Utopia Versus Dystopia

One of my favorite kinds of fiction is dystopian fiction.  I like the stories about plucky heroes and heroines who battle oppression are awesome.  Particularly if they end with those heroes and heroines living happily ever after somehow.  Most of them, anyway.

Other people prefer their governments to be more Utopian.  They like to envision the perfect society, whatever form that takes, and to see the world become perfect.

It’s a nice idea.

Unfortunately, it’s also important to understand the relationship between Utopias and dystopias.  They’re not opposites like fire and ice, where two things are so diametrically different as to be unable to exist in the same place at the same time.

No, they’re flip sides of the same coin.  One person’s Utopia is someone else’s dystopia.

Think about the book series that is probably the most popular dystopian book of the last decade, The Hunger Games.

For Katniss, Peta, and all the other tributes, life in Panem was clearly dystopian.  President Snow and his government oppressed them horribly and then culled their children to die for people’s entertainment.  It’s horrible…

…unless you live in The Capital.

For them, life looks pretty grand.  For many of them, life was as close to perfect as it could be.  They had all those little people in the districts to mine, grow crops, develop technology, anything and everything was done for them.


The thing to remember is that each person’s “perfect world” varies based on their own hopes and desires.  For Captain Malcolm Reynolds of Firefly, it would be a society that left people alone to find their own way.

Yet Captain Jean-Luc Piccard of the Federation might disagree, arguing the bureaucratic goliath is just about perfect, despite the lack of anything approaching currency.

How Mal and the crew of Serenity would make their living in the Star Trek world might make for some interesting fan fiction, let me tell ya.

These two characters, both hugely popular in science fiction, would clearly have very different ideas of what makes a society “perfect.”  The same is true if you talk to people about it.  No two people would describe their own perfect world the same way.  Some might be close, but I’d put money down that eventually, there would be a point of difference that couldn’t be reconciled.

So what does this have to do with anything?

Well, it’s just one of those things that I think about from time to time.  I’m a political writer as my day job, after all, and on some level, politics is about trying to bring your own Utopia to fruition.

I think that’s something to consider if you’re a writer.  Who actually likes the status quo, and why?  Do they, like Malcolm Reynolds, simply want to be left alone to find their own way in the universe?  Or do they benefit from it like the residents in The Capital?  Perhaps they simply think it will do the most good for the most people, like the Federation?

Someone, somewhere, thinks that society is pretty close to Utopia.  Think about why.

After all, if there’s no way anyone could benefit, then how did it come to be?  Oh, you can come up with a plausible way, of course, but it’s a lot more difficult to make it believable.


2 thoughts on “Utopia Versus Dystopia”

  1. “One person’s Utopia is someone else’s dystopia.”

    And that’s why I rarely like Utopias. Most of them are places I wouldn’t be able to stand.


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