The perfect society as a critique of Elizabethan England

Utopia - Thomas More, Ronald Herder

I was going to open this commentary with 'where no man has gone before' until I realised that the opening to Star Trek is actually 'Space, the final frontier' and then rambles on a bit more before saying 'to boldly go where no man has gone before'. You may be wondering why I am connecting a book written by a 16th century clergy man with a very popular science-fiction series from the 1960s, and in some cases I may be asking that question myself. Is it because I am simply being off topic? Well, not really, because what we have in Star Trek, or at least in the more modern versions of the series, is an ideal society where humanity has managed to solve all of its problems, and that we are now a superior people who can lead the galaxy as a shining example of morality (though if you have a careful look at the series you will notice that this utopian society ends up collapsing in its own contradictions).

I noticed that I have used utopia in the above paragraph, and if there is one thing that this book as contributed to the English language, and that is the word utopia, which basically describes a perfect society. However, as much as I have criticised Star Trek in the past for creating a belief (at least among science-fiction nerds) that there will be some critical event in the future that will turn human society around and make everybody realise that they have basically been pricks to each other and that they suddenly have an epiphany that they will stop being pricks, and actually start being nice to each other and to begin to work for the betterment for each other, they are clearly not the first to have created this ideal (and will certainly not be the last).

I don't necessarily think that this is what More is saying in his work though because I suspect that what he is doing to using it as a criticism of current English society and instead of simply writing down a long list of what was wrong with society at that time (such as the example he gives at the beginning with thieves being executed for simply stealing a loaf of bread), he is painting a picture of what a perfect society would look like, and using this as a goal that society at his time should start moving towards. More certainly was not the first person to create such a picture, and anybody who has read [author:Plato] will certainly see the influence that Plato has had on More. In a way this book seems to have been substantially influenced by Plato's [book:Republic], as well as Plato's writings on the city of Atlantis (and the suggestion here is that More knew that Atlantis never actually existed, and that it was simply a place that Plato created to demonstrate a template of his perfect society).

The interesting thing we notice about his society is that there is a focus on learning, as well as a focus of work, however work does not last so long as to result in the workers having no free time. In fact, everybody in the society has a form of work to do (which is a criticism of the classed English society of the time, where the workers would work pretty much all of their lives, while the privileged classes would live in luxury off of their backs). However, I note that the free time does not involve sitting down in front of a TV watching sport (or at least the sixteenth century equivalent) or going to the pub and gambling while drinking beer. This has been a criticism (as espoused in [author:Aldous Huxley]) about giving the working class too much free time, and that is because they will simply waste it. That, in a way, is true, because even though I would love to have free time now, I have noticed (and this was the case with myself as well) that a lot of people do not use their free time effectively. I wonder around the pubs here in suburban Melbourne and see that they are full of people sitting at pokie machines drinking beer and gambling. When I was younger, while I have never been addicted to gambling, I would generally waste my free time doing similar things (namely roleplaying, or preparing roleplaying games).

However, the idea of learning, and encouraging a hobby for people to do in their free time is a good thing. The problem is that it simply does not work. Once cannot force people to learn, nor can one force people to have a hobby. People generally gravate towards laziness, in the same way that water flows downhill the easiest way possible. However, I find that making human nature as an excuse as to not to attempt to progress human nature is a pretty poor excuse, and if we had maintained that position then the advancements that have brought us to the position that we are now in would never have occurred. However, what I do believe is that we should be able to tap into every persons potential. There are indeed a lot of people out there that, unless they are given a push, will never desire to reach their potential, however there are others that cannot reach their potential due to being bound in some form of slavery. As such, we need to fight against these enslaving forces to enable humanity to truly reach their potential.