Utopia

2004-02-23

In The Soul of Man Under Socialism, Oscar Wilde writes:

A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopia.

Do utopias thus serve a purpose? We commonly deride those head-in-the-clouds people whose vision of life is utopian: they are at best impractical dreamers, and at worst opportunistic schemers. But it could be that a utopian vision enables people to visualize, and therefore create, a better life for themselves. I grant that most past utopian visions have been simplistic and unscientific in the extreme. I grant that most of them have focused on strategies of controlling the individual. I grant that "utopia" means literally "no place", not "good place" (which would be "eutopia"). Granting all that and more, I think there may be a place for utopian literature and utopian thinking -- in particular, a utopian vision that honors the individual and does justice to the complexity of living systems and human societies. Market anarchism, anybody?


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