Problems with Utopias: Isolation

All versions of His in Herland have struggled with the problem of isolation. In the second version, not published, I even created trade between Herland, an island, and the mainland over a bridge. 

In the current version, I place Herland in a far more isolated position, even more isolated than in Gilman's book. In the book, the young men hear stories about the country (about the size of Holland) from guides plus they discover woven cloth in a river. Stuff leaks out.

The problem, of course, is that in reality, people also tend to leak out. Even in the book, the non-mobility of the women, though carefully explained, is increasingly unbelievable. Why wouldn't Herland's citizens simply up and leave? George Mallory isn't the only one who wanted to climb a mountain because it was there.

In fairness, Gilman's women are infinitely practical, which is a welcome change from rampaging idealism, but human nature is not infinitely practical, male or female. Road trips and rituals like Rumspringa exist for a reason. At age 25, I drove cross-country in a non-air-conditioned Dodge Colt (stick shift) in the summer with a cat by myself. I would never do that now!

Even during Japan's most extreme isolationist period, people still knew it was there--and eventually showed up in a "here we are--what are you going to do now?" way.  In addition, one of the most fascinating revelations of archeological digs is how much people got around in the past.  Goods from Asia show up in medieval England. Folks from England show up in the Mediterranean world. 

Even in the nineteenth century, the time of no-holds-barred nationalism, the attempt by antiquarians to discover the "pure" past of a nation ended in failure. German fairy tales weren't German--for one, a lot of them were French. 

And so on. 

Isolation is necessary to utopias. Mobile people undermine utopias since (1) restless people indicate that people care about more than "needs" (sorry, Marx); (2) if mobile people can leave, other mobile people can arrive, and there goes the perfectly structured society. 

Star Trek tackled this problem in several ways (setting aside the utopian ideals of the show itself). TOS tackled it philosophically: How can you thrive if you are too happy? TNG tackled it, to my mind, somewhat more realistically. In "Masterpiece Society," the engineers on the planet are too excited about Enterprise technology to give it up. Now we see the cost of not being part of a space-faring community! No, thanks!

Welcome to human nature. 

To avoid the plot issues of constantly mobile people, the current version of His in Herland is extremely isolated--though Terry suggests that even this state of affairs can't last. 

People are always going to come.

Chapter 2

His in Herland or Astyanax in Hiding 


Matthew said...

Moore’s Utopia was surrounded by other fictional countries. A lot of Utopias were influenced by the lost world genre. Though Haggard’s lost worlds were far from Utopia. I think the isolation of most Utopias is an explanation for why no one has ever heard of them but your right it’s not a good one.

Eugene said...

John Manjiro, whose biography would barely be believable as fiction, is a good example of how hard it is to keep people "down on the farm." Shipwrecked while fishing at the age of fourteen, he was rescued by an American whaler and taken back to Massachusetts, where he attended school. He signed on with another whaler, ended up in California at the height of the Gold Rush, and made enough to finance his return to Japan. He became a translator for the shogunate (promoted to samurai status), traveled to Europe, visited his foster family in Massachusetts, and in the latter half of his life was appointed a professor at Tokyo Imperial University.