There is a brand of literature called the “utopian”. It is where people imagine an ideal place and describe what it is like to live there. This is used to comment on the currently poor way that people live.

This type of literatures takes its name from the first modern example – Thomas More’s Utopia. (The name is a pun in Greek: the “topia” part means place, and the “U” part means both ‘no’ and ‘good’. So the idea is that it is about a good place which doesn’t exist.).

At a stretch I guess ‘utopian’ could apply to the creation stories of different religions which usually give instructions about how we should live. Some science fiction can also fall into the category of utopian.

The different utopias are usually set in the distant past or far future. Some, however (like William Morris’s) are set in the near future – to emphasis that they are achievable. This is similar to Ted Trainer showing how existing suburbs can be easily converted to large sustainable suburbs without huge change).

Usually, in the good place described people live in harmony with both nature and other people.

“Utopian” can be used as a criticism – meaning hopelessly idealistic.

Today I think our global situation is such that what used to be seen as utopian is now our only option. If we don’t find how to live sustainably on our planet we won’t be living on it. And this means finding ways to get along with other peoples and countries who we disagree absolutely with. Our situation it seems to me really is global.

Do I think there is one right way to achieve this? No. But I think there are clear directions we can move in.

The biggest thing that those of us in suburbia can do is: if at all possible get by without a car. If we can’t do this (I don’t think I could if I had children) there are other options that can be easy (buying energy saving light globes) to more challenging (invite friends round and share a meal instead of going out to a restaurant).

To put the responsibility for changing the world on the shoulders of individual is unfair. No one of us will change the world on our own. This is where we need to join groups that we like or perhaps introduce new things to groups we are already part of. There are a huge number of groups working for sustainability and justice. There is much we can do in our existing groups (churches often have links with other churches overseas, recycling at the office . . . ).

I think my part is creating the utopia that we need to survive is focused on us and our relationships. If the sustainable way of living on our planet means as much stress and dis-ease as we currently have then it will be of doubtful benefit.

What can we do as individuals. I think we can form a vision of our desired future and then take what steps we can to bring it about. These can be simple things: walking where possible, talking to friends instead of watching TV shows we don’t particularly enjoy, buying more environmentally friendly products, shopping at the farmer’s market when one is available.

I would like to hear what you think. Do you think I am too pessimistic? Too utopian? What is your vision for a desirable future (one that you would be happy for you and your children to live in).

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12 Comments to “Making Utopia Real”

  1. awwwsome post.

    your explanation of the meaning of utopia was interesting. etymologically et al 🙂

    i’m not sure if one can associate utopia with “cleaner and greener”. i do think it’s a positive thing to reduce carbon emissions etc. a very positive thing. but… changing the way we live and interact with other people, being more positive and optimistic about life – can be much more practical and beneficial. good ol teach a man to fish versus giving him supper thing.

    …put it this way; i don’t think it’d help if everyone starts riding bicycles and living green, but keeps up with their destructive egotistical “winner takes all” mindset, that anything will really change. they’ll feel vindicated from any kind of accountability because they ride a bicycle when the thing that really matters, their being, their minds, the way they interact and go about EVERYTHING remains the same.

    we have to change who we are to change what we do.

    inspiring stuff all round
    gave it a stumble

    all the best
    alex – unleash reality

  2. sarah luczaj says:

    Nice post Evan, “utopian is the only option” – I like it. I think you could go a lot further in the possible actions, though. And great comment Alex – I quite agree…

    Just an aside – I did wonder – how challenging really is it to invite friends around for a meal?! It gives me a boost to think I am doing something so challenging, but I have to say it’s pretty normal around here!

  3. Evan says:

    Hi Alex,

    Thanks for engaging with this topic. I do think we need to start riding bikes and stuff. I also think you’re right that we need to change who we are if it is to matter whether changing the world is worth doing. Perpetuating the current suffering by going green would be awful. I also agree with the emphasis on teaching a person to fish (as we both have blogs we are both engaged in doing this).

    Glad you liked the post and I really like the way you have engaged with the topic. Thanks.

  4. Evan says:

    How I wish inviting friends around was more normal! It may just be the people I’m around I guess. I think you’re right that I could go a lot further with possible actions, I’ll think about some follow-up posts. I do want to avoid giving the impression that I’m telling people what to do in detail (though I do have some ideas about what is the right direction to move in). I liked Alex’s comment a lot too. Thanks for your comment Sarah.

  5. sarah luczaj says:

    I’d happily invite you for a meal, Evan, but all those air miles 😉

  6. Evan says:

    And I’d happily accept.

  7. Thanks for this Evan — I definitely agree with your observation that we can’t create a utopia by purely political means. Many people I know saw President Obama as a sort of messiah when he was elected, for instance, but of course life went on for them with all of their inner and outer conflicts afterward.

  8. Evan says:

    Hi Chris, I think politics has its place (and party politics is only a small part of public life) but it won’t bring us the life we need. People in the US put a lot more faith in their leaders than those of us in Australia do. So I wasn’t as surprised and disappointed that Obama is a politician too. I do think having a Black man in the White house is important – but he (or anyone else) just isn’t capable of making the needed changes from within that particular system. Public life certainly won’t help us with our relationships and emotional healing. Thanks for comment – they are always valuable.

  9. McLaughlin says:

    The word comes from Greek: ??, “not”, and ?????, “place”. The homophone Eutopia, derived from the Greek ??, “good” or “well”, and ?????, “place”

    Hope these Greek letters work on your site.

  10. Evan says:

    Thanks, unfortunately the Greek letters don’t show. If you want to give the English names for the letters these will show. Thanks for your comment, much appreciated.

  11. Phil says:

    Hi Evan,

    great post. Explanations of the words were superb and I really like the idea behind your article. If I should give the topics covered a priority I would say “Focussing on relationships” is a little bit more important than the “saving energy”. This is because if you have good relationships and can convince those relations to save energy is much easier than the other way round. Tagging it with numbers I would say 1.1 relationships and 1.2 saving energy.

  12. Evan says:

    Hi Phil, I think you’re right about the priorities and the reasons for them too. Thanks for your comment.

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