Utopia – Fantasy or Ambition?


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Many people, even many great people have dreamt of utopia throughout ages. Dreams are a funny thing – make them achievable and they can become ambitions, but make them unrealistic and they can be fantasies. Each has its place, and neither is wrong. But the question I ask is if utopia can ever be an ambition? Or if it should firmly remain a fantasy? 

John Carey wrote an article in Sunday Times (London) on September 12, 1999. “Utopia? Let’s Just Make the Best of What We’ve Got”. It was an interesting piece of writing, from a man who knows a lot about the topic since he’s the editor of the “Faber Book of Utopias.”

I’m of the opinion that utopia belongs in fantasy. It can make a great plot line for science fiction novels and movies, but it doesn’t belong in reality, and therefore can’t be turned into an ambition. Carey starts off with tantalising, “We long for a smiling world with everyone loving everyone else.” It sounds perfect (putting aside the general cynicism as a city-dweller that it sounds creepy). We would all like a world without conflict, where everyone feels safe and happy, and live fulfilling lives. 

Carey finished that thought with, “though ideas about how to achieve it have varied over the centuries.” And there it is. The bombshell. The idea of utopia is not new. Neither is the striving for it. But in all these centuries, even with all the geniuses and great thinkers we’ve had, no one’s found utopia. 

Why? Because it can’t be found. Because it’s against human nature. Because we thrive on conflict. It may not sound pretty, but that’s the reality of humanity. Every achievement, personal or societal, comes out of conflict. We push ourselves harder and reach higher because something – a conflict – stops us from getting what we want. 

Perfection is an ambition. If we had it (assuming the whole of humanity managed to agree on the definition of perfect) there would be nothing to strive for. Even though we will never reach perfection, the striving keeps us moving in the right direction.

This world is full of problems: pollution, over-population and poverty being just some of them, but these are OUR problems. We’ve been dealing with them for decades and we will continue to do so. I love technology and the convenience it brings us, but I don’t want the world full of “designer children” or babies “in hatchery tanks.” These so called “disease-free, super-brainy, super-fit” people are not natural humans. Without our flaws, we wouldn’t be unique as a specie or as individuals, and I for one, prefer to keep my uniqueness. Perfection across humanity would be basically communism across humanity. But at a much deeper level, because it would be who we are and not just some government’s imposition, and therefore much much worse. 

All the utopian ideas are not negative. Using technology for “green movement” and making our environment less polluted is something we are already working on. Let’s keep doing that by all means, using technology creatively and productively, but without attempting to change the definition of humanity. 

We can adopt good ideas from thinkers of utopia, to improve the world we have, but let’s not waste the only life we have chasing a dream that will forever be a fantasy. 

Like Carey, I vote for “let’s just make the best of what we’ve got.”


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