Dystopia vs. Utopia

In Today's guest post, I'm getting all philosophical. I want to compare Dystopia and Utopia.

And I'm asking: are they really all that different?

You might raise your eyebrows and think “Susanne, are you nuts? They are opposites. One is good and one is bad!”

And if I just took a look at the definitions I found on thefreedictionary.com then I'd have to agree with you.

Utopia : An ideally perfect place, especially in its social, political, and moral aspects.

Dystopia: An imaginary place or state in which the condition of life is extremely bad, as from deprivation, oppression, or terror.

Good and bad. It's that easy, isn't it?

Isn't every possible utopia a dystopia in disguise?

Most dystopian societies masquerade themselves as utopias. The government wants people to believe their society is perfect, that it's the utopia everyone's striving for. Take MATCHED for example. People are happier because everyone's wearing plainclothes, because the society finds the perfect match for you (no divorces!) and the perfect job too. Society makes choices for you to ensure happiness and most people in Matched don't mind. For them it is their personal utopia.

Dystopia pretends to be the perfect society.

Utopia is that perfect society.

But aren't they ultimately the same?

I'm wondering, can a true Utopia really exist? Or wouldn't every attempt at an utopia inevitably end in a dystopia? Because how can you ensure food and work and a home and family for everyone without controlling every aspect of life, without taking away personal freedom?

And doesn't every individual have a different idea of happiness and perfect life? How can you create a society that makes everyone or even the majority of people happy?

(My own personal idea of Utopia...)

I don't think it's possible. We're too different. And we're always striving for more.

Personally, I don't think humans could settle for a state of happiness without wanting more or something else. After all, we always want what we can't have, right?

So what do you think? Is Utopia ultimately a Dystopia in disguise? Or am I too pessimistic?

About me: I'm Susanne Winnacker, author of upcoming YA dystopian novel THE OTHER LIFE, in which a girl leaves a sealed bunker after years in hiding, only to find Los Angeles devastated and haunted by humans infected with a mutated rabies virus; struggling to save her family, she falls for a boy-hunter who is both their savior and greatest danger when his desire for vengeance threatens them all. Find me on my blog, twitter or website.


Myrna Foster said...

I think that whether or not something is a Utopia or Dystopia depends on a person's perspective. In literature, they're flip sides of the same coin.

NeuroHormone said...

I may be crazy. But at a time, I really wanted to live in the Society of Matched. My idea of Utopia: Optimal Results. But this society is creepy. And I'm a riot, I probably would have burst. =)

Anita Saxena said...

I think you are very correct, most dystopia seem to begin with the aspirations of a utopia. And happiness is different for everyone. We enjoy writing fiction. It makes us happy. But I know some people that cringe at the thought of writing anything.

Vanessa said...

I think you're right. Most dystopian societies start with aspirations of being a utopia. And most have at least one segment of society that believes it really is in a utopia.

Bruce said...

Myrna, I completely agree. It’s all about perspective. Take the discussion out of fiction and put it in the context of history and we see that for centuries various personalities (dictators, despots, etc.) have tried to create their own little paradise much to the horror and dismay of others. This historical connection is one of the reasons I think the genre resonates with readers.

Carmen DeSousa said...

The most famous fail at utopia, The Garden of Even. Someone always wants what somebody else has. The people that envision Utopia are the dreamers; unfortunately the world needs workers, too.

Carmen DeSousa said...

I am seriously going to turn off spell correct. Eden!!!!

Marie said...

Love this post!

I think a true Utopia can only have a human population of one. Any more than that and somebody's decisions are going to have to be controlled by somebody else. Otherwise, the concept is simply a myth.

Kay said...

I remember trying to create a utopia with my best friend in middle school--and the moment I realized that it couldn't exist because of conflicting ideals: how could you preserve individual freedom and meet everyone's needs. What do you do with those who refuse to conform?

Cellophane Queen said...

Super post! The state of the USA today can be considered moving toward Utopia or Dystopia depending on your POV. I think it's on the cusp between the two. Which way will it go?

Authors could write a book describing it either way.

Probably true in other countries too, but the US is the one I'm living in now.

Nikki (Wicked Awesome Books) said...

It's funny that you posted this because I've had more than one discussion about how many dystopian books are really utopians with dystopian characteristics. In reality, I'd say they are all just dystopians in disguise, just like you said. I don't think human beings can ever truly settle for anything that resembles perfection. Sure, we say we would love to live in a utopia, but we would grow restless with the same thing everyday. It's in our nature.

So I don't think a true utopian society could ever exist, in books or otherwise.

Great post!