The Utopia is a model of perfection (as well as an engaging literary genre, the term having been constructed by Sir Thomas More), but it’s not that simple as this perfection could entail any of the following definitions:

  • Lacking nothing essential to the whole.
  • Being without blemish or defect.
  • Completely suited to a particular area, purpose, situation or subject.
  • Pure and undiluted.
  • What sense of the word ‘perfect’ are we using when we conceptualise a ‘perfect world’? In my view we are attempting to establish something absolute, with no flaws of any kind. At the risk of pedantry, the defining feature of a Utopian society is ‘ideal (the greatest extent of) perfection’ as described below. Most of the following are based on the premise that we must either:
    a) Re-sculpt or otherwise alter our surroundings to attain a fixed physical perfection, or
    b) Alter ourselves individually in order to change our perception of perfection.
    Please note that we are discussing creating a reality which is perfect for us as a species, or perhaps even ‘us’ as an exclusive ideology. Obviously this is an oversight in many instances, and very few of the following assume that the reality we sculpt will be to our desires only.

    Firstly, it must invariably be accepted that human beings as individuals are, just as humankind as a whole is, inherently imperfect. This is true in that we all could be improved in some manner - the majority of definitions support this anyway. Perhaps, though, we are merely discussing perfection in terms of being an adequate component of a whole, although this seems to do poor service to the concept of perfection and to the unfathomable nature of utopias. Utopias are contemporarily understood as being ‘perfect’ in the sense that improvements are impossible, inextricable from the recognition that this type of perfection is a mere flight of fancy. I would like to opine that we are either incapable of conceiving of perfection or of recognising it were we to see it, although this opinion rests upon the same basis of evidence as any other - none.

    Utopias presumably meet every need of every individual within the society. While material subjugation and the creation of economic caste systems exist, equality (which is not necessarily synonymous with the meeting of needs, but often helps a great deal) is a fiction, which means that an unequal balance of power cannot spawn or govern perfection, if this perfection is to be based on consensus. If a central agent (a computer, say, or an oligarchy composed of the intellectual elite) is responsible for all decisions instead, it cannot be expected to account for the variables involved with each individual identity, nor even to care. There is debate as to what constitutes a need (an extremity of desire, really, albeit usually survival-oriented) and these are likely to vary between individuals. Unless a single entity can be formed from the collective consciousness of everyone, the system will fail someone at some point. Besides, a conglomerate entity is not really a society.

    Humankind does not merely accept - it conquers. Each individual has perspectives at odds with the majority of society, which we are engineered to express as action. We change our surroundings - it’s the reason why we’ve survived. How to nullify this selfish impulse? That’s the paradox: the survival instinct is a fatal flaw in the construction of ‘perfection’. Well, granted, there is a community impulse in the human makeup, but it’s a community which thrives on competition and disparity. This does not disqualify it from utopian status. Suppose for a moment that prevention of selfish behaviour (especially expression in physical violence) is no longer considered necessary for a perfect society or is rendered irrelevant by separation from one’s fellows. You could remove the above point if we accept Plato’s model which states that subjection of the masses is a natural thing, although there is no evidence to suggest that such a system has any merit - the main problem is, once again, individual difference.

    If we must alter ourselves (with a chemical, say, or false stimuli - yes, I do recall the Matrix) then we must first create a self-perpetuating system which can ensure the maintenance of this illusion. We do not know how to create self-sustaining machines which can be entirely relied upon, nor (in my opinion) would we accept the subversion of our senses so readily. There is always the fear of incompatibility or technical fault. This seems to hearken back to the survival instinct which urges us to trust only what we can personally detect. Suppose we transcend biology and manage to immerse ourselves in constant pleasure - there is a limit to our threshold of experience, even if we assume that it can be maintained constantly without internal destruction.

    Maybe utopia will never see a terrestrial incarnation. I find it highly unlikely that all the necessary pieces will fall into place themselves, and as a species we have an abundance of examples as to how social engineering can go terribly wrong.