First Readings on Utopia

The Jewish, Christian and Islamic ideas of the Garden of Eden and Heaven may be interpreted as forms of utopianism, especially in their folk-religious forms. Such religious “utopias” are often described as “gardens of delight”, implying an existence free from worry in a state of bliss or enlightenment. They postulate existences free from sin, pain, poverty and death, and often assume communion with beings such as angels or the houri. In a similar sense the Buddhist concept of Nirvana may be thought of as a kind of utopia.

However these ideas are more frequently the bases for religious utopias, as members attempt to establish/reestablish on Earth a society which reflects the virtues and values they believe have been lost or which await them in the Afterlife.

In the United States and Europe during the Second Great Awakening of the nineteenth century and thereafter, many radical religious groups formed utopian societies. They sought to form communities where all aspects of people’s lives could be governed by their faith. Among the best-known of these utopian societies was the Shaker movement, which originated in England in the 18th century but moved to America shortly after its founding.

There are yet other kind of utopia called scientific and technological utopida that are set in the future, when it is believed that advanced science and technology will allow utopian living standards; for example, the absence of death and suffering; changes in human nature and the human condition. These utopian societies tend to change what “human” is all about. Technology has affected the way humans have lived to such an extent that normal functions, like sleep, eating or even reproduction, has been replaced by an artificial means. Other kinds of this utopia envisioned, include a society where human has struck a balance with technology and it is merely used to enhance the human living condition like the Star Trek. In place of the static perfection of a utopia, libertarian transhumanists envision an “extropia”, an open, evolving society allowing individuals and voluntary groupings to form the institutions and social forms they prefer.

A variation on this theme was found earlier in the theories of Eugenics. Believing that many traits were hereditary in nature, the eugenists believed that not only healthier, more intelligent race could be bred, but many other traits could be selected for, including “talent”, or against, including drunkness and criminality. This called for “positive eugenics” encouraging those with good genes to have children, and “negative eugenics” discouraging those with bad genes, or preventing them altogether by confinement or forcible sterilization.

Opposing this optimism is the prediction that advanced science and technology will, through deliberate misuse or accident, cause environmental damage or even humanity’s extinction. Critics advocate precautions against the premature embrace of new technologies.

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~ by badkow on October 1, 2006.

One Response to “First Readings on Utopia”

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