An essay-documentary meditating on future visions and utopias holds a dark heart given the current state of our society.
It’s in keeping with the spirit of our times that the meditation on utopianism Near and Elsewhere is less a glowing vision of possible paradises to come than a critically uneasy stock take of a crisis point of ideological confusion. Gathering together an impressive roster of thinkers, from Nobel-winning Belarusian novelist and conduit of oral history Svetlana Alexievich to German futurist Matthias Horx, directors Sue-Alice Okukubo and Eduard Zorzenoni set out a credible diagnosis of our troubled era. They all seem to broadly agree on the causes: a globalised planet connected but complicated by technology, which blind faith in the invisible hand of the markets has pushed to the breaking point.
The conception of utopias as seductive yet reductive flights from reality is touched on throughout. Italian sociology professor Elena Esposito points out that these visions are not so much about the future as they are about how we manage the uncertainties of the present. The concept of money serves as an assurance that we will be able to fulfil as yet undefined needs down the line, as we commercialise part of our existence through systems such as home ownership in the hope that we will gain more freedom and security. But even as we invest in such ideas, technological developments have meant a proliferation of variables and increased difficulty in predicting outcomes. As Horx elaborates, the human brain – not sufficiently evolved from its more basic origins on the savannah – cannot cope with such levels of networked complexity, and from this has sprung a mass «mental inflammation» in human society, by which over-reaction, disorientation and fear have made blights such as populism the order of the day. The envisaging of a utopia typically means a diminishment of the world’s diversity in favour of a central governing concept, but a strong society, he contends, always robustly embraces contradictions.