Ahhh…Utopia. The term made famous by Sir Thomas More in his same titled masterpiece: Utopia is a wondrous concept indeed. According to Miriam-Webster, Utopia is termed to mean, a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions. In effect, it is an egalitarian society.
In the realm of fiction, we often see this played (usually in Sci-Fi, IJS!) out as harmony in a perfect nebulous that seeks to promote their ideals of peace and prosperity all throughout the cosmos. Yet, egad! Its being threatened by those hellbent on conquer and destruction! Oh my! Whatever shall we do?
One of the best examples of this is in Star Trek. The ships (our heroes) are all basically arms of the Federation; boldly going where no one has gone before! They seek out new races, new lands in an attempt to “show them the way” and “bring them into the fold.” Does this really happen? Truly?
Today I’ll share with you, three major gripes I have with the egalitarian society trope and how I see going about fixing them. Enjoy!
Down with the Patriarchy!
Patriarchy is defined as
- a system of society or government in which the father or eldest male is head of the family and descent is traced through the male line.
a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.
How does this translate to fiction? More specifically; how does this translate to the utopia trope?
Hmm…let’s see. All the races live together in harmony. People even dress, act, walk and talk how they want. They get to date who they want and so forth and so on, blah blah blah. Of course, the realm is led by a magnanimous King who delights in the mis….I mean…fortune of his people, thinking only of them and their wants. He rules only by their grace after all. To better serve his people, he has elected a small but trusted circle of advisers, and of course, all of his counselors are men of the pale skinned race. No need to include the other races being ruled. Their input is…nice but unnecessary. The King has a slew of sons who can succeed him. Their mother is well…absent…died? Who knows? She’s never mentioned anyway and serves no purpose to the overall plot so….bah! What’s really important is that the sons all need brides. And quick! Make sure they’re all gorgeous and scantily clad.
I assume you can see what’s wrong here?
How to Fix It:
PLEASE! For the love of all that is right and good in the world, don’t just change it around to say the land is ruled by a beautiful and kind Queen. Barf! A ruling queen surrounded by all male advisers still lives in a patriarchy. It is not enough to say that women can inherit titles, or serve in branches of the government. You must show women actually doing so.
I’ve seen stories where, though the woman actually wins her position due to sheer merit, she is still passed over for the man for some inexplicable reason. Please note, this is still another example of the patriarchy.
If your heroine, deems it necessary to wear tight, skimpy, revealing clothing in the subarctic reaches of the Lands of Always Winter (and her trusted weapon is made of ice and shoots ice beams), for any other reason than she is mentally unstable, please note, this is another example of the patriarchy, viewing women as property and sub-human. She is existing for sole pleasure of the male gaze.
Be sure to really research the patriarchal model and write down ways your society will break these rules.
Lets re-examine the concept of the benevolent monarch ruling our egalitarian society. The simple fact is, a monarchy, is by definition, the complete and utter opposite of egalitarianism. If one figure is on top is making all the rules, how can you be sure each member of your society will benefit? How can all their views be heard? The better question to ask is, if your society is egalitarian, how then, can you stop a singular, ruling body from enacting laws that strongly favor their self interests above all else? What rules (checks and balances) can you have to prevent this?
How to Fix It
So let’s say you agree with me, that one person ruling model is against the ideals of your Utopia. What is the next best thing? Ah ha! A small council. That way, one person doesn’t have all the power. Wrong! Does the terms, aristocracy, oligarchy, plutocracy, theocracy mean anything to you? All these refer to a small group of people (usually the wealthy or well connected) rule. We know how this turns out in near all cases.
So, how then can your society function? Well, the thing to remember is that egalitarianism is at its core, a form of individualism working for the benefit of society as a large. Before you begin to write this type of government structure be sure to really think long and hard as to how the needs of the individual can be satisfactorily met in a way that does interfere with the needs of the masses.
That is when (at least, I believe anyway) you can truly begin to scratch the surface of true egalitarianism.
Harmony Among the Species?
Ahh…Star Trek. My favorite little adventurers. Oh! How you make me proud. But do you? Do you really? It would seem to me that the most troubling thing about these Utopian societies is the concept of harmony among all species. We all live side by side. We co-habitate peacefully with no apparent signs of friction whatsoever.
Yet, in order for a planet to be welcomed into the fray, there is usually some initial threat of utter annihilation unless you comply. Hmm…strange. I thought, there was the deep underlying message of peace and prosperity and harmony? Or does that only apply once you’re a part of the “right” way of doing things?
This underscores a central danger of the egalitarian model. Who is considered friend and who is considered foe?
Another issue for caution is this…using Star Trek as an example (but Lord knows! There are so many others) whenever the crew ventures to a new planet in the hopes of them joining the fray, there is usually some trouble afoot. Some danger facing them that the “natives” are oh so ill equipped to face on their own. Here comes the pale skinned savior to deliver the impoverished, under developed race from destruction.
While there is absolutely nothing wrong with helping your neighbor in need, the danger comes when the pale skinned savior is the beacon hope in the society. They are the ones seeking to draw others into the fray. They are the ones making the crucial decisions. The pale skinned savior complex, is a hallmark danger.
How to Fix It:
To be honest, I could give you quick fixes all day long, but the truth of how to fix it stems from the author. For where the “pale skinned hero complex” may be rearranged, the core tenets of this belief will appear through other aspects of the society.
Learn to be vigilant of one group being lauded as better than another. Be weary of tones and attitudes suggesting the “right” to anything. Utopia cannot be attained if one thinks they are entitled to anything but life and liberty. Character’s motivations are in direct contradiction to their beliefs if they look down on others or attempt to steer others into their way of thinking.
Expanding the Utopia
Here is a question. Can a society truly be Utopian if they actively seek to expand it? More specifically, their reach? If the core tenants of Utopian-ism is the equality of all, why then does it seek to spread? If others are entitled to their opinions, entitled to their way of life, why then does those in the Utopian society seek to bend others to their way of thinking/living? Is this not another form of conquest? Chaos?
What do you think? I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a line in the comments and let’s get the discussion going. Or reach out to me on any of my social media, links below. Until next time, G-Nation! Genesys Out!