Does Elon Musk really understand the “utopian anarchist” culture of Iain M Banks? | Books

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Thus, Elon Musk claimed that he was a “utopian anarchistin a way he claims is best described by the late science fiction author Iain M Banks. Which brings us to a very pertinent question: Did Musk actually read any of Banks’ books? In a series of novels, the Scottish author explored “the culture”: a post-scarcity, hedonistic society where you could create your own drugs in your own body, change gender at will, and where freedom was the most lofty and noblest of a civilization.

But there is a darker side to Culture. The playground of pleasures is overseen by vast intelligent machines which, sometimes on a whim, make their own decisions about what is best for their companions. In each novel, the Culture faces an enemy who disagrees with its values. Culture opposes the religion of the Idirans and the monstrous brutality of the Affront. For the Chelgrians, the Culture caused a caste war, then covered it up; for the Gzilts, they did not want them to “sublimate,” or transcend the known universe. Worse than that, we have the frequently mentioned “special circumstances”: a group that is frequently embroiled in the machinations of the culture. They intervene, they murder, they hide. Special Circumstances is a twist on the old student-politics question: How far can a liberal society go to defend liberalism?

The cold answer in these novels is: to some extent. When I interviewed Banks, just before his untimely death in 2013 at the age of 59, we discussed why Culture doesn’t sublimate like other species. He was adamant: the Culture would stay until everything else in the universe resembled them. Not exactly utopian, not exactly anarchist.

It is therefore worrying that a technology entrepreneur thinks that a totalitarian and interventionist monolith is a model. If there is life after death, Banks must be laughing at his cotton socks.

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