In an excerpt from his new book Four Futures: Life After Capitalism, Peter Frase discusses how science fiction can help us understand the future.
One way of differentiating social science from science fiction is that the first is about describing the world that is, while the second speculates about a world that might be. But really, both are a mixture of imagination and empirical investigation, put together in different ways. Both attempt to understand empirical facts and lived experience as something that is shaped by abstract—and not directly perceptible—structural forces.
Certain types of speculative fiction are more attuned than others to the particularities of social structure and political economy. In Star Wars, you don’t really care about the details of the galactic political economy. And when the author tries to flesh them out, as George Lucas did in his widely derided Star Wars prequel movies, it only gums up the story. In a world like Star Trek, on the other hand, these details actually matter. Even though Star Wars and Star Trek might superficially look like similar tales of space travel and swashbuckling, they are fundamentally different types of fiction. The former exists only for its characters and its mythic narrative, while the latter wants to root its characters in a richly and logically structured social world.
"We know that the work for the left now is long and slow and that it requires force and numbers and commitment at a grassroots, community level. We must also recognise that the challenge for the left in 2017 is one of transnational solidarity: figuring out how to join up, link up and learn from global struggles." - Rachel Shabi looks back at a year of many challenges, and what we can do to build solidarity and resistance in 2017.
Of course it wasn’t the worst year, ever. Those bewailing the myriad awfulness of 2016 know history has dealt worse than the year of Brexit and Donald Trump’s election, the year of deadly terror attacks around the world, a desperate refugee crisis and an alarming rise in far-right forces across Europe. Even ignoring swathes of history, recent years have been awful, too: the five since the Arab Uprisings have seen grotesque war in Syria, a deadly assault on Yemen, repression and human rights abuses in Egypt and Bahrain – as well as a harsh crackdown in Turkey, once considered to be a ‘model’ for the region. Egyptian analysts might well say the “worst year ever” was 2013, when a military coup put their authoritarian, Abdel Fatah el-Sisi in charge.
On Friday 23rd December the UN passed a resolution demanding a stop to Israeli settlement in the occupied territories as, in a shock move, the US refused to veto the resolution. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exploded, calling it a 'declaration of war' (having recently been granted a $38 billion military aid package by the US), and Secretary of State John Kerry criticised Israel's approach to the peace process. But with Trump tweeting that Israel should 'stay strong' until his inauguration, progress still seems unlikely.
Verso presents a list of books from Israeli, Palestinian, and anti-imperialist authors, to explain the conflict and provide some perspectives on the future.
Christian Salmon's interview with Judith Butler first appeared in Mediapart. Translated by David Broder.
Correction: An earlier version of this post included Judith Butler's remarks in translation from French. Butler has since sent us the English responses she submitted to Mediapart, which the post has been updated to reflect.
What does Donald Trump represent? The American philosopher Judith Butler, professor at UC, Berkeley, has recently published a short book in French, Rassemblement [Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly]. She explains that Donald Trump incarnates a new form of fascism. As she puts it, "A lot of people are very happy to see this disturbing, unintelligent guy parading around as if he was the centre of the Earth and winning power thanks to this posture."
Jean Birnbaum's profile of Enzo Traverso first appeared in Le Monde. Translated by David Broder.
The leftist ferment of the 1960s–70s is unthinkable except in the context of a certain Communist "bath water." Often the generation becoming alive to politics at that moment had been radicalised in response to their Communist parents — parents that "not everyone was lucky enough" to have. Later, in 1989, the old ‘68ers who had revolted against their "Stalinist" mums and dads would see it all disappear — not only the bath water but its babies and even the babies of its babies… In the moment that they were themselves meant to take over responsibility as parents, they found themselves orphaned twice over. Both their revolt and the world they had railed against were no more.