By Per Risberg
The word “utopia” is made out of two greek words: ού, meaning nothing, and τόπος, meaning place. So basically a utopia is a nothing place, or nowhere place. The creator of the word is Sir Thomas More, who invented it for his novel conveniently named Utopia. In his book, the utopia is described as an island off the South American Atlantic coast, with an ideal society.
Almost all definitions of utopia specify that it is an unreachable (the nowhere part) society (the place part) often in the future and not something of today. It has desirable and ideal norms, governance, justice, equality, etcetera. Thoughts about exactly what makes up a future ideal society differs from person to person, so of course we can never reach said utopia. A nudist’s utopia might very well be a prude’s dystopia. A capitalist’s utopia is definitely a communist’s dystopia. But I wonder, if the idea of a utopia is inherently subjective, then might it be so that a utopia isn’t necessarily a future society, but rather present locations?
I mean, it makes sense. It falls in line with the translation of the word (remember, “nowhere place”), and it can be subjective. For instance, numerous people have fled because of insecurity, persecution, or according to them unfavorable conditions. Some have crossed seas and continents, like Swedes in the early 20th century emigrating to the US. Others have crossed borders to neighbouring countries, like North Koreans escaping to South Korea. Some might not consider South Korea a utopia, others do. Some might not see the US as a utopia (or maybe that’ll change now with president Biden?), but for many it was and still is. These are just examples, and I am not trying to minimize the often traumatic and agonizing experience of fleeing or emigrating – my point is that utopia is not necessarily a future society we create, but rather already existing places with different societies different people find desirable. And it is “nowhere” because it cannot be one single place. We might not be able to create one single future utopia for everyone, but one certainly can help people find and get to their own current and present utopias. I believe it is our duty to do so. When people find a society utopian, why not take it as a compliment and have open, welcoming arms?
Going back to the translation and original depiction of a utopia – “nowhere place” and an island – we can combine it to make “nowhere island.” A quick Google maps search tells me that there is such an island in Canada, just off the US – Canada border. Have I just invalidated my previous claims and objectively found utopia? Not really, but with its scenic views, amazing nature, calm atmosphere, and being located in Canada it looks like my personal utopia. So when the pandemic is finally over, you will find me on Nowhere Island, Ontario, Canada. Now but one question remains – where is your Nowhere Island located?
By Per Risberg
Illustration: Amelie Lutz