There is not a person alive who doesn’t have things going on in their lives they do not like. We call these things “problems”, which implies there are solutions.
A solution solves, corrects, or ends a problem. Then the problem no longer exists. Supposedly.
But life with problems is inherently human—the deepest source of our problems the fact that we are human and not perfect.
Human beings have always had problems.
It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek corrections, but it does mean that we shouldn’t expect perfect solutions. If we demand Utopian answers we could end up like Utopian societies.
Let’s step back from our own, individual selves and our personal problems and think big.
Is Utopia The Solution To Our Problems?
On a larger scale, we know from history that Utopian visions and their implementation have been unable to achieve perfect solutions to societal or individual problems. Intellectually-designed societal structures have been unable to solve social problems. Over-arching, myriad government regulations have been unable to control undesirable events (and often create other, unforeseen undesirable events.) Experts, who are themselves flawed human beings (as each of us is), have been unable to think up, imagine, or invent perfect systems able to solve even some, let alone, most of the world’s problems.
It is naive to think that members of any so-called elite, self-appointed or not, can see broadly and deeply enough to anticipate every variable and perfectly solve societal ills. That’s because members of the elite are individual human beings with biases, flaws, problems, and personal points of view. Just like us.
In fact, great, sweeping intellectual visions and their top-heavy implementation in society have pretty much always ended badly. Tremendous suffering has been endured in the name of Utopia.
(Communism in the U.S.S.R: 60 million or more killed; National Socialism in the Nazi Regime in Germany: 11 million or more, killed ; Communism under Pol Pot in Cambodia: 1.5 million or more, killed; North Korea under the “military first” regime: over 2 million dead from starvation; Cuba under Socialism: large number of journalists imprisoned and tortured, second only in number to China; and so on).
In every era, in every place, some people have more serious problems than others. In the elite-imposed, top-down “solutions”, what ends up happening is that nothing’s changed. Perhaps individuals who before had serious problems have less serious or fewer problems, perhaps they have more. Or perhaps individuals who had less serious problems have far more serious problems. Problems remain.
The mere fact that there has to be an elite cadre of “experts” or “leaders” directing and imposing their visionary solution, means that there are at the very least two classes—those that decide who gets what, and those that are on the receiving end of the decision.
Utopian thinking is actually immature thinking. It refuses to acknowledge that there will always be problems and that we have to reconcile this with our attempts at solutions. The main question we must ask ourselves and anyone who attempts to solve a problem, is: Is our solution going to cause other problems, side-effects, if you will? Will the trade-off be worthwhile, or will it just affect different people and cause other problems?
Utopian solutions are like medication: Are the side-effects and the risk of complications worth the beneficial effects of the medication? Perhaps they are, but the actual process of thinking this through and admitting that perfection will not be achieved (there is almost always something we have to give up), makes us mature thinking and realistic (and very much anti-Utopian.)
On a personal level, some of us subject ourselves to Utopian thinking, too. We desire a complete, perfect, solution to our problems and don’t like the idea of trade-offs or a middle-ground. We don’t want better than, we want best.
Some of us find it hard to accept that we may have less-than-perfect relationships, careers, finances, social status, emotional stability, and so on. Sometimes we even want such perfection that we give up and experience pain and bitterness.
If we allow our personal elite command center to demand sweeping changes that are simply not capable of being implemented without damaging some aspect of ourselves, than we are doing to ourselves what tyrannical, immature, Utopian regimes do to the people they control.
You can avoid this.
Start slow. Start small. Don’t demand perfection from yourself. Don’t beat yourself up. Allow that you might achieve only a 5 or 6 on a 1 to 10 scale in some areas of your life. Maybe only a 1 or 2. You are not the same as everyone else, you have different skills, abilities, talents, weaknesses, strengths, and so on. Don’t give up. It’s not all or nothing.
Weigh options. Accept that there will be trade-offs. Keep your vision in mind but don’t allow yourself to be brutalized by it. Accept that failure is a possibility and that there may be hidden benefits to failure. Accept that success may not always be what we hoped and that there may be a downside to success.
Accept your individual humanity.
*M. is struggling with her present inability to cope with feelings of depression and anxiety. After a long talk on the phone with C.R., in which M. decided that she was “ruling” herself the same way a Utopian dictator ruled his subjects, we decided to we should share the general conclusions of our conversation with Therapy Soup readers.
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Last reviewed: 22 Oct 2013