How to define Utopia.

I’m writing about Utopia. The opposite of Dystopia. Where the operation of society has become perfect, everyone is healthy and happy and equal, and there are no more problems – no crime, no wars, no famine, pestilence or disease.

Only I’m discovering that Utopia feels very much the same as dystopia. Not everyone loves it, even if they put up with it. The guys at the top seem to love it a whole lot more than the guys at the bottom. Some rally against it. Some feel their personal liberties are limited by Utopia. And some just prefer anarchy.

Utopia was a satirical novel by Thomas More written in 1516. Its full title was Libellus vere aureus, nec minus salutaris quam festivus, de optimo rei publicae statu deque nova insula Utopia, which translates to, “A truly golden little book, no less beneficial than entertaining, of a republic’s best state and of the new island Utopia”. 

But even More’s version of Utopia is troublesome. Slavery is a feature, with two slaves allowed per household. Slaves are either Utopian criminals or come from other countries. Premarital sex and adultery are severely punished. Divorce is permitted, as is euthanasia. While the elderly are given the best of the food, this is also given to the ‘administrators’. There is no privacy, travel is only permitted with an internal passport, and women are required to confess their sins to their husbands once a month.

The good thing about More’s Utopia is that if you don’t like it, you are free to leave.

In my story, the world achieves a state of Utopia when humankind unites as one nation. However, there are still issues. In order to achieve equal human rights for all, some were required to relinquish rights while others gained rights. Distribution of food, medical care, and education are still uneven. There are vocal opponents of this version of Utopia. There are those who envisage Utopia as being something completely different to that which is on offer and who actively agitate for change. And there are those who simply don’t want Utopia at all. 

Utopia exists under the proviso that you can’t please all the people all the time, so you endeavor to please most of the people most of the time. Many citizens of my united world see very little difference between Utopia and the previous national state they belonged to. But they put up with it – after all, it’s a good enough life. There are secret societies who oppose Utopia and work to bring it down. And there are open political opponents.

Once I started to try to work out a world Utopia, I realized it was always going to be a fairy tale. As long as there are beliefs, values, and behaviors that differ from person to person and from community to community, it can never be achieved. You may be told it has been. There may be striking evidence that it has been. But it will never be able to be achieved one hundred percent. I estimate maybe seventy percent of the population would be content with Utopia, twenty-five percent resent it but live there anyway, and five percent actively oppose it. Those twenty-five percent are the most interesting of people, because they battle themselves.

It’s a fascinating mental activity to try to work out what is going through the brains of those twenty-five percent. In More’s Utopia, for example, I suspect the slaves aren’t that pleased to be there. People who engage in sex before marriage (or at least those of them that are caught) are sentenced to a life of celibacy. I suspect those people wouldn’t be terribly pleased about that. And the lack of privacy and freedom has got to make people annoyed.

But at least you can get away from More’s Utopia. In my world, there is nowhere else to go. So how do you manage in a world where the government proclaims Utopia, but that is not the life you find yourself living? Do you shrug your shoulders and make the most of it? Or do you actively refuse to participate, knowing your punishment will be severe? Do you publicly embrace but privately repudiate? Is this all done behind closed doors, for fear of reprisal?

Can you see the parallels to our own societies? How many of us have shrugged our shoulders in the past year or two? How many of us have refused to participate, or have been vocally in opposition? How many of us know things should be different, and yet we say nothing and just live our own lives?

Utopia is a dream. Dystopia is a nightmare. Both are political systems gone crazy. Both are far too real in my mind for comfort.

How to define Utopia.

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