Why am I asking this question?
As part of my E-Learning and Digital Culture course we were given a model by Hand and Sandywell that defines utopia and dystopia using democracy as a measure.
I am not at all sure that I agree with these measures for Utopia and Dystopia. Using democracy to define them seems a very coloured view.
As part of my philosophy mooc I am learning how to question things and not accept things at face vale, to be a little sceptical.
In order to come to a conclusion I read as many definition of the three words as I could. I have noted some of them below along with my own thoughts.
Once I had a clear idea of the meaning of the words I then came to my own conclusion. It could be argued that this is not the best way to argue this question but it is my method.
Definitions of Utopia
The Free Online Dictionary – “An ideally perfect place, especially in its social, political, and moral aspects.”
Wikipedia -“ is a community or society possessing highly desirable or perfect qualities.”
Dictionary.com – “an ideal place or state. / any visionary system of political or social perfection./ An impractical, idealistic scheme for social and political reform.”
Merriam-Webster – “a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions / an impractical scheme for social improvement.”
Urban Dictionary -” a theoretical “perfect” realm, in which everyone is content, where things get done well by people who are happy to do them, and where all the problems which have plagued our world for millennia no longer apply. Whoever came up with the idea was drunk, stoned, tripping or insane. maybe all four.”
Oxford Dictionary on-line– “an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect.”
Cambridge Dictionary – “(the idea of) a perfect society in which everyone works well with each other and is happy”.
Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary – “A place state or condition ideally perfect in respect of politics, laws, customs and conditions.”
Encarta – “The word utopia was coined by Thomas More (1478–1535) as the name of the island described in his Libellus vere aureus nec minus salutaris quam festivus de optimo reip[ublicae] statu, deq[ue] noua Insula Vtopia (1516). While More wrote in Latin, he based his new word on Greek. More combined topos(place or where ) with u or ou (no or not ) to create nowhere,but in “Six Lines on the Island of Utopia,” part of the larger work, he suggests that the word eutopia, or good place, is a better descriptor. Thus, from the time of More’s original coinage, the word utopia has been conflated with eutopia to mean a non-existent good place.”
More must have the greatest claim to the definition of Utopia as he invented the word. For me Utopia is an ideal. If I want to be totally unselfish about my Utopia then it has to be as good as it can be for the greatest number of people. I can’t accept that democracy is automatically utopia for everyone or even for the greatest number of people.
Definitions of Dystopia
The Free Online Dictionary – “An imaginary place or state in which the condition of life is extremely bad, as from deprivation, oppression, or terror.”
Wikipedia – “a community or society, usually fictional, that is in some important way undesirable or frightening. It is the opposite of a utopia.”
Dictionary.com “-a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression,disease, and overcrowding.”
Definitions of Democracy
The Free Online Dictionary – “Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives.”
Dictionary.com – “government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.”
Observations about Democracy
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; democracy simply doesn’t work.” – Kent Brockman
According to the minimal standard, roughly half of the world may be included in the realm of democracy; according to the medium standard the number of democratic countries dwindles; and according to the high standard a mere dozen or so countries have achieved a satisfactory degree of democracy. And it requires little effort to imagine how easily the label “democratic” can be turned into “undemocratic,” and vice versa, simply by switching from one standard to another. – Encarter
If only eligible people are represented then we may not have the ideal society for the majority of the people. Different societies have different ways of determining who is eligible to vote. This eligibility may depend on sex, age, race, literacy or a number of other factors.
I have lived in two democratic countries. The method of selecting representation doesn’t always lead to majority rule as it depends on the system .
In the UK for example the first past the post system can mean that the majority do not get their preferred party in government. For example in the 2010 election David Cameron’s party had 36.1% of the popular vote. This then means that 63.9% of the population is not represented by the controlling party. (Source – Wikipedia)
In France people vote directly for the President and again for a representative on the government. The government may be a different party to him (I say “him” because so far it always has been). In the 2012 election nearly 85% of those eligible to vote did so. (I am not eligible to vote) Of those 51.7% voted for Mr Holland the rest for Mr Sarkozy. In a final election there are only ever 2 candidates. (Source – Ministry of the interior data)
Correct me if I am wrong but in the USA it is the House of Representatives and not the people who elect the President. There have been Supreme Court hearings over the number of seats in some states.
The Democratic Republic of Congo. Need I say more? – It doesn’t do exactly what it says on the tin.
Utopia is a perfect society. Dystopia is an imperfect society. They are mirror images of each other and are both so extreme as to be unattainable.
One person’s utopia can be another’s dystopia depending on the viewpoint.
Democracy is imperfect. It can only be as good as the system used. It would depend on the ideal of the society and who they consider are eligible.
The ideal of a democracy where everyone has equal rights to decide does not in itself create utopia. Where everyone has equal rights to very limited resources for example.
Therefore I don’t agree that utopia and dystopia can be defined with democracy.