Utopia isn’t just imaginary

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

We’ve been told a few whoppers in our time:
 There is not enough money for teachers.
 That bridge will last another year.
 The oil pipe beneath the river will not break.
 Hiring adequate personnel in prisons, police departments, fire departments, libraries…cannot be factored into this year’s budget.
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The lack of funds for civil living has varied across the nation and at different times in our past, but in the richest country in the history of the world, where at this moment one percent of our populace makes more than the entire bottom 90 percent, what is the problem with taxing the uber-rich to make the country work?

Americans’ ability to hope, dream, imagine and design good living for themselves has been a magnet to the rest of the world. It’s not that economic and developmental standards in the U.S. are necessarily better than in the rest of the top 34 nations on the planet; it’s that until recently we’ve been thought of as a place of hope that can bring us to the actuality, to improve our individual lives.

The idea of reaching toward a utopian dream in the U.S. has brought about reform through law – civil rights, 40-hour workweek, eight-hour work day, end of child labor, safe working conditions, Social Security, Medicare, clean water and air, regulated banking, airwaves, flying, construction and on and on.

Not all of these utopian ideals remain as strong as when they were initiated, but all in all, we keep up reasonably well – or, more truthfully, we have not yet entirely lost – the utopian idea that the most important element in our lives is the protection of the individual from power and greed.

We keep alive the underlying belief in an America that fosters utopian possibilities when we elect progressive individuals to keep us honest, un-elect regressive politicians and repeal regressive legislation. We can do – at all times, in each succeeding year – whatever it takes to make life better not only for ourselves, but also for the poor, the uneducated, the sick, the imprisoned, the immigrant as well as the third-generation nonagenarian in the old folks’ home.

Attitude is all; point of view can be positive. Writers, philosophers, scientists, teachers, dreamers, poets, songwriters – and even politicians – have given us plenty of words to inspire: “high hopes” and “can-do,” liberty and justice for all, humanity, peace, progress, prosperity, reform, the pursuit of happiness, “I have a dream.”

Among the best words that can lead to utopia:
 “It’s never too late to do the right thing.” [Mark Twain]
 “Vote like your whole world depended on it.” [Richard Nixon]
 “Equal rights to all, special privileges to none.”[Thomas Jefferson]

Dystopia is a place which is depressingly wretched and where people lead a fearful existence. Utopia is a place of ideals in law, governance and social conditions.
Either one is possible; we’ve seen both in our lifetime.

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