Utopias are generally said to be societies in which the political, social and economic troubles hampering its inhabitants has been done away with. Instead the state is there to serve the people and ensure the peacefulness and happiness of everyone. The word utopia which means no place in Greek was first used to mean a perfect society in 1516 in the publication of Saint Thomas More's story Utopia. The story depicted life as it was with its people and social institutions on an imaginary island.
More's Utopia gained critical acclaim and a wide audience. The term was subsequently used by all prominent social thinkers and visionaries to define other concepts of this kind. During the 19th century many attempts were made to actually establish communities which followed the beliefs of a utopian society. Most were experiments in utopian socialism. Although they differed considerably in their specific views, most of them agreed that ideal societies could be created without much difficulty. They felt all that was needed was to have the formation of a few small, cooperative communities made up of their followers.
The Comte de Saint-Simon regarded technological progress and large scale economic organization as being the most important keys to the establishment of these communities. It was felt that industrial growth was the key to happiness for people in the future. Another visionary, Fourier, was quite the opposite of Saint-Simon. He spoke strongly against the use of industry. His opinion was that agricultural communities would be better suited for this situation. He favored these communities as he saw them as small, self-sufficient and more importantly, free from the restraints that were being imposed by civilization.
Experimental societies based on the theories of the utopians were also set up in Europe and the Unites States. They included Robert Owen's cooperative communities in New Harmony and New Lanark - Scotland. Most of these did not survive long. One of the longer lasting of these communities was the Oneida Community. It lasted from 1848 to 1881. By the middle of the 19th century the utopian socialists were beginning to be eclipsed by more militant radical movements. These included anarchism and Marxism. In more modern times, utopianism has more frequently been used to suggest a naive and impractical approach to reality. Most comes by way of literature with stories such as a way to expose modern society’s social ills. Some prominent examples of this type of writing include George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.
The places mentioned in those stories were all imaginary. Such a place does not exist in the world as we know it today. Therefore the word imaginary comes into play. I have heard of places that have experimented with the concept of a utopian environment but none have truly succeeded. One example is the community in Chicago which George Pullman attempted to control. He attempted to create a community in which every person was taken care for. All had adequate housing, medical attention and so forth. In return everyone would work for Pullman's company. The better he provided for his workers, the better he expected their attitude towards working for him would be. Not everything turned out as planned though. A panic in 1893 lead to Pullman lowering the employee’s wages, he did not however lower the employees rent and other charges in the company town. This lead to what was called the Pullman strike. The anticipated utopia had turned into a dystopia. (A dystopia would be the exact opposite of a utopia.)
Federal troops arrived on July 4th to try to control the unrest. Rioting broke out and several strikers were killed. It wasn't until July 10th that the troops were able to control the situation. The word utopia however does not necessarily have to be used to define a society. A utopia can also be used to define a certain situation as it is perceived by an individual. A person who feels that their life at the specific point in time is perfect or a person who is involved with a certain group or organization can very well feel that they are living in a utopic way. Regardless of what others may feel, these people feel content that their choices are the right ones.
These choices are not always the right ones however. Let's take the example of the Koresh commune in Waco, Texas. The people who migrated to this place did so by their own choice. It was their belief that the ideas on how to live shared by David Koresh were the right ones. They felt that this was the way that they wanted to live their lives.
The inhabitants disagreed with the ways of society and chose to live in a way completely shut off from the rest of the world. Meanwhile, to the outside world was well aware that what was going on in the commune was not right. There were reports of child abuse and sexual misconduct. This lead to a standoff between the followers of Koresh and the military. Unfortunately that situation got out of hand and there were resulting casualties.
This goes to show how hard one would fight and how much one would gibe to be able to achieve that perfect life which is dreamt about by so many. They went as far as to give their lives. Another example of individuals striving for what they consider to be a utopic society for themselves is the formation of different social-political and at times militant groups of different kinds. These kinds of things have been appearing throughout history. Some were successful to a certain degree in their own right, while others have been complete failures. Let me say before I continue that I am not endorsing the beliefs of any particular group nor condemning others. I will merely try to give a brief over view of what they stood for. One example of these factions was the Black Panther Party. This was a group of African-Americans that formed in order to try to resolve some of the issues of civil rights for their people. They felt it was only right that they as people had the freedom that was given to others. They wanted the power to determine the destiny of the black community.
They also felt that it was up to the government to provide employment or a guaranteed income for all of the people. The panthers also sought restitution for the slavery of their ancestors. These are a few of the demands that were put forth by the Black Panthers. Although many Americans at that time considered these demands to be excessive, the Black Panthers saw them as just. One could say that a society in which their demands were met could be considered a utopia. At least in the eyes of the Black Panthers.
Another example that I can think of is the formation of the Nazis in Germany. The Nazis lead by Adolph Hitler also sought to get what they felt would be the right thing for their people. Few would argue though that their views were misguided though. They felt that the Aryan People were superior to the others. And with that in mind, they embarked on what they hoped would be a plan towards world domination. During World War II, the Nazis appeared to be indestructible. They conquered many territories and with that brought a terror to many people of Europe. Perhaps the most notorious result of these actions was the attempted genocide of the Jewish People. Nazis saw them as inferior people and therefore considered them expendable. The Nazis saw their actions as a way to preserve the type of world they felt was the right one. A utopia is not always what the majority sees as perfect, at times it is merely the beliefs shared by a certain group or individual. They sought their utopia and millions of Jewish people were killed as a result.
Everyday life can also reflect one's own pursuit of the perfect life. We see it every day in a variety of ways. Yet we don't necessarily think of these events, happenings and life decisions in these terms. It can be from the most life changing decision we make to the most mundane occurrences. The struggles of humans throughout the world reflect this.
A person working at a factory, at an office or anywhere for that matter works hard because they want to earn as much money as they possibly can. They know that this money can be used for a variety of purposes that they hope will make their lives easier, happier and overall better. Maybe they'll be able to send their children to college. Perhaps a new car or a brand new wardrobe will make them feel complete. Maybe they will acquire a certain prestige they desire either from their economic or social status. People in general basically do everything they do to reach a goal in life. It is viewed as the final stop in a series of steps that lead to the end. The end being the place where one wins. Almost like a life-sized game of chutes and ladders. They seek their own private utopia. This holds true for families all over the United States and throughout the world.
Even as I think about this, I'm living my life trying to reach a point where I may be happy. There are things in my wildest fantasies that would make my life perfect in my eyes. For starters, I'm writing this paper. Hopefully this will get me a decent grade. If I also get good grades on all my other classes this semester and for the rest of the time that I attend Roosevelt University I should receive my degree. With a degree in hand I'll go out into the job market in search of a place to work. If and when I settle down with a company I intend to start to save some money.
With this money I hope to do a number of things. I want to pay off all debt that I've acquired for educational purposes. I would like to treat myself to a semi-new automobile. Doesn't have to be the most luxurious car in the world, but one that isn't in constant need of repair as is my current one is. I would like to save a little bundle on the side to be used as a down payment for a home. White picket fence, doghouse for rusty, the whole kit and caboodle. I've always dreamt of having a house that I could call my own. No one tells me how I have to keep the place.
By then I think it may be time to settle down. Perhaps I'd ask the woman of my dreams (if not, my current girlfriend will do.) to be my lawfully wedded wife. And in these turbulent times, maybe the marriage would even be a happy one. And if the Lord allows, I might even father a few little kids. In my house, I'd love to have a large screen T.V. and a laser disc player as I am a movie fanatic. A great big leather lazy boy in front of the TV would also be required. Electronic gizmos of all shapes and sizes would surround me. Then as my children grew older, I'd hope to be able to provide them with the opportunity to receive a college education, as this is key to success.
To see them go on to do well for themselves would make me very proud. By then I would start to contemplate retirement. I'd hope to have a nice little nest egg stashed away so that I may live comfortably for the rest of my life. I hope to grow old peacefully and as gruesome as this may sound, I hope that when my time does come, I die in my sleep. Never felling a thing. I know that many of the things I just mentioned may never happen.
Many of my wishes are just that, wishful thinking. It is just a concept of a type of life I would like to live. Real or not. But after all, it’s MY private utopia. Plus we must remember that utopias in these times in their most technical definition do not exist. They are merely ideas and concepts of the world as man would wish it were. Being a man in this world of ours, I have my wishes too.
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