Reading Response 5 | Andrew Chambers

Erik Olin Wright gives us a glimmer of hope in “Envisioning Real Utopias”, a glimmer of hope that is far from within reach, but visible none the less. Although I do certainly believe that another world is a possibility, I agree when Wright states that this is no easy task. For me, the feat of coming up with a new and viable system for change is much less of a hurdle than fundamentally changing the way humans live. The very idea of social norms and powerful institutions that are ingrained into our minds from childhood push us to live passively and quietly, concerned not on how to live better but rather just on how to survive in the system. We all too often think that what we know as natural is also good and is working for us. This simply is not true.

In chapter two, Wright points to the fatalistic nature of humans as a major roadblock in creating a real utopia and I couldn’t agree more. We have become stuck in our routines so much so that most people have no grasp on the fact that our system is even broken let alone that alternatives can be achieved. I myself frequently find myself with a fatalistic mindset when it comes to societal change and humanity as a whole. I can see how this mindset, regardless of its origin, can lead to mass skepticism and hopelessness, leaving us unmobilized and doing nothing. This being said, I am not cynical to the possibility of a new system. A system that is desirable, achievable, and viable. Getting there is the problem.

When asked to envision ‘real’ utopias, I immediately think of Estonia or rather, e-Estonia. The small post-soviet state of Estonia is taking radical steps toward creating an entirely digital nation. This project is fundamentally redefining what it means to be a country, and this is the sort of thinking paired with realistic action that needs to be happening in order for widespread change.

Estonia is transforming the way people interact with society in very real ways through an unparalleled use of technology. by 2002, the government built free wifi networks covering most inhabited areas. In 2007, e-voting was implemented, and by 2009 94% of tax returns were filled online and taking users under 5 minutes to complete. In addition, vast arrays of high-speed fiber-optic cable has been run across the country providing incredible access to its entirely online government. Currently, all bureaucratic processes can be done online, and all citizen’s data is easily accessible in times of need. This data is also not stored centrally, but via the blockchain, and thus in the event of attack or even invasion, the local government cannot be shut down. E-Estonia’s digital residency program allows for anyone in the world to become an e-Estonia resident for just $100 and a trip to the embassy. This type of change in the way we view residency and nationality provides yet another step in the right direction for widespread shift in thinking and allows for one to conceive of an entirely borderless nation.

This utilization of technology for greater societal good makes e-Estonia one of the most forward thinking, yet largely practical efforts in radically changing the very ideas of statehood and government. Though all of these achievements act as great strides towards to a true utopia, there are just as many dystopian possibilities that hang thinly in the balance.