“This world of ours … must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.” – Dwight D Eisenhower
One of the stories in my queue of “maybe-novels” is my exploration of a utopian ideal put forth by a particular philosopher, infused with radical modern sensibilities taken to their logical ends. As someone who largely reads more dystopian texts, however, I always have to ask: “Utopia how and for whom?”
Even without devolving a utopic world into the elite vs dregs situation of many dystopian texts (e.g. Harrison Bergeron, Hunger Games), is it possible to imagine a utopia that seems logical and sustainable, that takes human imperfections and understandable conflict into account? As writers, can we strip humanity down to the bare essentials of assent and dissent, personal independence and societal order, and still have enough to make a story move forward?
I remember the wonder of reading Theodore Sturgeon’s “Venus Plus X” and gasping out loud at a crucial moment (or several). Is the fact that utopias are inherently suspect to modern readers enough to propel said readers forward to find out the “truth” about a presented utopia? Sturgeon seems to challenge readers to think beyond the utopia/dystopia divide, however, considering the question, “Can this still be a good society?” Or, even, “Can this still be a utopia?”
I think Ursula Le Guin does something similar in her oft-discussed short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” where a single tortured child is the necessary scapegoat for an entire city’s otherwise perfect happiness. It would be easy to classify this as a dystopia – there are those who walk away from it, after all, due to discomfort or a sense of horror – but we can’t stop there. What is the stuff of utopia then? Is it as unimaginable as Le Guin suggests?
I have yet to read Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End,” in which an alien race comes to lead humanity into a utopic age, but I am certainly in the mood for it now. It seems like humanity’s resistance to external guidance toward utopia, combined with our inability to agree amongst ourselves about what would even count as utopia, continues to fuel fascinating stories of personal and collective struggle, hope, and fear.
If you could build a world that was perfect, what would that look like? If you worked outward or backward, logically or mytho-mysto-magically, from that first shining image, what social mechanisms and material resources might be necessary to support that perfection? How might those conditions have come about? How would they be maintained? Where might those trends lead?