Not Quite Utopia

Many people share a vision of a desirable society: no one would be destitute, everyone would have adequate food, shelter, and health care, everyone could have a job, and everyone would have the opportunity for an education. This might not quite be Utopia, but it’s close enough for most people and the stated desire of many. Call it the Ideal Society. This sounds appealing and there are many activities underway to achieve such a society. Yet many resist – how can that be?

There are many serious and thoughtful people who think that such a society might not be as desirable as it seems on the surface. They resist the actions and thinking that move us toward this vision. What is behind their thinking?

Since nothing is free, they worry that we will pay in ways we regret. For example, some think that in an Ideal Society, some people (or most people or everyone) would, after a period of time, be worse off than if we had not moved to an Ideal Society. Some think that an Ideal Society would gradually deteriorate and that eventually some people (or most people or everyone) would be worse off than we are today. Others think that an Ideal Society would cause a permanent underclass. Still others have even more grim predictions of how we would end up.

Still others think that the movements we’ve already made toward an Ideal Society have already made us worse off than we would have been and have already created a semi-permanent underclass.

Some critics of the Ideal Society think that the objectives are impossible; others think the objectives are possible but only if addressed indirectly.

My goal here isn’t to wade though all of the arguments and data that the critics worry about. It’s complex and I lack the ability. However, I think we can all agree that that it would be wrong to make people’s lives worse. Proponents of change have a duty to honestly consider objections and still have a high degree of confidence that the change will not make things worse. This won’t happen if people holding different viewpoints are demonized and dismissed.

The example I’ve used concerns an ideal of the political left which scorns the political right’s objections. I could just as easily have picked an ideal of the political right, which scorns the left’s objections.

This is not a recipe for improving the world.


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