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Dystopia in Utopia
An imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect.
Wow. On first thought, Utopia, which was first used and described by Sir Thomas More around the 1500s, should have been an ideal place that every one of us would like to be. But thinking thoroughly, is Utopia really a perfect society? Or is it not?
First, let me try to define More’s Utopia. It is said that More describes Utopia as “a pagan, communist city-state governed by reason”. It is also described by dictionaries in many ways as a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government and social conditions, or any real or imaginary society or place that is considered to be perfect or ideal, etc. In short, Utopia is a perfect place where everyone is happy. Sounds fun to live with, right? Think again.
When I think of the word Utopia, what usually comes first on my mind is the castle on the cloud that the little Cosette from Lei Miserables is singing about. It is, obviously, also the attempt of More.
Considering More’s aims to elevate his Utopia, one can easily be fooled by its cover pages. Well, he said it is a place where there are no laws, no greed for gold and money, there is that supposed equality, a promise of a life of ease, no evil lawyers, no more hardships, blah blah blah; what more can you ask for?
A lot, I tell you, a lot.
Now, don’t go telling everyone that I’m a complete pessimistic fool for not wanting such a “perfect society”. To tell you the truth, I do think Utopia is amusing, albeit fun to imagine, but living in it? No. Why? My answer is simple; is it practical?
Let us first tackle about its way of erasing money in the minds of every citizen of this so-called perfect place. More’s way of taking out people’s admiration to gold by making it the major component of every slaves’ ball and chain, sure did make me laugh and clap in slight agreement. It is a clear implication that gold or much specifically its value is just socially constructed and is far from realism. Actually, I really admire him for trying to bend many socially constructed beliefs like money and his point in communal property, which I’ll try to discuss later on.
But in the later part, it is evidently stated that the wealth, though said to be of little importance, is good for buying commodities from foreign nations or bribing these nations to fight each other. Now, would that not still amplify their views on the value of money?
Surely, More’s aim to obliterate people’s greed of the root of all evil is agreeable and commendable, especially with the fact that a lot of philosophers, realists and even ordinary dreamers have also been thinking of hundreds of ways to do that. But, his’ is not totally effective and has many holes like those other hundreds especially with the element that humans are and have been naturally greedy creatures ever since the world begun with Adam and Eve, or whoever is taught in your religion. And anyone who aims to disperse that has to start from scratch with no real assurance that greed would never be born again.
Now let us look at More’s concern for abolition of private property. In Utopia, everyone owns everything. Everyone wears the same types of simple clothing. All goods are stored in warehouses. Everyone has houses with the same size, look, and features. Everyone has to work six hours a day. Women are doing the same work as men. Farming and learning to farm is essential. Wait, am I defining an ideal place or a prison camp?
With the aim to abolish private property into communal property, I raise a few questions. One, like what is implied by Sir Thomas More, I meant the character not the author, to Raphael Hythloday on the said topic, will the people still have the enthusiasm to work, since everyone will feed and be fed by others? Does a Utopian society have a chance to prosper? No, I guess not. I mean, yes, maybe the people shall work since it is a rule in their country but only a few, if not none, will be encouraged to work hard. I can imagine them thinking, “what good will working harder bring to me?” or “I’ll be fed and live the same way as others anyway, so why bother?”
Also, can Utopians really exercise their freedom? With all the rules and regulations on being equal, will they still be free? Is not being able to wear your preferred clothes and not having the right to create your own fashion, demonstrates that you are free? Is being obliged to work 6 hours a day, in an agricultural field, without regards if you are a man, a woman or a child or someone who wants another profession, portray freedom? Is not having the luxury of being unique, freedom? Since I think you already know my answer, I’ll leave that to you.
When it comes to equality, many critiques say that More’s Utopia is a country for men. Especially with the rule that once a month, a Utopian woman should confess all her failings and beg for forgiveness and that she should prostrate herself to her husband without any obligation for the man to do the same. Sure, Utopian women can be priests but almost none exists. I don’t have any idea if it is because no Utopian woman is interested or because of the policy that the Utopian priests, since they are the ones who the Utopians, even the leaders, follow should be righteous and just enough to be able to hold that position and they think that women are not suitable enough for that.
Though there is the hanging truth that the superiority of men over women was enjoyed by the Europeans in 1500s when More’s Utopia is made, it is irksome that in an ideal world that he envisions, gender equality is still nowhere to be found.
Next, does Utopia really have much lesser laws? More keeps on saying that again and again, but is it evident? Sure, it has a little bit fewer laws than some other modern countries. But the system proposed, itself, is a new set of laws. The mere communism on property that Utopians are so proud of is a law. The number of working hours per day is a law. The regulations in owning money, gold or any jewelry is a law. The bowing of the wife to her husband is a law. Slavery and many other definitions stated and will be stated are laws. I don’t know if I’m blind or over thinking things but I can’t see anything that can justify that thought. They still have criminals, so they still have criminal laws. So what are they babbling about?
Certainly, you might have been thinking that I am completely opposed with More’s view on Utopia but I can assure you that there are a lot of things that I do agree and would like to see someday.
Number one at that is the Utopians’ way of choosing slaves. One may raise an eyebrow on that but I really do think that making the process of choosing slaves a question of moral behavior is somehow cool.
Throughout time, I am also one of those people who think death penalty, though it is now void in the Philippines, is something too much. I believe that no one has the right to take the life of the other, taking away their chance to repent and change. With the Utopians’ way of converting criminals into slaves, those wrong-doers have a lot more time to think through what they have done and transform themselves into better citizens.
Children of Utopian slaves are also said to be treated kindly and just like the other kids, disregarding what their parents did. This shows that discrimination is not part of the Utopian society unlike what is happening in the real world, now and during More’s time.
Encouraging euthanasia or the process of ending a life to relieve pain is also one of those things that I just can’t stop nodding in agreement with. It truly shows that Utopians are generally merciful and would rather let someone leave on their own accord. Plus, it is also stated that if someone really sick refuses euthanasia, they will still treat him/her as tenderly and carefully as before. How nice, right?
The idea of not signing any treaty with another country is also admirable. It effectively shows the certainty of Utopians’ spoken words and promises to allied countries and their noticeable trust that those other countries shall do the same. For the Utopians, words are enough to tie a bond.
Now, when it comes to Utopians way of war, people, even the characters of Sir Tomas More and Giles, see it absurd and irrational. For me, it displays cowardice covered in intelligent tactics. Utopians are not fighters. Though they do train for military activities, they don’t engage in fights as long as they could escape from it. They pay other country to protect them but what if there comes the time when no other country is there to help? Military training is just part of a Utopian’s upbringing but it is never something they focus upon to. So Utopia is a remarkably weaker force. But putting negativity aside, Utopians do not value money so they can give as much as they want to those who they want to fight for them so it has minimal possibility to happen. Utopians are not war freaks. They are peace-loving smart citizens.
All in all, I can therefore conclude that Thomas More’s Utopia is Thomas More’s. It may not be as ideal as he wants to portray to us but for him, it is. Sure, we can see a lot of flaws and may say that More’s Utopia is one of the very first dystopian fiction novels in history.
You may think that since it is a perfect society, it requires perfect citizens so it forces everyone to be as perfect as more than they could possibly be. You may never want to live with that.
But the dystopia in More’s Utopia is a matter of social constructivism. Considering the time, place and situations when Thomas More wrote the first words of Utopia, that might be the most perfect world to live with.
Everyone has his/her own Utopia. It may be what we call heaven, or just simply being someone you care for. And for Thomas More, a perfect place is a place free from the 1500’s European leaders’ dictatorship and a place where everyone cares.