You awaken in a relatively small room, whose sound is dampened by the foilage on its eastern wall. The orange flame of the sun has burst over the horizon and a myriad of brave colors are now gracing the sky. You throw off a large woolen blanket and rise to your feet on the oak floor. Your circular window is adorned with carefully placed paintings of animals who seem to dance with the light that is now rapidly filling the heavens. You leave your tree-pod to greet your life in the jungle citadel of New Caracas.
You are hundreds of feet in the trees, nestled in the jungle canopy. Your steel and concrete treehouse is highly advanced despite the vines that are etched along the exterior. Your tree-pod is one of many, connected to the monorail system that can take you to farm where you put in your work for the collective. Thanks to the blessing of automation technology, work is now shortened to a few hours, which consist mostly of making sure the planting mechs run smoothly. All thats required of you on a day to day basis is a few tweaks of the seed dispenser, which seems to have been a bit off for the past few moons. You write down your logs, grab a squash for the road and decide to head out. With an honest day’s work put in, you head to the agora; where you can trade and talk with the members of the nearby collectives. This is where you meet Sammy, a transmasc person from the scavenger district who shows you something you’ve never seen before.
His stand is littered with oddities from before The Collapse. You see, prior to the establishment of the Democratic Collectives of the Americas, the world was a different place. Mankind didn’t live in harmony with the land, didn’t have sustainable farms and didn’t use technology for good things like AI farms and preventive medicine. Man was a brutal and ecocidal beast. Wares from Pre-Collapse are a curiosity at best and taboo at worst, luckily what Sammy offers you is the former: A small rectangular prism with an apple logo on the back. Sammy’s eyes light up as he excitedly explains how this device was used, then dim as he mentions how it hurt so many. You find this all very peculiar but are intrigued nonetheless. You hand him a squash and take his device. Though all needs are met through mutual aid, the worker council delegates allowed for the trade of non-essentials through the Agora Project.
The monorail back to the canopy is a peaceful ride. The roof of the cabin is lined with jasmine flowers, which create a sweet scent that floats lazily in the air. You talk to your comrades on the train, who of course aren’t alienated from you since capital was killed hundreds of years ago. Your relationships are rich and full and your conversations are what give an already amazing world even more flavor. But your mind drifts to the device in your hem pants pocket. Sammy said that people used these to do everything, even to avoid other people. But the richness of your life seems like it would pale in comparison to some images on a tiny screen. You brush it off and finish your conversation. As the reclaimed steel doors of the train slide open, you laugh heartily at a joke one your comrades cracked. You bid them farewell and head back to your tree-pod. The train will shut down soon as the sun is setting, so you’re relieved you got back in the nick of time. You do your nighttime rituals, like writing to your delegate and eating, then you lie down to sleep. Once again your mind drifts to the device, which is now settled on the recycled plastic nightstand. Your decide to keep it as a reminder to be grateful for the world you have now. One where collapse, the compassion of mankind and technology worked together to bring you a world that’s worth living in. One where everyone is fed. One where your neighbors are lifelong friends instead of fearful property owners. One where your say in politics matters. One where the economy and technology is made for how humans are designed. It may have taken collapse to get here. But there’s no where you’d rather be than in your own shoes. You quietly smile to yourself as the sound of Jungle lulls you into a dream-filled slumber.
The world is a complicated place, filled with hardship, banality and chaos. The simple routine of waking up to work, playing video games and then sleeping is, by itself, soul crushing. But when it is framed with fantasy it becomes tolerable. A story you can tell yourself, like that the so-called advancements made by the species make the world better everyday, can make it seem as if there’s really nothing wrong. The actual “plot” of life is happening somewhere else and you can rest comfortably doing exactly what you’ve been doing for years. This is one fantasy of many, but the primary goal is to act as a buffer to an ugly aspect of the world, to fantasize about possible futureswithout engaging the reality of the present.
Solarpunk’s aesthetic consists of nature, sustainability, renwable technology, post-collapse ideas and of course solar panels. The color palettes of solarpunk art are mostly green and white, with nature only being presented as what is non-threatning and pleasurable. The works of man are often colored to match the bright message of the artwork. There are no predators in solarpunk art, there is often no mud, or gray skies, or dirty hands or tears. This is because Solarpunk is an ideology of a utopian breed and is full of idealism. Solarpunk can be contrasted with the aesthetic of “cyberpunk” inwhich technology is used to abuse and subjugate humans, massive corporations only get bigger and images of cities like Hong Kong appear to be something out of Neuromancer. The issue proto-solarpunks had with radicals holding a cyberpunk mentality is that it doesn’t inspire action. At some point it may have, but now cyberpunk was just a accurate description of our reality. Proto-solarpunks wanted this to change, so they used the destruction of the natural world to create a new narrative. Ragnarok had already happened and with the big storm over, its time to build a bright new world on top of the old.
Solarpunk does alot of things I don’t like, mainly, brushing over reality. While cyberpunk is firmly dystopian, solarpunk is completely utopian which means that its methods of storytelling are somewhat different. What makes good dystopia is how hard it hits home. Its at its best when it locks in you in a fantasy world only to show something that is ironically all too real. Almost as if it wants to show how absurd it all is. How absurd that these nightmares that should only be in fantasy are present in reality. The purpose of such moments is of course to shock and warn. But in utopian fiction, the goal is to inspire and make the audience feel hopeful. The realities of the world that utopian fiction creates are often glossed over to create that very effect. This is not, in my opinions radicals, something that radicals need. Not being divorced from reality is what separates us from people who just want to let the world fall apart with no resistance. We don’t need utopia or dystopia. We need reality. We need face the world as it is and act within it. Solarpunk is not helping.
Most visions of solarpunk often envision a unity between technology and nature. A common trope in the art is the presence of human settlements and nature in "equal" parts. Solarpunk artists often make pieces that look like timesquare but flooded with plants. You are not shown the factories where the materials for these settlements are processed. You are not shown the toxic pools of death that are left after solar panel construction. Like with capitalism the pain and ecocide that make the world possible are exported elsewhere. Its not important to treat the land with respect or to give a shit about nature as a whole. Solarpunks find that the spectacle of nature and sustainability is more than enough. The viewer of such art is to go along with this fantasy. A fantasy that suggests industry and wildness aren’t locked in a constant battle. A fantasy that suggests their worker council society wouldn’t be destroyed by imperialism. A fantasy that assures the anxious and scared audience that everything will be fine, as we are slowly but surely heading towards this better world. The most dark outlook on our planet's future suggests that a spartan lifestyle will need to be universally adopted. I don't advocate for kantian platitudes, but I believe elaborate fantasy to be luxury that shouldn't be exist. The refusal to think about how we will survive in the present is caused by our culture's fixation on escapism. Its far easier to discuss your planned "cyber-mountain AI commune" than to actually take any steps that make sense. I dismiss most of these fantasies, solarpunk and otherwise, as nothing more than an advanced form of cowardice and procastination; but if I were to be charitable enough to suggest any of these utopian ventures were worthwhile, wouldn't the basic act of connecting to your fellow human be a prerequsite? Years of living in a spectacular society has made humans think that there is either a performer or a spectator. The engineers of these fantasies consider themselves saints, claiming that their inane pipe dreams will trickle down to the "people". This has long been the thought process of writers, who insist their words to be an investment to humanity as a whole. They think, "while my words won't be appreciated now, surely their wisdom will help society later on and raise my people to new heights!". They pride themselves on being the hero of men their public school education has taught them to be. If you think this, I hate you. After years of your precious media teaching you this lesson you still miss it: at the end of the day, someone has to clean the shitters.
The alienation brought on by civilization, combined with how it consumes everything is not a light fact. When meditated on constantly, a dark cloud seems to make itself present in your life. Every minute we sit, more biodiversity is stolen, more people are crushed by capital and more of the digital cancer that is infecting the planet spreads. There are alot of threats to wildness, threats to a life where a person can feel free. Pretty much every titan that stomps around the planet is hellbent on making our lives more controlled and more miserable. In a sense, I think that everyone is anarchist. Most people are aware of how our society destroys us and the planet. For some it exists as a deep existential dread for others it is a tangible enemy. This ugliness, brought by capital, civilization and collapse are not to be met with stories. Stories are used to keep things comfortable and steady. If you want to make it seem like the dust has settled, you spin a tale about how the world is or will be better. Fuck that. This is an epoch beyond epochs. Everything we know is being broken down and rebuilt and broken again. Gaia laughs at our attempts to find stability, to latch onto something constant. The world is now bucking off the narratives we place on it. Anyone who wishes to make a better one, is immediately proven a fool and laughed of the stage of the cosmos. The things we do seem to be the only thing we can grasp. The refuge of escapism and narrative has been stolen. I say that we should be thankful, for the coming trials are not made for the idle daydreamer.