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Utopias and Dystopias

A presentation all about what our future holds.

Vivian Mohn

on 21 November 2013

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Transcript of Utopias and Dystopias

By: Vivian Mohn
utopia. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved October 22, 2013, from Dictionary.com website:http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/utopia

F, Tanner. "Racism and Discrimination." Teen Ink. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2013. <http://www.teenink.com/opinion/discrimination/article/288138/Racism-and-Discrimination/>.

"Wars in the World." Get RSS 20. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2013. <http://www.warsintheworld.com/?page=static1258254223>.

"2013 World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics by World Hunger Education Service." 2013 World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics by World Hunger Education Service. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2013. <http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/world hunger facts 2002.htm>.

"United Nations Millennium Development Goals." UN News Center. UN, n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2013. <http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/>.

Orwell, George. 1984: A Novel. New York, NY: Published by Signet Classic, 1977. Print.

"Global Warming." Facts, Causes and Effects of Climate Change. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2013. <http://www.nrdc.org/globalwarming/>.
Please ignore the subtitles
Are Utopias Worth The Trouble?
The Truth About Perfection
"World Food Programme Fighting Hunger Worldwide." WFP. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2013. <http://www.wfp.org/>.
Smith, Ryan. "Milton Friedman on His Ideal Society."
YouTube. YouTube, 06 May 2009. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <
"Utopia." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Aug. 2002. Web. 4 Oct. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utopia>.
"Dystopia." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 13 Nov. 2001. Web. 16 Oct. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dystopia>.
Qualities of Utopias
Qualities of Dystopias
Real Dystopias
Attempting Utopia
What Stands In Our Way?
ou = no
topos = place
eu = good
ou+topos = no place
eu+topos = good place
dys = bad
topos = place
dys+topos = bad place
"Central Intelligence Agency." The World FactbookN.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.

et they mean close to the exact opposite of each other. (Slide)

The following video is an interview of Milton Friedman, asking what his personal utopia is. Milton Friedman was a famous economist and writer. He won a Nobel Prize in Economics Sciences, and taught at the University of Chicago. Please ignore the subtitles. (Watch video) (Slide)

There are some basic qualities in utopias. First off, in a utopia, everybody should be happy, or be satisfied with their life. Equality is another important trait, since inequality is a major cause of being dissatisfied, or unhappy with life. Often, utopias have a Council instead of a government. However, each utopia designed by authors is different. It’s very hard, in fact, pretty much impossible, to tell the exact qualities of a utopia because they don’t currently exist. The current, but vague definition would be an ideal place or state. It is pretty broad definition, and because of this, utopias are hard to really put a pin on. Now, I’m going to be moving onto dystopias. (Slide)


Dystopias are the opposite of utopias. A dystopia is a world filled with misery and sorrow, yet at the same time, there is a thin line that separates utopias from dystopias. In fact, there may not be a line at all. Dystopias sprung up from the idea of utopias.

Dystopia also originates from Ancient Greek. The beginning, “dys” is equivalent to "bad", and has the same ending as utopia, topos, meaning "place". So together, it makes “bad place”. (Slide)

Dystopias are worlds of darkness. Pain, sorrow, fear, and sadness reign supreme. Dystopias could be a overly controlled world, or could be made up of complete anarchy. (Slide)

I found this picture, which I think is a great way to show the different components in dystopias. As you can see, the big words, or rather, the big issues, are the government, control, technology, and the economy. Those are often some of the main factors which contribute to a dystopia. But other issues such as fear, hostility, politics, and war contribute heavily as well.

There are so many different depictions of dystopias and utopias currently displayed by books, movies, and TV shows, that makes each dystopia, and utopias alike, very different from each other. (Slide)


Every author has a different vision of what will happen in the future.

The first proposal of a perfect society in known history was written by Plato, a famous Greek philosopher who trained Aristotle. “The Republic” proposed a society in which there were 4 socioeconomic classes; gold, silver, bronze, and iron. The gold citizens would have 50 years of education, and would eventually solve issues like world hunger. This idea of solving these huge issues was the first real idea of an ideal world.

The book “Utopia”, by Thomas More, coined the word utopia. Many believe it has become a possible outline of sorts for an ideal society.

The Jewish, Islamic, and Christian religions all have utopian ideas portrayed in Heaven or through the Garden of Eden. Even the Buddhist concept of Nirvana is similar to a utopia in a way.

Over the years, dozens of books, stories, and even TV shows have been about utopias or an ideal life. There are stories like Star Trek, in which technology has allowed us to move faster than light in space ships, and meet alien races on different planets.

There are other stories like “The Giver”; in which there are none, or little decisions, but everybody is content with their life. In “The Giver” nobody except for The Receiver knows of war, pain, or even things like colour and love. (Slide)


There are also plenty of stories about dystopias. A personal favourite, and a great dystopian example would be “The Hunger Games”, where the government keeps it’s people under control via fear. The Capitol forces each district to send two children to a fight to the death in an arena. This is the governments way of keeping it’s people under control, by showing their superiority and lack of mercy.

“The Hunger Games” is an excellent example of a dystopia because while the twelve districts must scrape up a living and live in fear, the Capitol’s residents have to work for nothing. The districts do all the work for them. The Capitol is completely brainwashed into treating this fight to the death as the best entertainment around. For them, the annual Hunger Games is the highlight of the year. Sorrow, brainwashing, control, and fear are the building blocks of dystopias.

One of the all-time classic books about dystopias is “1984” by George Orwell. “1984” is very much a dystopia, with an overly militarized, and controlling government. There are Thoughtpolice who make sure your thoughts stay in line, the “telescreen” which watches you at home, and “Big Brother”, who is similar to Brave New World’s Henry Ford. The society’s motto is “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.” Any who think differently are killed. And in ignorance is how they live. These key principles of many dystopias.

Dystopias are starting to become a trend of sorts. Dystopian books are becoming a sought-after genre among teens and adults, and dystopian video games like “Dishonored” are becoming more common and more popular. Something about dystopias is very intriguing to us. (Slide)

This picture shows one point of view. It reads: “Why are we still obsessed with Dystopian fiction? We’re scared. The world is changing so fast, and feels more dangerous and alien than it ever has. And we want to know that someone like us will not only survive, but flourish, fall in love, overcome the world’s demons, and their own, to become the catalyst for change.” What they are saying is that we take some comfort in seeing someone become more than themselves, and make a change in a crazy world.

And we certainly do live in a crazy world. Real dystopias are different from stories. There are certainly real dystopias currently on earth, and possibly hints of utopias as well. (Slide)


I don’t intend on going into this topic for very long, but I wanted to touch on this before I move on. I think that there is a real dystopia that exists currently, and I think that dystopia is North Korea. (Slide)

You may have heard a lot about North Korea, but maybe you haven’t. North Korea is follows a “military first” policy, and is also rated the lowest by the Economist Intelligence Unit on the Democracy Index. Human Rights Watch has also stated that North Korea has severe restrictions on human rights.

Depending on the social, political, and economic background of a citizen, they gain/lose rights and responsibilities. North Korea says that all citizens are equal, but the civilians themselves say it constantly affected them in many different ways. Amnesty International says that in North Korea, families have the worst living conditions imaginable.

In many ways, North Korea is a dystopia. The society is overly controlled and separated because of their political, social, and economic background, restricting them from human rights. I would say that out of all the countries that one could live in, North Korea would be definitely one of the worst. So now, I’m going to move onto an attempt of a utopia. (Slide)


No one has ever succeeded at making a utopia, or really has come close. Communism, or least the idea of communism, is the closest we have ever gotten to a utopia. (Slide)

Communism was based around everything being owned by the community, and the idea that everyone would give/receive as needed. There would be no poor people, no racism, no sexism, just equality. The outcome of communism would be a society where everybody was happy and satisfied. I personally think it was a cool idea - if everything was shared and equal, than a lot of issues in our life would be fixed.

But the attempts at communism didn’t really end up working. Instead of people being equal and satisfied, everybody was much more oppressed. I personally believe that it was mainly because one dictator was in charge of the whole system. Instead, there should’ve been a council of sorts, because if total power was given to one person, they would most likely abuse it. Another issue with communism is that people might hoard food or steal money from others, just because they wanted more stuff. That would ruin the whole premise.

Communism was, and still is an idea to be considered. If done properly, it would essentially make a utopia. However, communism has lots of issues with it that should be changed. (Slide)


Before we make a utopia though, we have to change a lot about ourselves. In this topic, I will be covering discrimination, hunger, the environment, war, and politics.

In our everyday lives, there are so many issues, that I won’t come close to mentioning them all. For one thing, racism, sexism, and classism can’t belong in a utopia. (Slide) This poem, “The Cold Within”, By James Patrick Kinney, reminds me of how easily the intolerance of difference can ruin ourselves, ruin others, and additionally, ruin the chance of a better life. If you want, I recommend closing your eyes and envisioning the scene described in the poem.

The Cold Within

Six humans trapped by happenstance
In bleak and bitter cold.
Each one possessed a stick of wood
Or so the story’s told.

Their dying fire in need of logs
The first man held his back
For of the faces round the fire
He noticed one was black.

The next man looking ‘cross the way
Saw one not of his church
And couldn’t bring himself to give
The fire his stick of birch.

The third one sat in tattered clothes.
He gave his coat a hitch.
Why should his log be put to use
To warm the idle rich?

The rich man just sat back and thought
Of the wealth he had in store
And how to keep what he had earned
From the lazy shiftless poor.

The black man’s face bespoke revenge
As the fire passed from his sight.
For all he saw in his stick of wood
Was a chance to spite the white.

The last man of this forlorn group
Did nought except for gain.
Giving only to those who gave
Was how he played the game.

Their logs held tight in death’s still hands
Was proof of human sin.
They didn’t die from the cold without
They died from the cold within.

If utopias are based around equality and tolerance, our current low-tolerance towards differences will get in the way of making a better world. Racism causes lives to be ruined, or at least hurt. Religious differences are one of the causes for many wars and conflicts, and have divided us. Sexism prevents women from getting a good education in some countries, and pushes females often away from getting certain jobs. These issues affect both men and women all over the globe. (Slide)

Our next hurdle to jump is the environment(16 minutes about here). Global warming and pollution are major issues. They aren’t going away anytime soon, and in most cases, it’s getting worse. Global warming is multiplying the amount wildfires, storms, floods, and droughts all over the globe, which affects the health of citizens, the economy, and further damages the environment.

The need for energy is one of the fuels for the fire of global warming. There are so many different options for converting energy, including solar panels, wave energy, wind mills, and more, but the most common is fossil fuels. Sadly, fossil fuels is arguably the most damaging to our environment.

My point is that part of making a utopia is being able to achieve environmental sustainability. Extreme weather and pollution cause issues with health, the economy, and the environment. They certainly don’t belong in a utopia. (Slide)

Our next mountain to climb is hunger. Hunger is one of many major issues around the globe. 842 million people are suffering from chronic undernourishment. It’s not like we aren’t making enough food for all of us. Each person could be provided at least 2,720 calories, which is easily enough calories for a day. However, in many countries, especially those in Africa and Asia, people can’t either afford food, or don’t have access to it at all.

This map was made in 2011 to show hunger across the globe. Blue represents barely any hunger at all, Yellow represents very little hunger, Orange represents moderately low hunger, red represents high hunger, and purple represents very high hunger.
As you can see, it’s pretty clear that some areas are much more privileged than others. And we need to be equal. (Slide)

Our next issue is war. Conflicts and utopias are like oil and water. They simply can’t co-exist. 60 countries are in some form of war. There are around 130 wars or conflicts around the globe currently.

War is a tough subject, and we simply can’t achieve a utopia if wars are going on around us. These conflicts kill hundreds, thousands, of people. It usually only makes the situation worse. Lives, money, and supplies are lost in wars, never to be gained back again. Wars don’t build, they destroy. The world is going through a tough time right now, but at the same time, we can’t just ignore war. (Slide)

Our last issue is politics. Politics and the government in general aren’t usually thought of as a bad thing in life, but I think that the government and just politics in general are pushing us far away from a utopia.

The government doesn’t usually mean to harm our society - but they seem to damage it a lot anyways. Governments like North Korea’s are definitely very corrupt, but other countries, like the United States, have some bad governments too.

Whenever I watch the news for the US, there always seems to be a story about some US Republican making a horrible statement, or a Democrat taking a jab back at a Republican, or something like the government shutdown in October. Having lived in the United States, it’s fair for me to say that the US government was pretty much at war with itself in October. Maybe now they are somewhat at a ceasefire, but I personally think that they will be at war with themselves within months.

The government essentially has control of the whole country. So they can easily turn the tides towards a utopia or a dystopia. While some governments are good, others are leading their countries down the path of dystopia. Many people in many governments are not very smart, or not very kind, or just not good in general. Look back to North Korea. This is why at least in my ideal utopia, there would be a council of sorts instead of government. (Slide)

In our everyday lives, we usually don’t try to dwell on these tough issues. But they are real, and they do kill. It will take a lot to fix these issues. The United Nations, along with everybody else, has started on it’s way to solve these issues. The Millennium Development Goals are to:

1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2: Achieve universal primary education
3: Promote gender equality and empower women
4: Reduce child mortality
5: Improve maternal health
6: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases
7: Ensure environmental sustainability
8: Global partnership for development

The last thing that stands in our way is the fact that to create a utopia, we all need to work together. It sounds cheesy, but it is true. A utopia isn’t just accomplished by one person - it’s accomplished by many. We can’t just leave this to one person - everybody try to make a change. We all have to put our heads together to achieve something more than what we could do on our own. And if we do, who knows what we might be able to accomplish. (Slide)


The question is; is what we aim to accomplish - a utopia - really worth accomplishing?(20:30 here) While utopias are desirable, are they worth trying for? Utopias are filled with benefits. I doubt that any sane person would actually want war, or hunger. At the same time however, we might lose a lot in order to create a “perfect life”. And would it be perfect in the end? (Slide)

I would expect limitations. In order to keep the peace and continue to be an effective community, there could be lots of laws and restrictions. If you started to think that this wasn’t the right way to live, then the whole community could fall apart. It only takes one small hole to sink a ship, as the saying goes. While differences would (hopefully) be accepted, there would be limits for sure. (Slide)

Gaining happiness could easily mean becoming naive. Just think about children. Aren’t they the happiest, yet the most naive people we know? (Slide)

We also might lose some freedom, rights, and knowledge in order to make a utopia. Earlier, I mentioned the book “The Giver”, about the future world being a utopia. There is no war, fear, or pain, and everybody is happy with what they are doing in life. However, they lost colour, weather, differences, memories, love, and much more in order to be happy.

Finally, if our lives are so-called “perfect”, then where is the interest in life? And that question leads us into the next topic about the ugly truth about perfection, or at least the ugly truth of pursuing it.


The ugly truth is that perfection isn’t perfection. While you might have a life where you don’t have to try for anything, is it really perfect? Is a life without troubles, stress, tears, and death, truly perfection?

In my mind, the negatives outweigh the positives.

We can’t progress if we are perfect, and progression goes hand in hand with curiosity. If we have reached the “end” of progress, we’ve very much so reached the “end” of curiosity. Curiosity has pushed us to where we are today. If no one had ever been curious about anything, humans might be still living in caves, or even be extinct. Our pondering, wandering, and creativity paid off in discovering more effective ways to live.

For example, we discovered a long, long time ago that you could “cook”, or heat food via fire. This cooked food was much safer than raw food, and would give more energy. This is one way that we have an edge over other species. Of course, there are countless other examples, but I don’t want to stray from the point. The point is that by becoming “perfect”, or at least ideal, we would lose our curiosity than has fueled us since our origin. (Slide)

The main point of this side-topic is that perfection often means boredom. By gaining so-called perfection, you lose what makes life both difficult and interesting. Remember back to when we read “The Saint”, earlier this year? The narrator had been visited by a religious leader, only to lose his faith in the end. Near the end of the story, the narrator describes the religious leader, Mr. Timberlake, as “Golden and bored”. And that truthfully, is the thing about perfection, and utopias alike. You may gain “perfection” but you’ll lose everything else that matters. By losing the things that trouble us in life, you lose most of what makes life worth living. You may be golden, you may be perfect - but you’ll be bored for sure.

Perfect is an odd word for that very reason. Because of this, there is no real such thing as perfection. (Slide)

We can’t be perfect. No matter how hard we try, no one will ever be perfect. It’s not in our human nature to be perfect beings. We naturally do lots of things incorrectly. The closest we can come to perfection is an 100% on a test.

Perfection isn’t perfection, and utopias aren’t utopias, I can’t stress that enough. They look beautiful on the outside, but really, on the inside, they have a cold, dark heart. (Slide)


Over the years, there have been countless stories about utopias, but it’s hard to tell which one of them will be the most like our future. Stories aren’t the same as the real world. We may very likely never create a utopia, but we are progressing significantly. People used to think that the ability to talk with people who weren’t next to you was crazy. Now, we use smart phones with touch screens that allows you to see people who are halfway across the globe.

We are finding new drugs to help with diseases, and are creating new technology everyday. Utopias - or at least things that people think belong in utopias - are starting to become a reality. We can’t deny that fact. But the real question is - do you think we are leaning more towards a utopia, or a dystopia? The future is in the palms of our hands. (Slide)


These are the main sources I used, but several books like “The Hunger Games” have given me insight on my topics. “1984” was really helpful in some ideas of the downfalls of utopias as well as the horror of dystopias. I highly recommend it to all of you. Thank you all for listening to my presentation, and I hope you think about this a little even after I finish speaking. Any questions?

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