May the odds be ever in our favor : navigating the failure of utopianism
Khoo, Nevin Gabriel
Date of Issue2017
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
Dystopian literature, particularly young adult dystopian fiction, has seen a significant rise in popularity in the late 20th century though the origin of dystopian fiction can be traced back as early as the 18th century with Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travel. Dystopian works such as Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games’ and Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogies are two of the more widely read young adult dystopian fiction set in a post-apocalyptic world. These texts differ from other prominent young adult fiction such as J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter and Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series in that the former centres on the experience of young protagonists with social concepts such as governmentality, ecocriticism and the effects of war. The chaotic degradation of society portrayed in these texts depicts a largely contrasting image of the current world given the rapid development in numerous aspects such as technology, medicine, infrastructure and communication in the 19th century, a state that social theorists such Hobbes and Locke would argue has “achieve(d) a more or less final form for the fulfilment of the goals of happiness and freedom” (Kumar 102). While the youth of today live in a world cushioned by decades of innovation and hard work: a dream their ancestors envisioned proceeding the discovery of coal and the steam engine, a decrease in the quality of life for the bourgeoning generation (in comparison to the experience of the elder generations) suggests a failure of this blueprint for social perfectibility. Krishan Kumar argues in his essay ‘The Future of Utopia’ that this blueprint for success gained momentum in the wake of the French and Industrial revolution as “conviction grew that the good society was on the point of realization, that the intellectual and material resources were now to hand with which to construct the new society” (Kumar 102) hence allowing society to believe that it was inching closer towards Thomas More’s ideal community, Utopia. The possibility that perfection could be realized has led to an obsessive quest to attain it although this has had dire consequences on both the social and environmental landscape which have largely been ignored. While the quality of life has certainly improved in terms of better healthcare, living quarters and education, society has begun to hit a glass ceiling in terms of achieving perfection. This stems from the saturation of humanity’s demographic and the drastically declining natural resources the earth provides. The implications of over consumption has led to a call to track the imprints of climate change during the 2008 United Nations Conference on Climate Change and Official Statistics. Michael Bordt and Robert Smith argue in their report ‘Are Central Statistical Offices Prepared to Track the Impacts of Climate Change?’ that while these ‘climate changes are expected to vary regionally’ (3) they would have “economic, social and environmental consequences” (9). This bleak present as well as future, thrusted upon them by those who sought to give them a better life, has instilled a sense of fear and anxiety in the younger generations given their inescapability from it yet to reject this quest for perfectibility leads to a bigger issue yet: where does humanity go from here? While utopians such as Krishan Kumar suggests preserving the concept of utopia in order to “find the confidence to think about perfecting humanity” (110) when another opportune time arises, Suzanne Collin’s takes an anti-utopian stance arguing that humanity should give up its quest for perfection given that humans are intrinsically imperfect and that while this may cause anxiety and fear (given a lack of new direction), there is hope for humanity in beginning afresh. This essay aims to evaluate how the failure to achieve good governance as well as the state of environmental degradation illustrates the imperfection in both humanity and the environment hence the need to move away from the utopian goal of societal perfection.
Final Year Project (FYP)
Nanyang Technological University