[SEQ RERUN] Eutopia is Scary

by MinibearRex1 min read31st Jan 20134 comments


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Today's post, Eutopia is Scary was originally published on 12 January 2009. A summary (taken from the LW wiki):


If a citizen of the Past were dropped into the Present world, they would be pleasantly surprised along at least some dimensions; they would also be horrified, disgusted, and frightened. This is not because our world has gone wrong, but because it has gone right. A true Future gone right would, realistically, be shocking to us along at least some dimensions. This may help explain why most literary Utopias fail; as George Orwell observed, "they are chiefly concerned with avoiding fuss". Heavens are meant to sound like good news; political utopias are meant to show how neatly their underlying ideas work. Utopia is reassuring, unsurprising, and dull. Eutopia would be scary. (Of course the vast majority of scary things are not Eutopian, just entropic.) Try to imagine a genuinely better world in which you would be out of place - not a world that would make you smugly satisfied at how well all your current ideas had worked. This proved to be a very important exercise when I tried it; it made me realize that all my old proposals had been optimized to sound safe and reassuring.

Discuss the post here (rather than in the comments to the original post).

This post is part of the Rerunning the Sequences series, where we'll be going through Eliezer Yudkowsky's old posts in order so that people who are interested can (re-)read and discuss them. The previous post was Continuous Improvement, and you can use the sequence_reruns tag or rss feed to follow the rest of the series.

Sequence reruns are a community-driven effort. You can participate by re-reading the sequence post, discussing it here, posting the next day's sequence reruns post, or summarizing forthcoming articles on the wiki. Go here for more details, or to have meta discussions about the Rerunning the Sequences series.

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4 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 1:36 PM
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Maybe the forces of human nature make the future in some sense inevitable, conspiring to keep the long-term probability of eutopia very low?

If you took a freezing, dirty European peasant in winter ca. 1000 AD, and transported him to 0 AD Rome and its public thermae, he would also be heading towards eutopia - only in the 'wrong' direction of time. The worship of many gods in particular would probably strike him as horrifying.

If you transported Thomas Carlyle through time to the present, he would be horrified and disgusted, probably also frightened. But he would most definitely not be surprised. He would say: "I told you so". I'm sure there were at least few Romans who, when transported to Dark Ages Europe, would have said the same.

In a perfect world, Eliezer Yudkowsky will be concise. And that will be scary.

This is not because our world has gone wrong, but because it has gone right.

This is one of those cases where I think subscripting terms of value to indicate "by whose standard" is helpful.

This statement is likely not true
This is not because our world has gone wrong_pastperson, but because it has gone right_pastperson.

Not only that, but you cannot specify that it has gone right along all dimensions. Parts of the world situation have gone right. Parts have also gone horribly, horribly wrong.

Calling it "going right" loses a LOT of information.