I got a completely unexpected phone call the other day from a Citizen from the Planet Utopia. So far as I know I am the only one to ever have been in touch with this reclusive planet. The caller described herself as the Minister of the department of Labor and agreed to be interviewed.
JM: How does Utopia organize the work of its society?
CPU: There is no work in Utopia. We are a completely leisure society.
JM: No work? How do things get done?
CPU: We have robots that do all the tasks that people previously did.
CPU: Yes. Any task you can think of our robots can do.
JM: So robots do everything and you do nothing but enjoy your leisure?
CPU: Yes. But not quite the way I suspect you think. Our society is based on the principles of love and creative work which you referenced in your August 15th Dispatches from Utopia post. What you call work we see as a creative use of our energy. Despite the fact that robots can do everything we need done we feel it is important — and pleasurable –to work cooperatively on socially useful tasks two hours every day to maintain our sense of community.
JM: You read my post?
CPU: Yes. And much more. We are able to read your newspapers, magazines, view your television and internet. We are completely aware of life on the Planet Earth.
JM: I would love to know your impressions of our society.
CPU: I will be glad to share our impressions of life on your planet whether it concerns work, healthcare, education, war, race, gender, crime, immigration or any other topic you wish to discuss.
JM: Thanks. I will certainly take you up on your offer. However, because work is so central to our way of life in America can we start with how you organize work in Utopia?
CPU: The first thing to understand is that we distinguish between work that is socially useful and in the public interest and work that has no intrinsic value. Growing food, building housing, manufacturing clothing, working in health care, education, science and the arts –working as a cab driver, hotel housekeeper, restaurant worker – these are just a few of the tasks we regard as socially useful work.
That being said, in our society children start working at the age of three in our childcare centers where they begin to learn the meaning of work and how to work cooperatively by sharing the daily tasks of setting the table, cleaning up after eating and putting their toys away. Equally important is that they learn how to play cooperatively and how sometimes to be the leader, sometimes the follower, but at all times how to be a caring and sharing person.
At each stage of life from three years to literally the day we die (usually around one hundred and ten) all our citizens work. We have no such thing as retirement. In our mind, to retire would be to die and it is working and staying active and engaged with life that lets us live as long as we do.
Another important feature of our approach to work is something that you would call walking in another persons’ shoes. All our citizens are cross trained so that over a lifetime one is variously a doctor, mechanic, teacher, farmer, actor, cab driver scientist, cook, hotel housekeeper, civil servant, and every job we have defined as socially useful. This gives us an appreciation of each other and how all the work we do contributes to our collective well-being.
JM: Clearly, because of the advanced state of your robotics your two hours of work each day is completely a matter of choice. And just as clearly we are not as technologically advanced as you so how might we manage to work less and have more time to enjoy life.
CPU: First, each and every person, without exception, has to spend roughly two hours a day (which, even at your present technological level) is all that should be necessary to produce all the goods and services needed to both sustain and enjoy life.
Second, the fruits of that labor must be shared so that, while some may have a little more and some a little less, each person has more than enough to live well.
JM. To me, making everybody work two hours a day and then guaranteeing everybody everything they need sounds like a dictatorship and nanny state all rolled into one.
CPU: Not at all. It is simply people coming together and agreeing on what goods and services they need, sharing in the work and then distributing it among themselves so that they all have what they need.
JM: What happens if the group wants things I don’t feel like working for or I want things the group doesn’t feel like working for?
CPU: Life requires lots of compromises but the beauty of what I am suggesting is that your mandatory two or so hours of work will provide you with all the things you need. After that you can then just relax and enjoy life, but if you want more (or better or different) things you have all the leisure time in the world to satisfy your wishes— Utopia is a free country.
JM: Can I opt out and just look after my interests?
CPU: As I said Utopia is a free country.
JM: I wish you would come to America and teach us your way of life.
CPU: You can’t export a way of life. It has to grow organically from each society’s particular circumstances so you will just have to build your own Utopia USA.
JM: Can you at least give me some suggestions.
CPU: Okay. But only a few:
Utopia should be seen as an aspirational goal not as a strategy or tactic.
Focus on changing values. Your present values, based on preoccupation with self, money, fame, power, will never bring peace of mind or happiness either individually or as a society.
With that in mind keep trying to persuade people that an alternative set of values, for which Utopia is simply shorthand, would be a vast improvement.
That said, since you are never going to get to Utopia all at once, and quite possibly never, my advice to you is to get into the trenches and work to change your society one election after another by putting yourself forward as a candidate or supporting the best one available.
Utilize your long standing democratic tradition of electoral politics ( which I note are often abused and misused ) that nevertheless permit you to work for change through peaceful means.
politics which (although often abused and misused) permit you to work for change through peaceful means. I grant you your electoral politics are often messy and agonizingly slow but unless you can elect representatives at every level (city, state, federal) who have the power to effect change you will accomplish nothing. I say this because from where I sit unless you can exercise power your protest efforts even when successful as in your recent civil rights struggles are at best partial successes and constantly be in danger of being over turned.
JM: Hey, I’m eighty-seven. I don’t have enough energy or years left to do all that.
CPU: Then find someone who does.
JM: Okay. I will. If anyone out there has the patience and energy to build a Utopia USA movement along the lines suggested by the Citizen from the Planet Utopia let me know and I’ll be glad to lend a helping hand.
Jack Moscou is a member of The Writers Collective. Work in Utopia is a revised and abridged excerpt from his book Why Not Utopia? A political platform in search of a party