I am glad to see that utopia is still more commonly used than dystopia. (Check Google Ngrams and Google Trends for data.) That alone means there’s hope for the human race. But, except for magazines like Yes! and Intelligent Optimist, there’s also a lot more discussion about financial, environmental, and societal disasters. It seems that we are far from utopia. That’s also nothing new. One thing that is always new and unique is every individual’s image of utopia, their mytopia or yourtupia. No matter what the world is going through, understanding mytopia is one of my best guides to living.
The desire for utopia has always existed. We want to be and do our best, and we want a world that lets that happen. Many now see utopia as eco-friendly, peaceful, and thriving with clean cities, ample resources, and a sustainable civilization. I suspect the cavemen utopia was a clean cave, easy food, a happy clan, and not being eaten by some fanged beast. Same thing, but it looked very different.
We do seem to emphasize the downside. While there are extreme positivists, much of human communication is about what bothers us. The media feeds on our tendency. I know that I am guilty of it as well as I give a personal voice to troubles that are usually reported in generalities and statistics. I’m known for being positive and optimistic, but I’m also known for pointing out dysfunctions and incongruities. That’s reality.
Human nature plays out a bit in this blog’s traffic. The most popular post is about one man’s contribution to community, A Bow To Drewslist; but followup posts languish. Solid traffic comes to my less-than-positive posts about health care, mortgages, and financial turmoil; some people stop following, but those that follow follow methodically and gather audiences of compatriots. (They are also the first to hear the good news and appreciate the contrast.) The greatest volume of reliable traffic is for any post about stocks and investing; which, I guess, is because so many bloggers write about investing merely as a sales pitch for their services. (I’m happy to help clients and sell books, but the numbers prove that I write this blog largely without financial compensation.)
The classics prove the appeal of the dismal. What’s more dismal than Hell? Yet, Dante’s Inferno is recognized by many who’ve never read any of the classics. The story is terrible and rich. Most people aren’t aware that Inferno is the first book in a trilogy (oddly named the Divine Comedy, so there are definitions that were broader back then.) The second and third books are Purgatorio and Paradiso. Dante’s journey didn’t end with an escape from Hell. He went through Purgatory and Paradise. If we were so in love with utopia, Paradiso would be the best seller, not Inferno. But in each subsequent step away from Hell, the verbiage becomes less vivid and less engaging.
Society and individuals progress regardless of our apparent concentration on destruction. We talk about how bad the weather is, and we build stout buildings – though they aren’t as stout as a cave. We complain about finances, and generations continue to work hard hoping to get ahead. We shout about injustices that never seem to fade, and yet progress is made over decades.
Regular readers are very aware of my turmoil of the last few years. Readers from the beginning can see the contrast to the days of dreams that were almost realized. (Until the dreaded Triple Whammy.) Through it all I have aimed at a dream, a mytopia, that has changed little except for the necessary change in scope and timing based on finances. Mytopia may be further away than ever, yet it draws me more strongly because each setback required me to reevaluate my values and expectations. The biggest jump was realizing that the standard American dream wasn’t just a bad fit, it was counter to what I wanted and valued. Everything after that has been an intensely personal refinement.
Mytopia is a small house; on sufficient land for comfortable autonomy; in a sustainable region, environment, and community; with enough resources to live with ease. There are plenty of other details, some of which are so personal I won’t share here; but, most of them can be summarized as Live Long and Prosper, Relax and Enjoy, Be Excellent to Each Other, with a good chance to practice DFTBA (the catchphrase of vlogbrothers, Don’t Forget To Be Awesome.) It is not a small life. It is a life that is just the right size to meet my abilities, needs, wants, and resources. – and help others.
What I have to keep in mind is that utopia is an abstraction, and becomes an easy way to say no to possible solutions. My current house is my favorite home, and yet it is obvious that it is a little too big (even though it is only 840 square feet), on a lot that is a little too small (because 7,000 square feet aren’t enough for a proper garden plus outbuildings plus workout space plus etc.), in a neighborhood that doesn’t encourage decentralized utilities (except for the house-by-house septic systems, which I want to replace with a proper composting toilet.) Mytopia is for something else, which would make it easy to give up what I have, but what I have may be good enough. Most people on the planet would consider my house, its yard, and the utilities to be luxurious. And they are right. And I am right to acknowledge that something a little different could be a lot better.
The only true judge of such decisions is the person involved. Knowing that you are the only person that can truly judge you and your choices is powerful in housing, finance, and generally in how you want to live your life. Go ahead and complain because that emphasizes the contrast between where you are and where you want to be, but don’t let a search for utopia or yourtopia or mytopia pull you away from what is already good enough.