Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Utopia: Restitution, Philosophy, and Conformity

In Utopia, Thomas More introduces concepts of restitution, other’s first, and conformity. While the ideas of a Utopian society sound wonderful, being able to execute and maintain it, pushes the culture into something quite sinister.  



The idea of restitution of thieves, instead of the practice of More’s era of imprisonment and hanging, seems much more fitting to the crime. This is an idea that was ahead of its time. He writes, “those that are found guilty of theft among them are bound to make restitution to the owner, and not, as it is in other places, to the prince, for they reckon that the prince has no more right to the stolen goods than the thief; but if that which was stolen is no more in being, then the goods of the thieves are estimated, and restitution being made out of them, the remainder is given to their wives and children; and they themselves are condemned to serve in the public works, but are neither imprisoned” (More 1). Restitution is good for everyone involved. It can give back to the owner what was lost (although, technically, the Utopians didn’t own anything so they didn’t really need this law), but it also gives the thief another chance to make good and possibly be rehabilitated since he is put to work. 

I like the philosophy that is taught and upheld, which teach people to be selfless. “The reflections that he makes on the love and gratitude of those whom he has so obliged, gives the mind more pleasure than the body could have found in that from which it had restrained itself” (More 1). If all societies had the philosophy of others first, the world would be a better place. I think it is this premise that would make a Utopia, because if everyone is taught without any prejudices or hate, life everywhere would be a Utopia. I can’t fault an entire society trying to live this way, and kudos to those who can pull it off. That’s where my admiration stops, because I believe it is just a philosophy and can’t be maintained, which moves into the idea I don’t think is a good idea, that of conformity. The philosophy is to be applauded, yet the way they enforce it, is not.

Everything in Utopia is uniform. The structure of the cities are the same, “all large and well built” (More 1). The people have the same manners, dress, laws, governing bodies. Thoughts. Everything is the same. While this seems great in the sense of equality and not having anyone preening about because they own more or have better stuff than another, anytime people are forced to conform, that is freedom taken away. Even the amount of family members you have is something that has to be conformed to. “No family may have less than ten and more than sixteen persons in it, but there can be no determined number for the children under age; this rule is easily observed by removing some of the children of a more fruitful couple to any other family that does not abound so much in them” (More 1). I don’t believe that human beings are capable of living with 1) being told what to do all the time, and 2) living without any kind of self-expression. It almost sounds like a type of brain-washing where the priests educate the children, using “all possible methods to infuse, very early, into the tender and flexible minds of children, such opinions as are both good in themselves and will be useful to their country” (More 1). Yeah, that doesn’t sound like free will at all. This same type of social conformity is thrust on the old and diseased as well. If they reach that state and are unwilling to take their own life, they will not receive an honorable funeral, but their bodies thrown into a ditch (More 1). That reeks of forced social pressure. I do not like the idea of forcing everyone to behave the same and taking choices away. This sounds like freedom, but socially, it is not. It’s pretty much a behave-this-way-or-else construction. 
Image: "Utopia" by Felipe VenĂ¢ncio is licensed under CC BY 2.0

4 comments:

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I can’t fault an entire society trying to live this way, and kudos to those who can pull it off. That’s where my admiration stops, because I believe it is just a philosophy and can’t be maintained.

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Conformity is the act of matching attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to group norms, politics or being like-minded. Norms are implicit, specific rules, shared by a group of individuals, that guide their interactions with others.