Thomas More’s utopia is a capital work of fiction. Written in 1516, it is a sociopolitical satire that eventually became one of the most widely studied and thought-about manuscripts of the Western world. First published in 1516, More had written it as a young scholar who had a clear and ambitious goal – to become the court advisor to Henry VIII, then king of England.
In the book, More meets Raphael Hythlodaeus, who is one of the original 24 people who had traveled to the American continent with Amerigo Vespucci. Raphael tells More that he had discovered an island called utopia, located south of Brazil. According to his descriptions, everything that’s not in Europe is in utopia, or better said, that utopia is everything that Europe is not. Everyone has meaningful jobs and access to education, there’s no private property, there is freedom of religion, and women are able to take on leadership roles. In contrast, we have a dystopia – an imperfect society in which everything goes wrong.
Real World utopia: What is It and Can We Attain It?
When discussing hypothetical or ideal societies, utopia can always be heard as an argument/counterargument. But what is a utopia, and does it have a deeper meaning than what our society shows us?
The term utopia has become a common word in our everyday life. The term comes from ou-topos (ou – not, and topos – place), meaning no place, or a place that doesn’t exist. Thomas More was the first to use the word in his book, which tells a story of an island with an idyllic and peaceful government. The work is satirical, criticizing the political organization in the XV and XVI centuries. The use of the term utopia began when society began thinking about how a perfect society should be, including its people, communities, and government. The hypothetical utopian world has an important aspect – it’s a world that doesn’t obey immediate applicability. The objective is to give shape to the idea in theory, without considering how difficult it would be to apply it to the real world.
The idea of a perfect society has changed countless times throughout history, which proved that it’s somewhat subjective and ambiguous. The ideas that arose from the topic were used extensively by politicians, thinkers, and philosophers. However, what is the usefulness of creating an ideal society when it is difficult to apply the idea in real life? Some people believe that utopia has only a literary purpose, but in truth, the idea doesn’t lack pragmatism. utopia has four different functions, and they are:
- Evaluative. utopia is important in the study of different societies because it helps us contemplate various methods of social organization and understand current social and political systems better.
- Criticism. The purpose of utopia is to criticize current social structures and measure how wrong they actually are. utopian ideas encourage us to question the present system.
- Guidance. Even if not applicable, utopia should stand as an objective. Reaching an ideal goal may be impossible, but it is something we can strive for or use as an inexhaustible source of motivation for improvement.
- Hopeful. A better society is possible, and utopia helps create hope for it.
Dystopia and Its Functions
If utopia is a paradise, then dystopia is a paradise lost. Before people began imagining utopias and dystopias, they imagined pasts or places like the Garden of Eden. Unlike utopia, dystopia is an imperfect world. Dystopian literature has explored and portrayed different nightmarish images that might happen to the world in the near future. Disasters, overpopulation, wars, revolutions, oppression, and rebellion are all recurring themes of dystopian literary works. In a dystopian world, there is either no government or a controlling and oppressive one. Furthermore, either everyone faces extreme poverty, or there’s a large income gap between the rich and the poor. The ruling class or the government uses propaganda to take control of people’s minds.
Authors use dystopia to express their concerns about issues of society and humanity and to warn us about our weaknesses. Dystopias depict problems that might occur in the future, and they discuss reality. They educate us and make us aware of those issues, and they also function as warnings about the current state of those in power or state of affairs of a government. It is easy to forget the good things with all the petty tyrants that are put in charge as leaders doing wrong to their people. Whether we measure our progress in terms of optimism, open-mindedness, or connectivity, humanity is moving forward in the right direction, and perhaps faster than we would have believed.
Examples of Dystopia
· Aldous Huxley – “Brave New World” (1932)
The society in Huxley’s Brave New World is empirical and efficiently managed where people suppress their emotions. A creative, thinking, and feeling individual, John Savage, gets introduced to this ostensible utopia. Still, he soon learns about the society’s euthanasia practices and the fatal effects of soma (a pain-relieving drug that creates happiness). Huxley depicted the toll that ubiquitous conformity can have on the human spirit.
· George Orwell – “1984” (1949)
In 1984, Orwell portrays a dystopian society set in the future and all the ways the government utilizes advanced technologies to control and rule the people. Every member of the society lives in poverty and is watched by Big Brother, while inner-party members live in luxury. There is no mental and emotional freedom, nobody is allowed to rebel, and violence is everywhere.
Despite its disturbing and daunting nature, the genre of dystopian literature offers an obvious element of inspiration because it helps illuminate all the progressive possibilities of our society that may not be apparent right away. In the utopian post-scarcity future, there is no reason to feel unhappy, and despair will be vanquished. Thanks to exponential technologies, such as medical tech, people could make all illnesses curable. The future where poverty is eliminated still seems too far away, but many people are unaware that poverty-based misery has greatly been reduced in the past 60 years.
Financial misery and corruption are what often throw people into depression and anxiety, but the world we are heading to is one without any currency. It means that there is hope that we will see our world become a happier place, and what we all need to do is envision, feel, and think about our future to get close to the world we want to build. The ideas of utopia and dystopia can serve as guideposts to a post-scarcity era where people want to share and learn from each other, and where empathy, compassion, and love are the highest ideals the people look up to.
In the future, where everything is free, human happiness will be limitless. During the Unlocking the Power of Belonging – Virtual Summit, thought leaders will meet to focus on feeling, understanding, and acting on the drivers to evolve and expand individuals and societies that thrive. If you’re a fellow new paradigm seeker and want to contribute with your ideas and dreams, we would love to feature you. Join us and become a part of the world’s happiness community.