Book Review: The Impossibility of Perfection

IN UTOPIA: Six Kinds of Eden and the Search for a Better Paradise by J.C. Hallman (St. Martin’s Press)

| November-December 2010

In Utopia Book Review

In this collection of essays, J.C. Hallman sets off on a quest for utopia that takes him to such divergent places as a ship that continuously circumnavigates the globe and a community of gun owners. He begins with the Pleistocene Rewilders, a group of scientists who believe that reintroducing the lost megafauna of North America would be good for the continent’s ecosystem. It is, he writes, “an impossibly positive action that stood in stark contrast to the dastardly suburban sales pitch” he’d grown up with.

Hallman shows us through the canon of utopian literature that there is no idea of perfection today—from a floating city to peaceful living through the threat of violence—that has not been written about or tried before. And though there are times he thinks he may have found it, in the end Hallman concludes that it is the very idea of utopia that is important, even when it doesn’t work in practice. “The failure of good intentions should not be met with inaction, but with further good intentions, with better intentions,” because, Hallman writes, the “truth was, dystopia came first—it was civilization.”

genevieve marcus
11/10/2010 4:47:43 PM

I share Hallman's conclusion that not Utopias have succeeded. And, indeed, perfection is impossible. That is why I ended up wishing for an ongoing "Experimental City" that would test positive alternatives that promise to eliminate or greatly reduce the multitude of complex problems afflicting all cities of the world. The City would start with the best ideas and technologies we know of and change what didn't work. The ideas and technologies included in the experiments would be required to support three Values: 1. They would, to the best of our knowledge, ensure the survival of the human species. 2. They would support Survival in harmony with each other and the planet upon which we depend. 3. The prime purpose of Survival would be to enable and encourage each individual to achieve their fullest potential. There is a wealth of research and history waiting to be tapped.