So how do you stay optimistic when things feel bleak? Like any other habit, you practice it.
Between climate change, rising authoritarianism, and a pandemic, there’s no shortage of material for dystopian fiction. But as Ursula K. Le Guin reminds us, “Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society…to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope.” Where do we find optimism in SF? What are the benefits of imagining utopian futures, and how do we maintain hope while acknowledging the scope of the challenges we face?
We tend to critique utopia harder than dystopia, as if dystopia is somehow more inherently believable
Utopia as ongoing process
Utopia = dystopia in disguise (often)
Utopian projects often splinter as people can’t agree on what utopia looks like
Optimism: tomorrow has the potential to be better than today
Idealism more prescriptive than optimism – optimism more a state of being
Social media feeds into your idealistic vision of what you want the world to look like
When people look to “science” to solve all our problems they are refusing change and sacrifice in their own lives
Think about which route to take your tech — many technologies can be spun for optimistic or cynical ends (e.g. biotech could lead to engineered viruses but also better cures for viruses)
Optimism isn’t necessarily unrealistic – e.g. New Zealand was able to lock down in the pandemic and now is basically free of COVID
We forget that people are mostly decent, and that mostly people come together to help in times of crisis
Pessimism and nihilism often serve the status quo
Optimism is a tool of resistance
People’s individual challenges do not detract from a utopian / optimistic world – can explore everyday problems, smaller scopes
Plotwise, could find aspects of utopia that are unsettling – or use outsiders as the perspective to explore the utopia
In SFF we often expect “the single solution” to problems – when there are multiple non-exclusive solutions to real-world problems – your solution doesn’t have to fix everything, solutions can work together
Utopia is not disconnected from the present — it’s a project that we are capable of contributing to now
Q: can you write optimistic if you are a pessimist?
- The Ones Who Stay and Fight by N.K. Jemisin
- Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
- Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
- Cities of Light (anthology) from Arizona State University
- Future Tense columns in Slate
Take the Bet
How much would it take for you to risk $10?
I like how he takes this lesson about loss aversion and taking lots of little bets with equal odds of winning and losing, and encourages people to make little bets in their lives when winning could make their lives better. Even if you win and lose as often, overall you’ll come out ahead.
I like this reminder as a pretty risk averse person.