The other day I was going through some old notes on Plato’s Republic and began thinking about utopias. There are many different kinds of theoretical utopias, from those centered on harmony with nature to spiritual utopias where all religions are united together in a perfect shared faith. Still, the general discourse revolves around a place or society free of hate, violence, bigotry, and jealousy with perfection in law, politics, social environment, etc.
However, there’s a general belief that all utopian societies are unobtainable. The encyclopedia describes it as a place with “seemingly perfect conditions” that tends to be “impossibly idealistic”. This idealism stems from the naïve assumption that human beings will ever agree upon a perfect “social environment” or political system, and an even more naïve belief that mankind, with its overwhelmingly diverse spectrum of beliefs, could ever be free of hate or disgust. We strive for individualism – a healthy part of self-identity formation – but it is not without its drawbacks. Individuality forms when we define ourselves against something or someone else. Cheerleaders wear pink – I am not a cheerleader, therefore I wear black, and so on. However, where difference occurs so too does derision and bigotry. One simply does not exist without the other.
So really, the only way to create a utopia is to do away with individualism. Over the past centuries we have seen several attempts at this. The chief architects of these attempted societies can also be called by another name – dictator. Known for the use of extreme methods (like genocide) to eradicate difference, what these leaders strive for is nothing short of a nightmare. But that aside, what is a world without individualism? That sounds more akin to a dystopia than a utopia. A dystopia, also known as the counter or anti-utopia, is a society which has evolved into a negative version of a utopia, or a utopian society with at least one fatal flaw. Typical dystopian societies are characterized by a repressive and controlling state where people are alienated and individuality smothered. While it is generally understood that utopias are satirical and used to critique a real life place – for example, many believe that Thomas More’s Utopia was meant as a commentary on England – dystopias, on the other hand, act more as cautionary tales when we, the imperfect human race, strive for an idyllic utopian society.
Perhaps it’s the cynic in me, but I find that the line between utopia and dystopia awfully blurred. Whether it’s my disbelief that mankind can ever live peacefully under one shared belief, or my fear that its success would be at the expense of what makes us interesting and unique, I remain wary of utopian advocates.