Utopian Illusion

“The society we have described can never grow into a reality or see the light of day, and there will be no end to the troubles of states, or indeed, my dear Glaucon, of humanity itself, till philosophers become rulers in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands.”

Plato, The Republic

There are many illusions that exist like a thin veil obscuring the reality of society. Political correctness is just another layer that serves as a distraction from the bleak truths we are sometimes afraid to confront. Chief amongst those illusions is the notion that freedom, equality, liberty – these ideals we hold so dear to our sacred conception of “democracy” – can bring about a utopian society where everyone’s needs are satisfied.

Utopia cannot exist because it is the product of human creation. We are a flawed species, and thus any system we invent will inherently have its problems. Like there is no ideal form of government or any singular, perfect philosophy, there can only exist the pursuit of the utopian ideal, but never any true attainment of the ideal.

Things in nature exist in duality; for there to be good, bad must exist as its counter-balance. For there to be day, there must also be night to give it meaning. It’s a sentiment best captured in the ancient wisdom of the Tao Te Ching:

“Everyone recognizes beauty

only because of ugliness

Everyone recognizes virtue

only because of sin”

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (Verse 2)

We would only seek to fool ourselves further if we were to believe in the illusion of a utopian society. Plato himself, the paragon of Western philosophy, denounced the notion that the democratic state is the apogee of government. Our society is far more complex, nuanced, multifaceted to be easily controlled by a single system.

Once we can accept these limitations, and embrace the complexity of modern society, understanding that nothing will be perfect, and nothing can be perfect, we will truly begin to move forward. The stagnation felt by many as we struggle to enter a world that is seemingly wrought with inequality, despair, hoplessness, with unfair economic systems that only further the class gaps, leads to this yearning for the antithesis of the dim present – that is, the utopian dream.

Utopia, and its sibling, perfection, are ideals to strive toward, not something we can ever truly grasp. It’s like that notion of design as being a function of infinity: it’s something that has no end to it in and of itself. It’s a system that will forever be held just beyond our grasp, as we progress towards it.

“One may look for fulfillment in this world

but his longings will never be exhausted

The only thing he ever finds

is that he himself is exhausted.”

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (Verse 2)

Our Urgent Need for Philosophy Today

More so than ever, we live in a frenzied, unstable world. Between a fluctuating economy, continued global political instability, and a (mostly) bleak future presented to us by our modern literature, we are becoming restless souls drifting through existence. The meaning behind the work that we do on a daily basis is lost, creating an intellectually confused species.

These issues have troubled me for some time, and I have thus immersed myself in a study of philosophy to better understand just what’s going on in our modern world. That complex, difficult to describe branch of knowledge that, whilst key to almost everything we do in our lives, has become relegated to the hallowed halls of universities and its proper application in the real world has become lost.

I think that a study of philosophy can help guide us in navigating the turbulent waters of modern civilisation.

Philosophy is a study of the nature of knowledge. It literally means the “love of wisdom,” and it is urgently needed today more so than ever. Because wisdom has so often been shunted to the side in favour of the bottom line, of feeding the capitalist machine and surging us ever forward to that elusive lifestyle we are presented with by the media. As a species, we are lacking wisdom, our thoughts becoming lost amidst the continuous chatter of social media.

Thus, a study of philosophy can help us to develop a mindset of calm, of rationality and the ability to think about the big issues, and understand our role, our place, in the grand architecture of the Cosmos. More so than any other tool, a study of philosophical ideas can enable us to think about, and positively affect, a sociocultural landscape that has become wrought with instability and convoluted systems that simply create unnecessary stress.

Even better, though, than simply studying a course in philosophy, is reading broadly from a range of philosophical ideas across a wide range of history, thinkers and systems, and then choosing the best ones to create your own basket of wisdom, a little intellectual arsenal with which you can combat the daily challenges.

Embarking on a journey of philosophical study can be rather daunting. I’ve found one place on the electric internets (to borrow this humorous phrase from Bill Nye the Science Guy) that can help initiate the journey to discovering wisdom: The School of Life.

Watch this video, and begin your journey today:


And remember… as the beloved Laozi once wrote: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” (Tao Te Ching, verse 64)