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Won’t Vision Be Utopian

cPeople I know who talk about vision have their heads in the clouds. They are just dreaming up stuff with no roots – they are utopian. What’s the point of that?

A vision can certainly be Utopian. It can propose, that is, outcomes which we don’t know enough to justify and which may be false, harmful, or impossible. It can require of people, that is, what people are unable to do. It can require of circumstances, that is, what circumstances do not permit. Utopian doesn’t meet “too good.” Utopian means impossible. Asking people to give time and energy to seeking utopia is asking people to be fools.

The idea that Utopia has value abdicates responsibility for reality. We need vision that is attainable, vision that is possible, vision that we can accomplish, not utopian vision which by its very utterance implies that in reality, nothing much is achievable. We must fantasize instead. If you like the word utopia, okay, then we need real utopia. Meant that way, I would agree with Oscar Wilde who wrote: “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at.”

Impossible vision that inspires us, inspires so by deception. Impossible vision that guides us, guides us without basis. The worry that vision can be Utopian in the sense of impossible, opposite to Wilde’s view, or mine, is a reasonable one. The solution, as with avoiding sectarian vision, is not to have no vision, which would be a successful avoidance of unreality that, however, would guarantees disaster – but to have well conceived and realistic vision.

A novelist draws a picture. The picture does not have to be realistic. The picture can be fiction. It may even be entirely devoid of realism even by analogy or extension. Even so, the novelist’s picture may prod useful thoughts, evoke interesting or inspiring emotions, or even generate practical insights. With social vision, however, things are different. Social vision for a movement is not about impacting only our minds, it is about impacting reality. Social vision is about specifying social goals that we in turn test, refine, and seek to implement. To instead seek to implement the impossible is a fool’s errand, hopeless and forlorn. Vision is about goals which by contrast to the present we use to understand the present and to also understand our actions in in the present, all to seek a better future.

The undeniable wisdom of the anti-utopian who is also anti vision, is that we cannot know far reaching details of the future. And that is correct. Reality is too complicated to see too far forward in detail. We can, however, know the main broad features of a desirable future that we find worthy of our support. This constitutes social vision. But more than this broad conception of key fatures would constitute a fictitious overreaching blueprint.

Luckily we don’t need a blueprint. More, even were a blueprint possible, we would not want one. The future in all its rich and thorough diversity is to be created by acts undertaken in the future. What we do want in the present, however, for inspiration and guidance, and what it is possible to have and what we must have to reach a better future, is a broad understanding of the key defining features of a better society, and thus a broad understanding of the key defining attributes our current acts need to embody if they are to help us reach the better world we seek.

There is nothing utopian – in the negative sense of that word – about realistic shared vision that identifies key attributes of a better way of organizing society, and that seeks to attain those key features. What is utopian would be to overshoot our capacities wasting time and misleading ourselves with blueprints.What is good, is envisioning and seeking real utopia.

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