In Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill writes that “it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.” By this he meant there are qualitative degrees of satisfaction and if to be satisfied we’re lowered in status to that of a pig, it’s better for us to be dissatisfied humans. The film GATTACA and the books Brave New World and The Handmaid’s Tale create fictional places where the needs and desires of humans are met, but not as well as they should be and not without a price. Given the achievements in science over the last several decades, specifically in areas of genetics and biology, it is no wonder why we dream of altering our world in the name of progress. But with social progress in these tales comes repressed individuality, loss of personal freedom, and discrimination of those who aren’t the biological elite. Because such stories deal with these potential imperfections of utopia, they’re called dystopias, pessimistic visions of societies striving to be ideal but never reaching their goal.
Utopian and Dystopian thinkers differ in their views of human nature. While Utopians see human nature as basically good, Dystopians cannot share such optimism. Human nature, in their view, is much like science, neither good nor bad, but varied and variable, potentially both good and evil. Even in the most ideal circumstances, Dystopians believe there’s no escaping those who desire power and control over others. (Dystopia Handout) In Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale those who seize power in the Republic of Gilead are the Commanders, men who arrange a right wing militant theocracy that demotes women and controls society. After a political massacre eradicates pre-Gilead government and environmental disasters threaten the proliferation of the human race, those women still capable of reproducing are forced to bear children for those who cannot. Those lucky enough to become Handmaids are spared from life in the Colonies handling toxic waste. Offred, the main character of the book, finds herself stripped away from her family and her previous role in society. Instead of being a wife and a mother, she is what Lois Feuer calls “a walking womb,” useful only because she’s still fertile in a world where fertility is rare..
In GATTACA, as in The Handmaid’s Tale, reproduction is controlled by an elite group of males, but in a slightly different way.
Utopia in Gulliver Travels and Paradise Lost
The Inconceivable Utopia in Gulliver Travels and Paradise Lost
In Jonathon Swift’s Gulliver Travels and in John Milton’s Paradise Lost, the reader is presented with two lands representing utopias. For Swift this land is an island inhabited by horse like creatures called Houyhnhnms who rule over man like beasts called Yahoos. For Milton, the Garden of Eden before the Fall of man represents Paradise. In it, Adam and Eve are pure and innocent, untested and faithful to God. The American Heritage Dictionary defines utopia as “an ideally perfect place, especially in its social, political, and moral aspects.” And while Houyhnhnm Land and the Garden of Eden may seem like ideally perfect places, they are not. Indeed, they contradict our ideas of utopia.
Our fascination with utopias stems from our attraction to and pursuit of progress within our own society. We study utopias with the hope that our society will someday evolve into one. But what often goes unnoticed is that if our society improves enough to become utopian, it won’t be able to improve any longer. Hence, it will be rigid and unchanging, the complete opposite of what it was as it evolved to its elevated state. This is an awful truth for us because we place value and virtue in the ideas of desire and progress. Our reason tells us: once in an ideal land, desire cannot simply cease to be, because desire is part of our human nature. And our reason is right. An ideal society should accentuate our human nature, not suppress it. As we desire a perfect society we know that a perfect could not exist without our desire. And as long as we desire, we hope for progress. The idea that an utopia wouldn’t allow such progress to occur is enough to make us stop believing in utop…
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