Clyde had the lot of us wondering about dystopia on the SEP. Rightly so. Before we can get to the point where we define dystopia, we have to set some standards. Applying the standards is the easy part. We all know how easy judgments can be. Or are they?

Merriam Webster LogoOur go-to for a definition of bad gives us over a dozen choices for what the word means. Most all of them are variations on the theme unsatisfactory, substandard, invalid and poor.

Bearing in mind utopia and dystopia are both theoretical places for the moment, we have to sit in judgment of the reality in which we exist, both individually and as a society. In order to determine what would constitute a dystopia, we need to examine what is bad. Let’s create a dystopia from the ground up.


Since longevity is something we all seek, even without a utopian environment, health would seem to be a universal good. Some of the items on the bad list which spring to mind are the things we are actively attempting to cure.

  • cancer
  • neurological diseases
  • diabetes
  • immune and endocrine disorders
  • heart disease

The body is not all which needs to be addressed. Equally on the bad list in terms of health are the mental disorders which rob us of life enjoyment, love and interactive relationships. Some mental disorders create dystopian worlds for their sufferers.

What about the things which straddle the two? You can think of five right off the top of your head.

  • eating disorders
  • substance abuse
  • anxiety
  • insomnia
  • suicide

In a dystopia, these would all run unchecked.


They may not make it.

Strictly speaking of the things we need for survival, we need edible substances and clean water, shelter from the elements and clothing where our climates demand it.

Everything would be unsatisfactory. A dystopian world would offer no viable foodstuffs, polluted and stagnant water. The only offer of housing would be natural to the landscape. Lightweight clothing materials would not be available, as the plant life would be compromised by the lack of water. Fur would be available providing you could find (unlikely), kill and skin animals and tan the hide.


As we form societies, we pool resources and knowledge to meet the needs of the members. Consider single survival: literally, fending for yourself. This means turning out of children, walking away from sick or wounded people and eliminating those who posed a threat to your own survival.

Communication would not be an issue. You would not seek the assistance of another, as it would not be on offer. If you need assistance, you are in direct competition from the person best suited to give such assistance. You would be a target for elimination.

Consider this when attempting to find a mate.

All of our current societal bonds would be broken: No teamwork, group efforts, partnerships. All of our systems would be invalid.

Just Theory

By design, dystopia is not survivable. Not only on the terms we currently negotiate our world, but it is not survivable on a base level as a mammal. Most of us cannot posit a scenario which would produce such a world, which is why dystopia is only a theoretical place. We truly would like to believe we innately carry the character to overcome egocentric survival to function as social animals.

Flip the coin over.

What are the necessities for creating the opposite of a dystopia, in fact a utopia? No, the answer is not The opposite of what you described. In order to create a societal system which transcends these unsatisfactory conditions, we must establish what the good truly is.

If the above described dystopia is bad, what constitutes good? Only on the basis of health, necessities and humanity, let’s build a utopia.


In your world, what good is required to cover health, necessities and humanity? Do not consider the impediments in today’s society when building your world. Anything is possible. The Earth is literally a blank slate.

(c) Red Dwyer 2012
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  1. Dystopia sounds like it ain’t a good place to be
    Tony McGurk recently posted..Kid’s Toys #2My Profile

  2. I’m not sure that (despite the definitions of the words), utopia and dystopia are the opposites, much like apathy is the opposite of love, not hate.

    And contrary to all the definitions/markers you list above, I would say that the working definition of dystopia is lack of hope.
    El Guapo recently posted..Friday Foolishness – East Coast EditionMy Profile

    • Interesting. I got on this kick with a rash of dystopian fiction which I do not see the dystopia in them. In order for dystopia to exist, we have to give up the feelings which we claim define humanity. In essence, we have to become apathetic. i.e. We must become impassive to the needs and desires of others. The conditions are truly enough for us to give up hope; hence, it is why dystopia is as theoretical as utopia.

      So, flip the coin over. We are still in the realm of theory. What would constitute the opposite of dystopia. (And yes, semantically, dystopia and utopia are opposites.)

      • Going beyond the semantic/linguistic definitions, I would say the opposite of dystopia is a unified movement toward a common better goal.
        I think utopia would be boring (just guessing – never experienced it!). But mankind struggling towards a common purpose where all are agreed on the goodness of it?
        Yeah, I’ll go with that.

        Also, just noticed the share bar on the bottom. Nice code!
        El Guapo recently posted..Friday Foolishness – East Coast EditionMy Profile

        • I think utopia would suck. I like a challenge. So, then the question is…what is common good?

          I love the lower bar. Lots of people do not want to scroll back up after they comment. I thought I would make it easy 😉

  3. I like The new site Red ……
    In my view . Dystopia is dead … absolutely …..
    I definitely am a utopian thinker –
    i did a spoken word about it …..
    to me the whole idea of dystopian fiction is almost dead too …….
    things to be looking up – so to speak – when it comes to art …… Just a feeling i get and from the stuff i have been listening to and reading ……

    in my view positivity rules 🙂
    Cat xx
    Cat Forsley recently posted..In love with animals ……..:) Cat ForsleyMy Profile

    • Positivity does rule. I have always been a team player, even when I was a team of one. That sounds a lot like my poem Reflected. Dystopia is dead for me. For many, though, they can only see what has always been rather than what can be. Happiness is inside. You just have to let it out. <3 xxx

  4. Yep 🙂 agreed xxx ! it’s pretty dang simple xo
    Cat Forsley recently posted..In love with animals ……..:) Cat ForsleyMy Profile

  5. Never mind the semantics of dystopia vs utopia because i believe we could argue all day as to – um not you and me argue – we in general as a people 🙂 intellectaul etc etc.. the dystopia you describe is unsustainable… and the definition that I read – ok I read a lot of them but chose to go with is things are bad – people are oppressed… like in Monty Python The Holy Grail… 🙂 so dystopia as the opposite of the accepted definition of Utopia is nonplausible….

    In my world – besides the ponies pooping butterflies…. as far as health concerns we would need to not capitalize on it.. healers heal and there i no difference between whether you have head issues or heart… and btw way I know of 6 .. right off the bat, bipolar is a fence sitter mental medical condition no? I am not correcting…clarifying for my own purposes..

    Humanity… I don’t think everyone having the same of everything and being equal on a economic level is really feasible but in my world… they are on a human level..which means I suppose that there is no envy or competiveness….

    this is quite a concept

    Love lots
    Lizzie Cracked recently posted..Back to Basics; Mid-Afternoon Mental MomentMy Profile

    • When I wrote this, I was thinking of the scene “Bring out your dead” and the mud farms. Yes, we think alike.

      I like the non-competitive concept. It is one I envision as well. The only arguing I see is of a philosophical sort when it comes to discovering things. For me, the utopian society would be about finding out the fixes to all the ills (physical, mental, economical). It is the blossoming of humanity which transcends our apparent (not sure to whom exactly…they are not to me) differences. xxx

      • ha! I was thinking of that part too – Bring out yer dead…but I’m not dead yet! you will be.. then of course the ‘elp I’m being oppresssed… *giggles
        “he is a king. How can you tell? ‘e ‘asn;t got sh*t all over ‘im”

        the non-competitive thing is tough because I think that is something that pushes us to try to do and be better a little.. but then if we weren;t competitive and could just do and be better because we are who we are.. it’s a bit like solitiude and lonelines no? by what do we measure the need to be better? our own or others standards. Its a basic truth that some are smarter and stronger and faster and richer and …on and on… a society that caters to the least of these would frustrate those that are ..those things – it is how it is today frankly.. we cater to the weaker.. not meant in a derogatory way for those predisposed to ee it that way.. but we all have strengths and weaknesses and a perfect world would recognize them as just who we are…there are people – many very good people who do just that and that is what is good about today;s world… in my perfect utopia.. everyone would have such tolerance ….

        now if that wasn;t a garbled mess of I don;t know what… then I don;t know what… but I do know that “strange women lying in ponds handing out swords is no basis for a government” but in my world it might be fun to try…..
        I love you
        Lizzie 🙂
        Lizzie Cracked recently posted..Back to Basics; Mid-Afternoon Mental MomentMy Profile

        • You are talking like a mother. We foster sibling rivalry in our children to get them to teach each other. My posit to you is let the society run on that same non-harming sibling rivalry rather than the competitive model which rewards with something outside the achievement at hand. For instance, winning the race gets you a pat on the back, not a soft drink endorsement, a new car, a wreath of roses, six new girlfriends and a media campaign. Move society forward on the wheels of its own achievement rather than what the achievement can bring in.

          We see this in the art world all the time. Artists are discarded, misunderstood and ignored during their lifetimes because their art is not valued until it can no longer be exploited or directed on demand. This is true of all the arts, music, even to a lesser extent thespianship.

          If we were seeking out advancement for the common good, we would be raising up those who we now (mistakenly) see as less than.

          • whoa ok that I never considered the competitiveness as sibling rivalry but it completely makes sense.. how did it ever get beyond that anyways? Magpie had to write a persuasive letter to her teacher (homework – 8 3rd grade) I was trying to explain the way we persuade others and how persuasion often takes the form of bribery whether it is the proper use of it or not… her letter played on persuasion through pity – and I told her persuasion based on merit of argument – now as to why I included it in this comment –

            cause I was thinking a lot of the problems of society today is misusing or misunderstanding concepts and giving them less value than they deserve.. ( did I use that than right? or is it then)
            and beyond that I lost it because little monkey man dropped his drooly binky on my keyboard..yuck..
            Lizzie Cracked recently posted..Back to Basics; Mid-Afternoon Mental MomentMy Profile

          • Than is right. Now, Lizzie, you have just pinpointed why we should not be arguing the differences of opinion about dystopia. We all agree what is bad…just read these comments. By misusing the dystopian concept to only mean what is bad for one person, we water it down and it means absolutely nothing. When we stop arguing the petty BS and start talking about the real problems, we begin to affect change.

            So can you see how we can use the sibling rivalry to our advantage? (In fact, mothers have been doing it since the first siblings.) Instead of breeding competitiveness from it, we should foster it into making everyone better.

          • And monkey pants should be asleep!

          • (insert big bright lightbulb HERE)

            yea he was someone is yapping and it isn;t me 😛 (dammit)
            Lizzie Cracked recently posted..Back to Basics; Mid-Afternoon Mental MomentMy Profile

          • Early on, Red said, “art is not valued until it can no longer be exploited or directed on demand”

            Among the many intelligent things Red says, this one is among the saddest, not only for the artists but for those who totally miss out on the enjoyment of it while in pursuit of the control of it.

            As for dystopia, I’ve nearly finished reading Leslie Garis’s memoir, House of Happy Endings, which gives an unflinching look at the family who created Uncle Wiggily (and a great deal of other written work), and the impact of each other on their individual lives. You’ll never look at that rabbit with the same eyes again.

          • L, you are very right. I knew of the story of the Garis family. It is disturbing, yet rather common. I believe the wool we collectively pull over our own eyes in search of a place where we believe utopia exists is as disturbing as the idea of dystopia. Our failure to recognize human frailty at it universal level of a human trait is a concept I attribute not only to our misaligned sense of right and wrong but also to the oft confused ideals what environs foster happiness and despondency.

            You have hit the nail on the head with those who miss out on the artistic journey in pursuit of a commercial end to what should always be a matter of expression. We see the unalterable effects of it by the disproportionate suicide rate. Sadly, the world suffers as well by a packaged version of what is commercially viable rather than being exposed to the truth of form which Gail mentions. Personally, I would much prefer to partake in something which is not the socially accepted cup of tea in an honest wager to enjoy a smidgen of clotted cream or a dram of bitters.

  6. In order to discover an opposite of dystopia we as humans must first understand the complexities surrounding such a thought, even in the present time it is not hard to witness the unenthusiastic traits of mankind as our world has been fraught with negativity and pessimism for thousands of years.

    Man has many flaws that contradict the suggestion of a utopian society, after all the idea is something that dreams are made of, for instance is it possible to think of a perfect world where everyone gets along, where there are no negative elements of humanity, no famine or deadly disease, a world without war and no discrimination of colour and creed, an introduction of humankind where anything and everything can be realised?

    Or is it just an unreachable fantasy. A world without hedonism and that never-ending nourishment, the feeding of the rich, frenzies that in turn destroy the vision of a faultless world and crush the inventiveness into oblivion.

    I think that this posting will provide some interesting thought processes and of course generate feedback, which I will read on my next visit 🙂

    Have a very nice rest of evening Red 🙂

    Andro xxx

    • We have to admit human foibles are the reason utopia is still just theoretical, but you are going a long way toward answering the question. It does signify we have to distance ourselves from the foibles we teach the next generations, like discrimination and oppression. Likewise, it means give up on the egocentricity which breeds avarice (for money, position, power). I have long believed in the divorce from monetary systems. My humble belief is until we divorce ourselves from valuing humans as monetary gains and losses, we have no shot at becoming enlightened enough to reach what could border on a utopian society.

      • Unfortunately I see no way forward as the richer will inevitably become even wealthier and the poor will forever be forgotten, left behind in a world of avarice and preposterous materialism.

        I too would welcome a society where everyone is equal but can this ever be a realistic consideration when the world thrives on self-indulgence?

        I hope that there will be more comments and thoughts added to this one Red 🙂

        Andro xxx

        • As do I, Andro. To me, the idea is not so far-fetched. While I acknowledge (to not would be folly) the current regimes are built on the accumulation of wealth, it is a better way when we no longer trade people. I venture slavery is as frequent now as it was up until the 14th century. We just call them “poor” now. Our economies thrive on their backs, while they are compensated with nothing more than what can be bartered for either food or lodging. Rarely do they have enough for both. The thrust of the poor into common housing where families live atop one another in the same space is nothing shy of the slave quarters rampant in my country in the 19th century.

  7. In my world it is legal to beat stupid people until they get sense or agree to be banished… and I have an endless supply of ice cream, fruits, coffee and whiskey.
    Laurie recently posted..Can I get a Break?My Profile

    • For me, a big part of utopia would be the education of those who populate the governments, Friday Follies and the rural areas. Intellect would have a fighting chance because it would not be a tool of oppression.

      I like the idea of a whiskey fountain 😉

  8. For me, art in all its forms is the great equalizer.
    Gail Thornton recently posted..Poem – Anaphoric RideMy Profile

    • Art – is indeed… I agree with you Gail – for through art it matters not our status of wealth.

      I have a few arguments on the matter AFTER it is created… but I will have to cone back later 😉
      Lizzie Cracked recently posted..Back to Basics; Mid-Afternoon Mental MomentMy Profile

    • I agree, but for the sake of argument, spell this out a bit more.

      • who me ? or Gail? I take it as it matters not when we speak of monetary the rich and the poor – or even the sick or the healthy – the strong or the weak – art transcends the boundaries of society – except in doing so it creates its own boundaries … but in my mind everyone is capable of artistic expression and that is their individuality.

        The exploitation is in today’s world where someone powerful exploits the talent of another with less status … they have the power to change their very essence and their – whatever makes their art their art… I can think of a few great examples of raw talent that was over marketed and now something completely different…
        Lizzie Cracked recently posted..Back to Basics; Mid-Afternoon Mental MomentMy Profile

  9. Dystopia is not the opposite of utopia, for that is not how life is constructed; it is more like a vertical slice OF life, which includes dystopian elements and those of utopia. There is…. there is also a transitional area between, something like the structure of a 2-layer cake, top good, bottom terrible, with a very thick, graduated layer of multi-colored gummy-bear icing between them containing lumps of hot peppers, onions, and lemons. Life is what you happen to get IN that vertical slice. Life is fine if you don’t break a tooth in the process, are wealthy and and can eat only the utopian layer. Unfortunately, most of us have to also scrape off the best of the icing, avoiding the detestable parts, some of which are unavoidable and must be swallowed,- and hopefully do so-but NOT disturbing the unpalatable surface of dystopia.
    Fine model.
    The problem is, each layer–each aspect of life is also constructed in the same complex manner. Only one example; there are very happy, smart lucky, healthy poor people, but also incredibly sad, unlucky, dumb, sick, unhappy rich people.
    Best part is, life IS what you make it. “:)
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    • I agree what we have now is your cake analogy (which is very astute). What strikes me as poignant is the incessant need to classify those who have accumulated the most wealth as the top layer… current societal image notwithstanding. In my travels, I have seen far more dystopian rich people than I have utopian rich people. The inverse is true of poor people.

      It strikes me should we remove the avarice from the equation, we would be able to reach a more humanitarian playing field. It would mean the answers to the ills could be attained by all, rather than those who can afford them.

      You are right, life is what you make it, which was Cat’s point as well. (You really should listen to her recitation.)

  10. Walk 30 minutes a day and it will improve your health…or at least your mood.
    Bearman recently posted..Texas Secedes from United States CartoonMy Profile

    • I know that is true. If nothing else, you are too tired to give a hoot about what ails you 😉


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