Utopia’s Biggest Problem

Blogger Marcus Ampe has written a thoughtful essay about utopianism. But he’s realistic about the impossibility of creating a perfect society. He wants, instead, to think about ways we can make society better. That’s a practical goal for which we should always strive.

But striving for improvement is not the same as striving for perfection. A simple example shows the essential problem.

Can you draw a circle? Of course you can.

But can you draw a perfect circle? A perfect circle is a geometric object in a plane. All of the points on the line forming the circle are exactly the same distance from the center of the circle.

And that means you can’t draw a perfect circle. You need to have the idea of a perfect circle even to draw an imperfect one. However, any circle you draw will have minor flaws in it. You can’t draw a perfect circle: you can only draw a better circle.

If you set your mind on drawing a perfect circle and nothing less, then you’ll waste hours drawing one imperfect circle after another. If your friends try to dissuade you, you’ll get angry at them. You might start to think that the reason for your repeated failures is that your friends are sabotaging your efforts.

The same thing happens when people try to create a perfect society. No society ever has been or ever will be perfect. But utopians waste their time and cause great harm by rejecting possible goals and pursuing an impossible goal.

Because their goal can never be achieved, nothing will ever be enough. They think we should keep doing the same things, just do them harder. Spend more money. Take away more freedom. Police more speech.

The word “utopia” was coined by Sir Thomas More as the title of his novel Utopia. It comes from two Ancient Greek words that translate as “no place.” More knew very well that there was “no place” on earth you can find a perfect society. You can only try to make a better one.

About N.S. Palmer

N.S. Palmer is an American mathematician.
This entry was posted in Philosophy, Political Science, Society and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Utopia’s Biggest Problem

  1. Pingback: Looking at an Utopism which has not ended | From guestwriters

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