Sunday, January 31, 2016

Looking Backward: 2000–1887

In the wikipedia article covering the novel, Looking Backward: 2000–1887 ,by journalist Edward Bellamy, is described as a "Utopian science fiction novel". Utopian is an accurate description, but calling the novel science fiction is stretching the term a bit much.

Published in 1888, the novel tells the story of a young man who falls into a deep hypnotic trance and awakens in the year 2000 to find the United States has been transformed into a socialist utopia where war, poverty, crime, prostitution, corruption, money, or taxes no longer exist. Ownership of private property is a thing of the past and the national government owns and operates all businesses.

Bellamy's vision of the year 2000 AD bears no resemblance to the way things have actually turned out. Although many have wished socialism upon us, the Federal government, as it exists, does not have the control Bellamy's fictional government has.

Of course, Bellamy has no way of knowing of the two world wars that happened between his 1887 and the real 2000. His future has no airplanes, or radio, or automobile, not to mention cell phones, computers or television. He was not even able to imagine musical recordings. In his novel, households do have access to music 24 hours a day, but the music comes from live performances transmitted over the telephone - the only piece of "modern technology" already invented in Bellamy's time.

Unfortunately, there is very little action in the novel; it's mostly conversations between the hero, Julian West, and two people he meets - Doctor Leete and his daughter, Edith.

Edward Bellamy may have had good intentions - as did the hundreds, if not thousands of members of the various Bellamy Clubs that popped up in the U.S. following the publication of the novel. Unfortunately, Bellamy's hope for the future was based on wishful thinking regarding human nature. We are not as self sacrificing and altruistic as the folks in Bellamy's year 2000.

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