Utopia gets a bad rap. If someone calls you or your idea “utopian,” they usually mean it as an insult, a synonym for naïve and unrealistic. As his run for the Presidency wound down, Bernie Sanders griped, “There is nothing we’ve said in our campaign that is pie-in-the-sky or utopian.” My call for an end to war is often derided as utopian.
But everyone, it seems to me, should envision an ideal world, one much better than ours. Even if you doubt your utopia is attainable, it can serve as a useful thought experiment. Imagine a really good world, and imagine how we can get there. All progress begins with such wishful thinking.
That’s why I’ve been asking smart people, “What’s your utopia?” See the responses of Sabine Hossenfelder, Stephen Wolfram, Scott Aaronson, Eliezer Yudkowsky, Sheldon Solomon and Robin Hanson. I recently posed this question to a freshman humanities class and gave the students 10 minutes to write responses. Below are excerpts from their answers, one of which defines utopia as “a world with the perfect amount of imperfection.” I hope these responses prod readers to dream up their own utopias.
Nazrin: I imagine a world without greed, hunger, thirst, violence, but with subtle pains that make our happy moments even more valuable and precious. I imagine a feeling of love and welcoming no matter who we are or where we go. I imagine a world where numbers don’t define us, and where everyone is free to roam without holding a mask (or several) in front of his or her face. I imagine a world where sicknesses are cured by love and the desire to live.
Jesse: My utopia is a world where the rat race no longer exists. Why is it that people find it normal to slave away all their lives for a minuscule reward in the end? Why is it that wanting to enjoy life and take breaks is frowned upon? We have followed the same pattern for centuries, but it is time for a change. Instead of one long and boring retirement at the end of our lives, why not enjoy mini-retirements throughout our lives?
Amanda: My utopia would be one with no death. I’ve dealt with so many deaths of family members in the past 4 years. Every time, I feel a little more alone, and a little more like life sucks. People always tell me that good things will happen to good people, and bad things to bad. But my grandpa, grandma and uncle were selfless people who had a hard life. Time and again I would see them in pain, and then in the end I lose them to cancer. Why? I don’t understand and I want it to stop. This is my unicorn and rainbow-like utopia.
Anjali: Everyone will keep their front doors open to let in the fresh air. There will be no harsh winters. A little snow is okay for Christmas. When it rains, the clouds shouldn’t be all gloomy, and there will be no pollution or acid rain. Everyone’s house will have a compost bin and a garden. No families will be separated because they are across the border in another country. Everyone should be able to visit other countries without visas. This can be possible if everyone has a good heart.
Daniel: Instead of going to school to pursue an opportunity to make money, everyone just goes for the sake of learning, an opportunity to be himself and pursue a higher level of thinking. All life-threatening illnesses are gone. Little things like the common cold can stay, but cancer and other serious diseases will be eradicated. Also, no more third-world countries. I want all nations to have first-world standards.
Ahmet: How would life be like if there was absolutely no war/conflict, tyranny and poverty? This is the utopian society that Karl Marx proposed, but it failed when implemented in the real world, simply because it was done through tyranny, where war and poverty existed. Communism would be an ideal world to live in, but this looks far away and almost impossible to implement.
Danielle: In utopia, everyone would feel safe at all times. No girl would have to walk alone in fear because everyone would respect each other’s space. No one would be denied anything, especially education. No child would go to bed hungry or scared.
Brendan: A utopia can come from everyone having a strong education. There are some major problems in the world, including war, disease, poverty and tyranny. If everyone has a strong educational background, all of these major problems can be eradicated. There will be more people to help cure diseases.
Michael: In utopia there is a perfect ethical code that everyone follows. If someone breaks the code, the rest of society decides his/her punishment. There are no religions, there is only science. Obviously there is no war because of the perfect ethical code and the cooperation of the society. There is no fear, greed or hate to start a war.
Hannah: I would be living in a lake house with my dogs. I would work a job I loved, and get paid well doing it. The weather would be a perfect 70-80 degrees and sunny every day, because why not? Actually, I’ll just control the weather myself.
Emily: No one grows up rich or poor, but instead everyone has the same resources and opportunity when they begin their life. Whether they decide to go to school or start a trade or whatever, that would be a direct result of their own actions and choices. No one has less opportunities than another person, and no one has unlimited wealth/opportunities to mess around with either.
Mariam: Higher education is available to everyone and not just anyone who can afford it. Everyone has protected rights and lives under democratic ideals where they are free. No evil exists. Everyone can afford clothes, food, shelter and good health care.
Sean: Everyone has only one priority: making the world better for all. Issues that would normally lead to war are now resolved through a friendly pickup baseball game.
Vicktoria: There should be basic foods available for free for those who cannot afford to eat and are begging on the street. Another necessity is for everyone to have a home. There are so many homeless people around Hoboken and even more in NYC. These people should be taken in by the state and given jobs to do that are simple in exchange for a home.
Zachary: A utopian world is impossible. The problem is, in my utopia the laws and common beliefs would be similar to ones I hold. I want people to agree with me, but I realize I am not always right and will have something to learn. Basically everyone would need to agree but also hold differing opinions, which is impossible. Another problem for me is economic equality. While I would not want anyone in poverty, I believe peoples’ decisions and actions should affect their outcomes.
Jyotsna: Creating a utopia is really a lot of hard work. You want to fix all the problems you see in the world, but you also realize that there are so many problems, you wonder if your own utopia could even handle all of the fixes. That said, in my utopia there would be no need for environmental alarm. People would respect nature. Politics would be about the betterment of people, not power or personal gain. I would be friends with Robert Redford. Also, colleges would be free, or at least cheaper.
Ryan: Some of the conflict that comes from an imperfect world makes it better. I wouldn’t want scientists, philosophers and other intellectuals to have all the answers. They should have different views, because debates are often entertaining and make life more worth living. Competition can also give meaning to life. Utopia should have a certain amount of inequality to make things interesting, but not a staggering amount to where people suffer because of it. Utopia isn’t a completely perfect world, but a world with the perfect amount of imperfection.