Wednesday, November 04, 2009


A little while ago someone, somewhere made a throw away comment about not being fond of talk of utopias, and it was one of those strange triggers that sent me off on a tangent.

I am absolutely very fond of thinking about utopia, and my first thought about a shitty situation is always what the ideal solution is. But that doesn't mean that I can't see why it can be a problem. It's very easy to identify a grand solution, point out how impossible it is to get there and then dismiss the problem as too hard. It's also very easy to identify a grand solution and then find flaws and holes and what ifs in it and argue against moving towards it - thereby once again relegating the problem to the too hard basket.

But this isn't what I am thinking when I am thinking about utopias - I am thinking about what I think will be ideal with the knowledge I have now. And I'm simultaneously thinking about what steps we have to take to move in that direction, as well as to treat the symptoms right now. So for the asylum seeker problem - the ultimate solution is for them not to need to leave their homelands. That means addressing inequity and dealing with the abomination that unfettered capitalism has unleashed on the world.

There are two problems with this. It pretty seriously doesn't help people in the right here and now, and so we also need to actively seek out people who need our help and bring them here. But also, my vision of a better economic system is very probably hopelessly flawed (so much so that I don't even want to espouse it). But in my visions of utopia, I always imagine that we head off on the journey with an open mind - that we keep talking about the ideal, and as we get closer we revise it and change it constantly. It can also be a lot easier to determine the best way of treating the symptoms right now if we have some idea of the end game - even if it's only our current best estimate. If we have no intention of ever creating a world in which all people can live in their homelands without persecution, it's easy to see why people want to shut their borders and pretend the outside world doesn't exist.

I think utopias are fine, as long as we understand that they are glimmers on the horizon, that we need to provide food and water for everyone along the way and that we won't really know what they look like until we get there. Discussing them isn't pointless though, it keeps us heading in the right direction.

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