38. Climate Memo Mondays, August 30, 2021
Sometimes people misuse the word “utopian” to mean impossibly or even dangerously idealistic. Here are definitions from my Webster’s New World College Dictionary: “Utopian: having the nature of, or inclined to draw up schemes for, a utopia; idealistic, visionary; founded upon ideas envisioning perfection in social and political organization.” Ideaslistic Visionary: By these definitions is the Green New Deal utopian—idealistic, visionary? Absolutely. Is it unrealistically, excessively and therefore impossibly and even harmfully utopian?
It’s an age-old debate, much hinging on the meaning and necessity of the word “perfection.” Think of all the literary utopias with their page after, chapter after chapter analyses of ideas and practices manifestly harmful to their existing society, and their alternatives. Each one was dismissed by the ruling class of the time, from More’s Utopia to Morris’s News from Nowhere to Huxley’s Island.
But the similar GND Resolutions in the Senate and House have been received favorably by one of the two ruling Parties—the Democrats. Not wholeheartedly, but President Biden would move the USA from its present, ruinous fossil fueled and unequal economics toward a decidedly better carbon-free and fairer society (For the People Act, Better Care Better Jobs Act, and other social safety net legislation, to be paid for by taxes on corporations and rich individuals).
In a recent article in The Nation, Jeet Heer discusses how much more dominant has been dystopian writing imagining the end of the world—from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road to Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games: “nuclear war, rising oceans, biotech gone mad, totalitarian dictatorship. What’s lacking is any positive road map for building a better world.” Leaving aside to another day the inaccuracy of that statement and the dilution of the definition of utopia, do the GND Resolutions (and, like the Bible and the US Constitution, already possessing a library of commentary) provide that “road map.” Assuredly they do, in two main advances: fossil fueled capitalism must be replaced by a GREEN New Deal of sustainable energy if we are to rescue our climate and civilization, and this NEW DEAL must be fairer than the grossly unequal one in which we live, if most people are to share in the benefits of the GREEN NEW DEAL.
Why do some people add the qualification “impossible” to idealism? Perhaps it is because of their ideological hostility to any challenge to the status quo that idealism presents (capitalism, individuals triumphing over other individuals, most humans unemployed or underemployed, incessant wars), or they choose to be confined by their lack of idealistic, visionary imagination (a cooperative world of government service, full employment, world peace). The GND does the obvious by envisioning a better world based upon reality but transcending it.
Jeet Heer perceives “utopian imagination…reviving. . . .calling for a universal basic income, a Green New Deal, open borders, a super TVA to modernize America’s infrastructure, and abolition of police and prisons. . . . Not all will pan out—nor do they need to. The utopian impulse exists to spark discomfort with the status quo and agitation. “
Jeet Heer. “Utopia Allows Us to Dream Together.” The Nation (7-26/8-2, 2021), 12-14.