Kim Stanley Robinson – What’s After Capitalism?

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Transforming of Mars

This past week, I had the fortune to take part in two fascinating and separate discussions about the future. One was a dialogue with poets and writers envisioning our province’s economy in 2030. The other was a conference workshop with teachers and communicators exploring the role of imagination in environmental education. Both involved reflecting on the types of futures we want and identifying potential hurdle to those futures.

These stimulating sessions of “collective dreaming” got me thinking about the role stories can play in the envisioning process. Naturally science fiction, a genre that deals specifically with potential futures, came to mind.  To me, writing science fiction is a daunting challenge – worlds have to be constructed, political issues have to be addressed, and technologies have to be incorporated into society in ways that are both fantastical and plausible. I think a science fiction author who can create complex, believable, and captivating stories is one who has thought deeply about the human condition and the future of humanity, and is probably someone worth listening to.

Kim Stanley Robinson is, in my opinion, one of those authors. I’ve only read the first book of his critically acclaimed Mars Trilogy, but I found the breadth of his exploration into science, sociology, politics, and sustainability to be simply staggering. The man does his research! So this week, I thought it would be interesting  to share a speech he delivered in 2011 on possible futures, post-capitalism. Take a look and let me know what you think.

As an aside, I apologize for not updating more often with longer posts. It’s been a busy month, but I hope to get back to publishing longer original content in the next while. I actually have a piece ready to go this week, but I’m just waiting on the artist’s permission to use his images as a complement to the text. So please stay tuned, and have a good weekend!

Featured Image from wikipedia.

The Author

Environmental essayist. Interested in stories on nature, culture, and self.

15 Comments

  1. I’m reading his latest, “Shaman” now and am finding it quite extraordinary. I think imagining the distant past (35,000 yrs BP) is as fascinating as envisioning the future. I’m only halfway through the book, but am thoroughly impressed so far.

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  2. I’ve never read anything by him, but this post reminds me that I years ago meant to read his very interesting-sounding book, The Years of Rice and Salt, which is an alternate history in which 99% of Europe’s population is killed by the Black Death, thus causing the Chinese and Muslims to become the dominant inhabitants of Europe and eventual colonialists. It sounds like he’s all around a writer of interesting stories. I’m definitely going to check out his work.

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  3. I wished Mr. Robinson in his talk could have engaged in more speculation about life after capitalism and given us the benefit of his imagination a bit more. It’s a vitally important topic to our species and planet. As he referenced, short of building space elevators anytime soon…we will be earthbound for a potentially long period of time.

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    • He does cover quite a bit of stuff in 18 minutes, but yes, it would be better if he went more into depth into each area he touched on. If you’re interested in a longer talk (an hour and a half!) he did at the Center of Values for Medicine, Science, and Technology, here it is:

      I haven’t watched it all the way through, but the bits I did see are really good.

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  4. Isaac, thanks for the link. Robinson is obviously an erudite individual. To see his imagination on display, I may need to check out his fiction. Some of the the other comments mentioned titles to check out.

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  5. I found Kim’s talk fascinating. My forecasting process for writing science fiction involved straight-line extrapolation, which was why my book was faulty. I didn’t have enough of a wave-shape or a cyclical nature. Excellent thoughts on post-capitalism and the need to think beyond capitalism as eternal. I still wonder how the increasing need for technology will play out in post-capitalism.

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    • Ah first-hand experience. Thank you for sharing! It certainly is a daunting challenge to write about the future in a comprehensive and convincing manner. For all our talk about the vastness of our imaginations, it’s funny that the future will probably still be very different from what we have envisioned. I wonder if people in feudal times had any notions of capitalism brewing in their brains…. Hmmm.

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      • I wonder. Could be if they were far thinkers like Leonardo da Vinci.
        I can’t help thinking of Ursula Le Guin’s books and how her interest in anthropology impacted her writing. That seems key.

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        • That’s a good example of someone who was ahead of his time.

          One of Le Guin’s works I keep meaning to get into but can’t is Always Coming Home. It’s basically a complete reimagining of a world in the distant future that’s fundamentally different than modern society. Less extrapolation and more contrast there. :) I don’t know if you are familiar with it, but check it out.

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  6. Pingback: 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson | From couch to moon

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