Monday, January 7, 2008


Or Utopia?

I see a lot of talk, from everyone from feminists to Christians to queer folk, about revolutions and utopias.
But do we really want a utopia?
And do you know how your utopia will be built or how it will be run?

I say no.

There is no universal utopia; everyone's version will be different. Even things that seem simple are actually quite complicated. You say your utopia will have no crime? Well, define crime. Okay, so crime means stealing and assault. Okay, define stealing and define assault. Stealing means taking what doesn't belong to you? Well, those seeds belong to the plant, not you; so you can't eat. Assault is purposefully causing someone's pain? So, BDSM, disciplining your child, and re-setting bones are all out.
There is no one truth; everyone's truth is different. So, which truth gets to make it into the utopia and what happens to those whose truths don't agree with yours?

How many utopias have been made?
How many attempts have there been in human history?

I don't know, but there have been quite a few attempted utopias in fiction.
*Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed has a moon that was a communist/socialist attempt at utopia; artists, the depressed, and anyone who forms close ties with others are hurt by that society. Artists are often shunned for their work, those who become apathetic or anti-social for any reason, including depression, are shunned when they do not 'pull their weight', and you aren't supposed to try to own anyone's affections—not even a mate or a child.
*I don't remember the book's title or author it's been so long, but I once read a book where the utopia worked. Mind you, they had to genetically engineer humans to have less passionate emotions and less ambition for it to work—and if there were any throw-backs they had to be driven out lest their passions destroy the society.
*There was a movie on late one night where a virus had killed all the men, except for a few who were cryogenicaly frozen, and the all-female world was a utopia. Every so often a man would wake up and he would cause trouble and would be killed. But even when it was just the women the utopia was failing—there was still backstabbing and the weather was just as unpredictable as ever (which caused food shortages that caused more backstabbing).
*There is even a paradise mentioned in Saiyuki; but all that means is that humans and yokai (demons/monsters without many western negative connotations) were able to live together without going to war; it wasn't a true utopia, there was crime and pain and death.
*Of course you have the classics, such as Brave New World, 1984, or Fahrenheit 451.

Now, many will say that fantasy stories don't prove that a utopia is nothing more than a dream, but I think fantasy and sci fi are a way of exploring possibilities.
Authors are able to write out all sorts of possible scenarios, if you're a theorist trying to plan out your utopia you should read the scenarios and plan accordingly. After all, fiction authors have already done some of your brainstorming work for you.

Humans are animals; humans have passions and instincts and a high drive for survival.
If for whatever reason, weather or disease or even a God's displeasure, food production goes down, what will your paradise do? Will you engineer or breed out the survival instincts so there will never be a war?
What will your utopia of no violence do against a sociopath? How can people raised to abhor violence kill or even subdue someone?
If your society is against hierarchies, how will you keep them from developing them in the future? Will it be like in The Dispossessed where jobs are rotated and everyone gets their clothes and food from he same depots?
If your utopia is based on one or more Gods, how will you keep the faith? Will you execute heretics, or just re-educate them while you wait for your God(s) to show up?

Perhaps most important, how will you achieve your dreams?
Will you wait for the Gods to come down from on high (or from down low) to show everyone the Truth? Will there be a violent uprising of the working classes? Must aliens destroy civilization, allowing for the survivors to build anew?

If you are basing your beliefs and actions off of some future paradise, you should at least have some idea of what it is and how it will come about.

Or are you going to be like the Operative in Serenity—someone who believes hard and never questions while he carries out the duties he knows are wrong, but he is told they will help build paradise?

This post generated some great discussion between a friend and I; so I'll copy some of my favorite bits here too.
"not that we shouldn't work to make the world a better place but when someone's only interested in working toward this end goal of utopia and isn't interested in all the stuff along the way it seems kind of meaningless."--SomethingElse
"I think it's a form of internalized transphobia/cissexism when medically transitioning trans*folk give no-ho/op trans*folk shit. I remember one discussion I had with a bunch of feminists about MWMF where a trans*woman said she was fine with being excluded if it meant "manly, aggressive" no-ho trans*women were also excluded."--Me
"i think [a real, workable solution] would involve a huge shift in values but it seems like it would be much more of a "utopia" in my opinion and is a whole lot less interesing than some sci-fi version of utopia but also has a lot more value for different people's needs and wants and stuff. like i don't think its about making everyone happy, i think its about ballancing out power so that everyone has some power over their own life and also about, you know, making things consentual and stuff. like i feel like a lot of stuff that i've learned from bdsm kind of stuff, like a lot of the values that happen there are ones that i feel like the world would be a much better place if everyone had those values for everything in their life"--SomethingElse

I realize that a "perfect" world/life has a lot of attraction for people (duh), but I fail to see how people can take the idea of utopias seriously. I know that many times when people say utopia or revolution they are not being literal and/or serious, but I know that some folks are and I just can't believe that they are that naive.


Daisy said...

Drakyn, have you read ORYX AND CRAKE by Margaret Atwood? I just love it. Highly recommended!

You made me think of some of her ideas here.

Drakyn said...

No, but I'll add that to Handmaid's Tale on my 'must read' list...