Utopian Thinking

Until today, I’ve been having trouble choosing a topic to blog about. I’ve been meticulously going through each topic that popped into my head until I came upon one that really got me thinking. When the professor gave us questions to think about at the end of class, I knew exactly which one would be my topic. The question was “What are the gains and losses of utopian thinking?” I immediately remembered an article that I read—though I have unfortunately been unable to find it again—on this exact subject. As I recall, it began with identifying what utopian thinking really means. For example, if we take utopia as meaning an ideal that exists nowhere but could, then anyone who thinks society can be improved and has some idea of what that would look like (and who does not?) can be considered a utopian thinker. But if we consider a utopia as an impossible ideal—besides begging the question of what is possible—this only gives us the main result of utopian thinking; it doesn’t tell us anything about the process that led to it. The chief characteristic of utopian thinking that separates it from common daydreaming is a basis of objective reality, along with the acceptance of the responsibility to realize these dreams.

At first I wondered how can there be any losses to this type of thinking. Even if their goals for society can be unobtainable at times, isn’t the effort to achieve such a goals a good thing? However, wishing for a better future, whatever it may consist of, is not always progressive. The Capitalism we all know and love is quite often guilty of exploiting our desires for a better world (The Fashion industry comes to mind). Capitalism takes our desire for happiness, beauty, and a sense of community and uses it to further make the wealthy even wealthier.

Also, I believe that one must be careful before they confuse Utopia with utopian thinking. I think it is very important that one recognizes that a Utopia is impossible. A Utopia is perfect, and unfortunately perfect means that freedom must be sacrificed. For example, free speech and freedom of religion gives us the Westboro Baptist Church.  Second Amendment rights gives us the occasionally gun wielding madman. There’s a downside to all of it. Yet that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  We know that in capitalism, there are still losers.  We understand that the world will never be perfect, but we also understand that we should strive to make it such, and that is what utopian thinking is all about.

Let’s take a look at John Locke. John Locke’s contributions to the enlightenment had a great deal to do with the inspiration of what the U.S. is today. Although we can certainly agree that the U.S. is far from perfect, we can all agree that its better than being ruled by a king. Yet just as the professor showed us today, even Locke is left with “traps” in his own ideal society. There is a great quote from Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia that agrees with this very idea: “We slow down the dramatic pace of our tale in order to consider Locke’s views on parental ownership of children. Locke must discuss Filmer in detail, not merely to clear the field of some alternative curious view, but to show why that view doesn’t follow from the elements of is own view as one might suppose it did. That is why the author of the Second Treatise goes on to compose the First. Ownership rights in what one has made would seem to follow from Locke’s theory of property. Hence Locke would have a real problem if God who made and owned the world gave Adam sole ownership of it. Even though Locke thought and argued that this hadn’t happened, he also must have wondered what the consequences would be if it had happened.”

So in my conclusion to the professor’s question, I believe that utopian thinking, rather than a concept of pros and cons, is a responsibility of all of us to be used correctly. We should all strive for a society with equality between the sexes and races, the sharing of necessities, the prevention of tyranny, and an especially an emphasis on education to bring about a future that much closer to being a Utopia.


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