Coined by Thomas More, Utopia literally means “nowhere.” In his 1516 book of the same name, More described an imaginary island with perfect legal, social, and political systems. The word is something of a play on words, as it’s homophone, eutopia, means “good place.”
Utopia has since been generalized to describe any perfect place. Colloquially, it’s often assumed to be a place where everybody is happy.
This image of Utopia quickly changes into an assumption of dystopia.
I mean, happiness is all well and good, I suppose, but the idea of a bunch of people who are always happy all of the time is downright creepy. It conjures images of drugged out masses, brainwashed or high on opioids, who claim happiness but who have only achieved a false shadow of that joy.
And then there’s the age old question – can happiness exist without unhappiness?
But if Utopia isn’t a place where everyone is happy, then what is it?
If you embrace pain, suffering, and sorrow not only as unfortunate realities, but as necessary ingredients to the good life – what does your Utopia look like then?
It may be good to minimize these so-called negative experiences, but would you really want to eliminate them entirely even if you could?
And once you’ve accepted these horrors into your world, then you’re really just left with a question of quantity and distribution.
Should you distribute the sorrow equally? Ensure that no one experiences more than a certain quota of pain? Quibbling over those details seems cruel and inhuman.
So where does that leave us?
Is Utopia a broken and cruel world, full of flaws and scars, scattered with joy and bursts of well-being? Is Utopia perfect in its imperfection? A world where nothing’s quite right, where the best we can do is fight like hell for a better tomorrow?
Is Utopia really just a constant, unending journey – an embracing of imperfection and a determined, tenacious fight towards unobtainable, futile, perfect?