Dr. Michio Kaku, a prominent US theoretical physicist, claims the reason for the Shaker (religious) community’s (and other utopian communities too) disappearance was due largely to a lack of abundance in his Big Think video talk on the Social Europe Journal website, from the transcript,
Throughout human history people have tried to create utopia, the perfect society. In fact, America, the American dream, in some sense was based on utopianism. Why do we have the Shaker movement? Why did we have the Quakers? Why did we have so many different kinds of religious movements that fled Europe looking to create autopia here in the Americas? Well, we know the Shakers have disappeared and many of these colonies have also disappeared only to be found in footnotes in American textbooks, and the question is why?
One reason why is scarcity because back then the industrial revolution was still young and societies had scarcity. Scarcity creates conflict and unless you have a way to resolve conflict, your colony falls apart.
I have two questions here: (1) if scarcity cause conflict and problems, why aren’t all rich people happy and conflict-free? (2) regarding the Shakers, wasn’t their policy of prohibiting sexual activity of any kind, i.e. lifelong celibacy, a larger problem? Kaku’s thesis is somewhat reductionist as per the Shaker essay on Wikipedia which suggests a number of interlocking issues,
Membership in the Shakers dwindled in the late 19th century for several reasons: people were attracted to cities and away from the farms; Shaker products could not compete with mass-produced products that became available at a much lower cost; and Shakers could not have children, so adoption was a major source of new members. This continued until orphanages were established and the states began to limit adoption by religious groups.
Kaku has a technology solution for the reductionist problem he has posed,
However, now we have nanotechnology, and with nanotechnology, perhaps, who knows, maybe in 100 years, we’ll have something called the replicator. Now the replicator is something you see in Star Trek. It’s called the molecular assembler and it takes ordinary raw materials, breaks them up at the atomic level and joins the joints in different ways to create new substances. If you have a molecular assembler, you can turn, for example, a glass into wood or vice versa. You would have the power of a magician, in fact, the power of a god, the ability to literally transform the atoms of one substance into another and we see it on Star Trek.
It’s also the most subversive device of all because if utopias fail because of scarcity then what happens when you have infinite abundance? [emphasis mine] What happens when you simply ask and it comes to you?
It’s as if Kaku was creating a question for the US television quiz programme, Jeopardy, where contestants have to construct the question for the answer that’s presented to them. e.g., Answer: nanotechnology will make infinite abundance possible Question: Will we then have utopia?
It’s an interesting question, I just wish it had been contextualized more thoughtfully.