The concept of Utopia exists with us daily, even if not expressed by name: it is the idea that if we move forward toward an idealized moral society, we will eliminate suffering and by removing sources of pain and inequity, thus live in bliss. In that view, life is evenly divided into bliss and suffering, and by subtracting the latter, we’re left with only the former. Of course, by “civilization” we mean the increasing physical technology of human beings, and believe that by coupling this industrial society with a moral/liberal agenda, we are coming into a golden age of humanity – an “enlightened” and “progressive” future.
To anyone with experience of life as a continuum, this is another dead-end mythos like Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and diet junk food that’s as satisfying as the real heart-killing, waistline-expanding, gut-rotting deal. Sir Thomas Moore wrote his book “Utopia” to describe a future civilization that demonstrated a society without suffering, but no one asked him whether or not he was sarcastic, because the idea was immediately popular with the crowd. To my mind, life as it is in nature is perfect; by lacking a fear of suffering, it avoids the pitfalls that those who seek Utopia might encounter.
For all of us, there are sad moments, depressive moments, when we think “Wouldn’t it be nice if life was without death, suffering and missed opportunity? After all, that way I could hang out on the couch and watch TV and eat mint-chocolate cookies from those cute (and, illicit thought of thoughts, sexy) girl scouts who pubescently offer them with the underconfidence of a Chrysler salesman?” Indeed, this is similar to the Christian populist idea of heaven, where rivers run with milk and honey and every day is perfect and we never die. Doesn’t that sound nice?
No, actually. It sounds boring. First because there’s no challenge or change in life; a constant state of “enjoyment” translates to preservation, much like being pumped full of phosphates and shoved onto the eternal shelf of some cosmic 7-11. Worse, however, is the idea that without death and the possiblity of error, there is no room for decision or alteration in the course of action; what happens, is right, and thus the plan remains constant like droning pop music in grocery stores after midnight. You are in stasis. That it’s comfortable stasis will become, after about day four, very secondary once you realize that what makes sitting on the couch, eating junk and goofing off fun is that it is the antithesis of much of what life requires.
Utopians assume that we are moving toward a world like this as long as we thinking in “progressive,” egalitarian, moralistic terms. Your destiny is defined by your daily living, and in such a world, your degree of existential fulfillment entirely depends upon what’s on cable. Tedious as all hell, it is? Yes, indeed. But to those who fear death more than they crave adventure, such an eventless life would be ideal as the big fear is gone. For those who are of a heartier constitution, of course, the idea of having nothing to achieve is heartbreakingly boring.
Our progressive worldview in our modern time takes a more literal but ecclesiastically similar approach. Heaven will be when everyone in society lives in a nice place, has plenty of food and access to toys and electronic gadgets, and is not discriminated against in opportunity or social placement. Each human will be a King or Queen, and besides death, which science will surely cure one of these days, we will have nothing to fear. Of course, there will be no dragons to slay, nor any great deeds left to achieve, since society itself will be the greatest deed ever and we’ll live free of injustice and suffering or anything else that might prompt us to move our asses from the couch. Such a society will probably center around cable television and AOL chat rooms.
A Utopia would be, by definition, a place without change or challenge, without fear or conquest, without inequity or the ability to move forward; you would just be in a state of perpetual junk food, cable TV and couch. One can imagine that such a society would tear down its monuments to great leaders and heroes and artists and instead build statues of couches, televisions and Nutter Butters. Since the basics of life, in this future society, would be 100% good, there’s no room for bad, and to stave off boredom we’d have trends and novelty. “Sex is delightful – you have to try the newest, which is anal with a goat but, get this, you’re covered in peanut butter. It’s unique!” Sound good yet?
No one will state it like this, of course, because what motivates us toward “progressive” thinking is not logic, but social pressures. We don’t want to tell anyone that they’re ugly, so we say that in some mystical future, no one will care about external appearance, since in a perfect world sleeping with a lumpy, misshapen, hepatitic hog of a barfly is exactly equal to sleeping with a Prince or Princess Charming. It’s not polite to say “Well, guess you go back to your confused, self-destructive life in the trailer park, and – uh – I’ll head on back to the suburbs where I can afford to keep the heat at 74,” because this points out that people aren’t equal, and we don’t all live charmed lives, which is the ultimate social taboo. So to keep everyone at the party happy, we put out plenty of junk food and plenty of junk logic – including insisting that if we all lived the same painless lives we’d be happy.
This progressive vision is the cornerstone of liberal democracy. Democracy presupposes that if “everyone,” including the deranged and homeless and perverse and moronic, has a voice, we’ll find the ultimate answer and politics will become unimportant. The liberal idea is that if everyone is “empowerment,” none will want for comfy living, couches and TVs, and thus we’ll all be “equal” in avoiding suffering and life will finally be good. Our society is based upon the assumption that this is achievable, and a good thing, but also that it is inevitable if we continue upon our current course of action.
From this comes an illusion so profound that it grasps all but the wiliest souls. Because every new thing is good, goes the logic, if something is new, it is good; if it is part of our liberal democracy, it is moving toward the future, therefore it is good. The thought ends there. This is why “social experiments” become law and never are challenged, in addition of course to the hollow justification that “they provide jobs,” mainly for people so incompetent and neurotic that the only work they can get is as bureaucrats. The face of Utopia is self-congratulation for conformity.
As an aside, it’s worth noting that confused people will accuse anyone who says “Life will be better if we do x” of being a Utopian or progressive. That is an illusion of mistaking the mechanism of the parts of the whole for that whole, when really what defines the whole is its philosophical outlook as the force that binds together its parts. You can imagine one caveman busy inventing fire and another saying, “I don’t buy into any of that Utopian trash.” No – finding a better way of something is not Utopianism; presupposing that a better society awaits if we use technology, morality and bureaucracy to eliminate suffering and “inequity” is. Always keep asserting what is better.
Interestingly, Utopianism is most destructive because it draws us away from what really fulfills us. Lives are made happy through achievement, and some would characterize using one’s abilities for their natural purposes as a kind of destiny. Musicians, make music! Carpenters, make furniture! Warriors, make conquest! In the Utopian society however, no change occurs except through bureaucracy, so what is left to achieve – namely, nothing, since suffering and inequity have been “eliminated” – is done through filling out forms and nagging other people to vote a certain way. Because inequity is evil, one doesn’t work to be better than others, but to serve a role defined by others, “adequately.” Utopianism is anti-heroic in this aspect.
When we read the ancients, we find out that civilization isn’t a course toward equal comfort for all individuals, but a course toward greater glories for those who can rise above, thus breeding a higher grade of human and setting new standards. Utopians try to eliminate this because they see inequity as a form of suffering, and in doing so, become regressive and create the ultimate boring, changeless, static society. For this reason I say that if Utopia ever arrives, it will be a new form of existential hell for humankind.