A timeline of when each sport was added to the Olympics
What would the perfect company look like for you? Try, if you can, to put aside how things are or what you think “must be” the case, and just imagine your best possible world. What would people be like? What jobs would people do? Who would be paid the most or live in the best homes? Would there even be money? Would there be a crime? Why not?
Sometimes a little utopian thought is vitally important, and the very word (if not the idea) can be traced back to the 16th century intellectual Thomas More.
The land of milk and honey
Manners Utopia presents a narrator who meets a traveler from the island of “Utopia”. This utopian tells us about a perfect society, free from all inequality and all violence. It is a place without private property or unequal distribution of goods between different segments of society. It is a place where jobs are distributed fairly among the population. It is a Confederate city-state where violence is abhorred and is the worst taboo and where “all men zealously pursue the good of the public”.
In Utopia, precious metals have lost their luster. This is done by deliberate negative association – convicts are forced to wear crowns or gold earrings as a ritual of shame. The toilets and tables are gold, which makes them so mundane that no one would desire them to the point of harming others to reach them. Iron is the most valued metal because it has a practical and useful role to play. Why would anyone want gaudy stones or too malleable metals? Rather, wealth is measured as “cheerfulness, peace of mind and freedom from anxiety”.
Yet there is a sinister side to this egalitarianism. If anyone tries to leave the country, they are imprisoned first. If they try again, they become slaves. All the streets are the same, and after ten years everyone has to swap houses by raffle. All the doors are open and everyone can go in and out as they please. Nothing is yours and nothing is mine.
There is no place like utopia
Ask two scholars Why More wrote Utopia, and you’ll get two different answers.
According to one interpretation, it is subversive and revolutionary. In a post-Marx world it is impossible to read Utopia without seeing the parallels with communism. Marx himself sometimes referred to More in a historical context, but not to ideas of utopia. Engels and Marx saw their work as a kind of socio-economic science and would hate to have been labeled as “utopian”. They saw these “utopian socialists” as only selling “castles in the air” which could never help the proletariat.
While more Utopia would not be revolutionary in a Marxist sense, it would have been extremely controversial in its day. Back in the days More was writing – in a world of absolute monarchs, feudal peasants, and religious extremism – ideas of egalitarianism and religious freedom were dangerously controversial.
In another interpretation, some see Utopia as being mocking and satirical. It could be that utopia is So sometimes extreme to the point of becoming an absurdity or a parody. The utopian world is portrayed as authoritarian and intrusive and in some ways at odds with human nature. It could be that More really said, “Look at these crazy ideas, they just don’t make sense!” ”
This interpretation seems more probable when one realizes that Utopia literally means “non-place”, the name of the traveler (Hythloday) means “nonsense” and the capital (Amaurot) means “City without inhabitants”.
Utopian thought: not just for dreamers
But even this interpretation does not quite fit. Utopia is a provocation. This is an open question for us readers about how the company should be ordered. He reverses everything we’re assuming and asks how things could be different. (And everything could really be different.) It’s a thought experiment that throws a lot of it on the wall, and we have yet to see what sticks together.
Today we live with the idea of utopia, and we all have our own versions of utopia. Is it a science fiction, with humans living in distant galaxies? Is this one of nanotechnology and advanced AI? Is it that of a return to nature and respect for the environment? Is it communist or anarchic? Is it the nostalgic golden age of the curator or the chimerical idealism of a sophomore college student? There are as many utopias as there are men, but what actually someone’s utopia is not the issue.
Utopia is the bold and courageous voice that challenges the status quo. The act of questioning brings about change. Utopia is what dares to imagine a world that could be better. This is the way forward, lined with cynics and pessimists who ridicule dreamers.
Perhaps the best way to see utopia, and utopian thinking in general, is like a rainbow. The closer you get to it, the further it goes. Even though we will never reach it, its existence prompts us to move forward.
Jonny Thomson teaches philosophy at Oxford. He runs a popular Instagram account called Mini Philosophy (@philosophieminis). His first book is Mini Philosophy: A Little Book of Big Ideas.