Beware Utopia

Many authors have created their own utopias, but they rarely lead to happy endings. Eden Olympia is a gated housing development in J.G. Ballard’s Super-Cannes. Eden-Olympia; is Europe’s ultra-sophisticated answer to Silicon Valley, in the hills above the French Riviera. Sterile architecture, high fences, gates and security cameras surround its citizens in apparent safety, the only sounds are the whispers of sprinklers on lawns and the effortless combustion of computer-navigated German sports saloons. This world only provides a bright, glossy veneer.

As James Hillman warns us ‘A city without shadow becomes all shadow.’ In aiming for the shallow perfection that these developments can offer, we may actually be creating monsters.

The gated world that Ballard describes is devoid of human emotion, and that deficiency becomes fatal. As the story develops, it seems quite logical that the one upright citizen in Eden Olympia should be a mass murderer; and other professionals seek violence in nearby towns. Morality has disappeared, so has sanity and all that’s left is a brand of institutionalised madness.

‘Adolf Hitlers and Pol Pots of the future won’t walk out of the desert. They’ll emerge from shopping malls and corporate business parks . . .At times I look around the executive housing estates of the Thames Valley and feel that it is already here, quietly waiting its day, and largely unknown to itself. … I suspect that (as I pointed out in Super-Cannes) the human race will inevitably move like a sleepwalker towards that vast resource it has hesitated to tap – its own psychopathy. This adventure playground of the soul is waiting for us with its gates wide open and admission is free. In short, an elective psychopathy will come to our aid (as it has done many times in the past) – Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, all those willed nightmares that make up much of human history. As Wilder Penrose points out in Super-Cannes, the future will be a huge Darwinian struggle between competing psychopathies.’  (Ballard 2008)

In the South East of the UK, gated developments have become more common than ever before. Ironically, some been created out of defunct institutions for the mentally ill; like Claybury, in Essex and Shenley, in Hertfordshire. A change in mental health care policy provided developers with the opportunity to utilise reliable old walls and large open spaces, with iron fenced perimeters.

There is currently high demand for gates, fences and seclusion. Fear of crime is high and we want to protect our children from the world. Yet we stand to lose, as much as gain; and can we ever be sure about those locked up inside with us.