Rejecting the Youtopia for a Better World: Helpful Suggestions for the New Decade
Eutopic dreaming is a wonderful thing, but it’s a double-edged blade. The visionaries of the world work their hearts out trying to solve the disparity and dismay that so afflicts this mortal realm. For the most part, we are lucky for all of the good people who try to make the world a better place, but then if imbalance sets in, we find ourselves amidst ever growing constrictions in the name of virtue, for the dream of Utopia. All too often the Eutopia turns to another version of Hell, where perfect unity results only through constant surveillance, oppression, and reeducation. The marvel of it all is that the post-modern era has its own spin on eutopian thinking, the Youtopia as I like to call it. The idea is that “Everything is about you, your beliefs, your wants, your will” and that this personalized experience of reality can be enforced or bought. What comes with it is a self-assuredness that skews, a hyper-vigilance that corrupts more noble aims. Convenience and safety smother and stultify as the Youtopia turns to the Dys of the ancient Greeks, a mess of a situation indeed. As an offering to this time and this place, here are my suggestions for rejecting the status quo and taking stronger, more stable steps toward our collective future.
1. Brave spaces- At some point, the virtuous people of our republic decided that the highest good was to protect people from anything causing discomfort even in the realm of ideas. Unstable and fragile youth in tears from opinions contrary to theirs- along with the rhetoric of looming threats to people of minority status- bombarded the concerned populace through their televisions and social media devices. Hysteria crept through the WiFi and then out of the screens into real life. Colleges that wanted to play the sensitive, inclusive card went along with the bandwagon, canceling most debate and making designated safe spaces something to shout about in self-righteous glee when those who needed the safety of isolated opinion weren’t cowering behind a couch in a safe zone. While I see the logic in providing comfortable places that are as safe as can be from the elements and the hazards of the road as well as for prayer privacy, safe spaces are not actually keeping people safe. Instead, they are making people less resilient and thus more prone to injury, whether physical or mental, which is especially worrying within the context of education. To be truly educated means confronting new ideas and knowledge, even if doing so is at first uncomfortable. It means civilly exchanging ideas and representing people who disagree fairly and accurate. These basic premises of education were once widely taught but have now fallen into disfavor as the Woke dominate education with manipulative language and excessive pathos. Students, therefore, move through their college experience confident in their viewpoints while often distorting or misunderstanding the viewpoints of the opposition if they even realize there is an opposition at all. They later leave to enter the professional world, if they weren’t already part of it, and go on to vote, communicate, and interact while assuming that the views of others are dangerous and something to avoid. No wonder the social climate is cut-throat with the most manipulative, emotion driven rhetoric dominating the discourse even if it is based on an ignorance of opposing views or debunked historical interpretations and sociological theories. In order to alleviate the hatred among our countrymen and women, it is essential to promote bravery and resilience. Public discourse must include ideas from multiple perspectives, and attendees must enter the space bravely. The culture must shift because life is hard, fatal even, and constantly acting out the melodrama of the victim or cowering in fear over images of the opposition constructed by biased social elements is no way to live, no way to manage a society, and no way to interact. It isolates and divides while depriving the people of opportunities for expansion, understanding, contemplation, and learning. While I still think there should be comfortable, welcoming spaces for the devout or people seeking refuge from the afflictions of life, the United States should adopt a brave place policy in all of its many nooks and crannies for the betterment of all. This vision extends to social media, a virtual world unto itself, and the void unto which billions pour the empty hours of their days. Within this realm, debate runs rampant, and we are currently witnessing greater and greater censorship, bias, and algo-rhythmic distortions. As members of this nation, we should demand that social media function like a public utility with bravery disclaimers. If you dislike someone’s discourse, don’t follow it or look at it. When social media moderates discourse, the result is that innocent but misunderstood people, people with beliefs contrary to big tech, are censored and canceled even though they may not be espousing the hatred so dreaded in the modern world. A phone call wouldn’t be dropped for the content of conversation, nor should the posts of people who hold alternative opinions, excluding of course terrorists and other people who are physically dangerous to humanity.
2. A commitment to traditional American culture, values, and law
When popular culture presents one’s country and its culture in stupid, petty, or corny terms, it’s no wonder the youth reject it, and it is also no wonder that older people become ever more dismayed with reality. The nation is not perfect; it is a whole composed of many parts. However, as Americans, it is our duty to defend the culture, values, and law of this land- the culture, values, and law that ended slavery and has since provided equality, suffrage, along with so many other benefits to its citizens. When I was younger, each year in in my Social Studies and History courses, I learned the same bland things for the most part. Dates and names were prioritized over larger patterns, connections, and influences. The blood was sucked dry from the experience of earlier Americans and our fallen countrymen. Relevant and timely historical research didn’t make it into the mix. The founders of our country, those framers of the constitution, were made into but the hollow husks of humans in powdered wigs. Their learning, their rebellion, their vision was delivered in cliché by all but a few of the instructors I had. Popular culture and education went down this road together, diluting and dumbing down American heritage while blowing up the negative and trivializing the positive. Popular Anarcho-Communist Howard Zinn’s heavily plagiarized, biased, and distorted works didn’t help. Good people got duped, thinking they had found the spirit of the past and that it was a nightmare on earth and only that, and hence, misinformed propaganda became the status quo. If you haven’t read Debunking Howard Zinn, a well-researched, transparent, and clear explanation of the extremely poor scholarship being perpetuated throughout the country, do so. Let’s get the book in every library. It’s time to talk back to school boards and other educating bodies that offer no alternative perspective to the Zinn narrative. Let’s also learn more about American culture. It is a human tendency to be drawn toward the tragic, darkness, or the bizarre. This tendency has to do with novelty, the allure of the forbidden. However, when this tendency is imbalanced, it blinds people to the fascinating, impactful, and visionary past of the United States. Reviving interest in Americanism, American history and culture, is the road to do this. Everything from natural history, pathfinding, costuming, literature, folk art, to food and social dynamics should be revisited with an openness to new insight. This does not mean only focusing on the heritage of minority peoples but rather on the heritage of all Americans. History is the richer and our understanding the deeper when we learn the perspectives, motivations, and deliberations of all sides. To facilitate this process, a more honest approach to the Constitution and the founding of the country along with its values must be allowed despite the current trend of disparagement based on too little understanding. A twenty-minute YouTube video here and there along with some anarchist zines, late night T.V. politics, and your favorite radio announcer’s gripe isn’t a substitute for a respectful exploration of the American experience.
3. Personalized or curated retirement care homes-
This idea is “you-centric,” but not in a selfish, disempowering way. Rather, it thinks of elderly people who end up stuffed away in homes, so the rest of us can go through the motions of our day. I suggest better care facilities for the elderly. People cite Scandinavian progress as the goal for Western nations, and eventually the rest of the world, but when they do so, they neglect significant differences, such as population size, their mixed market economy strategies, and cultural homogony. Nevertheless, nations should take a page from the Scandinavian book in creating better elderly care that is more personalized and humane, emphasizing the autonomy and individuality of the aged while still providing excellent care. Instead of throwing seniors into the bare walls of institutions that lack personality and staff that treats them as if they were incapable of any agency, a good use of our money is to beautify and humanize elderly care spaces. The same soundtrack wouldn’t be played on repeat. Seniors and their families would have options on the decor or style: 1940s, modern, pastoral, etc. Seniors could do some tasks for themselves even walking to constructed “public” spaces to select their own purchases and use of free time. The Scandinavians do this for elderly patients with dementia. They do this with the addition of surveillance [for once a positive use] and specially trained staff. They also have assisted living situations where college students or other low-income youth may work as caretakers and live in the same buildings as the elderly for reduced rent. It isn’t the brightest moment of our economic trajectory to say the least, but with a shift in priorities and funding, Americans can better care for other Americans who have loyally devoted their lives in support of their country. Due to population decline in western countries, elderly care will be a challenge as is in terms of hiring a dependable, compassionate, and competent work force, and it certainly will be a growing industry. Nevertheless, elderly care is often demeaning and scary as is even though that isn’t the intention. Most seniors dread the idea of being stuck in a home. It is our duty to care properly for our elders, to offer them the respect they have earned, and make their last days pleasant. We need to have their backs.
4. Victory gardens and green space
Self-reliance and connection to nature are vitamins, so to speak. As the modern age unfurled itself, we have seen the negative effects of processed food and city spaces devoid of vegetation. People become idle and sedentary, developing terrible health problems, often eating the very items that make them ill because those items are so ubiquitous, hydrogenated oils and hidden sugars all wrapped in the deal. In turn, health costs soar, more people need at home care, not to mention the mental health costs. Cement and concrete, mass replicated, and electrically lit, we have created an unnatural world, one that lacks sympathy with the human soul, whatever you may believe about it, call it a psyche. Although much of the mental ailments of the modern world are swept under the rug or prescribed a pill, prevention is key. Realizing we are natural creatures and should have connection with nature every day, even in small doses such as in clean community parks, can do wonders, providing exercise and peace of mind all at once, not to mention extra Vitamin D, a vitamin most westerners are deficient in and which regulates important hormone regulation responses. Shared green space with community gardens or even at home victory gardens are also essential. Having access to and connection with our food can open the mind of the most picky eaters and thus can aid their health by virtue of improved nutrition.
5. More gluten and dairy sensitive food options- Having more food options for people with sensitivities may seem like a suggestion shaped by the You-centric age, but it isn’t so much about selfishness as it is about understanding food differently. The suggestion is inherently compassionate since people with Celiacs need 100% surety that they aren’t being exposed to gluten, but most people would benefit from having more gluten and dairy free food options in general. If restaurants and cafés had more options, they may very well increase their business or at least better meet the needs of their current customers. Labeling helps, which is one reason some food providers avoid offering additional gluten/dairy free options. The labeling may rely on a verification system that costs money, which makes the process seem like a loss rather than a gain. For this reason, the verification should be on an honorary, voluntary basis and should explicitly be expressed as such. Nevertheless, the change would benefit a large number of people who are sensitive to gluten or dairy and get mildly ill after ingestion but don’t need hospitalization; they may even recover quickly. Because their symptoms are mild, most people view the affliction as a trend rather than as people who could end up uncomfortable for weeks because they accidentally ate fries coated in wheat flour. Some people who are gluten/dairy sensitive may not realize what’s causing their health problems but shy away from problem foods. In my vision, every restaurant, whether fast food or sit down, will have at least one savory and one sweet option for those with food sensitivities, and those options can be branded as gluten or dairy free/ for the sensitive.
6. Slow fashion
Slow-fashion takes patience and care for others at the expense of our own convenience. Living in the greater Los Angeles area most of my life, I can safely say I have been bombarded by each and every fashion trend. I’ve seen it all from balloon tops and sneaker high heels to microminis and Ugg boots. The shop fronts change on what seems like a bi-weekly basis, and in the world before the lockdown, I commonly found myself surrounded by people who wore distinct outfits every day of the week, for weeks on end. “The secret to having an [almost] endless supply of clothing,” I was told, “would be shopping at Forever 21 [or insert your inexpensive fast fashion emporium here].” The clothes are cheap; they quickly fall apart or become unfashionable; and our closets fill. So much time and effort is spent on keeping up with the trends and swooping on the perfect blouse that it robs people of their piece of mind. For that reason, some people throw in the towel and reject fashion all together. While they are at liberty to do so, I am a firm believer that fashion is a mood lifter and an opportunity for self-expression. People have grown in awareness and are beginning to see fast fashion for the sweat shop, ingratitude promoting force that it is, but they still frequently support an industry that doesn’t parallel their values. It is only a dedicated and determined collective shift that will make fast fashion a thing of the past. Reassessing our relationship with money may be part of it since sustainable clothing usually costs more, but if we save up to buy items we love and will wear again and again, we can normalize the practice and create a joyous cultural experience where people can feel confident and happy in their clothing even if it was an item from the year before.
7. Increased maternity leave
Throughout the past ten years as an educator, because I did not have full-time status, I always worried about how to make ends meet if I were to be with child. I wanted children and had put off childbearing, partly because I was hoping for a full-time position with benefits. However, the reality was that even though I was working part-time at multiple campuses, no maternity leave would be provided. When I asked about what happened to pregnant adjuncts, I was told they could apply for disability for awhile and that they came back the next semester. It sounded complicated. While it was heartening to hear that there was some safeguard for new mothers, it all sounded unstable. While many women and men have employer provided child care leave, many people do not, especially people with lower incomes who have a more difficult time paying for childcare in the first place. The question always boils down to a practical “Who is going to pay for that?” As Americans, we should find a way to care for new parents and offer them incentives for their choice to add to our declining population. This would be a stabilizing act of patriotic love. For love of our citizens and future citizens, American businesses should be encouraged to adopt parent friendly practices. I don’t recommend legislating this, however, since each business is different, and small business owners may not have the resources to provide for their workers in such a way, especially after the Corona virus zombie recession we’ve been experiencing. My suggestion is a call for the practice of this values on a popular yet voluntary basis.
8. Civic humanism instead of feminism- The culture that lauds victimhood oddly glamorizes personal tragedies rather than finding ways in which all people may better intermingle. Obviously, in some countries around the world, women are treated in a horrifying fashion according to the norms of their culture. They may face genital mutilation, honor killings, or severe punishment if they laugh in public, pursue education, or show their hair. Different people have different perspectives on what our attitudes should be about that type of behavior, but either way, it is clear that feminism, to most people, may seem like an extremely important option for these women as well as Western women. Nevertheless, I offer an alternative perspective, which is by no means a new one or a less virtuous one: I propose civic humanism, human autonomy under law[i]. As expressed by our Bill of Rights, the people of this nation should be treated as such and should have equal rights and opportunities but without enforced special treatment based on superficial exteriorities. The liberty and equality we already are granted as citizens of this country should be acknowledged and exercised as part of human autonomy under law. This idea would still help in terms of human rights and the rights of oppressed women, but it would remove the toxic resentful element that has been brewing. Civic Humanism can also help abroad, encouraging the humane treatment for all as part of Law, albeit no “ism” is a 100% sure guarantee of human rights as we have so tragically witnessed throughout time.
Part of the reason why we should embrace a shift from feminism to civic humanism is the fact that despite people’s unwillingness to recognize the resentment attached to exteriority inherent within feminist thought, it still exists. For many women, it also takes a position hostile toward nature by preaching the idea that all women need jobs and should embrace loud manifestations of agency, creating a situation in which some women lose their opportunity for a happy life with husband and children. They give their best years to their educations and careers only to discover that when it is time to give birth, they may be middle aged and have problems conceiving. As autonomous humans, women should know they have a choice and that homemaking is a respectable use of intelligence and talent despite what mainstream feminism might argue. Civic humanism would encourage freer communication as well, proving ultimately that being loud about one’s preferences isn’t necessarily an empowering act. That doesn’t mean women should be denied education, jobs, or voice but rather that we need to create a more positive culture toward domestic pursuits and more traditional lifestyles that correspond with the natural order as well as rethinking communication, which would help create more peaceful domestic spaces.
9. A New Renaissance- The humanist scholars of the Renaissance believed that a culture deeply supportive of textual exploration created the perfect environment for civic engagement guided by virtue and logic[ii]. Over several decades and certainly in the current social scene, schools have slowly but surely chosen to dumb down curriculum, a symptom of the you-centric culture, which we might contemplate as victim-oriented, convenience culture. Schools have been moving in this direction because they worry that the curriculum is too difficult for children and that the instruction disempowers the youth for its complexity rather than uplifts and informs them. To rectify this perceived wrong, objective truth has been replaced with post-modern relativism and dumbed down material that is meant to emotionally gratify the learner rather than truly educate the student. An example of this would be cultural relevance education that seeks to divide Americans by ethnic background (an us vs. them paradigm informed by critical race theory), which should be swiftly and urgently replaced by study of the great books and formal instruction in all of the subjects from an early age. This requires a cultural change in general where unbiased books, reading, contemplation, and study are nurtured and embraced early on in the home rather than the flashy sensationalist trend news that blasts into the psyches of those who passively consume media, unquestioningly believing the narratives and fallacies presented without question. The culture would also benefit from encouraging high art, rebelling against anti-intellectualism, and designing more beautiful buildings, so people find beauty instead of despair in their daily surroundings.
To conclude, this list is not exhaustive. Some of you may voice concerns about exhaust, factory farming, homelessness, inflation, and so forth. While I do not deny the importance of sound policy in these other areas, the suggestions offered here are for a deep root support system that will have substantial ripple effects for the greater good if implemented. Whatever else must needs be added to the equation will be by necessity. Let logic and the greater good of humanity prevail!
Updated Feb. 15, 2022.
[i] Nederman, Cary. “Civic Humanism.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Edward N. Zalta. (Spring 2019).
[ii] “What is Renaissance Humanism.” The Spiritual Life. Web. Accessed Feb. 4, 2022. <https://slife.org/renaissance-humanism/>