Where did Utopia come from?
Many self-described Utopians I know come from something that might be called the LessWrong Diaspora or the rationalist-adjacent culture. These two groups in turn come from a specific chunk of the Bay-Area Rationalism culture, which has its roots in earlier and contemporary cultures. But do these cultures seem like something that would become Utopian?
First, let’s lay out what’s known of the history of the Hives.
The Utopian Hive isn’t mentioned in Mycroft’s histories of the pre-Church-War period, the Church War itself, or even really in the interwar period before the events of the transformation of 2454. Utopia, in Mycroft’s histories, simply exists.
Where might Utopia have come from?
Utopia celebrates some values that other Hives hold. Some, like the aid missions and disaster-response initiatives, overlap clearly with the Cousins’ charitable progenitors. But there are other values that seem uniquely Utopian. I’ll build upon Julia Galef’s Map of Bay Area Memespace in this chart, in a way that will hopefully make sense.
Julia Galef’s map identifies the following memes:
Let’s throw that into a tangled, interactive, reader-manipulable network chart:
But now let’s go one step further: dissociate those memes from the present-day cultures they influence, and instead tie them to Hives that implement them.
I’ll also add in these memes and cultures:
Cultures from the Bay Area network that I dropped from the following 2454 map include:
This map also drops connections from memes to cultures not identified in 2454, for simplicity of drawing arrows.
Ada Palmer, author of Terra Ignota, has often said that Utopia is basically the inheritor of the science-fiction and fantasy fandoms. But I think it’s more than just that. Poke around the graph above and you’ll see that Utopia inherits memes from cultures as broad as computer science, the counterculture of the 1960s-1970s, startups including commercial rocketry, hackers, rationalists and Effective Altruists, transhumanists and the dark-web crowds.
Why do I select these cultures from the Bay Area network, and not other cultures? It’s because of the memes they propagate and centralize.
It’s easy to point to bash’es and Campuses, and say that all Hives are complicit in the “exploration and de-stigmatization of non-traditional lifestyles,” but Utopia stands out among the hives in how distinct their lifestyles are from other Hives. Utopia is a Hive entirely composed of vokers, vocateurs who find their calling and call it back. They dedicate their lives to The Great Project, to beating back Death. Permissiveness regarding non-traditional lifestyles came from the counterculture movement of the 1960s and 1970s, but oh, what a strange culture these Utopians are to their contemporaries!
The goal of defeating Death is big. Ambitious. That ideas of such scope are seriously considered may be attributed to Startup Culture, where any lone developer with resources plots to change the world, but the anti-Deathism comes from transhumanism, and Utopia’s technological approach to it definitely finds roots in Hacker Culture’s “view of technology as the main determinant of humanity's future welfare.” The iterative approach to solving the problems of Humanity is from Startup culture, but the focus on optimizing these things comes from compsci. The Six-Hive Transit System operated by the Humanists iterates and optimizes, but not too far. Utopia will optimize a thing until it is done.
But let’s consider the approach that Utopia takes in its interaction with other Hives. Every Utopian wears a long, hooded coat. Within the coat may lurk many things: shields, weapons, Swisssnakes, Saladin. The outsides of of a Utopian’s coat shows to passers-by the Utopian’s “nowhere,” a personal artistic interpretation of reality, given freely to all to see. Information wants to be free. But Utopia also enforces a rule that seems to oppose the freedom of information: if you kill a Utopian, you are subject to modo mundo, where you are cut off from all fiction. I’m not sure where such a rule might have come from. Any suggestions?
I bring up the idea of plausible deniability as a Utopian trait because of how they interact with other Hives. Plausible deniability in my graph comes from the Tor/dark-web culture, where if you do things right, people can’t point fingers at you for breaking the law or the taboo. Tor provides a way of routing packets such that it’s
impossible to say where the traffic originated. It’s useful for techno-libertarians, and it’s useful for the Intelligence Community that originally designed and developed The Onion Router. When you look at a Utopian, because of the ubiquitous Utopian coat and visor, the untrained eye sees an instance of Utopia, not a particular Utopian. The visor provides augmented reality that allows Utopians to represent each other and their Hive, and the coat can be literally used as active camouflage to hide its wearer. To point fingers at a Utopian is to point fingers at the Hive, not the single Utopian. Unknowingly, Utopia provides a guise for Saladin, but knowingly the Hive provides a uniform abstraction that cloaks all instances. Members of no other Hive can shed their individuality as quickly as a Utopian’s coat can flash to static or to invisibility.
Returning to the Intelligence Community for a moment: Utopia owns space. Or at the very least, no one else is mentioned by Mycroft as being meaningfully present in Space. When the War is announced in 2454, Utopia is the Hive who gives the others the tools for spying on each other and for finding Harbingers. Utopia had the capabilities. Utopia is the one who knew where the Harbingers and Harbinger-adepts were. Utopia, alone among the Hives, appears to be acting as overwatch.
And that brings us to the long view: Utopia is attempting to forecast the future. Perhaps more so than any other Hive, and more so than Romanova. The Mardi bash’ was not Utopian, but their calculations predicted something that Utopia was long working for: Humanity becoming a multiplanetary species, and the Hives on Earth losing relevance. The Romanovan Censor predicted these numbers, as did Mycroft who studied with both the Censor and the Mardis, but Utopia was working towards that goal long before anyone else predicted it was possible, or achievable.
There are two other things I’d like to touch on, which come respectively from the Human Potential Movement and hacker culture: a focus on improving human nature and
Where does Utopia overlap with other hives?
What cultures have memes that have an ancestor culture that provided a meme to Utopian culture?