Personal Political Contradictions: Utopianism

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If I had to choose one word to describe my political belief it would be utopianism. Let me explain. Utopianism as acquired a bad name over the years, mainly because it is denigrated for promoting the “impossible”. It is often use in contrast with realism (ideas based on so called empirical reality, often represented by “objective” facts). Indeed in international relations theories realists gained prominence by comparing their ideas to the failure of what they called utopians. Some realists still identify liberal theorists as utopians. Realism is predominant in the political discourse of all the major political parties. Today it is “utopian” to desire a better world if it is not realizable in the immediate future and within our “means”. I however reject this negative connotation of utopianism. In fact I would go as far as saying that utopia is as realistic as any other political proposition; what is offered to us, citizens, today by the political elite is simply unsustainable, unjust, and frankly unrealistic considering the state of our world. I prefer to envisage a world where humans and nature are not desecrated on a daily basis with the tacit acquiescence of the majority (at least on a national basis). I prefer to use this “utopia” as my starting point and work to achieve it from there. After all most people consider utopia as impossible solely because they refuse to consider the idea in the first place as it is too far remove from our contemporary “reality” (as much as our reality must be far removed from ancient civilizations).

But sadly my belief that utopia is achievable is not shared by the majority, especially not those in positions of power (considering that the status quo is obviously working for them). And thus begins the internal conflict between my personal beliefs and my pragmatic side (to put it in Marxist terms, revolution or reform?). Knowing that my beliefs are not immediately achievable, should I adopt a more moderate position in order to achieve some results? In the end my pragmatic side often wins since I think that some changes are better than no change at all. This is why I spend a lot of time thinking about possible reforms and invest time in my work and studies. That doesn’t mean I believe the system works properly and that parliamentary democracies are effective. You will not see me send a letter to a Member of Parliament or sign one of the countless petitions that circulate. I will however act when I think my actions (like sending comments to standing committees, lobbying bureaucrats, start legal procedures, etc.) can have a positive effect, however small it may be. But, since there is always a “but”, my heart and hopes lie with utopia and the never ending battle between what I think and what I can do continues. Moderate reform dictates my work and cultivates my pessimist side, while utopia nourishes my intellectual projects and keeps me positive.

Of course when I speak of utopianism in general, I do not refer to a specific utopia such as the one described by Thomas More in Utopia, by Plato in Republic, or by utopian socialists. I also do not attempt to define its substance. Anyone who has read my writings on this blog will know that I am a progressive. As a post-positivist, I make no claim at neutrality and thus will make it clear that I can probably be described politically as some sort of radical left-wing ecologist.  But your utopia does not have to be mine. It is a vision of the best possible world and how I envisage it is obviously not universal or defining of utopianism.

Beyond what I believe utopia should look like lies a deep desire to move political discourse away from the monopoly of “reasonableness”. I am tired of hearing that, in summary, nothing positive can be achieved because everything we do must be reasonable. To hell with “reason”; on many issues, like decolonisation or climate change, we are past the point of caution. Drastic actions are needed now. Meeting the goals of Kyoto is not even important anymore. It’s not a 6% reduction and a deal on technology transfer that is needed, it’s a drastic change in the way we live and in the way we manage the economy and natural resources. Augmenting funding to First Nations programs is fine, but it doesn’t even begin addressing the chronic problems affecting Aboriginal People created by the settler state. Impacts of most proposed reforms are negligible compared to the issues they claim to tackle. I don’t want to work on another one of those reform projects. I don’t want to hear what is possible considering the current economic crisis, the national debt and public opinion. I want to hear the impossible. I want to hear utopia. I want to work on utopia.

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