I came across this title in my course of study two years ago but I never got down to reading it. It was only lately I borrowed it from a friend, that I regret not reading this earlier. Although the content is very much in its Renaissance context, anyone in today’s world can still read and understand it as a unique perspective of an ideal society.
The sense of satirical humour in the text is the element that keeps me going. It is like a serious piece of document, presented in “comic sans ms” font with numerous emoticons that one cannot help laughing at the mismatch between the solemn content dressed in a whimsical tone. To start off, the bulk of the story is related by someone by the name of Raphael Nonsenso. The name itself already implies a nonsensical narration! Furthermore, the content includes places and names such as “Aircastle” and “Flatulentines”. And of course, we should also bear in mind that “Utopia” actually means “noplace”.
There are two parts in this story, with Book One relating the ills of capitalism, and Book Two presenting the solution as a communist state. I personally enjoy Book One more, as it is punctuated with witty humour throughout. The futile attempts of a philosopher with the intent of fairness for the entire society are dramatized in a lighthearted manner that he will appear no more than a fool providing entertainment for the King and his cabinet of advisors.
As for Book Two, it gets a little too idealistic that it makes logical sense in parts but not as a whole. It is only just yesterday that my doctor told me that our brain only takes in 25% of what we see, and we make up the rest to complete the vision. That is the reason why we see different things even though we may be looking at the same objects.
For the entire society to operate on the same principles, same logic, same sense of reason, as well as same preferences, is just too impossible. Conditioning can be done from young to cultivate a similar mentality but that is provided that that society is shut up from the rest of the world. The utopian society seems to operate with a strict sense of monotony and obedience, with just a little variation in religious beliefs. How does such a society come about in the first place when the Utopians have dealings with the outside world all the time? Somehow, the external influencing factor is totally eliminated!
Yet if everyone is supposedly of a similar mentality, then why would there be any differences in religious beliefs? And what would happen to those ladies – when presented naked to their prospective husbands – whom the men deem as unattractive since everyone has the same taste?
On one hand, the impossibility of such an ideal society may appear to imply the absurdity of such a perspective, but on the other hand, there are little practicalities that we can easily relate to our present world. One would be the simplicity of laws. It is mentioned that an average person will not have the capability, in terms of time and effort since he will always be at work earning his bread, to do extensive research on laws. So in order for laws to be effective, they should be as few as possible and as simple as possible, so that an average man can easily understand and remember them, and therefore obey them. The same can be said for policies in today’s context, isn’t it? It will always be hard for a person to abide by something that he doesn’t understand.
Before starting on this review, I also did a quick reading on Thomas More and I am sad to know that he was executed for treason, and no, he didn’t betray the King over to any enemies but simply died as “the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” I believe the scholars could probably have a field day debating on this, but my personal view is that it is merely a difference in religious beliefs and that obedience is a quality that has to be sustained over one whole lifetime. Any instance of disobedience, just one time, is more than enough to knock down the entire wall of obedience built over years.