Reimagining Utopia

American society has a dirty word that no one likes to talk about. It’s something that we’ve known about for a long time but is absent from our national dialogue. The word utopia conjures up visions of the ideal but carries with it the stigma of impossibility. We hear it and there’s the conditioned and somewhat automatic response to dismiss it, the idea that humanity could transcend is unbelievable. We mistake our misunderstandings as known futures, denying ourselves the ability to be more than we are. Utopia is a very real and very possible goal for humanity if we could only better conceptualize the idea.

The central problem about exploring the idea of utopian societies is that for many, our language prohibits deep thinking about it. Merriam-Webster defines utopia as “a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions,” and “impractical scheme for social improvement,” and “an imaginary and indefinitely remote place.” The word is a living contradiction, a vision of human progress far beyond the present but unachievable by definition.

Fortunately, language has a long history of evolving, and nothing is preventing us from reshaping our understanding to serve humanity better. We’re going to explore expanding the word utopia and why it is necessary for the next stage of human evolution. By developing a deeper understanding of the concept, we can better create a vision of the future beyond what is presently offered.

Utopian Scope

To develop a more meaningful understanding of the word utopia, we’ll frame our concepts and comparisons in contrast to present-day society. First and foremost is the wholesale rejection that utopian ideals are entirely unachievable. If we cannot or will not convince ourselves that it is within our capability to ascend to a higher form of life, then we have no hope. Utopia is not a hard material thing. It is the continual conceptualization of social arrangements. As philosopher Slavoj Žižek said, “utopia is a matter of innermost urgency, you are forced to imagine it, it is the only way out, and this is what we need today˝ [1].

From our present perspective, it may be difficult to imagine something utopian. In early 2020 we can observe that humanity’s crisis is beginning to accelerate and compound. We recognize the need for drastic change, but we are unwilling or unable to act. Our global leadership refuses to embrace the new visions of structure and planetary organization, so desperately needed to avoid calamity. It’s difficult to imagine alternatives when the world is full of such anxiety and inequity, when the default mode for so many is struggle.

Our advantage today is that we can evaluate our situation without doubt or fear of our collective power, recognizing that the exponential growth of technology is the primary driver of our material and cultural advancements as it has been for the past millennia. The fact that change is changing faster than ever before gives us pathways to action, which in turn generate hope. Imagine going back in time to the 1500s and attempting to explain our society to that person. It would be inconceivable for them to understand based on the technology and consciousness of the time. We are always these laypersons. We cannot possibly hope to comprehend life for humanity in 500 years from now accurately. What we can do is begin the work towards something more significant, setting a direction well beyond our present circumstances and starting the incremental work towards that vision.

Just because something is far beyond our capabilities today does not mean that it is beyond our grasp forever. Betting against human imagination and ingenuity is a losing wager every time. Our intentions define our actions and create our realities. Utopia is as much a cultural ethos as it is a set of programs made real through economic, legal, and social policies.

There is no single cookie-cutter form of utopia, but all share some commonalities. Every one uniquely meets the needs of the people designing them at their time of conception. All types of utopia are flexible. The ability to change alongside the needs of their people are hardcoded into the structure. They are democratic and allow for high degrees of customization. The ultimate objective of a utopian society is to provide its members with the ability to experience life within the highest degree of freedom.

Utopias cannot be rigid. A rigid utopia would ultimately always become an oppressive form of existence, preventing the challenge and change of its institutions until the foundation cracks under pressure. These organizational arrangements stifle the creativity and experimental power of the people that they are intended to serve, placing limits on what we can and cannot question in society. As time passes, the citizens of a rigid utopia will always grow to resent the system because it forces people to live in a specific way that may not meet the needs and desires of the present. Rigidity breaks under pressure, a real utopia changes form to meet new needs as they arise.

Utopias are built on higher forms of cooperation. Collaboration has overtaken (but not eliminated) competition as the primary mode of interaction with others. The resulting systems create levels of security and resource access that provides every individual the opportunity to develop a profound agency within their lives.

Participants in a utopian society share a belief and value system that places the transcendent character of humanity as the primary basis for systemic evolutions. We judge proposals for new economic, legal, political, and social arrangements against this concept. This translates into an open approach in supporting alternative forms of living. Utopias embrace the tech-savvy urbanite as much as the rural mountain person — there is room for both. Utopian societies understand that almost all lifestyles are compatible with the right networks and institutions.

All utopias share the understanding that violence, war, and conquest is incompatible with their way of life. The evolution of utopian societies creates new paradigms for thinking about resources and scarcity, leveraging advanced technologies, cooperative investment, and advanced logistical protocols to develop proactive solutions. War is always about resources, but shared investments in energy, agriculture, and logistics have moved utopian societies beyond the struggles of the past.

The rejection of violence doesn’t stop at interpersonal violence. It seeks to eliminate structural violence in all of its forms as well. Structural violence is the legal, economic, and political systems that create disadvantages for groups of people intentionally or unintentionally. Utopias give power to the people to right inequities at the source through local, state, national, and global governance institutions.

When systemic disadvantage occurs within utopias, participants address it directly. The laws and policies we create to govern ourselves are just forms of social technology. Every technology advancement serves a purpose. The longer we implement these methods, the more we learn about their weaknesses. So the process of imagination and creation continues. Utopias can rapidly deploy new solutions into practice when needed. Understanding that as humans continue their technological ascendancy, the change will happen faster than ever. A primary difference between utopian societies and the present day is that addressing inequity is not resisted to maintain the status quo. Instead, participants embrace the process as an expression of their commitment to justice.

We recognize education in utopias for what it is — the ultimate technology of humanity, one that empowers all other advancements. Public education programs are well-funded, widespread, and continuously improved. Utopian societies recognize the desire to explore is part of what defines us as human beings. The educational systems reflect this understanding, ensuring that access to continuing education is available to anyone, at any time. Beyond access, the content and character of utopian education systems evolve continuously. All methods of education teach a particular way of being within the world. We need to look no further than present-day America to see an example of how our primary education, a system designed for a manufacturing economy, is inadequate for the work and problems of tomorrow.

Utopian societies operate within ecological balance and harmony. The people and institutions operate within the understanding that the over-extraction of planetary resources through the industrial process endangers everyone. This is accomplished through collaborative resource projects between nations that expand through numerous verticals such as energy production, transportation, logistics coordination, and research and development.

No utopia can exist within the paradigms set forth through the ancient religious texts. Humanity’s dominion of Earth is a fallacy, one that has driven us to the brink of self-destruction and may still push us over. Utopias abandon the moral influences of antiquity in favor of new ideas to guide national and global societies, democratically chosen and periodically revised. Structural reinvention goes hand in hand with spiritual reimagination.

We’ve covered some broad themes that would be common in all utopias, concepts that transcend the custom features of the groups forming them. But to fully understand the scope of utopia, we also have to be very clear with what utopias are not.

No utopia is the freedom from struggle. Struggle is inherent to the human condition and the larger universal progression. The language and concept of good cannot exist without bad, high without low, up without down, life without death. To have one, you must have the other. As we’ve often seen throughout human history, every problem we solve tends to create new ones. What changes in utopian societies is the type and form of struggles that we grapple with.

Material struggles are the central challenges of much of humanity today, often recognized through poverty rates. Primary material struggles are transcended in all forms of utopia. While the exact definition of what primary materials are may vary among the different kinds of utopia, all will reflect the requirements necessary to live a productive and creative life unburdened with the fear of oppression or destitution.

Utopias do not reward non-effort but do not punish it either. Cosmology shows us that nothing cannot create something, so it is unrealistic to imagine a system where non-producers receive the highest degree of benefits. Utopian institutions, like all institutions, are a form of soulcraft. The experiences they support shape our beliefs and understandings of the world around us. In all types of utopian societies, people are given access to the resources necessary to understand that mastery is the most direct pathway towards a fulfilling life.

Production, innovation, and creativity are encouraged, but there are also opportunities for more routine work. The systems of utopian societies allow for individuals to seek growth in the areas they desire. Reward and recognition will vary among different utopias, but all understand the value of creation and progress in the present moment. Work becomes a rewarding practice in itself. Opportunities to change the direction of one’s life without resistance are always available. It’s a type of productivity that expands our freedoms and our abilities.

Non-employment is an option within utopias as well, but few, if any, choose it for prolonged periods. The primary influence on attitudes about work are the resources and opportunities available to the individual. It’s easy to project the problems of today onto more advanced systems. We understand why people would be excited about not working In an economic system filled with unfulfilling and low pay occupations. But this is counter-intuitive to our understanding of ourselves and our history. Living under a set of new systems designed to expand humanity will radically change our understanding of ourselves and our incentives.

There is a radical curiosity that permeates utopian societies in every direction. Humanity has learned to reevaluate its certainty, understanding that all known laws are just frozen time — periods of humanity where our awareness was limited. Physicist Lee Smolin discusses this concept in his book Time Reborn, arguing for a total reorientation of the science of physics. His central claim is that because our laws are not universally applicable (they break down when applied to higher orders of the universe), we must consider the fact that even our most repeatable findings of the universe may be incorrect. Utopian societies have embraced these ideals, reshaping laws such as physics and gravity to serve humanity further.

This scope of utopia is broad and open-ended by intention. We enter this exploration understanding that any vision of utopia put forth today will be inadequate for future generations. Utopian societies embrace change entirely, rejecting ideologies and institutions that prefer oppressive constraints that limit humanity’s ability to transform itself.

Utopias are always a representation of the time and space they occupy. They can never be more than a civilization’s total technological progress, but they can certainly be less than the spiritual and cultural evolution of the people. Utopias never exist in stasis. They are always progressing forward. Today a new vision of Utopia is within humanity’s grasp. It only asks that we open our imaginations to the possibilities available.

[1] Zizek On Utopia by Slavoj Žižek Vimeo

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