Utopia, the social mental illness?

Postby Cardboard Box » Sat Jul 31, 2010 1:39 am

I been gone a long time.

However, I dropped back in out of curiosity, and I'd like some advice on articulating the following. Simply put: That societies based on utopian ideals (i.e. the idea that history is a narrative leading to a perfect world, just do as I say) breeds citizenry with the same, albeit more personal, utopian delusions. And that the USA is a textbook case of malignant utopia. Or, at length:

Internet websites and philosophy books make strange brainfellows.

The sites in question – Not Always Right and Retail Hell Underground – portray the retail service experience in the worst possible light. If it isn't a parade of brainless, arrogant, lazy or outright unstable customers, the same can be applied to co-workers and managers.

The philosophy books in question are Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia and Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals by John Gray, which are excellent works in the Orwell fashion of telling you what you know already.

And what do I know already?

That our Western world is psychically dominated by utopian ideas,

That people honestly believe that some utopia is achievable,

That utopias of any stripe are impossible to realise,

That utopian models of society and humanity are invariably flawed,

That society needs the utopian impulse,

That we, humanity, must control the utopia and not the other way around.

And I assume:

Utopias drive people crazy,

Utopias kill people,

Utopias eventually destroy the societies they inform.

I also have a theory explaining the apparent prevalence of an 'entitlement complex' in individuals, i.e. the attitude that the world in general should distort its rules to suit them and them alone. Take a look at the ideas informing that society; I bet you'll find an utopia in which individual liberty and free choice trump social mores and group necessities.

Simply put: People who live in a society focused on utopian ideals will reflect those ideals in their daily lives, demanding their little world be perfect. Hence the worldwide humiliation of a Canadian gentleman who apparently did not link the G20 protests with a mall's security concerns – and that's one example.


I've been trying for months to get the idea down crystal clear, but it keeps eluding me. All I wanted was a straightforward explanation why the US appears so utterly batshit bleating bonkers from my POV. Criticism will be appreciated.
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Re: Utopia, the social mental illness?

Postby Plasman » Sun Aug 01, 2010 4:31 am

Wait, what's this about
the worldwide humiliation of a Canadian gentleman who apparently did not link the G20 protests with a mall's security concerns -

? I don't follow the news sites like a hawk, so I must've missed that one.
%/

Also, welcome back! :D

Also also, I do pop in to Not Always Right on the odd occasion, and, while it is hilarious, it often leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. It doesn't help that I work in retail, either... :doubtful:
If this last post seems ridiculous, please disregard it. Thank you. ;)
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Re: Utopia, the social mental illness?

Postby mwchase » Sun Aug 01, 2010 9:32 am

I'm assuming it's this guy. (Had to poke the internet a bit for that.)

I can't think of anything to say on-topic, might be back later if I have some kind of insight.
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Re: Utopia, the social mental illness?

Postby Alfador » Mon Aug 02, 2010 5:35 pm

You think one utopia is bad? Try seven! Each of the factions in Alpha Centauri represents a particular notion of a human utopia taken to extremes, with all its glory and all its horror.
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Re: Utopia, the social mental illness?

Postby draque » Mon Aug 02, 2010 6:15 pm

Cardboard Box wrote:I've been trying for months to get the idea down crystal clear, but it keeps eluding me. All I wanted was a straightforward explanation why the US appears so utterly batshit bleating bonkers from my POV. Criticism will be appreciated.


I'm not sure I understand. Are you agreeing with the author and saying that the US population at large is too focused on utopias, or that it's too focused on them being impossible?
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Re: Utopia, the social mental illness?

Postby Cardboard Box » Wed Aug 04, 2010 9:22 pm

Draque, I agree with Gray that the US' overall attitude is strongly informed by christian-based apocalyptic utopian ideals. Namely, that the world can only get better, and that it must get better, and that can only occur if we (insert steps to paradise as per bible prophecy or other revolutionary idealism here.)

What I'm trying to figure out is: does exposure to such unrealistic social ideals result in unrealistic individual ideals?

Yes, I know I'm probably reinventing the wheel, and I'm ignoring any other factors, but it's been driving me crazy trying to say it coherently.
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Re: Utopia, the social mental illness?

Postby Mitsukara » Wed Aug 04, 2010 11:32 pm

My parents' brand of christianity was of the opinion that we likely live in the "end times" approaching the bizarre insanities described in the book of revelations/the rapture. Thus, they figured, while we should enjoy what's left, we shouldn't get our hopes up about the future insomuch as just devoting everything to 'faith'. Kinda defeatist, in my opinion.

While I'm not sure if this is a productive addition to the discussion, it's my opinion that a society should never laud itself as being a utopia/eutopia, nor throw itself utterly into any one set of ideals that people believe could achieve one, insomuch as just working to improve the common good/stay afloat in terms of resource management/allow free and equal rights as much as possible. Common sense stuff on a case-by-case basis, everyone just trying to do their best.

Generally speaking, I'm also of the opinion that the law and any kind of morality- except, again, for really common sense stuff like 'murder is bad' and 'theft is bad (but maybe matters a lot more in some cases than others)'- should be kept separate. Laws should not be made to pursue/promote moral agendas.

Probably an overly simplistic and undetailed way of phrasing my thoughts there, sorry. I'm a little lacking in political/historical knowledge.
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Re: Utopia, the social mental illness?

Postby Sinosaur » Thu Aug 05, 2010 12:43 am

So... what the heck is the question? I've gone through two or three ideas of what to talk about to be on subject for this topic, but nothing seems right. The essence of your question and what sort of discussion you want to start eludes me. I know people are self-centered, but I don't know if that has anything to do with thinking about utopias. I know there's people out there who spout a whole bunch of 'everyone's special and we should work to make the world better for everybody!' crap without any suggestions on how to do crap, but I don't know if that's what causes people to act the way they do.

I could go on a whole bunch of tangents, but your actual subject of interest here is kind of... lost on me.
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Re: Utopia, the social mental illness?

Postby draque » Thu Aug 05, 2010 8:33 am

Cardboard Box wrote:What I'm trying to figure out is: does exposure to such unrealistic social ideals result in unrealistic individual ideals?

Yes, I know I'm probably reinventing the wheel, and I'm ignoring any other factors, but it's been driving me crazy trying to say it coherently.


I don't actually believe that it is entirely unrealistic. Obviously, we're in a world with limited resources and an increasing number of people. That's a problem of ever growing significance. That having been said, the level of comfort per person in the world is still going up, and if we are able to address current issues, I see no reason why it should stop. Certainly we're never going to have a world that's free of conflict, but I do think that progress in quantifiable fields (energy research, medical technology, computational power) are allowing us to better manage and distribute resources. I suppose what I'm saying is that while it's unrealistic to expect a perfect utopia, it's pragmatic to work toward one.
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Re: Utopia, the social mental illness?

Postby Coda » Thu Aug 05, 2010 10:25 am

Mitsukara wrote:Generally speaking, I'm also of the opinion that the law and any kind of morality- except, again, for really common sense stuff like 'murder is bad' and 'theft is bad (but maybe matters a lot more in some cases than others)'- should be kept separate. Laws should not be made to pursue/promote moral agendas.

It's not nearly so common-sense as you might think. The purpose of the law is to codify both morals and ethics in such a way that it can be clear and just to enforce them. The important thing is that the law should be "reason, free from passion." Those morals and ethics need to be formulated in such a way that they are logically sound, internally consistent, and perceivably just, without drawing on emotion for strength.

Laws against murder and theft are not "common sense" per se; they are only common sense inasmuch as they extend logically from the assumption of a right to life (for murder) and a right to property ownership (for theft). The concept that these rights are good is a moral concept -- morality is defining of "good" and "bad" behavior.

In another society with different social norms and different traditions, and therefore different morals, it would be logical, consistent, and just to instead decree that murder (as we perceive it) is NOT illegal, because there is no assumption of the value of individual life but rather an assumption of more important rights (in this society) that are expected to be enforced. This has been true of many societies in history and they would have thought we were backwards and unjust for our blanket policies against murder and vengeance.
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Re: Utopia, the social mental illness?

Postby Plasman » Mon Aug 09, 2010 6:48 am

[looks at video Coda posted above] :lol:

...Okay, I'm guessing that what you're asking us, CardboardBox, is whether or not people who get to have gravy on their potatoes will expect that every time?
In other words, if a society is accustomed to a life of convenience, what happens to it when times get tough?

If that's your question, I'm wondering at the answer myself. :?
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Re: Utopia, the social mental illness?

Postby Cardboard Box » Wed Sep 01, 2010 4:08 pm

Plasman wrote:If a society is accustomed to a life of convenience, what happens to it when times get tough?


Sorry about the delay; I was caught up in other things, including a bout of depression.

Yes, that is very close to what I am wondering. Take the US and societies modelled on same, and what I see is this: a society, dependent on cheapness: Cheapness to buy, to attain, to produce, to discard, to replace. By 'cheap' I refer not only to money, but also in physical, mental and spiritual effort. And this is encouraged by constant affirmation that life is supposed to be easy and comfortable - and customised.

And right now that utopia is dying, with a hell of a lot of kicking and screaming. Some of the afflicted are coming down with virulent cases of apocalyptic fundamentalism; some with racism; most with political tribalism.

(Seriously, my impression of modern US politics is of two groups of shrieking tribesmen hurling threats and rocks at each other across the river. The tribal outfits look more African than Native American though.)

Other strains will pop up, but I'm unsure what they are, nor how severe the transition period will be.
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