- Utopia links
By Holden Karnofsky 4 min read

Utopia links

Readers sent in a number of suggestions for fictional utopias. Here are a couple:

  • Chaser 6 by Alicorn (~12 pages). This story makes heavy use of digital people (or something very much like them), so much so that if you don’t feel very fluent with “digital people” related ideas, you should read the explanation of the basic story mechanics in this footnote before you read the story.1 I think this will sound like a utopia to some readers and a dystopia to others; in any case I definitely enjoyed it and thought it was a cool way of thinking about what the future could be like, for better or worse.
  • The 8-chapter epilogue to Worth the Candle, a 254-chapter (!! and looks like the chapters are reasonably long) fiction piece. Based on a reader's description, the epilogue sounds like it has a significant amount in common with what I tried to do here, but I haven't read it myself (yet, anyway) because of the length. I’ve heard raves about Worth the Candle as a whole before.
  • More suggestions in the comments, including the Terra Ignota series.

Overcoming Bias gives a take on utopias, entitled "What Hypocrisy Feels Like." Very interesting IMO. Excerpt:

When we talk about an ideal world, we are quick to talk in terms of the usual things that we would say are good for a society overall. Such as peace, prosperity, longevity, fraternity, justice, comfort, security, pleasure, etc. ... But our allegiance to such a utopia is paper thin ...

And this is just what near-far theory predicts. Our near and far minds think differently, with our far minds presenting a socially desirable image to others, and our near minds more in touch with what we really want ...

we want to say that we want to help society overall ... While we really crave fights by which we might rise relative to others ... Utopia isn’t a world where you can justify much conflict, but conflict is how you expect to win, and you really really want to win. And you expect to win mainly at others’ expense. (More)

People have asked me whether there’s any non-explicitly-utopian fiction I recommend if you want to get a feel for what utopia could be like. My best answer is that:

  • If you want to see something like my moderately conservative utopia, you can probably get a decent sense of it by watching certain normal TV shows that revolve around people playing sports, performing, or doing something else recreational/optional/not connected to violence or material scarcity (and base most of their plots around non-material-scarcity-or-violence-related drama, e.g. drama about competition or interpersonal relationships). Examples off the top of my head: The Great British Baking Show, Glee, Ted Lasso, maybe Friday Night Lights (though the latter might have too much of the plot revolve around off-the-field material-scarcity-related topics). You won’t want to live there if you don’t like the people, so you probably have to try more than one thing.
  • Kenny Easwaran had an interesting comment that Her can be interpreted this way. Excerpt: "The total extent of conflict and suffering in the movie is typical of a standard romantic comedy - the main character is going through a bad breakup with an ex, and dealing with a new relationship (which happens to be with an artificially intelligent phone operating system). It's got its own amounts of heartache and loss, but it's utopian in that all the bigger problems of the world seem to be gone." I wonder if a lot of more standard romantic comedies could sort of fit this bill, in that they don't tend to dwell on material-scarcity-related topics.
  • My moderately radical utopia is tougher due to the lower level of conflict, but you could try one of those shows notorious for having nice, happy characters, such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine (technically revolves around stopping crime, but this is largely just a random MacGuffin and they could just as easily be a sports team or a bunch of people playing an elaborate detective RPG).
  • These are all honestly a stretch that would require some mental gymnastics to view as utopias. Re: what could exist, one reader sent a link to Joseph Gordon-Levitt brainstorming about what a more explicitly utopia-based show could look like.

More suggestions? Put them in the comments!

Twitter Facebook Reddit More


  1. Everyone is a digital person, and each person is able to make copies of themselves (called "threads" in the story). The threads are often "pinned" into specific moods conducive to doing something in particular (gardening, studying, etc.) A "memory weave" ensures that each thread's memories are copied over to all the others. Thanks to Alicorn for correcting my initial stab at interpreting this!  

For email filter: florpschmop