Imagining Utopia

I often wonder what utopia would look like.

As an activist, I fight for a better world, but what exactly does that mean? In daily life, there are specific issues I care about and mostly I fight to move the needle – even a little bit – on those.

But what would the world look like if I could win every war, if I could make all the rules and pass all the judgements?

I don’t know.

My first instinct is to imagine a world where everyone’s treated equitably – not in a creepy, Harrison Bergeron kind of way – but in a way that’s fair and that everyone feels good about. (Let’s leave aside for today that I can’t be more specific as to what that means or how to accomplish it.)

I imagine a world of peace, of understanding, of open minds and open hearts. I imagine a world where everyone just gets along.

And while that does sound lovely in a never-gonna-happen kind of way, I also have to ask myself – is that really the ideal?

In Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers – a social commentary thinly veiled as a science fiction novel – he advocates strongly for the benefit of war and conflict.

Now, if you haven’t read Starship Troopers, I highly recommend it. While it did win a Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1960, the book was highly criticized when it came out (and probably still would be if anyone read still it). Starship Troopers is undeniably pro-war.

And one parable from the book has always stuck with me.

Heinlein describes a planet called Sanctuary. A planet known as a paradise. “A planet as near to Earth as two planets can be.”

Yet, Heinlein says, “With all these advantages it barely got away from the starting gate. You see, it’s short on mutations; it does not enjoy Earth’s high level of natural radiation,”

Plants and people easily thrive on Sanctuary. Farmers can plant wheat without having to weed, because the Earth plant – accustomed to having to compete for survival, easily wipes out the Sanctuary flora, which never had to compete.

So what, Heinlein asks, will become of the humans that have now colonized this imaginary paradise?

“It doesn’t do a person any harm not to be radiated; in fact it’s a bit safer…But the descendants of those colonists won’t evolve…So what happens? Do they stay frozen at their present level while the rest of the human race moves on past them, until they are living fossils, as out of place as a pithecanthropus in a space ship? Or will they worry about the fate of their descendants and dose themselves regularly with X-rays or maybe set off lots of dirty-type nuclear explosions each year to build up a fallout reservoir in the atmosphere?”

Conflict, challenge and competition, Heinlein argues, are good.

And I think he’s got a point. That’s not to say we should turn to war to solve our problems. But differences and disagreements are good.

So what does utopia look like?

Well, I guess I’d have to say that utopia would be hard. We’d have good days and bad days. We’d disagree passionately. But we’d do so civilly. We’d try to understand where people are coming from and embrace disagreements as a growing experience for all involved. We’d believe that the best solutions come from the most voices and that everyone has something to add.

Utopia wouldn’t be paradise, but we’d all be working together to get there.

2 thoughts on “Imagining Utopia

  1. Charlie

    Great post. Funny though how 25 years later Asimov goes completely in the opposite direction at the end of the Foundation series. Yet I guess provides a good rationale for the departure…

  2. Mike Murnane

    The conflict in war has the unique “advantage” of being life-and-death … growth from struggle and conflict does not always have to “rise” to that level to be effective. A difficult problem that affects the community can be something to struggle with. It can provide growth and opportunities for quantum leaps if the participants are imaginative and open to it – Utopia may be appreciated as success in the ever increasing “interesting” problems whose solutions benefit the society


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