The original meaning of Utopia was other place, or no place. It gradually adopted the meaning of a perfectly ordered society/world. Plato theorized such a world in “The Republic.” Thomas More fantasized about such a place in his book “Utopia.” It is agreed by those most familiar with More’s writings that he was more or less satirizing, and was likely playing off recent writings by Amerigo Vespucci about the far off land he had mapped (what was later to become – in part – the United States).
But others, apparently missing either the theoretic basis (Plato) or the satirization of a place that could not really even exist (More’s “Utopia), began writings and teachings proposing that we should develop world systems based on these unreachable places. One was Karl Marx as he wrote his communist thoughts, they were based in some measure on trying to build a Utopia. Adolf Hitler (and I know I will take heat for this one) wanted a Utopia in Germany by abolishing those he felt less fit to be a part of his society – you know the rest of that story.
There have been many failed attempts at creating utopia around the world. Some with good motives, and others with very selfish reasons.
On a recent news broadcast, I heard Larry Gatlin make the comment that, “…you can’t legislate a perfect world..” That was such a great moment, as I have been reading and investigating this topic, to hear it so perfectly put. That is exactly why Utopianism can’t work. In our imperfect world, filled with imperfect and self-oriented people, at best, we can make a few things temporarily better for ourselves or others. And at worst, we can rob one group to temporarily improve the context of another.
But for better or worse, many are still unknowingly utopianists. Any attempt to create perfect order will always result in eventual imperfection. One Utopian community serving as a typical model was the Brook Farm in Massachusetts, which failed because it could never become financially stable (in an imperfect world); ending in lawsuits between leading members over financial disputes.
Virtually every attempt at utopia has failed in all of recorded history. Yet we unknowingly continue in our attempts to build modern utopias. I don’t intend for this to be a political article, but the Affordable Health Care Act is an example at such an attempt. The idea of taking a good medical system with flaws, and believing somehow that it can be transformed to something perfect is implausible.
Government measures to attempt to lock away those who are imperfect (somehow taking away the perfect order in our society) seems to be an attempt at utopianism. There is the belief that somehow we can add enough laws and enforcement, security systems, antibiotics, other drugs to extend lives, safety features in vehicles, automatic safety contrivances, and so many other things…… that someday, we will “evolve” into a perfectly ordered society.
What is the answer? Is it to cease making better medicines, forget about safety and security, let all of the prisoners go free…?? Certainly not.
Utopianism is such an important topic because we must become aware that we are perhaps striving to reach the unattainable. We will never have a perfectly ordered and perfectly safe society. So I don’t propose the answer to utopianism. I propose that we intelligently and thoughtfully discuss what we are trying to accomplish in the world; and realize that we can’t create perfection.
We need to look at history, look at the origins of utopian thought, and understand that so many of us are (mostly unwittingly) still trying to achieve that unattainable.
I look forward to your thoughts and comments. I know many will disagree, and I don’t intend to debate the topic. What I hope for is an array of thoughts from differing perspectives.