UTOPIA: MAY WE EVEN TALK ABOUT IT? (In the century that is marked by Anti-Utopias.)

By Yuri Kuchinsky



In what way such discussion can benefit us?

The answer is obvious to me: so that we can understand better
such important things as society, environment, and ourselves -
- and how all these interrelate. Believing in a Utopia is
believing that a harmonious relationship between the three is
possible and that it should be explored.

So why did so many (all?) previous attempts at formulating a
Utopia failed? The ugly ruins of Marxist Utopias still litter
the landscape of our times. The history of these misguided
attempts at a Utopia is fairly well known to all of us.

But we should not forget that Utopia is also a key Christian
belief. This is the idea of a New Jerusalem. Of course God is
the one who would bring it about, yet the role of the believer
was not to be understated. Everyone has to try to be good so
that Christ will come again sooner in a cloud of glory. The
dream of constructing a Heaven upon Earth has been embraced by
Christians throughout history, from Pope Gregory the Great, to
John Calvin in Geneva, to the Moonie communes of today.

I would venture that the key error of both the Marxists and
the Christians was their condemnation of the human nature
springing from the notion of the Original Sin. (Of course,
this applies primarily to the Christians. How the Marxists got
on to the Original Sin may not be obvious on the surface, but
such a belief is in there -- it simply needs a more detailed
investigation). Both believed that the human nature is
something "bad" and in dire need of reformation. For the
Marxists, as for the Christians, Nature as the whole had to be
reformed. "Nature is not the temple where to worship, but a
workshop where to create", they wholeheartedly adopted this
quote from a Russian 19th century classic.

I think the key to elucidating the nature of Utopia is to
understand this important concept of the human nature. I have
been quite interested in sociobiology in the last few years.
This is a rather new science that straddles the areas between
anthropology, sociology and biology. E. O. Wilson, a prominent
biologist, is usually seen as "the Father" of sociobiology.

A lot of what I write here is borrowed from Robin Fox's book,
THE SEARCH FOR SOCIETY. He is a well-known British
anthropologist. This book is a sort of a manifesto of
sociobiology.
What Fox is criticising in his book is something that perhaps
can be described as "THE HUMAN NATURE IMPROVEMENT PROJECT".
This strange enterprise has been sponsored by various
ideological parties over the centuries -- parties of both the
Right and the Left. Such misguided "improvers of human nature"
are often armed with the theory of human mind as a "tabula
rasa" (blank page) on which anything could be and is written.

There is, of course, a very active "Nature vs. Nurture" debate
currently in social sciences. Fox is definitely of the side of
"Nature" and "the innate ideas". He is strongly opposed to
those deluded theorists who claim that the boys can and should
be brought up just like the girls (and vice versa), who claim
that "gender is an arbitrary construction". And he is strongly
opposed to a separation of "nature" and "culture".

To provide a thumb-nail sketch of the book, his friends are
Aristotle, Hume, F. H. Bradley, Darwin. His opponents are
Locke, Skinner, Levi-Strauss (who attempts the separation of
Nature and Culture), and J. S. Mill (although he is somewhat
ambivalent with the latter).

His view, in opposition to the "improvers", is that the human
nature is something as good as given: the product of millions
and billions years of evolution. The human nature is
essentially unchangeable. It must be understood and respected.
Any attempt to reform and to "improve" it is futile and is
liable to produce grief.

Is this pessimistic? Does this preclude social change and
improvement? Not at all, in my view.

Society and social institutions do change and rather often.
They are changing rather faster than ever recently. Some of
the changes at this time are clearly positive, some may give
us pause. Society evolves, it has a mind of its own, many of
the changes are inevitable and irreversible.


WHAT PROPELS SOCIAL CHANGE?

But what is the main mover of social change, what propels it
forward? This is certainly an important question. My view here
inclines to a one that could perhaps be described as neo-
Marxist. That is, I believe technological changes beget
economic changes which, in turn, beget social changes. Yes,
the evolution of the means of production! Echoes of such
classical Marxist terms as "the structure" and the "the super-
structure"...


IS SOCIOBIOLOGY A PESSIMISTIC SCIENCE?

I don't think so. To come back to the concept of a Utopia. A
sociobiologist, who is also an optimist, would say that our
global society is evolving towards a goal (yes, a Utopia!)
whereby social institutions are gradually brought more and
more in line with the (more or less fixed) human nature the
way it really is. In such a Utopian future, the perennial
conflict between an individual and society is gradually
minimized -- because social institutions are increasingly
based on the respect for the human nature, and allow it to
flourish. Something, clearly, that our present-day social
institutions fail to deliver.


WHAT CAN SOCIOBIOLOGY DO FOR US?

In what way can the insights gleaned from sociobiology help us
to live happier lives? What sociobiology can do, it can
elucidate for us the nature of the human nature. It can help
us to understand our nature from the evolutionary perspective.

What to do with this knowledge is perhaps a somewhat separate
question. I don't think sociobiology can give us automatic
prescriptions on how to organize our society. That can only be
done on the basis of clearly defined ethical principles
formulated by consensus after informed debate. To begin, we
must determine _realistically_ what kind of a society would we
like to live in? What is possible? And then we can proceed to
formulating the laws of such a society, making sure to take
into account the true nature of human nature. 

The idea, of course, as seems obvious to me, is to allow
people as much freedom as possible while making sure the
society will function smoothly and without disruptions. The
balance of freedom and responsibility is the key. 

Obviously, some of the more difficult aspects of this
hypothetical utopian system of laws would be the areas of
sexuality, as well as such things as the attitude to
intoxicating substances. But this is nothing new. Our present-
day governments are having plenty of problems regulating "sex
and drugs" matters, and it is a major disaster area, not to
put too fine a point upon it. How can we have a society where
people are not repressed sexually? Is it possible?

The area of sexuality is precisely where sociobiology can be
very enlightening. Sexuality is the most "primordial" area of
our social and emotional lives, something that we are forever
confused about, something that is determined by our instincts
and emotional needs the roots of which go very, very far back
in our evolutionary history.

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For a long time, I've been of the opinion that envisioning
Utopia as a tiny isolated community of "a happy few" is not
too satisfying for the intellect. I tend to think that if a
happy future is ever to arrive to this planet (hundreds years
from now?) it will be a happiness in the context of a peaceful
global community the existence of which is based on some of
the principles I've looked at.

Needless to say, the basis of such a community will be
stability and sustainability. They will live in harmony with
nature. Will they have a choice?

But I am a pessimist short-term. I don't think we can escape
global cataclysms, wars and disasters, perhaps
totalitarianisms, in the next few decades. The global
population explosion and ecological depletion will see to
that. These will create such scarcities of vital resources
that much of what we take for granted at this time may be seen
as luxuries attained at the expense of great effort and severe
competition.