Utopia, a dystopia in sheep’s clothing

Arun Kumar
5 min readJul 9, 2022


Arun Kumar


On a lazy summer afternoon, I am wondering if utopia is even feasible? Or it is what we think of it that is just a dream.

Is uniformity or equality an impossible trait to find? Is there a fundamental force that makes them a shimmering mirage? A mysterious fifth force that has shaped everything from the beginning of time, through the entirety of evolution on the Earth and throughout the history of human civilization.

Around us, non-uniformity is a rule and not an exception. There is an invisible force field that constantly nudges and makes all things unique.

The telltale signs of the fifth force are all around. On my walks along the wooded trails, some trees reach loftier heights than others.

In the night sky, some stars shine brighter than others. They are not like the streetlights that stretch along a long road and the ones farther are dimmer. Stars have different sizes and the candles burning in their bellies are different.

Galaxies that dot the darkness of vast measures of space are of different shapes and sizes.

At the other extreme, looking through a microscope no two snowflakes are alike. Or I have been told.

Identical twins with the same DNA grow to become unique personalities. Same genes, but the ones that get expressed are different.

Maybe it is only at the level of two hydrogen atoms that are identical, while objects built from them are not.

In everything that surrounds me, non-uniformity rules. At the bottom, right corner of the canvas of every creation, there is a small signature of its creator, the fifth force.

Non-uniformity (and inequality) has plagued human society from its beginning and has been responsible for unfathomable brutalities and suffering. The study of history, perhaps, is a narrative of the consequences of non-uniformity.

Human suffering that has resulted from non-uniformity has led us to dream of utopian worlds, of utopian societies.

On a lazy summer afternoon, I am wondering if utopia is even feasible? Or it is what we think of it that is just a dream.

The fundamental reason that inevitably leads to differences between things all around us is the role randomness plays in shaping everything. Take the example of trees on the trail I often walk along.

I am sure that differences in the height are not as much due to innate differences between the seeds. It is just that during their nascent years, some seedlings had a bit of a clearer view of blue sky and few more rays of sunshine to soak in. Given that slight of an advantage that seedling grew a little bit taller. In its later years, that little advantage amplified, and that lucky seedling reached loftier heights.

The seedlings that grew under the shade tried to keep up, but eventually lost the race. Basically, the same reasoning explains the differences we see all around.

Small random perturbations giving a small initial advantage, through positive feedback, inevitably grow to become much larger differences.

Uniformity being impossible has played such havoc through the history of human civilization that out of tiredness of seeing the brutalities of wars and watching the unnecessary suffering that is all around, has led us to the dreams of utopia.

Utopia. The place where everyone walks around wearing a toga holding a book in their hands while having intellectually invigorating debates about whether Stoicism or Buddhism are merely two branches that are conjoined at the base.

Maybe it is my personal dream of utopia. A world where everyone is a contemplative Socrates. And of course, it is also a world where dark chocolate with sea salt hangs from the trees.

Can the utopian dream become a reality? Can utopia rise out as a self-organizing principle to becomes ours? Can one day, tired of all the conflicts, we would flip the switch and decide to turn the utopian dream into a reality?

If the present is any example, utopia as a self-organizing principle does not seem possible. There may be some examples in the animal world that I am not aware of. There have been some attempts to form small utopian communes but by and large they have not lasted for long.

Maybe the self-organizing creation of utopia needs a higher level of intelligence than what has so far evolved on the Earth. There has not been enough time.

Utopian societies are common in sci-fi movies and fiction. Their origin and sustainability, however, does not have roots in self-organization.

What generally happens is that the equality, or uniformity in the general population is enforced by everyone needing to take a mind-altering morning pill that keeps human urges in check. The pill is complemented by a group of people that enforce the rules and weed out any signs of non-conformity. The utopia is run by an elite group of human beings and their cohorts.

In this version of utopia, there is a perception of equality, but it is not self-organized. An exogenous force is always present to maintain equality.

A dystopian perspective is a civilization in control of (OF the privileged, or BY the privileged?) the privileged that oversees the distribution of resources and needs a force to keep dissent at bay. The mental image (maybe I am biased by watching the movies) of the dystopian world is a place where the sun no longer shines.

In contrast, utopia is a brightly lit world, a world of eternal sunshine. But underneath the peace, the calm, and the sense of tranquility permeating the air are also innumerable rules, regulations, brain altering chemicals that are required to smooth out inequalities and not let any deviation grow and question the conformity. Or to ask the question, who are we?

The sustainability of both a dystopian and a utopian state require exogenous control. The police state monitors for any deviations and eliminates them before they rise and try to wake masses from their stupor.

From this perspective, utopia is just a gentler version of dystopia. A dystopia in sheep’s clothing.

We know how those movies end. In some isolated corner of the police state, a small departure from the conformity manages to slip through the controls. It grows and manages to take down the purveyors of the pill givers.

One morning, when the city awakens, everyone can feel something is different in the air. Without the pill, gradually its effects wear off. Slowly, everyone wakes up and realizes how beautiful the trees are when each has a different height.

Sounds bad but let us keep the dream of utopia alive. It is a gentler dream to have than wishing for a dystopia. Let us be careful because dreams do come true.


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