In Quest of Shangri-La


Sir Thomas More, in 1516 in his book Utopia, portrayed a fictional society in the south Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South America. He pointed out the similarity of utopia to ‘eutopia’, which is from Greek: εὖ (“good” or “well”) and τόπος (“place”); hence eutopia means “good place”.

Through Merriam-Webster dictionary we now learn that it could mean either of these:  

– A place of ‘ideal perfection’ especially in laws, government, and social conditions

An ‘impractical scheme’ for social improvement

An ‘imaginary’ and indefinitely remote place

Where on earth can I find a place of ideal perfection? So far none have! 

In the past there have been many attempts for social improvement through various means; so far none appear to be succeeding practically.

The search for this imaginary remote place is forever embedded in our hearts, however, the thought, meaning, shape and substance of utopia differs with each individual.

  • There is nothing like a dream to create the future. Utopia to-day, flesh and blood tomorrow. —Victor Hugo
  • A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias. —Oscar Wilde
  • None of the abstract concepts comes closer to fulfilled utopia than that of eternal peace. —Theodor W Adorno
  • I think that there is always a part of utopia in any romantic relationship. —Pedro Almodovar
  • When I die, I want to die in a Utopia that I have helped to build. —Henry Kuttner
  •  Utopias and other models of government, based on the public good, may be inconceivable because of the disordered human passions which, under the wrong governments, seek to highlight the poorly conceived or selfish interest of the community. But even though we find it impossible, they are ridiculous to sinful people whose sense of self-destruction prevents them from believing …..Etienne Cabet in his utopian book The Voyage to Icaria

Are we seeking a life in an Utopia filled with feelings of euphoria enrapturement, enchantment and rhapsodic, that we so crave for, or is there more to it? Apparently the complexities surrounding us need examination and a few of the related aspects that so dearly impact our living are put forth. 

We do have to find new and more effective ways to relate to nature, with emphasis on inspirational sources for movements which involve green and sustainable ecology. The answer may lie in between the traditional and the progressive living style with emphasis on greater care than destruction.  

The advent of commercialism and capitalism have often caused social disruption and given impetus to utopian ideas. Why do I need money? When my needs are met through  an egalitarian distribution of goods. As a citizen I do work which I can enjoy and which is for the common good, leaving others with ample time for others to do what they want, such as the cultivation of the arts and sciences.  Let the land be allocated equally and additional land acquisition through purchase or inheritance prohibited.

Most cultures, societies, and religions, are filled with some myths or memories of a distant past when humankind lived in a primitive and simple state but at the same time in perfect happiness and fulfillment. The myths tell us, there was an instinctive harmony between humanity and nature. People’s needs were few and their desires limited. They were satisfied as nature provided them with  abundance. They had no motives whatsoever for war or oppression and there was no need for hard and painful work. Humans were simple and pious and felt themselves close to their God or gods. Mythology does remain in human thoughts, but it does neither feed his mind or stomach. However, in utopia, the projection of the myth will not take place towards the remote past but either towards the future or towards distant and fictional places, imagining that at some time in the future, at some point in space, or beyond death, there must exist the possibility of living happily.  

Over the years in a wide variety of communities various types of faith-based ideas established across the world, both religious and secular. The practice of religion in an Utopian society will neither be cult based nor doctored through books or sermons to groups or gatherings. A human will keep his God within his precincts and for himself only.  

 Advanced science and technology will flourish to enhance utopian living standards; for example, the absence of death and suffering, changes in human nature and the human condition. Individuals and voluntary groupings will form  institutions and social forms they prefer for developing a variety of technologies ranging from maps to designs for cars and houses without causing environmental problems. 

Equality between the sexes will be part and parcel of the Utopia vision, whether this be by addressing misogyny or reorganizing society along separatist lines. Women will be assigned to a separate sphere of light industrial activity and accorded various exceptions in order to make room for (and to raise) motherhood. 

The Utopian society will be inhabited by humans of different race, color, and ethnicity. Each with dissimilar and distinguishable intelligence, their concept of Utopia may coincide and concur. Over the ages across the globe, poets and scholars  imagined utopias and wrote about them. In a few countries a few of the utopian concepts flourished only to be overtaken by events and circumstances.   Christopher Columbus believed that he had found the Biblical Garden of Eden when, towards the end of the 15th century, he first encountered the New World and its indigenous inhabitants. Today its inhabitants are avidly in quest of their own Utopia!

Will we find our Shangri – La, hidden in the Tibetan mountains and described by James Hilton in his utopian novel Horizon? 

Yes indeed, in our imagination!

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