Since the time of the early Greek philosophers, there has been a continuing pursuit to establish an ideal society that could aid or make life a little bit better than what is usually experienced even in a perfectly stable or well-functioning government. The need to seek utopia is even greater now that indifference is growing between individuals as cosmopolitanism crawls up towns and globalism takes its toll on previously small neighborhoods that comprise of peoples that know each other well enough to establish trust and confidence.
What people experience today is economic interdependence, where an individual establishes contact and interaction with his fellow individual mainly for economic reasons: as a buyer for consumer goods or services. Otherwise, there seem to be a lack of reason at all for interaction, except maybe in organized competitions where people may compete as teams, thereby the need to coordinate, or as individuals, thereby the need to seek out support of others. In both instances, the center of the world is the “I”. And conflict enters as it was also universally acknowledged that every individual is unique and this uniqueness and difference with each other exists: from wants to whims to basic requirements for life.
This paper will try to argue why there is an interest in utopia, Eldorado or the Atlantis and even the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It will try to dissect the importance of mythical accounts about improving society as a whole and humanity’s destination about it.
The word “utopia” refers to an ideal society introduced in the fiction book of Sir Thomas More called “Utopia”. It is a Greek word that literally translates to “not place” which means that it is something that is referred to and does not exist. Many refer to it as intentional communities but More based it on Plato’s Republic or Greek Politeia which means “city state governance”. It is a perfected version of the city-state where there is equality and peace. Nevertheless, its citizens are ready to fight when necessary (More and Logan, 96). There are few laws at Utopia, and it hires mercenaries to send to war with the aim to reduce people who are prone to fighting and that peaceful people remain.
The book also talked of religious tolerance (More and Logan, p 39). It is to be noted that Plato also used a legendary naval power island Atlantis in dialogues Timaeus and Critias. Eldorado on the other hand is a myth that originated during the Spanish explorations of South America where a travel account of a tribe called Muisca had a religious leader or a king covered with gold dust offer treasures to gods or goddesses.
Utopia and other myths like it has probed question among those who thirst for something better out of society. There are those which sprang into proposing economic utopia that has been a protest against commercialism and capitalism. These are the utopian socialists where they championed s equal distribution of goods with people working for the common good. This, however, was seen to be flawed as the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republic countries have disintegrated as independent states. A political utopia was seen to be impossible to point out at the moment but polyculturalism is aimed at this instance where different cultures are in harmony with one another despite their differences (Spannos, ¶ 4).
Utopia pursuits root from questioning of societal values which have become a popular concern which Paul Valery is said to have pointed out as, “We civilizations know that we are mortal,” (quoted by Maffesoli, p 25). For many decades now, there were efforts t unify, to become one, such as campaigned by St. Augustine who proposed that ‘Human reason leads to unity;” Carl Marx who proposed that politics is the profane form of religion, Auguste Comte who insists on “reduction to the one” among others (quoted by Maffesoli, p 25).
Many still refer to Biblical beginnings for the division of individuals where God during the creation separated light from darkness. Hence, variations have emerged. One is the Hegelian concept of separation comparable to the Freudian “Spaltung” or splitting. This has been considered the epistemology of individualism (Maffesoli, p 206). Throughout history, there is also the observed continuity of development, pruning and removal of what is no longer useful or beneficial. This is perceived as a way for peoples and individuals to contribute to society and achieve an ideal state someday.
But to actually depend on much from Plato’s Republic is also a question in itself. This may be considered archaic as these are ancient thoughts. This may only lead to the thought that ancient thoughts already sought and promoted the much elusive ideal society and it may mean that morally and socially, man has not progressed much. In fact, many countries and populations all over the world today are below the ideal condition where extreme cases of hunger, poverty, cruelty through unjust wars and killings or plain unfair deals are ordinary occurrences.
This only means that the society men have today are in fact much worse than during Plato’s time, or More’s. Greek and Roman philosophy, literature and history are until today seen as “ very practical way, developing the potential inherent in man’s mind and character and helping him to be not only learned but also virtuous,” (White, p 331). These thoughts were called liberal, worthy of the free man where virtue and wisdom are promoted, that which entails that education trains and develops the highest gifts of body and mind (Vergerius, p 102).
Through More, these classical learning and themes are epitomized as he identify the fruits of learning as piety, charity, modesty and humility. He stresses its practicality and timeless usefulness. More has dealt with foolishness of greed, futility of life, useless wealth and luxury, remembrance of death, hunting, courage, kings and tyrants (White, p 332).
In Maffesoli’s view, there is the continuing refinement of the individual to become stable, labeled and unified. It is the substantialization of being in order to remove ambiguous and the multiple. He sees in Karl Lowitz Histoire et salut the analogy between history and salvation or messianism as a culmination for progress and a transcendent idea (Maffesoli, p 26). In the process, there is also what can be observed as attraction and grouping of individuals adhering to this kind of thought. Various civil society groups are formed and promoting many causes that uplift the image of humanity in general.
More has been seen to be an eclectic thinker and not a dogmatic proponent of any philosophical learning. He found the classical morals as measure for social, political and moral utility (White, p 333), which until today are careful studies and dissected. He was citing the concept of the common good and public interest at the same time attacking individual and institutional self-serving acts that compromise the general good.
The pursuit of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, utopia, Eldorado or the Atlantis is not at all fiction but a continuing saga on the development of humanity. This can never be said better than today as despite society evolving to a more open global community through dialogues and organized bodies of governments and civil societies, there side by side with it are widespread hunger, civil wars, injustice, poverty and deaths of undetermined causes and reasons.
One can be said about inter-country conflicts such as Iran’s, Afghanistan’s, or South Korea’s banter against the military might of the United States, if this has not been addressed by the current president yet. The same can also be said about the hunger and countless deaths caused by lack of food and poverty in third world countries that dominate the continent of Africa and many of Asia. This same issue can also be present in Western countries where causes of death are the over-consumption of food and luxurious lifestyle.
In all said locations and peoples, there is unrest, with those seeking utopia wanting to experience it immediately. They live what they talk about: distribution of goods to those who cannot afford them, seeking of justice for those who speak nor buy them, establishing and campaigning for peace in places where there is chaos.
However, chaos, injustices, poverty, wars, and hunger prop up every now and then like a disease without a cure, at unexpected times and places that even the luxurious Western countries are not spared. While for decades the West has enjoyed the seat of freedom, justice and prosperity to the eyes of the rest of the world, countries in it, too, have individuals that are not spared of the ugly realities of life. Because death and injustice are imminent, and can never be avoided.
It is of relief for those who believe in utopia and live by it already. They, together with the ancient philosophers have found the gateway, enter in it from time to time and return to reality in between to experience it in their lives by doing and promoting what the great philosophers have been saying all along: that man is mortal, that life is short and people can only live in quality life by doing what should be done with his fellows in society. By balancing excess and need and acting that the other person is as good as his own, having his own rightful existence and privileges to experience that which is just and fair, then, individuals will find out that despite the harsh reality, utopia resides in all of us.
Through a vigilant campaign and strong adherence to the ancient Greek’s wisdom as promoted by humanists like More and the other Renaissance thinkers, it is positive for humanity and society in general to continue seeking utopia, and better yet, start living the utopia described by More. After all, what the mind conceives, great individuals can achieve. It is only a matter of challenging the self that individuals could attain it for others already did. It is just that many are cynics and blinded by their own self-centeredness.
Maffesoli, Michel. “Utopia or Utopias in the Gaps: From the Political to the Domestic. Diogenes.” 2005, 52, 25.
More, Thomas; George M. Logan. Utopia. Cambridge University Press. 1989.
Spannos, Chris. “What is Real Utopia?”. Z Magazine, 2008. Z Communications. Web.
White, Thomas. “Pride and the Public Good: Thomas More’s Use of Plato in Utopia.” Journal of the History of Philosophy, Volume 20, Number 4, 1982, pp. 329-354.
Vergerius, Petrus Paulus. “De Ingenuis Moribus” from William Harrison Woodward’s (ed) Vittorino da Feltre and Other Humanist Educators: Essays and Versions. Reprinted 1963.