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Utopian desire and the real world

by Dan W. Holst

An old cliché once implied that reality does not matter, only the perception of reality matters. Unfortunately, we live in a hard, cruel, and very real existence, but we still attempt to mold that unforgiving reality into some unattainable perception framed by some fantastical destination. To paraphrase, we all believe in some utopia, and we all want to fashion the surrounding human landscape within our utopian ideals.

This utopian theory came about from my Thesis construction which analyzed the effects of the amalgamation of religion and patriotism. Early pre- to post-American Revolutionary narratives encompassed the assimilation of religious preachers into the revolutionary cause. They preached America as the new Promised Land upon which Christ would directly institute his millennial reign that St. John prophesied in his Revelation. But expanding this outward, we see how this narrative theory plays out in both modern and international conflicts.

All societies need to drive their populace. Rhetorician Marlana Portolano observed how utopian studies focused too much on form and content and generally disregarded its function. She notes how “American rhetoric from Winthrop’s ‘City on a Hill’ to Reagan’s ‘shining city’ to Barack Obama’s rhetoric of hope relies on underlying utopian metaphors.” Alt-right speaker Richard Spencer travels the country speaking at universities where he espouses his utopian desire for a racially clean white state.

Across the world, throughout history, similar narratives have driven people apart. Hitler desired a state of the superior man. Ancient Israel’s Promised Land destroyed entire civilizations where they “were commanded” to kill every man, woman, and child. Other genocides and ethnic cleansings have resulted from the same-styled utopian narrative. Our own Manifest Destiny utopia drove America’s efforts to clear space for its own hegemony. The fact is utopian ideals fuel demagoguery, and no effort to actualize any utopian desire has ever benefitted human-kind.

Science Fiction & Fantasy allow us to escape momentarily from the real world. Their metaphors offer us a non-didactic lesson to better ourselves and the lives of our immediate and extended human relationships.

But utopian desires can only divide and separate regardless of how innocuous they may seem. Gun-right activists believe in a utopia where guns permeate society. But those on the opposite spectrum believe in a utopia without guns where our children live without fear. Both utopias can only conflict with each other and will instigate much external and political conflict.

We need to realize that those selling utopian ideals sell nothing but snake oil. However much the real world hurts, it will only hurt more and for much longer when we form our desire for a better world into a utopian desire. Utopian ideals always include some form of purity. From the political, religious, social, or ethnic utopian narratives, they all seek a pure society.

However, such purity is unachievable without slagging off the impurities. Unfortunately, the impurities we all have is what makes us human. It is who we are, and it is how we are.

Therefore, our efforts to make this human landscape a real landscape with all the warts and faults that human beings can muster upon each other will succeed only when we realize our own perceptions of a superior utopian fantasy have no place in the real world.

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