Utopia Acid Test

If you (or someone) are working on a theory for building a new way to run the world, good on you! It’s hard! But before you go to the internet with your new world order, here’s a short list of things that I believe are critical and must be considered.  If you don’t have a good answer to these problems, you will get my unimpressed face, but don’t be too sad, because almost no-one does either.

Crime and Punishment

How will you handle crime? There are a number of different types of problems. (Many thanks to The Oxford History of the Prison for blowing my mind about the problems of crime at the tender age of 19).

How will you handle asocial behaviour? Humans are profoundly, even insanely social animals. Almost everything we do is intertwined with other humans, and even when it is not, it will have aspects that are to do with not messing up group activities for others, even when not engaged in them oneself. Social behaviour and social systems are the air we breathe, it is both what we are and how we are. As a consequence, asocial and antisocial behaviour is a really big problem.

Antisocial behaviour can take the form of deliberate crime, but also arises from many other things too such as atypical neurology, poor early years experience, illness, short-lived emotional outburst and so on. How does your utopia deal with these situations?

How will you handle cheaters? Once you have a system, you have something that can be exploited, because in some sense it relies on rules or principles. Some rules can be bent, others broken. It is adaptive for at least a subset of people to cheat systems. Will it go well for you and your utopia when the cheaters cheat?

How will you deal with larger scale targeted aggression? From gangs to large-scale weapons/destruction/terrorism?

“There will be no crime” is not an answer because people don’t only rationally decide to break rules, and those rules can never be perfect.


How well does your system treat people who do not want to live in it? How easy is it to be outside? How easy is it to move into and out of your system? A useful experience in my life was having contact with Roma and gypsies (or people who have contact with them). Most people think they have thought about “minorities”, but I am not talking about them, I am talking about “outside” your system. People who refuse to engage with your system on any level. Squatters, tinkers, the deliberately homeless are other examples of our current system. Their lives are hard because our system’s boundaries are not very permeable and it is not secure enough to allow others not to be part of it. How easy or hard does your system make the lives of those who want not part of it?

How well does your system interact with other systems? Your utopia will not be the only way to live and govern people. So often I hear “if only we were all X…then the world would be perfect”, which is neither true nor could ever exist. Relying on 100% adoption for your utopia to work is the way that you watch your utopia fail. So, in what ways does your world interact with other worlds? Where are the points of exchange and the points of collaboration?



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