Utopias and maltopias

When I am waiting for planes or in doctors or dentists offices with internet I often go to the LinkedIn site and scroll through all the names that are suggested.  It is a bit of a trip down memory lane as the algorithm digs deep into my past and finds people I haven’t seen in decades. Sometimes I sent of a whole slew of contact requests, just for the fun of it.

One woman, who I had met when I was still active in the Company of Friends circle of Boston, decades ago, accepted my contact request. I didn’t even know her that well. Her accepting my invite led to a series of email exchanges culminating in lunch at a restaurant near my work place in Medford on May 18.

I learned that she was a child of China’s Cultural Revolution. She told me how she was forced to do criticize her parents (scientists) and complete obedience to the system.  Now, all these years later, deep into her adulthood, she is still battling the remnants of this brainwashing.  She got a degree in Astro-Physics from one of the world’s most famous universities. But the stars are not the object of her seeking these days. She studies people and this is what we talked about.

Here, in front of me, was yet another victim of a large scale social experiment that went south. I have read inside stories from the Khmer Rouge experiment, and, on my way home from Holland, finished a book (Pauper Paradijs) of a social experiment done with good intentions but going completely off the track in Holland in the 19th century.  By putting poor people, drifters and others not fitting in, in a colony up north in what was called the Dutch Siberia. The experiment lasted a few generations and did terrible damage to people whose great-grandchildren are now trying to unravel the story of their ancestors; all in the hope of abolishing once and for good poverty.

This story, or rather piece of his-tory, belongs into the collection of ‘Social Experiments Gone awry on a Large Scale,’ where it lives with the Cultural Revolution, Hitler’s racial improvement experiments, ISIL’s religious experiment, the Khmer Rouge’s return to the land experiment and many others.  Utopias turned Maltopias.

The causal reasoning about how life works, how poverty and economic growth happens that led the architects of these plans so hopelessly astray, is alive and well in the run-up to our presidential elections. Aside from our capacity to harm each other with intent, we may have an even bigger capacity to harm each other with the best of intentions.

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