Critieria for a Utopia

In college, I did a paper called “Utopias and Dystopias in Film.” As far as I could tell, until today, there’s only been 1 real Utopia in all fiction, the Federation of Planets from Star Trek, and even then it is only limited to economics.

There’s been a couple that have been close: San Angeles from Demolition Man and the Empire in Star Wars.

I also checked this list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Utopian_novels
In general, most so-called Utopian fiction tends to just be satire of whatever current government exists when it was written: the real government does X, the utopian government doesn’t do it or does the opposite.

So I thought, what the hell, I want to make one just for the sake of having an example of a true Utopia.

So, I ask you: what would be necessary for a true Utopia?

What I have so far:

  1. Immortality, which eliminates the need for reproductive tyranny, medicine, hubris, etc.
  2. Replicator-type machines that have eliminated want, desire, hunger, money, etc.
  3. Supercomputers that can calculate huge, multiple variables so that the outcome of anything can be determined with science instead of war.
  4. Time travel: any past event can be changed, thus eliminating regret. New timelines are created that branch from the old, and people can travel between alternate timelines as well.

My main hypothesis is that the main cause of human suffering is human nature itself. Every religion, philosophy, culture, etc. in the world since the history of time has some version of the 7 Deadly Sins, a.k.a. the 4 Hinderances, the 5 Poisons, etc. Since the beginning of humanity, we’ve been dealing with the same problem: ourselves. Even those cultures who did manage to be successful for a time (Macedonians, Romans, British, etc.) eventually fell victim to hubris.

In modern examples of Utopias, it seems that the goal is to work within humanity’s limits…they’ve all failed for pretty much the same reason non-utopias fail: human nature.

The Culture is generally regarded as being significantly better than the Federation.

The Culture gets around it by its citizens not actually being human, they just look humanoid (it’s a fashion, they’ve looked like other things in the past). They think of actual Earth humans (they ran across us in the 70s) as nasty, aberrant barbarians. And most of the real power is in the “hands” of the Minds anyway, which are far beyond human and are carefully designed to be benevolent.

Could you provide for us your definition of “true Utopia” so that we have some context to work with?

“Utopia” means “no place” for a reason. It’s pretty much a logical impossibility. Certainly it can’t have a static definition because for humans to be happy they have to experience change and a sense of improvement.

Perhaps if every person had complete and utter freedom to have and do whatever they could imagine, and were all effectively gods unto themselves. But even then, when you have too much power, you suffer from a feeling of unrealness and lack of meaningfulness (the Matrix problem).

I think probably the only real utopia has less to do with whatever arbitrary structure society takes and more with the state of mind of its citizens. If everyone was continually “in the moment” that might qualify.

In scifi I think the Dune series does a pretty good job of trying to determine what would make a utopia and the difficulty in achieving it.

I would also argue vehemently against the Empire of Star Wars being close to a Utopia, unless you are limiting Utopia to be “perfect society for a tiny fraction of the chosen elite.” In the Empire, life was only good for you if you were human (who are a very small portion of the known universe) and happened to be a human who isn’t a clone (which got treated like shit and died like flies) and happened to live in the core (which again, is a small portion of an already small sample of humans) and only if you happen to vocally support the Empire.

By that definition, the Alliance from Firefly qualifies as “close” to a Utopia!

I would say that the Culture is pretty damn close - at least on level, and possibly better than the Federation (which, you’re right, only concerns itself with macro-economics).

I don’t know if you can put out a specific set of “guidelines” for achieving Utopia - it will differ with different people, and different cultures and their goals and hangups. If it were as simple as laying out a framework, we’d already have workable ones, instead of a whole slew of dystopian fiction and short-lived real-life attempts.

This is simple. If I am satisfied with it, it’s Utopia.

The first step is to eliminate all people who want to control other people.

There have been quite literally thousands of utopias in fiction. There are numerous whole long academic books listing, categorizing, and describing literary utopias. Every kind of utopia you can think of has been created, along with many you can’t think of because so many utopian writers are plumb nuts.

There are fewer utopias than dystopias, in prose as well as in film, because fiction is about conflict and utopias are premised on the lack of conflict. Star Trek doesn’t have a utopia in any possible sense of the word.

Superhal, what grade did you get on that paper?

Right now, I don’t have one because they don’t exist.

Cool, I’ll look into it thanks.

Got an A+ on the paper. Also, I checked lists of historical novels as well that tried to create one. As I said, all are satires. The writer creates a government that is simply their own government without the parts they don’t like. They also seldom address the non-governmental issues, like food, economy, trade, etc. The biggest criticism I have though is generally humans are still in charge, and so far no human leader has been able to avoid hubris.

If you do have a list of thousands, I’d like to see it. The longest list I’ve seen is about 20 and more than half are famous satires like Gulliver’s Travels.

Regarding the Empire: I haven’t looked into the expanded universe, but the published papers on the topic usually pointed to it as one of the few examples of a utopia, probably because so little of how the government treated their citizens was shown on screen.

One of my favourites, just for how utterly destroyed it would be in the real world, is Callenbach’s Ecotopia.

Pandora was presented as a Utopia in Avatar before we arrived.

James P. Hogan alluded to a Utopian society of sorts in several of his SF novels.

Moreover, people were free to do what they wanted, so long as it didn’t hurt someone else, and one could contribute as much or as little as they wished to the greater good. Everyone was at peace and felt the need to do what they liked.

Most notable was the fact that mental illnesses of all kinds, especially hatred, were a thing of the past. And there was no currency, everything was barter system. This was what made it work, more than anything else.

The place to start would be with The Society for Utopian Studies which publishes the journal Utopian Studies. Or check Amazon, where there are entire academic series on utopias, like the Ralahine Utopian Studies series. You can find many more on Amazon with a bit of digging.

Many, if not most, utopias were not satires. They were deadly serious. Deadly to read too, of course. When I say thousands, I mean thousands, though I have no idea if they meet whatever your definition of utopia is. But 99% are of strictly academic interest so only academics bother to dig them up and discuss them.

Cool, I’ll check it out thanks.

Oh one more possible example: the Age of Legends in the Wheel of Time series, which was also destroyed by hubris, but the information about how normal people lived is mostly absent. It also seems that the Aiel in this age were similar to slaves.

I presume that you’ve already read Thomas More’s one, the one that originated the term?

Read a little bit about it, it seems to have some interesting ideas. However, the idea that other races outside The Culture are manipulated into joining or being conquered is troubling, as well as the idea of drones.

I’ve been thinking about criteria for a Utopia, and here’s some ideas so far:

  1. The Borg Rule: The society neither attacks nor is in danger of being attacked by another culture. War, in any form, cannot occur. Another military culture cannot invade, take over, or wipe out the Utopian culture, and the Utopian culture has no need or desire to do it to another culture. In other words, the Utopian culture cannot either act like or be conquered by a Borg-like species.

  2. The Bacchus Rule: as humans imagining a more advanced culture, a basic trap is to assume that without human needs like food, shelter, or love, the Utopian culture would destroy itself through drug use, hedonism, gladiatorial games, “bread and circuses,” etc. Our own history tells us that as times change, humans will adapt. If basic human needs are eliminated, new drives and needs will take their place that seem alien to those who still have them. In other words, a Utopian society finds new goals and pursuits that are not necessarily self-destructive, but probably so foreign to us that they will be nearly unrecognizable.

  3. The Asimov Rule: No slaves, classes, drilling or other exploitation, ecological or social, occurs. Sentience, e.g. a self-aware robot, would not be treated differently than insects or planets, or may not even merit any importance at all. In fact, sentient machines/races may be allowed to join the Utopia as equals in the community.

  4. The Oa Rule: The Utopian society is not called upon, nor feels obligated to, enforce their value system on other races, police the universe, undo time paradoxes, lecture you on manners, etc. While they may be asked to help, mediate, or judge outside conflicts, the source of their motivation to act is not themselves, and any action that may have seemingly beneficial or detrimental affects to another culture will be purely accidental. In fact, having a stated value system implies that stating it is necessary, i.e. not stating it would have negative consequences. This also implies that a police force, monitoring systems, or even laws would not exist.

Sadly, these are all negatively stated…at this point it’s probably easier to say what a Utopia can’t be, rather than what it can be.

I would put it solidly into the “the current government does X, the Utopia doesn’t do it or does the opposite” camp of Utopian literature disguising political criticism. Reading the summary, it seems like what I would call a “shiny dystopia,” in that the shiny outer layer hides a darker truth. Another example would be the world in Logan’s Run, or Vulcan in Star Trek.

Seems to me a Utopia needs to be a post-scarcity society. Basically put your every need is provided for. Everything is essentially free. As such there would be no need to compete for limited resources.

Of course one then has to consider what such a society would look like and it would not look so good. Think the spaceship all the people were on in the movie Wall-E. There would be no motivation to do anything. If you had all your needs provided for how many people would bother with school and learning to be an engineer or scientist?

It’d be stagnation.

Would that be a Utopia? I think not although not sure.

Consider:

I once imagined what I would wish for if I found a Genie who would grant my wishes. I tried to ponder what the perfect wish would be.

I came to the conclusion that the best set of wishes would be for a long life and a happy life. Genies being tricksters are usually portrayed as finding ways to pervert your wish so I wondered how this one wish would go wrong. The worst I could come up with is the Genie magics you into a box (think coffin) and you spend the next 50 (or whatever) years in.

But here is the part I never sorted for myself. Part of the wish was to be happy for the rest of my life. So, if I am stuck in that box for the rest of my life but blissfully happy is that something I would be fine with? If I knew this is what would happen would I make that wish?

I would say no. I would not willingly choose that.

A Utopia to me supposes something similar. Blissful happiness with no struggle, nothing to make you unhappy. If we did the Matrix and plugged everyone into happy land (and we didn’t reject it as in the movie) would that be Utopia?

I am not sure you can have good without bad. Light without dark. Happiness without unhappiness.

As such a Utopia is impossible (which makes one wonder how a heaven would actually work and not be awful despite being portrayed as the ultimate happy place but that is another discussion). As a human we simply must have some struggle and uncertainty and a motivation to strive.

I don’t think a single one of the “necessry” criteria on the OP is even remotely necessary, least of all time travel. Really? I don’t think I’ve read any sci-fi utopias even mentioning time travel.

The OP seems to be defining a utopia as one where every member has god-like powers, and I think that is also too lofty a goal. IMO, a utopia in where everyone feels fulfilled (or on the path to it), feels free to pursue their interests, and isn’t burdened with mundane tasks to maintain themselves or their lifestyles.

This means excellent education, excellent physical and mental health care, a socialist economy that produces a surplus of goods available to all, really cheap energy, and a healthy environment (clear air and water, etc.).

Oh, something I forgot – the elimination of fear. Not quite sure how to go about that one, though maybe it wraps into excellent mental health care.