Competition year: 2004
About Stan Giess
For some people Utopia is a word to derisively denounce an idea as unrealistic. For others it is a vaguely defined better society than exists now. There are visions of the entire world existing in gentle and peaceful coexistence. There are visions in which technology provides solutions no matter what sort of problems our human nature creates. Many people have thought about the design of a political system that would allow society to become a Utopia. Others have thought about the set of laws that would regulate society in a way to eliminate its problems. Some have thought the answer is to have a population of moral citizens. There must be many more ideas about Utopia that I have not thought of. I have been surprised during the last year to find that there are quite a few people that do not know the meaning of the word "Utopia."
I hope that no reasonable person would seriously assert that we are already living in Utopia. There are massive amounts of crime, racial conflicts, clashes between religions, the Middle East problem, countries suffering famine or extreme poverty, and the regional and global disease threats that seem to stay one step ahead of modern medicine. On a smaller scale there seems to be more of a tendency for individuals to pursue their interests with less regard for the impact on others. Many would claim that there is a general decline in good manners and moral behavior.
Why aren't we living in peace? Humans began writing (cuneiform) over 5000 years ago. Our species has likely been virtually unchanged many times that long. Isn't that enough time for us to have mastered our destiny? Can we really be a species capable of Stonehenge, the pyramids, the great wall of China and landing men on the moon and yet be unable to create a utopian society? As humanity has amassed the huge amount of knowledge that we now have, there have been many examples of amazing creativity and genius, why haven't the principles of a peaceful society been one of the discoveries?
It could be that our distant ancestors didn't think about utopia. Maybe even after humans began building cities and developing written language it didn't occur to them to speculate about a perfect society. By the third century B. C. Plato was thinking about a perfect society and considered the idea important enough to write about. Since then many people have thought about, written about, and even attempted to create such societies. So why isn't the whole world living in peace and harmony?
Utopia might be impossible. Our species, or perhaps any form of life anywhere that is subject to the evolutionary process long enough to reach the point at which it could appreciate Utopia, may always be far too competitive to adapt to the nearly altruistic societal standards that may be necessary in a Utopian society. I hope this is not the case, but sometimes when I see how totally that life and competition are interwoven I doubt that we will ever be able to tame our competitive nature.