The Importance Of Utopia: Visions Of Violence, Peace, Hope & Despair

A utopia of blood. That’s what it was to be. Thankfully it never came to be. The Third Reich was to evolve to become the Greater Germanic Reich, a state that would have plenty for all its people, be advanced in science, people would be proud of who they are and what they have achieved. Above all this vision would only cater to the good people of this world, if others were even considered to be people. It would be a land where the blood of the people was pure and Germanic. It was their right to build such a utopia. They were the superior race.

While I’m sure that most people (though not all people, I do read the news) are quit glad this utopia never came to be, I’m willing to bet that if you are reading this you’re already living in a utopia of sorts. I would imagine that you currently have a roof over your head, know when your next meal will be, aren’t worried about catching malaria, smallpox or the plague. It wasn’t always like this. For the majority of human existence universal abject poverty was the norm. Today poverty is still a major issue, however every year millions are pulled out of poverty.

“During the first half of the last century, the growth of the world population caused the absolute number of poor people in the world to increase, even though the share of people in poverty was going down. After around 1970, the decrease in poverty rates became so steep that the absolute number of people living in extreme poverty started falling as well. This trend of decreasing poverty—both in absolute numbers and as a share of the world population—has been a constant during the last three decades.”1

In 1820, it was estimated that 94% of the world lived in poverty and 84% lived in extreme poverty. By comparison in the mid nineteen nineties, 52% of the world lived in poverty and 24% live in extreme poverty. Worldwide the average life expectancy increased from sixty-four in 1990 to seventy in 2012. Smallpox, the decease that historically killed the most people, has been all but eradicated.2 Those living in developed nations enjoy higher and better living conditions than most kings did in ancient times. If a person from the tenth century was transported through time to the modern day, there would be no doubt that he would say, “You are living in a utopia.”

Considering the majority of human history, the modern, metropolitan, multicultural city (think Manchester, London or New York) is a utopian vision brought forth into reality. However for those who believed in the Greater Germanic Reich, such a city is the embodiment of a dystopian nightmare. A person’s idea of what a utopia is is dictated by their ethics. For example, when an American leaning towards the left of the political spectrum looks at the British health care system they might think, “Free health for all! What a wonderful thing!” On the other hand, when an American leaning towards the right of the political spectrum looks at the British health care system they might think, “Free health for all! What a bunch of freeloaders. SAD!”

Perhaps the principal example of utopia is Plato’s Republic. Plato’s Republic is a totalitarian state that I would imagine no man would wish live in. Plato’s economic communism is so stringent and extreme it would make Stalin leap into Lenin’s arms and whimper. He believed that everything between friends should be common, even a man’s wife and children. Music was to be forbidden. Fish wasn’t allowed. Meat was only allowed if it was roasted. There would be a strict distinction between classes, formalized into law. According to Bertrand Russel, “When we ask: what will Plato's Republic achieve? The answer is rather humdrum. It will achieve success in wars against roughly equal populations, and it will secure a livelihood for a certain small number of people. It will almost certainly produce no art or science… In spite of all the fine talk, skill in war and enough to eat is all that will be achieved.”3

Plato’s Republic and Hitler’s vision of the Greater Germanic Reich teach us that utopias can become dystopias. These visions are so twisted we must ask the question, should we even aim to create utopias? To this I would argue yes, on the condition that our idea of utopia is fluid. A man transported from the tenth century to modern times might say, “You are living in a utopia,” however I can see as clear as day that we are not.

In terms of our health, “Drastic changes in daily life over the past century are fueling the growing burden of chronic diseases, including atherosclerosis, hormone-related and gastrointestinal cancers, osteoporosis, and type 2 diabetes mellitus.”4 A vast number of those living in developed countries suffer crippling depression. In 2013 there were still 767 million people that lived in extreme poverty. In 2012, there were 8.2 million premature deaths due to cancer.5 There are currently 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world, enough to destroy the world many times over (you would have thought that destroying it once would have been enough).6 Anthropogenic climate change threatens to alter the planet as we know it, leading to an increase in natural disasters, food and water scarcity and a rise in sea levels endangering many coastal populations.

If you believe that this is the best that humanity can do then there is no need to believe in utopias. If you have faith that the same race of cave dwellers, armed with nothing but spears made of wood and flint, would end up traveling to space and walking on the moon has the potential to build a world that is better than the one we have today then you must believe in utopia. This utopia must be fluid, i.e. it should be unachievable. Once we have reached an imagined utopia, as we have today, we should look forwards and ask, “How can this be better?” Both Plato and Hitler imagined static and rigid utopias based on their twisted viewpoints. Make your utopia ever changing, not based on a narrow view of the world but on the potential of the human being. Perfection is impossible but this does not mean that we should not strive towards it.