Forget Utopia?

This author, when pressed, might admit to being a communitarian anarchist (like a libertarian, but with a communitarian instead of an individualist slant). A society organized under such principles would consist in a group of people living communally, with each individual working both for his/her own fulfillment as well as to contribute to the smooth running of the group. Coordination of common tasks would be achieved through dialogue, debate, and common understanding, not through the repression of any instrument of the state. All decisions would be decentralized to the extent possible. To arrive at decisions about broader issues, the group would send representatives to meet with representatives from other local groups. This process could be scaled up all the way to global-level decisions. Such a society would allow for individual freedom for growth and fulfillment within a context in which dependence of the individual on greater society is respected.

This author will also admit to the utter impossibility of such a vision. While there are many possible objections, the focus here is on just one. Such a vision (and many other utopian visions), with its absence of state repressive mechanisms (police, prisons, law, etc.), seems to have no preventive measure against individuals wishing to impose their will by force. Even a small handful of less-than-perfect individuals can cause a major breakdown in civil relations. It is difficult to imagine a world with no such individuals, since from the very beginning, humans have shown themselves to be insatiable savages.  The Cro-Magnon, killed out the Neanderthal – our very survival and existence as a species is based upon extreme violence. Early humans even hunted, kidnapped and tortured for sport. At the advent of agriculture, when crops yielded plenty of food, humans were not satisfied. Instead, they made more humans, which required more land, and eventually led to (the need for) slaves to work the field – savagery and insatiability combined into one. Undoubtedly humans have also shown social, cooperative behavior since the beginning, but this is not at issue. What is important is that many utopian visions somehow ignore what seems to be two fundamental human drives: extreme violence and insatiable desires. These utopian desires presuppose a human being that is always willing to cooperate, easily satisfied, and never prone to violence.

Why, then, in face of this argument do many of us continue to believe that such a state is possible? Perhaps it is nothing more than naive, childish faith. It seems to make sense and we want to believe it. Words can be put together in ways that make perfect (syntactic) sense, but that refer to nothing that is really possible (“colorless, green ideas sleep furiously” is a classic example). Can we become so infatuated with ideas that we lose the ability to reference them back to what is realistic?

Or perhaps the answer has to do with egotism. The utopian might be saying, “I know that I could be good enough to live in a utopian society.  Most people aren’t there yet, but still, because I know I can, it’s just a matter of finding the right recipe to bring all people to my level.” The assumption that humans might someday be good enough to live together in harmony, could rest solely on the unreasonably inflated self-perception of the person holding that opinion.

Or then again, perhaps there really is some combination of circumstances in which the destructive tendencies of humans can be overcome.

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