an ideal community or society possessing a perfect socio-politico-legal system.
The word utopia comes from the Greek: ?? (not) and ?????
(place). The English homophone eutopia,
derived from the Greek ?? (“good” or “well”) and ?????
(“place”), signifies a double meaning: “good place” and
“no place”. This
term has been used to describe both real communities that attempt to create an
ideal society, and fictional societies portrayed in literature.
The word was imported from Greek by Sir Thomas More
for his book Utopia, that was written in 1516. The title figures a blueprint for an
ideal society with minimal crime, violence and poverty. In Utopia, a fictional island in the
Atlantic Ocean is described. It is described as
an island nation ruled initially by benevolent King Utopus. The land is small
and divided into numerous sub-plots of land each with an attendant capitol
city. In fact, this term is mentally representative of a conceptual land rather
than a geographic certainty; Utopia is a fantasy locale beyond reach even in the rather liberal constraints of fiction.
Chronologically, the first recorded Utopian proposal is Plato’s Republic. Part
conversation, part fictional depiction, and part policy proposal, Republic would
categorize citizens into a rigid class structure of “golden,”
“silver,” “bronze” and “iron” socioeconomic
classes. The golden citizens are trained in a rigorous 50-year-long educational program to be gentle oligarchs,
the “philosopher-kings.” Plato stressed this structure many times in
both quotes by him and in his published works, such as the Republic.
The wisdom of these rulers will supposedly eliminate poverty and deprivation
through fairly distributed resources, though the details on how to do this are
unclear. The educational program for the rulers is the central notion of the
A dystopia, on the other hand, is a
community or society that is undesirable and/or frightening. It is translated
as “not-good place” as an antonym of utopia. Decades before the first documented use of the word “dystopia” was “cacotopia” (using Ancient
Greek: ????s, “bad, wicked”) originally proposed in 1818 by Jeremy
Bentham in his Plan of Parliamentary
Reform: “As a match for utopia
(or the imagined seat of the best government) suppose a cacotopia (or the imagined seat of the worst government) discovered
earlier usages are known, dystopia
was deployed as an antonym for Utopia
by J. S. Mill in one of his Parliamentary Speeches 1868. Mill added the prefix “dys” (Ancient Greek:
???- “bad”), considering the initial U as the prefix “eu” (Ancient Greek: ??-
“good”) instead of “ou” (Ancient Greek: ??
“not”). It was used to attack the government’s Irish land policy:
“It is, perhaps, too complimentary to call them Utopians, they ought rather to be called dys-topians, or caco-topians.
What is commonly called Utopian is
something too good to be practicable; but what they appear to favour is too bad
to be practicable.”
In many cultures, societies, and religions, there is some myth or memory
of a distant past when humankind lived in a primitive and simple state, but at the same time one of perfect
happiness and fulfillment. In those days, the various myths tell us, there was
an instinctive harmony between humanity and nature. People’s needs were few and
their desires limited. Both were easily satisfied by the abundance provided by
nature. Accordingly, there were no motives
whatsoever for war or oppression. Nor was there any need for hard and painful
work. Humans were simple and pious, and felt themselves close to their God or
gods. According to one anthropological theory, hunter-gatherers were the
original affluent society.
The topic of a
dystopian society is one that is used frequently in literature. Dystopian
societies appear in many artistic works, particularly in stories set in the
future. Dystopian literature implies problems
with our world today because of how realistic the dystopian society is
portrayed. The characters have normal problems that we have today, and the literature
is attempting to warn us of what could happen in the future. Dystopian
societies appear in many sub-genres of fiction and are often used to draw
attention to real-world issues regarding society, environment, politics,
economics, religion, psychology, ethics, science, or technology. However, some
authors also use the term to refer to actually-existing societies, many of
which are or have been dictatorial
states, or societies in an advanced state of collapse and disintegration.
Dystopia is a form of literature that has a definition
that’s often confused with that of utopia, science fiction, post-apocalyptic,
etc. As genres of literature that
explore social and political structures, utopian fiction portrays a setting
that agrees with the author’s ethos,
having various attributes of another reality intended to appeal to readers.
Dystopian fiction (sometimes combined with, but distinct from apocalyptic
literature) is the opposite: the portrayal of a setting that completely
disagrees with the author’s ethos. Many novels combine both, often as a
metaphor for the different directions humanity can take. Depending on its
choices, they end up with one of two possible futures. Both utopias and
dystopias are commonly found in science fiction and other speculative fiction
genres, and arguably are by definition a type of speculative fiction. Three
of the most prominent dystopia literature novels are Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, 1984 by George Orwell, and Fahrenheit
451 by Ray Bradbury. In each of these novels, the respective author is
attempting to accomplish a certain goal.
Dystopias are not
happy places. That is a fact. If you google the definition of dystopia, it says
dystopia is a noun: “a society characterized by human misery, oppression,
disease, and overcrowding.” This definition is entirely negative, and has
nothing that could be considered optimistic.
But, from different points of view, what some consider a dystopia might
actually be a utopia to others. A utopia is “an ideal place or state.” While
dystopias and utopias are virtually opposites of one another, the people in
power would view a world where they hold totalitarian control as a utopia,
while the poor, starving, and miserable citizens of this very same world view their
nation as a dystopia. Point of view matters.