What do you think of when you hear the word “Utopia”? Some might say it is another word for heaven. Others might say it is a non-existent, ideal place that our imperfect world strives to be like. The consensus of the definition of Utopia is that it is an imaginary place where all things are perfect.
On the contrary, in our Political Science 101 course reading of “Death of the Grasshopper” by Bernard Suits, Utopia is a place without science, morality, labor, art, sex, love and all things that make us human (Suits). To give some background about the story, there is a grasshopper that embodies leisure and play, and he argues the definition of Utopia with ants that represent hard-work ethic and dedication. Through a debate between the grasshopper and ants, Suits describes his stance on what the ideal world looks like. Even though the arguments that the grasshopper makes are persuasive and convincing, Suits’ conclusion that a Utopian society is barren and desolate seems paradoxical. For instance, to give a specific example, grasshopper convinces the ants that the arts do not exist in a perfect world. The reasoning behind this claim is because art is the expression of humanly features such as hopes, dreams, fears, victories, tragedies, imperfections, moral dilemmas, emotions, etc. (Suits). But assuming that all aspects of human needs and wants are satisfied in a Utopia, none of those listed features can exist. Through our lens of perception, Utopia sounds terrible because it will never exist unless we abandon our humanity. In that line of logic, Suits utilizes the grasshopper character to further this idea of a barren Utopia (if it were to exist in our world).
When thinking about attempted Utopias in our world, a case that comes to mind is North Korea. North Korea is one of few countries in our present day and age that is ruled under a communist regime. The initial communistic ambition of Karl Marx and other philosophers was based on good intentions. They wanted a society where everything was shared through public ownership so that there was enough for everyone. The North Koreans’ original hope with communism was to establish a sort of utopian society. However, the results were catastrophic because human nature and desire were not compatible with the paradisal concept. North Korea is a prime example of a dystopia: the opposite of Utopia where totalitarian rule and/or other forces create misery and oppression. The people are coerced into believing that their sole purpose is to honor their divine ruler(s) by contributing to the development of their country. Conditions are horrendous, to say the least, with most of the country suffering from malnutrition while also being overworked. The country represents failure of the implementation of utopia and how destructive that can be when it is enforced upon a nation.
As an aside, I want to conclude by emphasizing the injustice that popular media does in presenting North Korea. It is true that the dictatorial government violates human rights through cruel and unusual punishments, prison camps, silencing of free speech, etc. However, the victimized citizens should be on the headlines of the news rather than continuous bashing of the country’s tyrant. Studies of public opinion have shown that when the media focuses on the negativity within a country, audiences tend to associate those negative connotations with the entire country instead of the few corrupt leaders in power. The people should receive international attention and support because they are innocent victims without a voice.
To hear the remarkable story of Joseph Kim, a refugee that escaped North Korea, play the video below: