Your Utopia, My Dystopia

On the 21st of July, I attended a DA event at UCT. While I am by no means a Democratic Alliance supporter, I do see their value and would much rather have DASO elected into the student council than any of the alternatives. During the questions and answers section of the event, a common criticism of the DA arose – the existence of Khayelitsha and its mar on the DA track record. Obviously, this criticism is ignorant and mere rhetoric – yet it still finds traction. Despite the ANC’s failure to address poverty throughout the country, it is still seen as a valid criticism that Khayelitsha exists within DA territory. This is a testament to how a desire for perfection is dangerous.

There are no perfect societies. There have never been any perfect societies. The first world is marred by problems – not as many as the developing world, but development should not be seen as a race to perfection, as we will never reach that point. Development is a lessening of problems, not an eradication. Nature is the only foundation we have to construct society, and nature isn’t perfect. We cannot hope to construct a perfect society on an imperfect foundation.

It is self-evident that it is unreasonable to demand perfection, especially from imperfect politicians and individuals. Yet why do we hold political parties to such a high degree? Many South Africans act as if an egalitarian South Africa is a button press away – and that the DA and ANC are purposefully not achieving it. This unreasonable sentiment has led to the common critique of the DA that townships exist under their jurisdiction.

To deal shortly with this accusation: it is not the DA’s fault that Khayelitsha exists and persists. Townships are naturally-occurring as a result of urbanisation. The huge influx of residents to Cape Town has made townships inevitable. If anyone can be blamed for this, it is the ANC’s bad policies and terrible service delivery incentivising South Africans to move.

When someone criticises, or even actively opposes the DA, for this phenomenon, they are ignorantly falling to ANC rhetoric or just acting on pure ignorance. The DA has lessened problems in the township and it is completely unreasonable to expect them to eradicate it completely.

Another common refrain leveled at the DA is the existence of what is called “Apartheid planning”. This is another ignorant criticism worthy of its own refutation article, but to be brief: individuals are demanding that the DA reverse decades and decades of state planning, and the phenomenon of spontaneous order, just to sate their social justice narrative. The old divides are lessening; areas are becoming more multi-racial. The DA should not be expected to rush this process, or risk acting in the same manner of the Apartheid regime.

It is an obsession with perfection that leaves people perpetually unsatisfied. Instead of observing incremental and stable growth, or working towards it themselves, they are doomed to unending pessimism. In the quest for utopia, they have doomed themselves to experience only dystopia.

Where the desire for perfection is particularly dangerous is when the eternally pessimistic try to enact their utopia – by force. Evil actions become permissible when working towards the ultimate good, and this results in the murder of innocents and the destruction of peaceful society. From minor inconveniences like protests, to genocides seen in the Holocaust, all comprise individuals trying to force a perfect society upon us.

Often these efforts are hijacked, but this is also a problem with the ideologies themselves. How can an imperfect belief, capable of being hijacked, ever become the basis of a perfect society? It cannot. And how can any human, intrinsically imperfect, construct the perfect society? We cannot.

To avoid being too charitable…

I have spent much of this article defending the DA and their efforts in Cape Town, but not to be too charitable, I must make a clarification. While wasting time and energy on pursuing the perfect world is impractical, it should not give an excuse to government or anyone to perform inadequately.

The DA does have problems, mostly in terms of policy, but it is important to criticise them correctly and not condemn them for not achieving the impossible. At the same time, however, it should not be excused for making daft policy decisions which do not adequately reflect reality. It must be held to a rational standard.

The ANC, too, needs to be held accountable and to an adequate standard. We must not demand that they deliver us to Canaan, but they need to at least fulfill the basic functions of government – something they are failing to do.

To avoid being too pessimistic…

Just because utopia is unachievable doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work towards some sort of goodness. The problem inherent in utopian movements is their stress on radical and sudden change. We know from construction that fast work is often shoddy and this is the case in creating lasting change as well. If we want a good future, and one that will last, we need to move towards it through incremental improvements. A decent foundation isn’t rushed, and long-lasting improvements need to be introduced over a period and not forced by arrogant movements presuming that they know best for all.

In essence, this article is hoping for rational and realistic change. Utopia is unachievable, but that doesn’t mean we can’t improve. What it means is that we need to be reasonable – not demanding too much, but holding government and ourselves accountable so that we do not stagnate. Ultimately, if we can achieve stable growth, we will eventually achieve wonders.

  • Altus Pienaar

    Well put Nicholas. I believe government should be allowed to only operate in the background creating incentives for change instead of forcing change.
    For instence; Affirmative action and BEE has done more harm than good while I believe a properly reviewed education system placing more emphases on developing skills rather than be purely academic might have taken longer to develop change but would have flooded the workplace with well skilled labor which in due time would trickle through into higher management. This would have taken 2 to 3 generations but in the end the quality of management could have been maintained and the existing workforce would still be employed in end.
    Today we are already 1 generation down the path of affirmative action and change can be seen for only a handful of people that simply took the place of mostly white managers who either emigrated or found themselves forced down instead of up the ladder or even worse became unemployed.