Policing Your Utopia

The human mind is inspired enough when it comes to inventing horrors; it is when it tries to invent a Heaven that it shows itself cloddish.  ~Evelyn Waugh

The world always makes the assumption that the exposure of an error is identical with the discovery of truth – that the error and truth are simply opposite.  They are nothing of the sort.  What the world turns to, when it is cured on one error, is usually simply another error, and maybe one worse than the first one.  ~H.L. Mencken

The optimist thinks that this is the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist knows it.- J. Robert Oppenheimer

David Hayward had an absolutely fantastic post last week about how difficult it can be to communicate with people whose worldview conflicts with your own. (You do not have to read it to understand the rest of this post but his ideas did influence my thought processes while writing this.)

I’ve mentioned my love of dystopian fiction here before but I’ve known precious few books about life in an utopia. Even the most well-written science fiction or fantasy novels on this topic tend to either comically over-react to whatever social ills the authors believes are plaguing us in the present or create characters so ploddingly virtuous and prone to splitting that I assume they were meant to be read as unreliable narrators …but I digress.

What would be the best possible world? What sort of lives would people lead? How would the problems that plague our current society be solved?  Imagine that all of these questions are answered and that we’re walking around in whatever it is we’ve decided is utopia. Everyone is healthy and happy now.

Well, almost everyone. A small group of people who don’t want to cooperate are throwing a wrench in our new system. Maybe they miss the way things were before, resent us for changing everything so drastically,  or maybe they follow a contradictory set of rules (or none at all).

How would you react if they began protesting violently? What about if they started to harm other people? Would controlling or punishing them mean that a specific utopia no longer exists or never actually did exist? Would sending them elsewhere mean that utopia is only appropriate for certain types of people? Would it still be a utopia if people were unable to make destructive choices?

So, these are the cheerful thoughts that rolled around in my head this past weekend. 😉 I’m still having trouble coming up with answers that don’t change two minutes after a contradictory thought comes to mind. What do you think?

2 Responses to Policing Your Utopia

  1. In engineering, there is no such thing as a perfect design; and that’s a world with definite physical constraints. Now take a society, where you’ve got the variable factor of multiple minds, and you quickly realize that, like perfect engineering designs, there can be no true Utopia as long as there is independent thought. So ultimately the question of a realistic sense of Utopia then becomes one of engineering compromise. How do you keep the majority of people happy, healthy, and productive, and (to the point of what you ask) how do you treat those who fall outside the majority standard. Those are questions just as relevant to our society as they are to an engineered, idealized one.

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