Utopia gets a bad rap. If someone calls you or your idea “utopian,” they usually mean it as an insult, a synonym for naïve and unrealistic. But everyone should envision an ideal world. Even if you doubt your utopia is attainable, it can serve as a useful thought experiment. Imagine a really good world, and imagine how we can get there. All progress begins with such wishful thinking. That’s why I like asking students, What’s your utopia? I recently posed this question to a class of freshmen. Below are excerpts from their responses.—John Horgan
Nazrin: I imagine a world without greed, hunger, thirst, violence, but with subtle pains that make our happy moments even more valuable and precious. I imagine a feeling of love and welcoming no matter who we are or where we go. I imagine a world where numbers don’t define us, and where everyone is free to roam without holding a mask (or several) in front of his or her face. I imagine a world where sicknesses are cured by love and the desire to live.
Jesse: My utopia is a world where the rat race no longer exists. Why is it that people find it normal to slave away all their lives for a minuscule reward in the end? Why is it that wanting to enjoy life and take breaks is frowned upon? We have followed the same pattern for centuries, but it is time for a change. Instead of one long and boring retirement at the end of our lives, why not enjoy mini-retirements throughout our lives?
Amanda: My utopia would be one with no death. I’ve dealt with so many deaths of family members in the past 4 years. Every time, I feel a little more alone, and a little more like life sucks. People always tell me that good things will happen to good people, and bad things to bad. But my grandpa, grandma and uncle were selfless people who had a hard life. Time and again I would see them in pain, and then in the end I lose them to cancer. Why? I don’t understand and I want it to stop. This is my unicorn and rainbow-like utopia.
Anjali: Everyone will keep their front doors open to let in the fresh air. There will be no harsh winters. A little snow is okay for Christmas. When it rains, the clouds shouldn’t be all gloomy, and there will be no pollution or acid rain. Everyone’s house will have a compost bin and a garden. No families will be separated because they are across the border in another country. Everyone should be able to visit other countries without visas. This can be possible if everyone has a good heart.
Hannah: I would be living in a lake house with my dogs. I would work a job I loved, and get paid well doing it. The weather would be a perfect 70-80 degrees and sunny every day, because why not? Actually, I’ll just control the weather myself.
Sean: Everyone has only one priority: making the world better for all. Issues that would normally lead to war are now resolved through a friendly pickup baseball game.
Jyotsna: In my utopia there would be no need for environmental alarm. People would respect nature. Politics would be about the betterment of people, not power or personal gain. I would be friends with Robert Redford. Also, colleges would be free, or at least cheaper.
Zachary: A utopian world is impossible. The problem is, in my utopia the laws and common beliefs would be similar to ones I hold. I want people to agree with me, but I realize I am not always right and will have something to learn. Basically everyone would need to agree but also hold differing opinions, which is impossible.
Ryan: Some of the conflict that comes from an imperfect world makes it better. I wouldn’t want scientists, philosophers and other intellectuals to have all the answers. They should have different views, because debates are often entertaining and make life more worth living. Competition can also give meaning to life. Utopia should have a certain amount of inequality to make things interesting, but not a staggering amount to where people suffer because of it. Utopia isn’t a completely perfect world, but a world with the perfect amount of imperfection.
John Horgan directs the Center for Science Writings, which is part of the College of Arts & Letters. This column is adapted from one published in his ScientificAmerican.com blog “Cross-check.”