Humanity’s Quest for Utopia
People have always been on the search for utopias. They’ve appeared time and time again: social experiments executed on a massive scale, humans testing the waters of what’s possible. We’ve seen them everywhere, from the Bible to history books. Utopias have been a beacon of hope, a goal for countless civilizations, and a little voice in the back of society's mind. So the question arises: Can utopias exist?
First we must define what a utopia is. What comes to mind to most people is an ideal, perfect society. However, the word has a much more complex history. It was originally coined by Thomas More, author of a work titled with the same name, and it literally translates to “no place.” A utopia was originally described as a place so idealistic it couldn’t exist. However, the word has evolved over time, and many have challenged the notion utopias are mear fantasies. Today, a utopia is largely considered to be a perfect society, but the question of whether they are reachable is shrouded in ambiguity.
The first problem with these supposed “ideal societies” is what constitutes ideal. In Thomas More’s original work, Utopia was an island that encompassed many western-societal ideals. All religions were welcome, democracy was used to choose leaders, and capitalism was essentially abolished. However, More also condoned the use of slaves, saying they were essential for the function of society. Most would see this as the opposite of utopia—a dystopia. What means utopia to some means dystopia to others.
Therefore, in order to achieve a utopia, all sense of self needs to be abolished. Naturally, people will differ in opinion, as seen in the example of More’s utopia. For a utopia to really be a “utopia” there can’t be issues concerning what constitutes a perfect society. In many modern utopias, destroying the class system has been one of the major goals. History has seen this attempted in communism, post-revolution France, and many other societies. These utopias function on the belief that all people are willing to act selflessly for the greater good. However, this is impossible. There will always be those who go against the tide and debate what a utopia really is. In order for a utopia to continue existing and avoid revolution, the population needs to be controlled. This was seen in the Soviet Union where freedoms of the individual were restricted and everyone was expected to become a part of a whole. In order for such a society to function, it needed to see the death of the individual.
Another problem with utopias stems from the fact that problems will always occur regardless of how advanced a civilization is. Humans are wired to look for problems and this is why, despite all the luxuries of modern life, people face “first-world problems.” Regardless of what people do to build a better world, the brain will always find new issues to create. This doesn’t mean people should be pessimistic and not seek a better life. However, it does mean utopias are not realistic.
Someone once told me perfection is a wonderful goal but a terrible expectation. This same philosophy can be applied to utopias. The world has been getting better. Life expectancy has been increasing for hundreds of years, global poverty rates have been decreasing and current technological advancements mean fewer die from disease and injury. These are all victories for humanity and should be celebrated as such. However, other problems have arisen. Climate change, a new pandemic, and many other issues affect the world today. Facing these challenges should be a goal, but eliminating all challenges should not be an expectation. Buying into the idea that we should be striving for a perfect world will only distract us from the problems that need to be dealt with.
Utopias can never be possible because what’s a utopia to one will always be a dystopia to another. The very nature of humanity would have to be destroyed for them to exist. Utopias are built on wishful thinking, ideals, and dreams, but they aren’t built on reality.
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