North Korea: An attempt at Utopia?

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.

“The Grasshopper: Games, LIfe and Utopia” by Bernard Suits (Cover Art).

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.

Assembly for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

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:

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3 thoughts on “North Korea: An attempt at Utopia?

  1. I would completely agree with the statement that North Korea has become a dystopia due to the poor living conditions citizens are forced to deal with. The cruelty and disparity that occurs in North Korea is far from a perfect society. I would disagree, however, with the statement that North Korea and the idea of communism was ever an attempt at a Utopia. Due to that fact that someone or some group has to govern and organize a communist society, there must in turn be certain people who have more power than others. When there is a hierarchy of power or wealth, there are going to be some people better off than others. I feel that a Utopia is impossible in a society that has any sort of social classes caused. A Utopian society cannot have any better quality of life for the people to compare with their own. With this in mind, the very idea of a communist society cannot possibly become a Utopian society. In North Korea’s case, communism has evolved into an autocracy under the rule of Kim Jong Un. Unfortunately, this government was never intended to become a Utopian society.

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    • I understand what you are trying to say, but the keyword here is “attempt”. An attempt at Utopia does not imply that it is a successful one. Communism, boiled down to its simplest form, is defined as a system distinguished by the absence of a hierarchy system, money, etc. The social class you are referring to was not intended to exist in the original design!

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  2. I think we need to be aware of history behind the development of Communism in North Korea, and then judge whether it was an attempt or not to Utopian. Before Korea was taken over by Japan, most of its population were farmers, actually tenants. Now, the tenants couldn’t afford the payments they had to pay for land owners, so many of them starved to death in winter. This has been the trend until Japan took over Korea. Unfortunately, Japanese made this worse as many landowners gained authority with Japanese government’s support. At this point, lots of people dreamed of freedom and new society, in which they have their own land.

    In this context, people were shocked by the idea of communism because communism was like a utopia. Although they didn’t have their own land, no one suffered from landowners anymore. Actually, you may be surprised, but lots of people both in South and North supported communism because they found it the only way in which injustice doesn’t exist. It is undeniable that majority of people were just lured by Communism because of the fact that everyone owns lands, but many smart individuals from poor family actually supported Communism because they thought that Capitalism or Democracy would only bring another Feudalism. In their minds, most landowners would benefit from Communism since they were prosperous. They thought that landowners would never allow normal people to enhance their social status.

    Now, for me, I think it was an attempt. Many smart people who at first joined the Communist movement dreamed of a society where everyone is equal, where their is no hierarchy system or money. And I do believe that it was a good attempt, except the fact that North Korean leaders didn’t maintain the promise of giving up their powers to the people. Furthermore, I do think that the original idea that Marx had was not possible because although, Marx trusted the innocence of people, we tend to get corrupted when we have a power on our hands. Thus, the power has to be separated and checked.

    Anyway, I just wanted to throw my thought. I could be wrong, but I’m sure, at first, Communist movement for North Korea was an attempt to Utopia, although unsuccessful.

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