Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Utopia! Huzzah!

Behold the Morris Chair. One of first recliners, it was unveiled in England in 1866, and has since become a common item in living rooms across the globe. Few would guess that the chair's inventor, the Oxford-educated William Morris, was the author of early time-travel novels. In his most famous work, News from Nowhere, Morris depicts the then far-off future of the 21st century. His vision of tomorrow was heavily informed by his interests in medieval culture and socialism, and unsurprisingly it's radically unlike the world that we live in.

Morris' perfect society contains idealism and tedium in equal measure. In his version of the 21st century, there is no capitalism, poverty, religion, or social division. National governments are non-existent and regions are sub-divided into small, self-governed villages (each maintaining the Athenian ideal of democracy). It certainly sounds pleasant, but there's a catch. Civilization has taken on a form similar to that of a Renaissance fair, and life revolves around the production of "beautiful" handmade crafts. Machinery is frowned upon and idle-hands are not tolerated. Laziness is tantamount to mental illness. Additionally: goods and supplies are kept in warehouses managed by children. Everyone knows that children are not to be trusted, and this arrangement could only lead to disaster.

Many of Morris' predictions probably seem fanciful, but he was well aware how unlikely it was that his future would come to pass. The title, News from Nowhere, is an allusion to the term "utopia." While it has come to mean a perfect society, utopia is literally translated from Greek as "no place." The world depicted in his book was meant to be an ideal to strive for and not necessarily an achievable model. Ultimately, however, the world he envisioned sounds like an annoying place and unworthy of any serious consideration. Just as there are far more comfortable places to sit than the Morris chair, there are multitudes of better utopias to emulate.

But don't take my word for it! You can read about it in a book!
-Source: Wallace, Irving and Wallechinsky, David. (1975). "Utopia." The People's Almanac.1422: pp.1-10. ISBN:0-385-04060-1. Buy it here for a single penny. Jesus Christ, that's a bargain.

1 comment:

  1. No place can you find a more comfortable chair.