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October 22, 2016
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Utopia or oblivion

Some people, who might call themselves “hard-headed realists,” would prefer to pooh-pooh utopian thinking entirely, of whatever stripe. But to me, the utopian imagination is critical, and should be encouraged, nourished and fostered. As Harvey Cox points out in “The Feast of Fools,” how can we create a better world if we cannot imagine what we want such a world to be? I believe we need some kind of utopian vision—which is, after all, nothing more than a set of goals—to give our lives focus and direction, whether individually or collectively. (Be honest now: if you fulfilled all your New Year’s resolutions, wouldn’t that be a little bit of utopia?) The question, and the danger, is: what are you willing to sacrifice to make the vision reality?

Human nature is imperfect, society is flawed, and utopia is by definition unattainable—but that does not mean that we should not be constantly trying, in our imperfect and stumbling way, to bring about improvements in our lives and in the world around us. I have had people tell me that the peace movement is absurd because “peace will only come when Jesus returns,” or that we shouldn’t have anti-poverty programs because “Jesus said ‘the poor you have with you always.’” I think such attitudes are attempts to take the easy way out, and skirt the full extent of our responsibilities.

For me, the last word on the subject of utopia belongs to futurist and inventor R. Buckminster Fuller. We have a choice, Fuller says. Either we will create a world that works for everyone, or we will eventually destroy ourselves: Utopia—or oblivion.