Is some form of Utopia worth striving for?

I suspect some people here want to “change the world” in some way. We have ideas about how the world could be better, more beautiful, more just, and so on. We can point to things that we think should stop; others that there should be more of. Less war, more love—for example. And so on.

Of course the devil is in the details; yet there’s something more than a devil involved. We are, ourselves, the reason things are they way they are. Simultaneously, we hold the potential for them to be otherwise.

I read an article somewhere about a supposed resurrection of “utopian energies”—filling the void left by postmodern nihilism—in various pockets of progressive Western culture.

Maybe I even sometimes feel certain utopian energies, in certain states of mind…

The question that comes up, I think, is can you trust those energies? Or is holding to a vision of a radically different (and better) world more trouble than it’s worth?

We simply need to do the best we can, given the world we have, in our minuscule ways? Which might be touched by grace or not…

I’m curious: is anyone thinking or feeling differently about the idea of Utopia in the context of reading The Dispossessed?

Do you think anything other than an “ambiguous utopia” is possible, or even desirable?


Great question!

As one who has held a radical intuition (vision) of a vastly different world than the one we live in today, I think it is simultaneously difficult to do, and probably worthwhile. I have mused the dichotomy of utopia vs dystopia many times, but what my integrative mind keeps insisting is that neither is desirable or likely. So much of what appears to be depends upon the perspective of the imaginer. We see this in the thoughts of Shevek as he ventures into the reality of ‘the other world’ which previously he only had other peoples opinions to formulate his ideas of. All of Sheveks ideas about Urras were founded in the cultural conditioning he received by default as an Anarresti. The reality he encounters confounds him, and much of what he sees is beyond his immediate comprehension.

I posit that we, as simple human beings on early 21st century Earth, with only our education in historical and contemporary events to guide us, are virtually incapable of imagining a future that is not some form of extrapolation upon the currently accepted version of ‘reality’. Does this limitation of imagination in effect create the boundary conditions of the possible?

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Oscar Wilde said," If a map doesn’t have Utopia on it is not worth looking at."

I have the feeling that finding a balance between chaos and order is as good as it gets. Most of us and our governments are trying desperately to get rid of chaos, a futile effort it seems.

And what would balance between chaos and order be like? For an individual? For a group? We may have had a glimpse of that possibility in a dream or a vision. Hence the immense value of studying fiction that wrestles with that issue.

What interests me is how imagination works through each of us and how we implement and put into motion what gets activated. Thanks Marco for the ongoing investigation here and your observations.

I think we live in an age in which the persuasive mechanisms of the existing system are uniquely highly developed and burrow into us deeper than ever. A major component the persuasive mechanisms is to create the belief that there is no alternative (TINA).
That being the case, any course that is reasonably desirable for most people (i.e. anyone other than the minority that most benefits from the existing system) will be labeled as “Utopian”. It will often be sincerely experienced as “Utopian” even by those opposing the existing system. That being so, most likely only some form of Utopia is worth striving for and the trick is to pick the right one, or the step before that, understanding the correct way to go about picking one, understanding how to distinguish personal fantasy from a genuine glimpse of what the existing persuasive mechanisms function to keep hidden.

I suspect you’re mostly right, but I hope not 100%! Isn’t a crucial dimension of our current predicament a “crisis of the imagination?” Do you think it might be possible to tap other sources of inspiration and—neither utopian nor dystopian, perhaps, but integrative—energies that aren’t limited to the known?

Maybe @johnnydavis54’s suggestion?

I’m also I’m inclined to reject the “TINA” (There Is No Alternative) proposition, which after all is simply implied and presumed by the “invisible government” of our particular culture. To wit, I appreciate this point as well.

And I wholeheartedly agree that it’s difficult…and worthwhile. The book would seem to be a testament to both aspects.

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Perhaps an example. I was born in Alabama into a white supremacist family, in a homophobic world. By homophobic I mean ‘gay’ did not exist, homosexuality was a sin, faggots were to be killed at random. If you made the wrong move, you ended up dead in a ditch. All the expert’s agreed that homosexuality was an illness that was probably incurable.

Then the Stonewall uprising happened in '68 and the civil rights movement and the women’s movement were in motion and my personal erotic desires, nurtured by imagination and forbidden books, were acted upon. In the mid seventies I moved to NYC and with others who shared a similar desire, created conditions for radical transformations of society.

We didn’t seek permission or accept a racist, homophobic, sexist reality, we acted collectively and individually in ways that defied the norms and many of us were punished, sent into exile, became outcasts. My father spit in my face and told me he wished I had never been born than to be a queer. My entire life was devoted to disentangling from my father’s reality. And I succeeded.

I only speak of this to jog our historical sense, and to help us imagine alternative realities and accept that such an effort is intergenerational and may take more than one lifetime to make real as a desired outcome may never have happened before. You may bring something into the world that has never happened before but this is never going to happen without struggle. We have to implement our imaginal episodes, ground our visions in an action that will amplify and give feedback to the systems we are working within, a family, neighborhood, a business, a political institution, trans-national networks. Hence the value of modeling a shared reality, and fiction and art and music are the royal road to such participation. I consider myself to be a radical utopian and I have paid a high price. It was worth it. But all of this came out of a child’s imagination, a vague desire, to be open and free.

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In tuning in to possible better futures, ones that represent not-yet-full-emerged aspects of a maturing humanity, visions of various sorts can certainly be a useful source. Meditative visions, hypnogogic visions, chemically-assisted visions, visions that come in ecstatic dance. Anyone who can portray a better future in fiction is also helping us greatly.
I would like our first sentient starship to named the Iain M. Banks, full name the Iain M. Banks Lives and Cancer Is Dead.


@jessicayogini, @johnnydavis54, and @Spacious; I really appreciate your replies here. Actually they helped me answer the question, for myself, that some form of utopia IS worth striving for, most definitely.

I suppose I felt that already; perhaps it was a false question. I just needed reminding.

It can still be complicated, though…

So thought I’d start a new related topic as it brings in some other points of view on the text, specifically on how Le Guin structures these two worlds, and how this might reflect back upon our experience of our own (world) and our utopian possibilities.

I’ve also been thinking about a book I haven’t read yet (but which has been recommended to me), Abundance by Peter Diamandis. However, I don’t mention this book in the post. I’m just noticing now I was thinking about it, which might have been driving my questions.

Questions about human solidarity and splendor

You are on the right track Marco. I believe that with this book club
project you are launching you are sponsoring a healthy trend, a strange
attractor for other readers/writers/utopians. I am encouraged that we are
taking up the Gebser book next, a fascinating work which compliments this
novel. Gebser, as you know, was exploring a new kind of time, What
interests me is the possible emergence of creative blends that happen
between theories and artistic productions, and between readers and
students. And this is great opportunity to shape compelling futures and to
honor the best efforts of our ancestors, as well as go off onto tangents
once in a while During upheavals, as we are now experiencing, in our
complex and unstable social worlds, the difference between breakthrough and
breakdown, has to do with the consolidation of allies. And if some of your
allies are aliens so much the better.


@johnnydavis54 Yes! :heartpulse: :telescope:

I have just received a copy of LeGuin’s “Steering the Craft”. I am back in the thick of writing a futuristic/hard science-fiction novel which I hope can have some meaningful impact on the hopes of its readers. I like Le Guin’s spare yet lyrical writing style, so I am planning to learn a thing or two from her which I can apply to my own writing.

Is my writing positing a uptopian direction? I don’t think so, in fact what I am seeing as the story unfolds through my fingers, is a deep exploration of non-dual realisation actualised at the scale of the whole planet. Not dystopic, not utopic, beyond anything currently manifesting but becoming the way it is of necessity because of what is currently manifesting.

I feel like there is an energy unleashed in the world in this age that is regenerating all things. I reject the idea of Utopianism, however. I don’t think society will ever be a Utopia, but I DO believe war and famine can end. As Le Guin herself said, capitalism seems immutable, but so did the Divine Right of Kings. Things CAN change in our society. There will always be suffering, but we can eliminate, as its mentioned in the book, social suffering. Surrendering to nihilism and philosophical confoundation is relatively easy, even lazy, but it is a courageous, even rebellious act to strive for a better world for our children and the human family, despite how dark things may seem.

“The winds of despair”, Bahá’u’lláh wrote, “are, alas, blowing from every direction, and the strife that divides and afflicts the human race is daily increasing. The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing order appears to be lamentably defective.”
“…Soon will the present-day order be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead. Verily, thy Lord speaketh the truth, and is the Knower of things unseen.”