The Search for Utopia

Idealists have been attempting to find Utopia from the dawn of time. None has succeeded. None will succeed, at least in the world that we live. But the craving for Utopia persists. Religionists have capitalized on this craving and promised Utopia after death, in a Kingdom of Heaven or Paradise or Valhalla or whatever fancy name they can think of this. We must dismiss this kind of false Utopias from religion-mongerers and see if Utopia can be achieved in this world.

John Watkins of the Alliance for Human Empowerment has notified a forum on "Defining Utopia – Creating the Future-Ideal" (scheduled for July 20). As a contribution to this forum Doug Everingham has given his thoughts on what Utopia would be to him as a list of nine articles which he has copied to this forum (see below) and has requested comment. The following are my comments on Doug's vision of Utopia.

Before looking at Doug's nine points a word may be said why Utopia for everyone is impossible. Given limitless human greed and the finitude of resources it will not be possible to satisfy everyone's expectations (even though a few may be able to approximate their private Utopia). Besides conflicts cannot always be reconciled except through violence (even in the form of war) thus negating the very notion of Utopia. Finally Utopia to have any meaning must be a stable situation but the real world is dynamic. We may only point to differential population growth between regions and religions which will make peaceful co-existence an impossibility.

What Doug's nine points do is to suggest marginal improvements over the present situation which is a non-Utopia. This is admirable if these improvements are possible but they do not add to Utopia. The specific points identified by Doug are:

  1. Earthlings. Doug's view that 'Earthlings' must be considered in defining Utopia, and not merely Humans, is an admirable view. The dominion of Humans over other species and the environment has been a God-given dispensation. Humanists too seem to have accepted this uncritically, witness the logo of the Happy Human, which totally neglects the Earthling in general. In fact human inroads into the animal habitats and eco-systems has progressed too far for any return to the old balance between species to be recreated. So any Utopia will unfortunately be one devoid of living space for animals except in zoos and reserves or as pets, and the natural eco-system will be transformed into human-selected vegetation.
  2. Nested Networks. I have great doubts if these networks combining a whole galaxy of disparate organizations (both public and private) and individuals will work. It is an axiom of organization theory that in any organization two or more poles will emerge which will be in opposition to each other. In critical issues which involve conflicting benefits to the different units there will be a paralysis unless someone in authority will break the deadlock in favour of one party. With that the idea of Utopia will vanish. When these networks are nested the problems will be magnified. So while the idea is admirable I think the idea runs counter to the way in which such networks will work in practice.
  3. Proportional Representation. While agreeing that the first-past-the-post system is not the best there is no guarantee that proportional representation is much better. Many other systems of representative democracy have been tries, e.g. having a run-off election between the leading candidates as in France. But all these systems of electoral choice run foul of Kenneth Arrow's Impossibility Theorem. Arrow demonstrated that a system of electoral selection which satisfies certain cardinal desirable axioms is impossible. So whatever system we choose will have to be a "second-best" system. But this is not good enough for Utopia.
  4. International Simultaneous Policy This is a guaranteed non-starter except on relatively minor issues. Doug cites land mines and the International Court (IC). The greatest danger to mankind is not from land mines but from nuclear weapons, but the nuclear powers will not give up their arsenals while trying to prevent so-called "rouge" states from developing them. In fact it is the principal nuclear powers who are the greatest of rouges. As for the IC it is only former leaders of smaller states like Serbia and Liberia who have been hauled before the IC. The US will not allow their leaders to appear before this IC even though Bush is responsible for greater human rights violations that those tried before the IC. Simultaneous Policy is even more unreachable than Utopia.
  5. Voting Power Allocation. We now have a one-person-one-vote system. I am not sure if Doug is against this system. It is not clear how his system will differ. More details are needed to see if it will effect an improvement on existing voting systems. Electronic voting is already in place in many countries. In the US electronic voting created a problem in the first Bush election, arbitrarily resolved by the Supreme Court.
  6. Curricula. Doug gives several ideas to improve existing curriculum systems. Some of these are no doubt good. Others are likely to be contested by educationists. But one thing he does not give sufficient emphasis is that whatever curriculum is devised it should be secular and not involve religious or ideological indoctrination, especially of young children. Unfortunately most education systems tolerate such indoctrination. so in this respect we are far removed from Utopian curriculum system.
  7. The 'money trap'. Doug seems to be against charging compound interest on loans. This recalls the old Christian strictures against usury. Jesus was against the money lenders, but even the Vatican has its bankers! Islam took it to the extreme and abolished the charging of interest. But interest on loans still exists in the Islamic financial system camouflaged by terms like "service fees" etc. Since money is a scarce resource it will command a price unless you abolish the laws of economics. I doubt Doug's suggestions in this area are feasible.
  8. Resource ownership. Doug states that the "salable resources" should belong to all earthlings. It is not stated which resources are salable and which not. An economic price can be attached to almost all resources except "free goods". Does this mean that private ownership of the means of production are to be prohibited as Marx advocated. But even in a strict Marxist world the non-human earthlings miss out.

The above are some of my observations on the contribution of Doug to the Defining Utopia forum. Unfortunately I cannot give my observations on Utopia as I believe that such a state is possible given human nature as we know it.


THOUGHTS ON WHAT MY UTOPIA WOULD BE

Doug Everingham's 'earthlinghood'.

  1. My Utopia will seek justice and sustainability for all sentient beings ('earthlings') in harmony with Earth -- a world order of 'earthlinghood' supported by 'earthlingism -- something more than a family of 'humanity' reconciled in 'humanism''.

  2. Schools, clinics, data banks, park and wilderness protection and all specialized and professional services will be integrated with all constructive activities and callings.Voluntary groups and public authorities will unite in stakeholder-governed networks. The deciding and acting groups will subdivide when necessary
    • (a) to keep their sizes manageable, giving each member a chance to take part in planning and performing, aiming to answer fairly any continuing objections of any member; and
    • (b) as needed to consider distinct details.
        Each group will grow as needed to include someone in liaison from each related area of concern, including administrative / representation levels above and below. 'Nested networks' will replace dictatorial hierarchies without the need for separate watchdog groups and authorities (auditing, monitoring, inspecting, investigating, mediating, arbitrating, sanctioning, licensing, rewarding, penalizing etc.). Such controls in the past were often appointed by ruling parties after powerful lobbying.
        This self-monitoring structure will absorb political parties and lobbies, as well as traditional checks and balances between houses of parliament and other authorities. Law makers, interpreters and implementers -- parliaments, courts and police -- linked with mediators, conciliators, monitors, auditors, social workers and social services will be chosen by proportional representation of voluntary, licensed, commissioned or contracting groups and other relevant stake-holders. The 'fourth estate' (mass media) will link similarly with specialized newsletters, internet blog and chat groups.
        Utopians will encourage public and private enterprises by tax and other incentives to develop such democratic control and ownership networks, using randomly chosen short term representation ('citizens' juries') where needed, to consider planning and cooperation deeply and broadly. Each such group will divide into committees or sub-committees as needed to consider distinct details, but each group will grow as needed to include someone in liaison from each related area of concern, including administrative / representation levels above and below. Thus 'nested networks' will eventually unite the world community.

  3. While working towards enough representation levels as above for national, multilateral and other large administration / governance units, Utopians will extend the referendum and recall provisions of the Swiss and a few other constitutions as a compromise between the above (direct 'organic') representation and the pseudo-democracy of periodic 'first-past-the-post', winner-take-all election which entrenches one-party (majority rule), two-party (government minimally restrained by a 'loyal opposition'). Proportional representation will be a compromise step, with multi-member electorates giving each voter a choice of candidates for election not only among rival parties but within and beyond parties, and constituents a choice among several personally responsible local members, abolishing the need for an 'upper house' to review and influence governing party rule. Thus governments as in Switzerland will tend to share portfolios including presiding ministries proportionally among rival parties.

  4. Another way to move piecemeal from national pseudo-democracy to international law is for a ground swell of world citizens to compel national leaders in fear of losing office to declare in favor of the word community, and (when sufficient competing countries agree) to act accordingly, as increasingly agreed by voters and election candidates adopting the International Simultaneous Policy -- www.simpol.org, and to some extent in the campaign to ban land mines and set up the International Criminal Court.

  5. Mostly political parties choose, using unregulated, often unfair methods, candidates to compete for geographic regions of about equal populations. Perhaps a fairer electoral system might be having. Instead a country by referendum call on voluntary groups to compile registers of supporters in a specified way and give voters who so choose the option of voting in one or a small number of such groups with or without a vote in the traditional geographic electorate. It should not be too hard, given the current experiments with electronic voting systems, to allow fair allocation of voting power among voters and their voluntary groups. Utopians may achieve this.

  6. Utopian curriculums will include studies of how each person learns social skills.

    • (a) We will try to allow each child contact with more than one fluent language source. Communities enjoying a mother tongue that has widespread use will be encouraged to help those with one of the more limited and declining languages to preserve and supplement their first language at home, in school and in other cultural activities. Utopian parents will know that 'mother tongue' starts with prosody -- the lilt, brogue, twang or accent of our community. This comes most easily and lastingly in our first three years. It is ever harder to change as we mature.

    • (b) We start lfe depending on a guardian. Delighted or terrified, we tend to decide 'Mother knows best' -- all powerful, all loving, all knowing. Authoritarianism like this pervades most of the world. This has some good effects. We learn 'good manners' of our culture, rites, group loyalties, grammar, spelling, prudence, patience and other skills. We tend to believe other adults who parents say we should respect --- teachers, gurus, authorities and role models (mmaffiaccs: -- media military, administrative, financial, fundamentalist, industrial and academic complexes, cartels, cabals, cults and sects). Utopians. taught by Utopians by example will not be fooled into taking as total truth everything their culture, cult, sect, club or gang claims. They will suspect as selfish power seeking claims that anyone not believing those claims lacks human dignity and deserves blame, social rejection and legal penalties. Instead, Utopians will encourage independent judgment and confident reasoning of children as the only lasting way to steer them away from destructive guilt, anxiety, depression, suicide, drug misuse, rebellion, violence, bigotry, racism, war and genocide. They will nurture each child's growing capacity to question, deliberate, judge and debate. Utopians will see that their parents and children understand this. Their children will be painlessly weaned, as most of us are today, from the benevolent magic spirits and superstitions like making a wish while blowing out birthday candles. Utopians will value and promote the growth of Universal Declarations of rights and responsibilities. Too often today one parent dominates the child's first vital group, the other obedient, accepting or reinforcing demands that the child not question her/his 'betters'. Utopian will seek harmony from inside the growing comprehension, confidence and compassion of children, not for bribes or threats of saints or demons, infallible leaders or experts. They will respect the good will and good works of earthlings with many kinds of religious belief, but condemn and avoid dictatorial and intolerant penalties sought by some leaders of fundamentalist creeds to influence or control fellow religionists or others.

  7. Utopians will escape from the money trap which lets excess savings and bank-created credit earn compound interest. They will develop studies of alternative currencies including local and specialized tokens and demurrage ('reverse interest') money which encourages prompt investment of earnings in sustainable and fair uses and prudent developments,the lenders sharing the investment risks of those they lend to rather than charging and dictating interest rates, a cooperative approach seemingly favored by Islamic writers.

  8. Earth's salable resources are the birthright of all earthlings, not trading chips in the world 'Monopoly' game.

[This concludes my first draft 8 Jun 2007. Comments welcome, preferably by 20 June. I hope to add items re sexual commitment, abortion, euthanasia, animal food. -- D E]