Everyone, it seems, has his or her own idea of a utopia, a perfect world. For some people, it is a place where social justice prevails; for some, it is a place of environmental harmony. For some, it involves living out political or economic ideals; for others, it involves religious ideals. What do these various utopian views have in common, and why is it so hard to implement a genuine utopia here in the real world?
I would say that what utopian views have in common is that they are all expressions of their holders' values. Every utopian community has had a set of shared values, whether they were economic, religious, ethical or social. Of course, different people have different values, or place different priorities on the values that they share. Consequently, the more people you put together, the less chance there is that they will share values, and the less likely it is that they can create a workable utopian community of any size.
Does this mean that the notion of a real-world utopia is beyond reach? I do not think so. I think it just means that we need to adjust our sense of scale. I think that a global utopia is unattainable because there are so many disparate value systems in the world. However, utopia at the local level is realistic.
How local is local? Local is whatever level at which you can bring together people of similar values. Perhaps a village or commune. Perhaps a co-housing project. Perhaps just your own home.
Back in the Reagan years, when Cold War fears were escalating, the homes of various friends of mine sported signs that said, "This house is a nuclear-weapons-free zone." A small gesture, perhaps. Pointless, some would say. But it was a manifestation of people declaring their own utopias at the household level, declaring that their homes were governed by their own values.
When we declare our homes to be meat-free zones, we are practicing utopian action. Even if your utopia consists of only yourself, the very act of living out your values as a vegan is utopian thinking in action. As Gandhi said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." Perhaps others will be influenced to accept your values and enlarge your utopian community; perhaps not. But that is not the point. The objective of a utopia is not growth, but integrity to its values.
How does that work on a larger scale? If we have a society of isolated utopias, each living by its own set of values, how do we get along with one another? It works if one of the values that has broad acceptance across the larger community is tolerance. Tolerance does not mean that I as a vegan have to approve of my meat-eating neighbour's carnivory. But it does mean that he and I, in spite of our different views and yes, different values, agree to get along with one another anyway. Tolerance becomes a value with a wider base, and the basis of a broader utopia.
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