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Tag: satire

Second New Conspiratopia Review!

I’m excited to see so many positive reviews about my new book, Conspiratopia. The latest entry comes from a blog called The Wayward Reader (archived), who also rated the book 4/5 stars. Whoohoo!

Some selected excerpts, as this is a fairly long review:

My opinion of the book: This book is funny, clever and often hits close to home. I was thrown off by the dialogue including texting abbreviations at first and this made me feel really old! I adjusted though and only had to pause occasionally to ponder a new abbreviation. The characters are shallow, we don’t know much about them but in this story it works well. It is a very fast paced and entertaining book. People who text, game, and like online conspiracies should really have fun with this one! I am most impressed with how Timothy S. Boucher took so many different threads of modern life and managed to weave them into a very uniquely entertaining book. Great fun to read! […]

My youngest daughter doesn’t like to read. As a book lover, I feel like I failed in some way. She has read a few books and each time she does, I always am curious to see what captured her attention. I realize that she needs a book to meet an interest or experience that she has or would like to have. After I read this book, I called my daughter and read a chapter to her. When I finished, she was laughing and said I think you’ve actually found something I might read. She related to the language and circumstances!

Very fun to hear people from different walks of life, and different age groups getting a kick out of this book! Thanks everyone!

If you’d like a review copy of Conspiratopia for your blog, podcast, or to review on social media, please reach out to the publisher.

Life in Utopia

Real life in Utopia is never quite like it’s depicted in the brochures.

Thomas More’s original Utopia was based on slavery. Oops. But at least the betrothed could see each other naked… though women also had to confess their sins to their husbands.

Bacon’s New Atlantis features a weird call-out of the “good Jew” Joabin, of the city of Bensalem. Strangely, here the betrothed had to send one of their friends to see the betrothed naked as a stand-in…

Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia includes a number of creepy sexual incidents, and proposes basically autonomous ethno-states for minority groups. Umm.

Each of these books gets a number of things very very wrong. Some perhaps intentionally so, to drive a particular point or theme home. Most though, the greater social-political context has changed irrevocably. Thus, making things which once seemed progressive and liberal in an impossibly restrictive regime of the time period, now seem just impossibly weird and wrong.

Why read utopias then? Why engage in this specific type of idiotic fantasy behavior? If we know so much of it to be baloney?

It’s cliche to say utopia & dystopia are two sides of the same coin. But it’s not even just that. It’s that it’s both extremes at once. You can’t always/often tell when an author was saying something satirically as commentary, or actually thought that. It’s hard to decode the thinking of writers sometimes, and sometimes it doesn’t matter. It’s the impact that matters.

I posted something recently on my Subreddit that related to Huxley’s book, The Island (which I haven’t read yet), and someone took the liberty to highlight a few of the bad things that the story included, and then to declare (paraphrasing) that “Yeah, but you know Huxley was actually into that shit.”

I submit that it’s not that simple, and the skein of Utopias is infinitely more tangled than these kinds of simplistic interpretations. I’m reminded of an excellent passage in a recent Slate article about the utopian community of Auroville in India, and some tragic events that unfolded there.

It’s very easy to say, “Oh, come on. All these promises made, all these ideals, and it’s just a morass of humanity that just has not lived up to it in any ways…”

On the other hand, you can also look at these places and say, “Look at what they have achieved and look at what they have tried.” You could ask yourself, “Well, if a community sets itself lofty goals, and, let’s say, it achieves only 30 percent or even 40 percent of those goals, do we denigrate them for the 60 percent that they failed? Or do we praise them and admire them for the 30 percent they’ve achieved?”

Really, when it comes to the non-fictional attempts at instantiating a utopia, it depends what those 60% failures consist of. Does it involve needless human suffering and tragedy, and the abrogation of rights? If so, then we might do well to condemn it in the strongest of terms.

When it comes to books though, I propose that one viable approach could also be that we just “take a chill pill” and not get so bent out of shape about works of fiction, which reflected mores of the times they arose in and which have since moved on. It might be that the conflict between the good, the bad, the universal and specific, the ideal and the rea,l is exactly what drives this genre, and its entire utility in the first place.

Going back to that Grist piece for a second, there’s one other tangent of criticism in it that characters in Ecotopia “…display an eerie sameness that makes all human interaction in the book seem unsettlingly artificial…” If this were another genre apart from a traveler’s tale of a voyage to a Utopia – a tried and true format – then I would have more sympathy for that kind of critique (though, honestly, I have very little sympathy for most critiques – the ones I dish out especially).

As it stands though, one of the things I actually heartily enjoy about utopian fiction and utopian satires is specifically that the narrative and the characters are so so very thin. They are, in essence, lorecore. They are 98% exposition. They read like textbooks. The dramatic elements are so so. The drama instead is in the notion that this *could be* a real place – if we decided to make it so. That is, if we just re-jigger parts of our society and our world, we could have something not unlike the experiments described in this genre of books. They might turn out to be “true” utopias, or true dystopias, but they would at the very least be a try at something new, different, and perhaps unique. And that possibility is something worth preserving and exploring. In the process, it just might be possible we use that same faculty of dreaming and actualization to change the world.

Less is More in More’s Utopia

In working backwards through classics of Utopian literature, especially satires, I started with Erewhon (enjoyed it), did Gulliver’s Travels (LOVED it!), and now onto a collection called Three Early Modern Utopias put out by Oxford Classics (which does excellent print editions if you’re looking for old books).

Almost finished with Thomas More’s Book One of Utopia. I have to admit, that first book is extremely slow and boring. And we don’t even get the punchy Effect of capitalizing Nouns we get in Swift. It’s just like weird archaic language with basically no story, leading up to discussion of the actual (not actual) island called Utopia. The first book is kind of a Mirrors for Princes genre-piece. Honestly, I was expecting both Erewhon and Gulliver to be boring like this, but they totally weren’t (at least not after the narrator arrives in Erewhon proper, it’s a little slow up to that).

Anyway, there’s a lot to probably say about this book, so I started skimming Wikipedia to help ground me in what the hell is actually being said as I finish up Book One.

“There is no private property on Utopia, with goods being stored in warehouses and people requesting what they need. There are also no locks on the doors of the houses, and the houses are rotated between the citizens every ten years.”

This business about requesting what they need from warehouses strikes me as weirdly similar to modern-day use of Amazon to fulfill one’s daily needs. Now, okay, we still “own” the goods we get in exchange for money, but there’s something here. If only of a thematic, sci-fi connecting tangent…

For the past few years in my writing, I’ve on and off again visited a possible (probable) future where climate catastrophe is global, national governments tumble, and a few “brave” (dystopian) corporations step in to pick up the pieces. These become the “Four Providers,” as I’ve called them. In a sort of neo-feudalism, people are pledged to one or another Provider, or they may be a classless class apart, the “Without Providers,” who are denied basic services, and must make their own way in an increasingly hostile climate and society.

These Providers, for the most part, are sentient or quasi-sentient general artificial super-intelligences. I haven’t settled on any final name for them, calling them sometimes Sages (depending on their aligment), sometimes Princeps, and other times other things. Though they range from malevolent/chaotic to friendly and beneficial (for the most part) to humans, they in effect play the part of super-intelligent philosopher kings, or medieval princes of enclaved city-states, or collections of city-states. Though some places may also be mixed polities, where those covered by different Providers live and interact with one another.

More’s Utopia, of course, is not that. But it is many other interesting things, some good-sounding and some bad-sounding. Some other Wikipedia quotes:

Agriculture provides the most important occupation on the island. Every person is taught it and must live in the countryside, farming for two years at a time, with women doing the same work as men. Parallel to this, every citizen must learn at least one of the other essential trades: weaving (mainly done by the women), carpentry, metalsmithing and masonry. There is deliberate simplicity about these trades; for instance, all people wear the same types of simple clothes and there are no dressmakers making fine apparel. All able-bodied citizens must work; thus unemployment is eradicated, and the length of the working day can be minimized: the people only have to work six hours a day (although many willingly work for longer). More does allow scholars in his society to become the ruling officials or priests, people picked during their primary education for their ability to learn. All other citizens, however, are encouraged to apply themselves to learning in their leisure time.

Slavery is a feature of Utopian life and it is reported that every household has two slaves. The slaves are either from other countries (prisoners of war, people condemned to die, or poor people) or are the Utopian criminals. These criminals are weighed down with chains made out of gold. The gold is part of the community wealth of the country, and fettering criminals with it or using it for shameful things like chamber pots gives the citizens a healthy dislike of it. It also makes it difficult to steal as it is in plain view. The wealth, though, is of little importance and is only good for buying commodities from foreign nations or bribing these nations to fight each other. Slaves are periodically released for good behaviour. Jewels are worn by children, who finally give them up as they mature.

Other significant innovations of Utopia include: a welfare state with free hospitals, euthanasia permissible by the state, priests being allowed to marry, divorce permitted, premarital sex punished by a lifetime of enforced celibacy and adultery being punished by enslavement. Meals are taken in community dining halls and the job of feeding the population is given to a different household in turn. Although all are fed the same, Raphael explains that the old and the administrators are given the best of the food. Travel on the island is only permitted with an internal passport and any people found without a passport are, on a first occasion, returned in disgrace, but after a second offence they are placed in slavery. In addition, there are no lawyers and the law is made deliberately simple, as all should understand it and not leave people in any doubt of what is right and wrong.

That last piece sounds almost like Swift’s talking horses, Houyhnhnms, who are highly rational creatures, so much so that he wishes he could stay with them, and when banished, is hard-pressed to re-adjust to the grossness of human society which he’d learned to hate. I believe he says something to the effect that they are governed by “reason alone” and as a consequence have no need for anything other than very simple laws. With the unlikely idea, obviously, that reason when employed by differing parties (with different interests and contexts) will always operate toward the same ends. Anyone who has lived anywhere on actual-not-fictional-planet-earth knows that is not the case.

And that, of course, is the “fun” of Utopian literature. Being able to bend & blend reality and imagination like that. Utopian lit is 100% hyperreal. It opens up an imaginal space which almost seems like it could become a real space in certain times & circumstances. We want to believe it could be true, even if – and possibly because – so much of it is so absurd. It’s part of why I’ve recently started feeling (for whatever my feelings are worth or not worth) that satire, especially, is one of the highest forms of art.

Maybe/probably that’s just something that satirists tend to end up thinking about themselves, because you have to be kind of an asshole to be a satirist in the first place. But I also think like, there’s no kind of commentary you can make with a serious face that ends up – for my money, anyway – being as powerful as the cutting kind that accompanies satire. And there is no kind of true expression that you might find in non-satirical art that is quite as True-Capital-T as that which you find between the tongue and the cheek of satire. In the liminal space of satire can be great power, great pain, great beauty, and great despair, all in the same moment.

Which makes this bit from the Wikipedia interesting about More’s flirtations with Utopian socialism:

“Book two has Hythloday tell his interlocutors about Utopia, where he has lived for five years, with the aim of convincing them about its superior state of affairs. Utopia turns out to be a socialist state. Interpretations about this important part of the book vary. Gilbert notes that while some experts believe that More supports socialism, others believe that he shows how socialism is impractical. The former would argue that More used book two to show how socialism would work in practice. Individual cities are run by privately elected princes and families are made up of ten to sixteen adults living in a single household. It is unknown if More truly believed in socialism, or if he printed Utopia as a way to show that true socialism was impractical (Gilbert). More printed many writings involving socialism, some seemingly in defense of the practices, and others seemingly scathing satires against it. Some scholars believe that More uses this structure to show the perspective of something as an idea against something put into practice. Hythloday describes the city as perfect and ideal. He believes the society thrives and is perfect. As such, he is used to represent the more fanatic socialists and radical reformists of his day. When More arrives he describes the social and cultural norms put into practice, citing a city thriving and idealistic. While some believe this is More’s ideal society, some believe the book’s title, which translates to “Nowhere” from Greek, is a way to describe that the practices used in Utopia are impractical and could not be used in a modern world successfully (Gilbert). Either way, Utopia has become one of the most talked about works both in defense of socialism and against it.”

I don’t especially have a horse in this race, though after becoming a Canadian citizen, can see that socialized medicine is “actually pretty cool if you think about it.” It sort of takes away the essential terrible existential fear of financial ruin over health problems many/most live with in the United States (and elsewhere). If you need help, you just have to call, basically. But if Quebec’s health system is indicative of the whole, you have to then wait a very very long time. So that part sucks. Like anything, you can make arguments for and against it. And I think that in a nutshell (to make arguments for and against and to lampoon both), is the purpose of utopias, satires, and especially Utopian satires as a genre, like I’m attempting to do myself after that grand style in Conspiratopia.

Conspiratopia: Chapter 6

“Whoa, nice,” I said as we rolled up to the school building. It didn’t look like what I think of when I think school building, like red bricks and stuff. It looked more like a small office building, with about 10 or 12 floors.

We rolled up to the doors and they opened automatically. Inside was a lobby and a reception desk, staffed by a telepresence robot with a woman’s face on the screen.

“May I help you?” she asked. 

“Uh, I guess? I mean…” I didn’t actually know why we were there. I was just playing along. 

But then the voice of the Guide took over:

WE’RE HERE FOR THE SELF-GUIDED TOUR.

“Alright,” said the woman with dark hair and glasses. “I’m authorizing the track right now. When you’re ready, we’ll switch you over to autopilot.”

“Okay. I’m ready,” I said. An icon appeared in the goggle display next to the word AUTOPILOT flashing in yellow.

“Enjoy!” she said.

THANK YOU.

“Yeah, thanks,” I said, trying to wave the controller around. But I guess I didn’t have any arms, cause nothing seemed to happen. 

Then a track lit up on the floor, and my robot just followed it automatically. I didn’t mind taking a break from controlling it actually. It was cool, but this was all still a lot to get used to. 

The track took us along a narrow hallway that like totally seemed specially designed for tours. We could see down into a bunch of different rooms and stuff. They were all filled with telepresence robots, each with a kid’s face in it. 

THERE IS NO TEACHER IN THIS SCHOOL.

“What? That’s weird. But cool I guess,” I said.

IT’S TOTALLY COOL, IN FACT. YOU SEE, EACH STUDENT IS  ENTRUSTED WITH 100 TRUTHCOINS WHEN THEY BEGIN THEIR STUDIES, REGARDLESS OF AGE. THE PURPOSE OF THESE COINS IS FOR THEIR OWNERS TO INVEST THEM IN THE MARKETPLACE OF IDEAS, WHICH IS A LITERAL MARKET HERE, AND TO EARN THE GREATEST RETURN POSSIBLE.

We rolled on past a giant electronic display that showed all the students names, and ranked them with a bunch of numbers and stuff.

THIS  IS THE LEADERBOARD. HERE YOU CAN SEE WHICH STUDENTS ARE WINNING, HOW MANY TRUTHCOINS THEY HAVE AMASSED, AND SOME OTHER STATS. 

“And this one?” I said as the track took us past another mega huge display, with like fifty different screens in it or something. 

HERE NEWS RELATED TO THE MARKETPLACE OF IDEAS IS FEATURED, ALONG WITH RELEVANT TRADING DATA. 

“Hm, like a stock market but for ideas. Totally cool. Can anybody play or is it just for students?”

ANY MEMBER WITH FULL PRIVILEGES MAY INVEST, OF COURSE. 

We passed by another larger room, which had in it what looked like an assembly. The robots almost looked like they were swarming or something. 

“What in heck’s going on here?”

THE STUDENTS ARE ENGAGED IN A VIRTUAL DEBATE WHICH HAS GONE VIRAL. THIS IS ONE OF THEIR FORUMS. A GREAT DEAL OF TRUTHCOINS HAVE BEEN STAKED.

“Staked?”

PARTICIPANTS IN BOTH STUDENT OR PUBLIC FORUM DEBATES MUST STAKE TRUTHCOINS IN ORDER TO PARTICIPATE. THE MEMBERS WHO ATTEND IRL AND REMOTELY ALSO MUST PUT UP A STAKE TO OBSERVE. THE STAKED AMOUNTS GO TO THE WINNING SIDE. 

“How do you decide who wins?” I asked, genuinely curious. I thought it sounded awesome. 

IT’S COMPLICATED, BUT THERE IS A BLOCKCHAIN-BASED CONSENSUS MECHANISM, ON WHICH TECHNICAL POINTS ARE AWARDED AND VOTES TALLIED. AN ALGORITHM USES THOSE INPUTS AND SOME OTHER PROPRIETARY DATA SOURCES TO DECLARE A WINNER.

“So, the computer decides?”

THE COMPUTER SIMPLY TALLIES AND APPLIES AN ALGORITHM. MANY FACTORS ARE CONSIDERED.

“Like what, for example?”

WELL, THE PRIMARY VALUATION WE PLACE ON IDEAS IS OF COURSE VIRALITY. THESE IDEAS BY VIRTUE OF POPULARITY, OF COURSE, ARE CONSIDERED TO BE MORE TRUE. FOR EXAMPLE, DO MANY PEOPLE BELIEVE THEM OR LIKE THEM, OR AT LEAST REACT STRONGLY WHEN PRESENTED WITH THEM? DO MEMBERS WANT TO ENGAGE WITH THESE IDEAS, WHETHER NEGATIVELY OR POSITIVELY? IT IS QUITE AN EXACT SCIENCE, IN FACT. 

“That actually sounds really smart,” I said, agreeing with them. “It sounds totally smart as hell.”

INDEED, MY DUDE. AND YOU’LL NEVER GUESS WHAT ELSE…

“Uh, what?”

THE IDEAS THEY INVEST IN AND TRADE ARE CONSPIRACY THEORIES AND ALTERNATIVE HISTORY. 

“Whoa, really?”

WE BELIEVE THAT EVERYONE MUST DO THEIR OWN RESEARCH. AND INSTEAD OF FORCING PEOPLE TO BELIEVE SOMETHING, OR LIKE WONDERING WHY DON’T THEY TEACH SUCH AND SUCH CONSPIRACY OR ALTERNATIVE HISTORY THING IN SCHOOL, WE DECIDED TO ONLY TEACH THOSE IN SCHOOL. AND IT’S GOING FRICKIN’ GREAT. 

“Damn, that’s lit. Like, really innovative af. Wow, just wow. Holy cow…” My mind was seriously blown. “My mind is literally blown right now, hfs. You guys thought of everything.”

WE KNOW. IT’S TOTALLY CHILL. WAIT TIL YOU SEE THE REST. 

Acclaimed or punished?

This is from a decnt broad strokes article about satire as a genre and some of its history that I am finding worth reading. From the Britannica article:

“The 20th-century American critic Kenneth Burke summed up this paradoxical aspect of satire’s relation with the law by suggesting that the most inventive satire is produced when the satirist knowingly takes serious risks and is not sure whether he will be acclaimed or punished.”

I would even go so far as to say treading that line as a satirist can be invigorating. Serious question: is there a serious difference between a satirist and an edge lord? Gonna need some more thinking on what makes up the essential character of each.

Conspiratopia: Preface

About

Conspiratopia is a utopian satire set in a parallel universe where conspiracy theories have completely overridden society. Or is it a documentary set in the near future? One of those two.

Starring

The star of Conspiratopia, is Matt, creator of a couple not-that-viral conspiracy videos that only got a few thousand videos on TikTok (#conspiracytok), but which ended up costing him his job. He is also known online as Super Smart Conspiracy Dude, and you can watch all his videos here and here.

Merchandise

Even though personally I hate t-shirts, and never wear them because they make me feel like I’m choking, there’s also a t-shirt you can buy (if you want to torture yourself with close fitting garments adorned with someone else’s slogans, that is).

It immortalizes the opening lines of the book, I’m a really smart conspiracy guy.

Publishing Notes

Conspiratopia will be published here serially as it is written, in original unedited drafts. I will later go back and do improved versions, and package it as an ebook, a print book, NFTs, a CD-ROM, a cuneiform tablet, and whatever else kids are into these days. Or at least an ebook, cause that costs me nothing.

Author

You can check out other books I’ve written here, and an interview with me here, plus a podcast with me here.

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