Ten Stupidest Utopias

From Strange Horizons. yep, stupid is a good assessment.

I know I shouldn’t say this out loud, but I will: you could add several of the all-female, feminist dystopias from popular lesbian sci-fi novels into the list of “stupidest,” like Daughters of a Coral Dawn, and the one I read recently, Ammonite.

As annoying as boys can be, I really don’t think we should kill them all off, even if we do perfect that Parthenogenesis. We should keep some of them to lift heavy stuff.

If utopia is supposed to be the ideal and perfect place, where everyone lives in harmony, then why do so many of them turn out to suck? To get an answer, let’s go to the source: Thomas More, whose 1516 travelogue Utopia gave us the word, a pun meaning “no place” and “perfect place.” More’s Utopia describes an island where everyone is happy and smiling and living in divinely inspired synchronization. Told with verve and a sly wit, Utopia is one of the foundational texts of contemporary science fiction as well as utopian thought.

But More wasn’t just a writer of fantastic tales. He was also a politician and one-time Undersheriff of London. As such, More was not only an enthusiastic upholder of a radically unequal and oppressive social order, but also an advocate for burning 16th century heretics. Live by the sword, die by the sword: in 1535 Henry VIII beheaded More and anyone else who didn’t support his accession to Supreme Head of the Church of England. The violence of More’s historical period is never far from the surface of More’s island Utopia, where a single act of adultery is punishable by slavery and serial adulterers are punished with death. If More’s narrator had looked past the happy smiling faces of Utopia, what fear and violence might he have seen?

Yet utopia—a word that has come to represent a hope that the future could surpass the present—persists. “As long as necessity is socially dreamed,” Guy Debord says in his 1973 film The Society of the Spectacle, “dreaming will remain a social necessity.” Debord meant that in conditions of inequality and injustice, people will always imagine a better place. What constitutes “better” is, however, a matter of much dispute. We dream our fears as well as hopes, reflecting all the agonies and contradictions of the waking world; in dreams, demons rise from our darkest places. This is the dangerous element in utopian aspiration, the monster behind the smiling face. Utopias can embody the highest hopes of humankind and frameworks for continuous evolution, but they can also reflect our worst fears and sickest appetites—not to mention a mania for power and control that is latent in every person. “What a strange scene you describe and what strange prisoners,” says Glaucon, Socrates’ disciple, in Plato’s Republic, the template for the stupid utopia. “They are just like us,” answers the master.

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