In a seemingly dystopian world, it’s time to imagine a utopian future, a panel of writers have told ABC’s Q&A program.
No Australian politicians were on the Melbourne Writers Festival special, allowing panelists to flesh out issues facing the world that leaders struggle to solve.
“We have a broad failure of political imagination going right down the generations,” British writer and journalist Laurie Penny told the audience.
Ms Penny and the panel were responding to a question from audience member Jacob Haywood, who related a spike in sales of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 to the election of US President Donald Trump and the North Korean regime.
But the panel said writers and thinkers should use the political climate to conceptualise a better future.
“I think we should actually pen a utopian novel and get some ideas,” said Indian politician and writer Shashi Tharoor
Dr Tharoor said technological advancements allowed for the public to have free debate on social media.
“In many ways it seems to me that our times have got both better and worse at the same time. And therefore, I think if we had to write a novel fantasising, it should be fantasising about a utopia.”
Michael Fullilove, Executive Director of the Lowy Institute for International Policy, said there were lessons to be learned.
“Donald Trump may not be good for the world but he’s great for think tanks. He’s great for think tanks and he’s great for writers,” Dr Fullilove said.
“If there’s one little optimistic note we can take is that I think he spurs us, he makes us gird our loins and come up with the arguments against him.”
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, founder of the Muslim Girl website, said the US felt dystopic for many people.
“It’s a really great sign people are reading dystopian novels because it shows a heightened awareness of what we’ve gotten ourselves into,” she said.
“But I will also say that coming from Trump’s America … I will say that for many of us we’re living in that dystopia right now. Maybe it’s time for us to put the books down and start facing reality.”
In January, Penguin USA reported a 9500 per cent increase in sales of 1984, with the book topping Amazon’s bestseller list for the US.
Another program highlight was Dr Tharoor’s brutal slapdown of Britain’s imperialism in India.