Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why "Utopia" ain't all it's cracked up to be.

Earlier today, I saw that Gail Simone (the accomplished and talented writer on comics such as Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman, and Secret Six) had started up a conversation on the concept of Utopia ... specifically writing about a Utopian society.  Admittedly, that got the gears in my head turning a bit, thinking about human nature, the concept of Utopia, and the fact that it might be a nice place to visit, but I'll be damned if I'd ever want to live there.

Here's the problem I have with a Utopian society.  Simply put, it's just "too perfect" ...

You see, if there's one thing I've learned about myself, it's that I can thrive under pressure.  Hell, I work under constant deadlines.  Some of my best work seems to be when I've got the Sword of Damocles perched precariously over my head, held aloft by that single strand of horse hair.  Sometimes when you know things can come crashing down around you at any moment, that's the motivation to make you work your hardest to make sure it doesn't.

Supposedly, in a Utopian world, everything is all "peace, love, and Twinkies". But here's my question.  How can a person possibly strive to accomplish anything if he wants for nothing?   Some of the greatest ideas ever imagined come from the desire to make the world a little better.  They say that necessity is the mother of all invention.  Well, if we don't need anything, would we orphan our ability to innovate?  Personally, I wake up each morning with the hope to make today better than the day before, and for tomorrow to be better than today.  It doesn't always work out that way, but I try.  I want to accomplish something, to overcome some obstacle, to do my part to make my piece of the world just a little bit better. 

So what about conflict, eh?  A world without conflict must be good, right? Wrong. Conflict helps to breed creativity.  Think about all the greatest (and even those not so great) stories ever told.  Without some sort of conflict ... be it external or internal, global or personal ... there's not really much of a story.  As Raymond Chandler once wrote, "In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption."  That being said, in a truly Utopian society, where is there room for a sense of redemption?  And forgoing that, where does that leave "art"?

Finally, one thing that genuinely frightens me about a Utopian society is this notion of "perfection".  As a whole, we are all inherently flawed ... but it's those flaws that makes each of us unique as an individual.  Think about the world of gemstones.  Sure, there's something to be said for a "flawless" gem, but some of the most valuable gemstone are, technically, flawed.  Look at the Star of Bombay ... a 182-carat sapphire from Sri Lanka.  The gem's most fascinating feature is its distinct six-armed star shape embedded in its surface.  From a purely technical standpoint, the star shaped pattern is, by strict definition, a flaw.  However, without that particular flaw, the gemstone would lose much of its allure.  Its flaws are as much as part of its pedigree as anything else.  And that's the way it should be with people as well.  I'll be the first to admit that I'm a flawed individual ... but I don't just "own up" to those flaws, in many cases I actually "own" them ... making them work for me instead of against me.  It's my flaws that make me unique.  In a true Utopia, I would lose that sense of individuality.

I think that the notion of a Utopia is interesting, and I understand why so many people find it something to hope for ... however it's nothing that we should ever actually achieve.  You can't get something for nothing ... and, in the case of Utopia, it's hard to see where it could ever be worth the ultimate cost.  Yes, we struggle from time to time, and things are far from perfect ... but it's that struggle which makes us better.

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