The original idea of Utopia was put forth by a 16th century author, Sir Thomas More, in his book of the same name published in the year 1516 C.E. Utopia was an island community that enjoys perfection in law, politics, religion, culture, community; the ideal state of existence or state of being.
Traditional Locations of Utopia
Virtually every religion and philosophy has some far distant place where the paradise of Utopia is located. Early in history it was typically an island, hidden away somewhere in a distant ocean, where the average land-lubber could never reach.
As seaman covered more and more of those distant oceans, Utopia was moved to other inaccessible places on the Earth, hidden behind unclimbable mountains, or deep in sweltering deserts.
With bigger and better aircraft circumnavigating the globe, those impossible places to reach could now be easily viewed from planes, so Utopia moved again to yet other forbidden frontiers, deep underwater as lost continents, or places like Hyperboria, far off in the arctic wilderness.
And when those frontiers were explored, the long-sought-after paradise of Utopia became even further and further distant and moved into space and other worlds. And as we explore the other worlds, Utopia will move again to distant galaxies, or even to other Universes or dimensions... for the original Utopian paradise can never be reclaimed. The more mankind advances, the further distant this paradise must become, as man is moving away from the original state towards another apprehension of Utopia.
The Lamasery of Shangri-La
Nestled deep in the inhospitable regions of the Himalayan mountains, surrounded by icy peaks hundreds of miles from civilization, is the Lamasery of Shangri-La, overlooking the fertile Valley of Blue Moon, where some two thousand inhabitants enjoy everlasting life, abundant natural resources, and live in peace through two simple principles—compassion and moderation—guided in their lives by the vision of the High Lama.
Shangri-La has always represented the finest of human dreams, where each man can fulfill his soul's purpose with an unlimited life of giving, sharing and learning, living in rapport with thousands of others.
To quote Father Perrault, High Lama from the 1976 musical, Lost Horizon:
"For when the day comes, and when the world begins to look for a new life, it is our belief they will find a well of hope... here... so here we shall stay, with our books and our music and our meditations; here we shall be to guide the footsteps of a weary people. Here we shall be, with our way of life, based on one simple rule: be kind."
"And, it is our hope that our brotherly love will then spread throughout the world. And when the strong have devoured each other... then... at last... the meek shall inherit the Earth."
The concept of Utopia never dies. Even if it has to get off of the Earth to take shape, as it did in the 1971 film, Earth II.
The space station Earth II, a nation in orbit, dedicated to helping those on Earth overcome their problems. A self-sufficient colony, with their own ranches and gardens, Earth II's population enjoyed a totally democratic system; each person voted on every issue—and dedicated to peace, with no weapons, not even toy ones. As an independent, peaceful nation, they could act upon, and receive, the trust of all nations.
The story line revolves around whether Earth II could remain the "Paradise of Peace" it was designed to be, for the Chinese placed an nuclear weapon in orbit nearby, threatening Earth II's survival. Such a colony as Earth II, orbiting over every nation on Earth, could be a big prize for a hostile nation to use as a military base.
Through a Discussion and Decision, even with the Chinese threat that they would consider any tampering with their weapon an act of war, the population of Earth II voted to remove this threat. Having successfully removed the orbital nuclear weapon, it now sits in one of their docking bay. The choice they are then faced with, is whether Earth II should keep the bomb, and become a nuclear power for their own protection?
One individual acts outside of their democratic process, taking the decision into her own hands, and nearly destroys Earth II as well as a large section of the United States. They decide that they must live their philosophy, even in the face of destruction, and launch the bomb off into the sun where it cannot harm anyone.
Utopia lives on and continues to grow... this time learning how people can learn to work together and that no one person should make decisions for all others.
Star Trek: Insurrection
The most recent addition to the Utopian theme is Star Trek's film, Insurrection, where Shangri-La is recreated on a far distant world, the home world of the Ba'ku, nestled tightly inside the "Brier Patch," a dangerous region of space that only the most daring starship would enter.
Similar to Earth II, the story line of Insurrection is that of Utopia being invaded and destroyed, but again, higher ethics prevail. Captain Picard, faced with the decision to "just follow orders" or to do what is right, resigns his Starfleet commission and, with the help of the crew of the Enterprise, saves the Utopian world of the Ba'ku from both their own vengeful progeny and the Federation itself, which has abandoned their ethical principles for more materialistic matters—in this case, obtaining the secret of eternal life (another common attribute of Utopia).
One of the more salient points of this film is the concept brought out by Picard in his conversation with the Admiral over "just how many people does it take to make it wrong?" Granted, this fountain of youth could help millions, if not billions, of people in the Federation. But do the ends justify the means? Picard and the crew of the Enterprise knew in their hearts that it does not.
With science fiction being on the leading edge of collective apprehension, this film brings forth an important new concept: "the needs of the few, outweigh the needs of the many," particularly when "the few" are destroyed for the many. A strong departure from The Search for Spock's "the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few, or the one."
With the original ideal of Utopia moving further and further out into the Universe, with "civilization" trying to destroy it at every turn, has paradise been lost?
J. E. Cirlot, in A Dictionary of Symbols, defines Paradise Lost as:
"Paradise Lost: Symbolic of the mystic 'Center' — or, rather, of its manifestation in space. The Chinese locate it in central Asia, referring to it as a garden inhabited by 'dragons of wisdom,' with the four essential rivers of the world — the Oxus, Indus, Ganges and Nile — rising out of a common source which is termed the 'lake of the dragons'. Leaving aside the Christian dogma, there is a host of Western and oriental legends dealing with the lost Paradise. It is found in symbolic traditions all over the world, and it is here that its true beginnings should be looked for. As a symbol of the spirit, it corresponds to that state which is above all queries and quibbles. The fall of man from the paradisaic state and his return to it find varied manners of symbolic expression, the most characteristic being the labyrinth. As Saunier has observed, 'When man comes to ponder this mysterious problem, he knows no more peace, for his mind, faced with a series of insurmountable obstacles, is shattered, filling his heart, his soul and his body with range and despair... Man, urged on by his desire... bent his mind to a rigorous investigation into the smallest particles of the cosmos, enshrined his intelligence in matter, and strove by hard and constant work to rediscover himself in the labyrinth of science. Only once he had grasped the worlds of the infinitely small and the infinitely large could man once again vibrate in sympathy with the cosmic harmonies and blend in ineffable communion with all the beings and things in earth and heaven'. The 'weekly day of rest' is a temporal image of Paradise, comparable with the Islands of the Blessed and El Dorado, etc., in geographical symbolism. The 'lost' characteristic, which gives the symbol of Paradise in its particular symbolic direction, is connected with the general symbolism of the feeling of abandonment and fall, recognized by modern existentialism and an essential part of human make-up."
Mankind, like every living thing, grows and evolves. Babies grow into children; children into adults. The ignorant bliss of youth is replaced with the wisdom of old age. This holds true for the spirit. The early ethical and moral motivation of man is characterized by Paradise, and when it is lost, it really hasn't been lost—it has simply grown up into a more complicated, and less recognizable form. The challenge that mankind is faced with is to find that "grown-up" version of Paradise and reclaim it to himself, and to the world.
The Utopian dream is not the drop of water returning to the ocean, nor mankind—or any creature—trying to return to the original, paradisaical state of being. There is a new Utopia out there, defined by the Natural Laws of the Universe, just waiting to be discovered and realized.
Paradise has been found.