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From Book to Thought - What is Utopia?

"Utopia is that which is in contradiction with reality" - Albert Camus

About our author

I am Shriman Kumarappan, a student at the Genwise Summer School 2018 in Bangalore, India. I am 13 years old, and I live and study in Chennai. I feel that Genwise makes me think from different perspectives, makes me capable and most importantly independent.

The following is a blog on a discussion we had about ‘Utopia’. The session, called an “Adda” which we have every evening, which was facilitated by the Professor of History at The University of Mississippi, Melinda (Mindy) Rice, who also is the course instructor for the Genwise Summer School course ‘Revolutions & the Future of 21st Century Democracy’, which I am attending. Though Utopia was a new topic for most of us, we explored it through many debates as highlighted below.

Imagine a world where people are perfect, where equality is widespread, where egalitarianism is the slogan! Well, this world was once thought about by Englishman Thomas Moore, in his book Utopia. What was a theory back then has become reality now in neighborhoods across places like Poland and Israel, and surprisingly, in our very own country- in Auroville, Pondicherry.

Utopia translated to Greek means “no place” or “good place”! The word actually means both together- ‘An imaginary state or society where people are near perfect and believe that social divides are unnecessary’.

Our Adda started off with a brief explanation of Thomas Moore and his book, which he wrote in 1516. This whole idea came about because of the response to the belief that social disruption was created and caused by the development of other ideologies like capitalism. That basically means that Utopia was in response to inequality and the division of people by classes.

Utopia composes of 54 cities with 6000 citizens in each. Each family should have between 10 and 16 members, otherwise children get put in different families. The leader of a Utopian state is a prince. After a series of processes, 200 legislatures elect a prince who is overseen by 20 council members.

A Utopian state distributes its resources equally; everyone gets the same amount of amenities. One of our discussion topics was if the equal distribution of resources was a good idea. Personally, I felt that it would be more manageable and sustainable if all people have an equal amount of resources and move forward together rather than people progress at different paces. Another idea that was heard out was “the rich may be able to afford more resources but the poor can’t”. It was lovely to hear the very diverse perspectives of so many others.

We then moved on to some other facts about Utopia. In Utopia, no one owns property or there is no money. In simple words, there is no theft or social division because there is no personal property or money to promote it. One of the questions which really made us think was “Should the government require that everyone wear the same clothing appropriate to their age, gender and the seasons?” Well, In Utopia the clothes that everyone wears are nearly the same! We all gave it a moment of thought. I felt that a country’s culture, which includes its clothes and festivals, distinguishes it on a global platform. For example, take a look at Indian states themselves. People from Tamil Nadu would wear a Veshti (like a dhoti) on special occasions, but someone from the North would wear a Kurta Pajama. In the same way if Utopia’s were just going to be normal, that what stance does it hold on the global platform? Another person said that the idea of wearing similar clothes represented equality. This was one debate that I still wonder about.

Moving on, we entered the topic of Slavery. In Utopia, people who commit crimes that earn death penalties can be made slaves. Each household has a total of two slaves. This came like a shocker to most of us as firstly, in a perfect world, how can there be anyone who commits a crime? Secondly, having slaves creates a lower class, so how does that support equality?

It was then argued that slavery was as good as death, so why would someone want to do the unpleasant jobs in a household? In response, others said that everyone has the freedom of choice, so a person who chooses slavery over death cannot be questioned.

All this while, we had one question running in our minds- Why did Thomas Moore not think of the issues with Utopia that we thought of? We then got to know that Moore actually worked for Henry the Eighth, famous for the killings of six of his own queens. Moore did not have a farming perspective to his thoughts. He thought the urban and political way. That explained the answer to our question.

In conclusion, I believe that Utopia is indeed a relevant idea to ensure equality and peace among people, but certainly, looking at today’s world, no one can adapt to this situation. I end by sharing a quote from Ken Liu:

In every revolution, there are winners and losers. Every Dystopia is a Utopia for somebody else. It just depends where you are. Are you in the class that benefits or in the one that does not?