Romulan should be trusted, and that practically every Ferengi is a Scheming, Avaricious Space Jew™?

As you say, Firefly was better.

Steve 2

Torquil - sure, it's fun to volunteer for things and have new experiences, till the novelty wears off. But who's going to get up at the crack of dawn, day after day, year after year, to clean the poo out of Captain Picard's fish tank, swab the holodeck after one of Barclay's sessions, or re-wire the consoles that explode on the bridge every time the Enterprise goes into battle?

David

I blame Star Trek: The Next Generation.

A few years ago, when the first revamped Star Trek film came out, a Newsweek reviewer bemoaned the film’s lack of “progressive politics” and earnest lecturing. The reviewer was particularly upset that, having offered to rescue the genocidal villain from his own planet-consuming weapon – and being refused - Kirk and Spock then watched him perish. This (actually quite funny) moment was regarded as terribly rightwing or something. The thing is, I generally found the “progressive” moralising one of the worst things about Trek, especially in its later iterations. The “complicated ethical conundrums” that the Newsweek reviewer felt we needed more of were usually heavy-handed and, more importantly, undramatic. Like the mysterious absence of money, the Conspicuous Moral Agonising was often much harder to swallow than warp drive or the Spatial Anomaly Of The Week. And much of what was presented as “progressive” was just cloying, implausible or, quite often, reprehensible.

It’s perhaps significant that one of Trek’s most popular, dramatic and acclaimed episodes – DS9’s In the Pale Moonlight – relies on a rare dose of harsh ethical realism and is quite different in tone. There is no third alternative, no convenient technological fix. The final exchange between Sisko and Garak is excellent and pokes a sizeable hole in the glib moralising that all but defined the franchise.

witwoud

"People don't like to be meddled with. We tell them what to do, what to think, don't run, don't walk. We're in their homes and in their heads and we haven't the right. We're meddlesome." -- River Tam.

Steve 2

David, that was a great episode. DS9 was definitely the most grown up iteration of Star Trek, not that there's anything wrong with people in primary-coloured jumpsuits wrangling tribbles.

As an impressionable teenager I was quite taken by TNG's utopian fantasy. As an adult I'd be driven mad living in the Federation. It's an insufferably smug, politically correct leviathan superstate that in its own way subverts and homogenises entire worlds as thoroughly as do the Borg. It's the EU with spaceships.

David

It’s the EU with spaceships.

Other science fiction series have made some effort to define the political and economic aspects of their worlds. Firefly, Battlestar Galactica and Caprica, for instance, though none of those could exactly be regarded as socialist or utopian. But Star Trek, which is utopian - and whose stars, writers and producers think we should want that kind of utopia - hasn’t really tried, at all. Despite umpteen iterations of the series and half a century in which to try, there’s been virtually no acknowledgement of how ordinary people might live.

Odd that.

D

I loved TNG when I was younger, but more recently I found DS9's humanity far more appealing. See this video for a nice contrast:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MUVGTdXkzk

As the enjoyable video producer SF Debris discussed, when everyone is so homogeneous, as in TNG, the hope for a better future is lessened. There's no way a civilization like TNG's could exist. It relies on everyone thinking the same way all the time. It can't stand up to the slightest disagreement -- see many episodes where the threat is one person or a small group who disagree with the philosophy, and the happy ending is that they die and we're returned to 1-party rule. It's basically space communism, which is actually pretty harsh when you think about it -- apparently for communism to work we need magical technology that creates everything for us from scratch, and even then it's unrealistic.

DS9's is a more hopeful world in the end, despite its darker elements. It's a world where people can disagree without being evil, and where the Federation wants to make a better tomorrow but won't force people to join. Money has value again because that's how people are, they'll always exchange things to create wealth. Just because you can replicate tea doesn't mean that my handmade tea isn't better or different and worth trading something for.

It does have some utopian elements remaining, and the way it looks down on the Ferengi is a bit weird, but in a way I appreciate that at least it doesn't take the moral relativist view. Generally speaking the Klingons are dumb violent thugs, but people we can work with at least, the Cardassians are mostly bad, and the Ferengi's culture is contemptible. We could argue about the characterizations but at least they don't take the "we can't judge anyone's culture" tack; I'd rather argue about which cultures are good or bad than about whether we can judge anything.

David

It’s basically space communism

Despite the writers’ evangelical commitment to this moneyless, post-capitalist utopia, its depiction seems awfully woolly and inconsistent. For example, in Generations – an awful film – Kirk says he “sold” his house. So what did he get in return? How can he own it in the first place? Who builds these things? How would any real estate work? Who decides who lives where and how much space they have? And what happens if someone wants more space to raise a family, or wants to move? Do they have to apply to a Planetary Housing Bureau, like some local council nightmare writ large, and does anyone mind this arrangement, whatever it is? Do Starfleet’s bureaucrats and captains get flash apartments as perks?

In fifty years, no-one seems to have thought it through.

the wolf

Skidelsky has been in academia for decades and has, presumably read a number of books and attended a number of lectures - some of which will have offered him views at variance to his own.

Maybe, but in the end it doesn't really matter, because Skidelsky's ideas never need to be challenged in the real world, as they only exist in the realm of the theoretical. His is a child's dream really. He can natter on all he wishes about three-hour workdays and a life spent traveling, free from niggling details, because he's never required to demonstrate how this would work practically (it wouldn't, obviously). He should be patted on the head and given a patronizing smile so that he can go back to his toys.

Sam

In fifty years, no-one seems to have thought it through.

Communism's been around longer and they still haven't thought that through.

But I don't think I'd want to watch a series about how you sell a house in the 24th century.

David

I don’t think I'd want to watch a series about how you sell a house in the 24th century.

Heh. True, there’s only so much time you’d want devoted to the day-to-day routine of a 24th century hairdresser, or whatever the 24th century equivalent of a checkout person is. Buy still, if every third episode involves the possible annihilation of the Federation lifestyle and all that it stands for, you could give viewers a glimpse, a hint, of what that Federation lifestyle is. And given that you can, if so inclined, buy elaborate schematics of every starship and plasma conduit, and given that you can get maps of the galaxy with each fictional civilisation’s location and extent, along with various wormholes and such, it’s odd that the same obsessiveness and detail didn’t extend to how people might actually live.

Actually, I think I’m warming to the idea of science fiction series about the humdrum travails of a 24th century estate agent…

What?

Dr Cromarty

His is a child's dream really. He can natter on all he wishes about three-hour workdays and a life spent traveling, free from niggling details, because he's never required to demonstrate how this would work practically (it wouldn't, obviously). He should be patted on the head and given a patronizing smile so that he can go back to his toys.

He's a tenured senior academic now on the House of Lords gravy train. Three hour workdays, travel and not worrying about practicalities are what he does. An interview with the Observer is about as taxing as it gets for Bobby. He must find the proles and their tawdry working days bewildering.

sackcloth and ashes

'"When he writes that there would be a big expansion in travel all I think is who will fly the planes, run the airport, do security checks, man the shops selling food, manage Gate Gourmet, cook at the hotels, clean the sheets, drive the taxis?"

And Skidelsky's an academic?'

Oh he knows what he's saying. He wants a society in which all the specially-bred Deltas and Epsilons do the menial work whilst Alphas like him enjoy life to the full.

'A few years ago, when the first revamped Star Trek film came out, a Newsweek reviewer bemoaned the film’s lack of “progressive politics” and earnest lecturing. The reviewer was particularly upset that, having offered to rescue the genocidal villain from his own planet-consuming weapon – and being refused - Kirk and Spock then watched him perish. This (actually quite funny) moment was regarded as terribly rightwing or something. The thing is, I generally found the “progressive” moralising one of the worst things about Trek, especially in its later iterations'.

Which may be one of the reasons why it was the only 'Star Trek' film (other than 'The Wrath of Khan') that I actually enjoyed.

dicentra

the acquisitive and troublingly ethnically caricatured Ferengi are another matter

ST:TNG wanted to make the Ferengi into the arch-villains of the New Trek, but look how long that lasted. They tried and tried to make "turning a profit" sound wicked and scary, but instead they became the comic relief, and then later the complex and interesting Quark on DS9.

THEN, when the Borg were first introduced, they had Whoopi describe them as "the ultimate consumers," and yet what were they really? A faceless, soulless collective in pursuit of utopian perfection.

Even despite themselves, they had to eventually bend to reality to make their characters work.

Of course, the death of perpetual adolescent Gene Roddenberry didn't hurt.

David

Of course, the death of perpetual adolescent Gene Roddenberry didn’t hurt.

The wiki notes on the DS9 episode mentioned earlier read: “This episode is generally considered by both fans and staff as the darkest Star Trek episode ever made, and the one most antithetical to Gene Roddenberry’s initial views of Starfleet, the Federation and 24th century humanity.”

It’s also one of the most popular and dramatically interesting.

D

It’s also one of the most popular and dramatically interesting.

As a counterpoint, I just watched the rather stupid Star Trek Into Darkness, in which the enemy is militarism(?) in Star Fleet (a military). This is incredibly stupid, since we know that Star Fleet fights the Federation's wars, whether it's with the Klingons or eventually the Borg. As far as I can tell, Kirk's success at fighting the proponent of militarization in the film has now doomed the Federation to be conquered by the Borg. There's your happy ending.

The idea of what amounts to a navy not being militarized is really bizarre. I wonder if the naval structure appeals to the liberal mind because there's a hierarchy of strict control on a ship, and they figure it would be great if they could get the hierarchy and the control and just ditch all that fighting stuff.

rxc

"The idea of what amounts to a navy not being militarized is really bizarre."

Well, that is what is happening in the west, as we "transform" our military from an organization whose mission is to kill people and destroy things, to one that cares for the oppressed. They still do keep some weapons around, though, to punish dictators who do not follow the progressive path.

Col. Milquetoast

"We don’t want to order anyone to do any exercise…"

Interestingly, he says the city should be circular for the sake of efficiency but efficiency isn't that important when he decides the city should be arranged inconveniently so people will have no choice but to walk and exercise.

I get the impression Fresco likes the symbolic quality of things being comprehensively planned and ordered "just so" in a neat line.

The inconsistency of Star Trek TNG and the lack of follow up on some of the ideas is its biggest missed opportunity. Too much of it was "Dude, wouldn't it be cool if…" and too little follow through on the implications. I recall that one of the early episodes Picard explains that they have no money and the rare criminal will have his mind "fixed." When someone is wishing for a utopia it sounds fine but if you wonder exactly how it is supposed to work you'll find mostly hand waving.

dicentra

lack of follow-up on some of the ideas is its biggest missed opportunity

The one time they "corrected" themselves on TNG was with "I, Borg," wherein they found "Hugh" so endearing they couldn't bear to send him back to the collective with the virus. "Oh, we'll implant individuality! That'll do it!"

In a later season, Picard is dressed-down by an admiral for not dispatching the enemy when he had a clear chance. Then the "individualized" Borg ended up being almost as dangerous as before -- certainly they didn't improve their disposition after breaking up.

I would love to see more Sci-Fi (or any genre) that shows how a fuzzy happy touchy-feely ending (portrayed at the time as WONDERFUL) turns around and bites everyone in the butt.

Lone Survivor, about the Seal Team in Afghanistan that is destroyed after they decide not to kill a goat-hearder and his son?

That's a true story, though. We could do with more fiction that tells the truth about consequences.

dicentra

Speaking of consequences, the only ST:Voyager episode that was worth anything was "The Year of Hell," wherein a man with a time machine keeps going back and changing things to try to create a timeline in which his wife and daughter don't die.

Over and over he destroys this and saves that, but the "butterfly effect" of his actions never yields the desired result. In the meantime, Voyager gets blown to tatters and regular cast members die.

It was great.

David

dicentra,

Although they depict some imagined moral ideal, at least the ideal of the writers and their peers, the utopian ethics of Star Trek were often facile and sometimes bewildering.

The one time they “corrected” themselves on TNG was with “I, Borg,”

Yes, that was an odd one. Picard has a precious opportunity to disable the gravest and most relentless threat to humanity, a threat with which he cannot negotiate and that’s bent on the eradication of everything and everyone he values. Instead, he spares the destroyer of countless civilisations in order to feel virtuous and superior, knowing full well that his pacifist gambit will probably fail. The narcissism is grandiose and, much later, in the episode Descent, we learn that his ploy doesn’t work, in fact it goes horribly wrong. Yet at the time his actions were portrayed as unassailably “progressive.” We, the audience, were meant to agree with Picard. He was, in his words, doing “the moral thing.”

And then there’s the awful Voyager pilot. In order to patronise a species she knows almost nothing about and save it (maybe) from some theoretical future harm, Janeway deliberately strands her own crew on the far side of the galaxy, where they will presumably die alone, never seeing Earth and their families again. Again, this is presented as something noble and heroic, rather than fatuous, cruel and contrived. In fact, her decision was so dubious and unconvincing the writers had to make the character regret it in later seasons, to the extent that she became reclusive and depressed. It only took the writers six years to see their mistake.

Over and over he destroys this and saves that, but the “butterfly effect” of his actions never yields the desired result.

Yes, Year of Hell was good, as was Scorpion. And both of those episodes involve unforeseen consequences and key characters being at odds with Roddenberry’s woolly sentiment.

Henry

David

"Picard has a precious opportunity to disable the gravest and most relentless threat to humanity, a threat with which he cannot negotiate and that’s bent on the eradication of everything and everyone he values. Instead, he spares the destroyer of countless civilisations in order to feel virtuous and superior"

That's interesting. I lost interest in Star Trek around the time of the Borg turning up, so I don't know this bit of story. But from your description, it does sound like they'd watched "Genesis of the Daleks" - surely one of the finest Dr Who stories ever made, where Tom Baker's Doctor arrives on Skaro at the time of the Daleks' creation, and gets to the point where he could destroy them for ever.

He suddenly thinks "hang on, I've no idea what effect this is going to have on history. For all I know it could make things worse" and steps back. Of course with Dr Who there's the weird idea of being able to go back in time and change history - which is different from Star Trek. If Picard is faced with a threat to humanity and gets all pompous about whetherfight back or not, it's less understandable :)

David

Producer Rick Berman said he wanted the episode to show Picard and Guinan, who initially want to use this one opportunity to disable the entire Borg collective, as being “prejudiced.” Which is a strange word to use given the Borg’s uniformity and non-negotiable nature, to say nothing of their stated goals and astronomical body count (including almost all of Guinan’s species). That said, there are some nice exchanges. A favourite being when Guinan reminds the crew that their hand-wringing will not be reciprocated. Of course, this being TNG, her statement of the obvious is ignored. And consequently, unmentioned and off screen, more worlds are assimilated and billions of lives are presumably lost as a result.

But hey, look at how much they care about the unrepentant entity that’s trying to destroy them.

David

Wow. You spend enough time online and, sooner or later, the conversation will turn to Star Trek. It’s like internet gravity.

sackcloth and ashes

'Just don't get me started on Avatar'.

I watched this a couple of days ago for the first time, when it was on TV. I figured that James Cameron had ripped off at least five movies, including some film I saw back in the day which featured the lass from 'A View to A Kill' as a female Tarzan.

Visually it was splendid, and I was impressed with the amount of thought given to creating the environment of Pandora. But otherwise the script and characterisation was beyond lazy, and was a mere box-ticking exercise.

Noble natives in tune with Mother Nature? Tick.

Concerned and ethical scientists? Tick.

Slimy corporate scumbag? Tick.

Psychotic senior military officer bent on genocide? Tick.

Brutal and mindless grunts (with the exception of the hero and one compassionate Latina marine)? Tick.

And don't even get me started on the dialogue. The psychotic Colonel Kilgore-type delivers a speech to the troops which includes the words 'Shock and Awe'. Oh gee whiz, James. That's just so deep. You mean that Pandora's like Iraq and Stephen Lang is Dubya? Wow. Except if the Na'avi are supposed to be the Iraqis why aren't they massacring each other because of a dispute over how to worship their tree?

I actually found myself playing a little game as I watched 'Avatar', and invented dialogue at various points. I imagined what the film would look like if (say) the corporate scumbag responded to Sigourney Weaver's pleas to save the tree by stating that Pandora's fuel supplies could end resource scarcity on earth, stop the poor from freezing in winter, and stop Earth's nations from fighting wars over oil. I imagined Stephen Lang in his cups telling Sam Worthington - or Michelle Rodriguez - that he had committed his life to military service, had shed blood and had seen comrades die, only to be ignored by Joe Public in peacetime, and how he and his fellow marines were fighting on Pandora because warfare was the only life they knew.

But no. James Cameron wanted his villains to be mere ciphers, and he didn't want his audience to think about any complicated issues.

Simen Thoresen

Sackcloth,
But no. James Cameron wanted his villains to be mere ciphers, and he didn't want his audience to think about any complicated issues.

Come on - there will be 3 more movies at least. I'm sure the next ones will reveal a much deeper and real plot, just like the upcoming Prometheus -movies.

watcher

Ah, Avatar: Apparently humans will do anything, including betraying their own kind, for a bit of blue poona.

Also, I noted the dig at we earthlings when it was revealed we had wiped out all trees from our own planet, and now we were off doing the same elsewhere. It made me think of Ikea and their inevitable demise seeing how there wouldn't be any wood for furniture ever again. So sad.

sackcloth and ashes

'Come on - there will be 3 more movies at least'.

Say it ain't so.

D

Producer Rick Berman said he wanted the episode to show Picard and Guinan, who initially want to use this one opportunity to disable the entire Borg collective, as being “prejudiced.”

Interesting idea, that. I read someone discussing this episode and their contention was that seeing the Borg in the way the episode encourages was "prejudiced," in the sense that seeing Borg as individuals was judging them on the basis of other species. One Borg is literally interchangeable with any another -- it's not possible to distinguish them individually, or at least if it is that fact wasn't known before the episode. It's actually projecting human qualities onto them to treat them as though the individual has any significance.

Essentially, the Borg as a whole could be thought of as a bellicose man with a gun. Either it's reasonable to kill that man to defend yourself or it's not. If it is, that justifies killing all Borg everywhere -- if it's reasonable to destroy one attacking ship, it's reasonable to kill the whole "species." Literally all Borg are as responsible for attacking you as the ones you killed. It's less like killing the individuals who threatened you and more like shooting off the gunman's left hand. The episode actually sort of ends up demonstrating the opposite of its point.

Also, when you actually think about it, releasing an individual into the Borg collective is a weird way to cause problems for them. It seems like a change in the episode's context, but then you realize that absorbing individuals is what the Borg always do. Not sure why it's different that one time.

David

The episode actually sort of ends up demonstrating the opposite of its point.

Well, it didn’t really work on its own terms. Having previously set up a very alien threat - one that works dramatically because it’s (a) unrelenting and “beyond redemption,” and (b) isn’t a species as such, just a single consciousness - they then start disassembling the premise. And it was followed by any number of stories that gradually undermined some of their most interesting villains. Another producer, Michael Piller, said that particular episode was “everything I want Star Trek to be,” in that Piller was keen to ‘humanise’ every alien threat - a decision that resulted in a mountain of predictable and woolly writing. Oh, and Borg kiddies.

In Scorpion, they introduced the annihilationist Species 8472 - xenophobic, planet-exploding creatures whose initial greeting was “the weak will perish” and “your galaxy will be purged.” When they returned months later, they’d been neutered, ‘humanised’ and robbed of any drama. Planet-exploding was out and ‘let’s share our insecurities’ was the way to go. It seemed they wanted the viewers to believe that any threat, however monstrous and aggressive, could be resolved with compassion, dialogue and hand-wringing. If only we understood the Aggressive Species of the Week and felt their pain, they’d stop being so mean to us.

D

It seemed they wanted the viewers to believe that any threat, however monstrous and aggressive, could be resolved with compassion, dialogue and hand-wringing.

Another reason to appreciate DS9. In that series, the good guys generally understood the enemy and their way of thinking. Some of them weren't all bad. But it was necessary to fight and kill them because what they wanted was evil.

After their defeat, there seems to be a post-WW2-style attempt to rebuild the various enemy worlds. This is a reasonable way of understanding the humanity of one's enemy: once the enemy government is destroyed, help build a better one for the people who remain. In contrast they keep trying to humanize the Borg and other hostile species, as though defeat is not a necessary precondition for peace with them.

The I, Borg episode makes me wonder if, say, the Ferengi could capture a Federation officer and help him come around to appreciate the value of wealth creation and a non-communist economic system.

dicentra

A favourite being when Guinan reminds the crew that their hand-wringing will not be reciprocated.

Or the scene where she and Picard are fencing, she feigns injury, and then gets him when he tries to show mercy.

Again, the obvious conclusion was ignored in favor of the pernicious ideal.

If only we understood the Aggressive Species of the Week and felt their pain, they’d stop being so mean to us

Only in the Star Trek universe is all conflict the result of cross-cultural misunderstanding rather than the desire to conquer and dominate.

In DS9, Kai Opaka was fated to live forever on a planet where the warring dead were resurrected after each battle, and their rage from the previous battles fueled the next. She, being a woman of peace, decided to help these tormented souls stop their pointless fighting. Having been infected with the planet's curse, she couldn't leave, so she figured she might as well make the best of it.

Which, that's what it was: fighting for the sake of fighting. It is conceivable that a war that begins for other reasons could devolve into such a cycle of violence, but I'm not sure that people with that kind of bloodlust can be taught to behave differently. They're so enraged at being slaughtered by the enemy that they can only react by slaughtering in turn.

They never followed up with that story, which is too bad: Kai Opaka was one of the more interesting characters. She seemed genuinely grounded, not a phony bone in her body, no false piety, and the actress was especially good at projecting warmth and spirituality.

Of course, the interesting follow-up would be to find Kai Opaka warring along with the rest, finding their violent ways to be the only way to react in such a forlorn context.

David

the pernicious ideal.

I may have to borrow that one.

dicentra

I may have to borrow that one.

Don't be daft. I demand royalties.

dicentra

Why Firefly rocks: Mal Shoots First

Tim Newman

As you say, Firefly was better.

Firefly was the best. Loved that series, still don't get tired of it even after watching it 4 times.

Tim Newman

In fifty years, no-one seems to have thought it through.

This comment applies to pretty much all left-wing thinking.

Tim Newman

When someone is wishing for a utopia it sounds fine but if you wonder exactly how it is supposed to work you'll find mostly hand waving.

This adequately describes a lot of projects in the oil industry.

Torquil Macneil

I have just stared watching Firefly and although I was at first put off by the visuals and casting (rugged, hungry, unwashed, deep space desperados who all look like they have just stepped out of a cornflake advert)and Whedon's slightly pervy think for hot child-women, it is surprisingly gripping because this does seem like a believable world. The Alliance villains are mostly pretty reasonable, work-fried functionaries and, to my amazement, when an adversary promises Mal that he will spend the rest of his days hunting him to the death, Mal dispatched him instead of letting him go.

I think sci-fi has often appealed to leftish progressives because it is a setting where you can explore political and social issues while keeping your thumb on the scales, altering reality whenever necessary to achieve the outcome that matches the ideology.

Not convinced that Star Trek is a communist fantasy, though. I think that, despite the intentions of its writers, it is closer to a fascist fantasy, fascist in the Italian rather than German mode. It is a world that functions because everybody accepts utterly (with the odd bit of soul searching) their position in a militarised hierarchy, status defined by uniform, serving a common social goal. This was not the communist dream (however the reality went) but the fascist one. No democracy in sight on the Enterprise. In a communist fantasy, the ship would operate as a commune (more like a pirate ship - Firely is closer actually).

David

I think sci-fi has often appealed to leftish progressives because it is a setting where you can explore political and social issues while keeping your thumb on the scales, altering reality whenever necessary to achieve the outcome that matches the ideology.

Bingo. I can’t say much about Mr Miéville’s literary talents, but his socialist politics are suitably juvenile and unrealistic.

Spiny Norman

Wow. You spend enough time online and, sooner or later, the conversation will turn to Star Trek. It’s like internet gravity.

Thompson's Law is thus discovered.

Pellegri

Bingo. I can’t say much about Mr Miéville’s literary talents, but his socialist politics are suitably juvenile and unrealistic.

His world-building is top-notch, but the socialist politics leak through pretty easily. This does however answer a question I had about Perdito Street Station that I had, concerning whether or not a certain character's portrayal was in fact a sly jab at the Earnest Hero of the Working Class sort or Miéville's own idiocy showing through.

(Spoilers follow.)

What's-her-name, the lesbian hero of the proletariat who is a long-time friend of the protagonist Grimnebulin, is confronted with the task of finding a person to sacrifice to Grimnebulin's "Crisis Engine" so they can stop the mind-eradicating Big Bad Animals from wrecking the city. I find it notable that not once in all of this woman's moral handwringing over finding what's basically an innocent to kill (though she tries really hard to find a child murderer or a rapist or someone "who deserves it" to sacrifice on the altar of the Common Good) does the idea that she could sacrifice herself ever occur. Obviously Grimnebulin is needed to run the machine, but she's basically superfluous meat at that point, so why all this agonizing over how she's just like all the people she hates? She has the chance not to be and it never occurs to her how that would work.

Consequently all the melodrama and internal moral agony after that point just made me go "meh". It's clear now that Miévelle is the kind of person who would respond identically in that situation and think it perfectly natural to do so--preservation of the self over the convenient other, with the gloss "it's for the common good!" attached.

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