Friday, June 1, 2012

Howard Segal's "Utopias"

Howard P. Segal is Bird Professor of History at the University of Maine, where he has taught since 1986. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. from Princeton University. His books include Technological Utopianism in American Culture (1985), Future Imperfect: The Mixed Blessings of Technology in America (1994), Technology in America: A Brief History (1989, 1999, with Alan Marcus), and Recasting the Machine Age: Henry Ford's Village Industries (2005).

Segal applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Utopias: A Brief History from Ancient Writings to Cyberspace Communities, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my Utopias: A Brief History from Ancient Writings to Cyberspace Communities is part of a chapter on "Growing Expectations of Realizing Utopia in the United States and Europe." This page begins a section on "Utopia Within Reach: 'The Best and the Brightest'--Post-World War II Science and Technology Policy in the United States and Western Europe and the Triumph of the Social Sciences."

For much of the twentieth century, thanks to the totalitarian regimes of mass murderers like Hitler, Stalin, and Chairman Mao, and as epitomized by Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and George Orwell's 1984, utopianism was generally viewed in a negative light and, for many, as a delusional fantasy. But that has changed in recent decades, thanks to the computerization of so much of the contemporary world and, with social media, the unprecedented ability to communicate with others at one's will. What remains to be seen is whether humans can someday be "perfected" by some form of cloning. The traditional obstacle to perfection for nearly all utopian visionaries has been flawed human nature.

The subtitle of this page refers, of course, to the title of the late David Halberstam's pioneering expose of the arrogance of power and intellect of the American architects of the Vietnam War. But those Kennedy and Johnson Administration leaders like Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy were merely the tip of the iceberg of a post-World War II assumption that "underdeveloped" countries could be fashioned into viable industrial democracies by exporting brains and equipment. How deluded they were. For all their tough-minded contempt for prior romantic utopias, they were themselves utopians at heart, and painfully naive utopians at that. Alas, their neo-conservative successors in the George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and even Obama Administrations have not learned those lessons either.
Learn more about Utopias: A Brief History from Ancient Writings to Cyberspace Communities at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue