A Modern Utopia

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I had already discussed the question of race with the botanist at Lucerne.

“But you would not like,” he cried in horror, “your daughter to marry a Chinaman or a negro?”

“Of course,” said I, “when you say Chinaman, you think of a creature with a pigtail, long nails, and insanitary habits, and when you say negro you think of a filthy-headed, black creature in an old hat. You do this because your imagination is too feeble to disentangle the inherent qualities of a thing from its habitual associations.”

“Insult isn't argument,” said the botanist.

“Neither is unsound implication. You make a question of race into a question of unequal cultures. You would not like your daughter to marry the sort of negro who steals hens, but then you would also not like your daughter to marry a pure English hunchback with a squint, or a drunken cab tout of Norman blood. As a matter of fact, very few well-bred English girls do commit that sort of indiscretion. But you don't think it necessary to generalise against men of your own race because there are drunken cab touts, and why should you generalise against negroes? Because the proportion of undesirables is higher among negroes, that does not justify a sweeping condemnation. You may have to condemn most, but why all? There may be—neither of us knows enough to deny—negroes who are handsome, capable, courageous.”

“Ugh!” said the botanist.

“How detestable you must find Othello!”

It is my Utopia, and for a moment I could almost find it in my heart to spite the botanist by creating a modern Desdemona and her lover sooty black to the lips, there before our eyes. But I am not so sure of my case as that, and for the moment there shall come nothing more than a swart-faced, dusky Burmese woman in the dress of the Greater Rule, with her tall Englishman (as he might be on earth) at her side. That, however, is a digression from my conversation with the botanist.

“And the Chinaman?” said the botanist.

“I think we shall have all the buff and yellow peoples intermingling pretty freely.”

“Chinamen and white women, for example.”

“Yes,” I said, “you've got to swallow that, anyhow; you shall swallow that.”

He finds the idea too revolting for comment.

I try and make the thing seem easier for him. “Do try,” I said, “to grasp a Modern Utopian's conditions. The Chinaman will speak the same language as his wife—whatever her race may be—he will wear costume of the common civilised fashion, he will have much the same education as his European rival, read the same literature, bow to the same traditions. And you must remember a wife in Utopia is singularly not subject to her husband… .”

The botanist proclaims his invincible conclusion: “Everyone would cut her!”

“This is Utopia,” I said, and then sought once more to tranquillise his mind. “No doubt among the vulgar, coarse-minded people outside the Rule there may be something of the sort. Every earthly moral blockhead, a little educated, perhaps, is to be found in Utopia. You will, no doubt, find the ‘cut’ and the ‘boycott,’ and all those nice little devices by which dull people get a keen edge on life, in their place here, and their place here is somewhere―”

I turned a thumb earthward. “There!”

The botanist did not answer for a little while. Then he said, with some temper and great emphasis: “Well, I'm jolly glad anyhow that I'm not to be a permanent resident in this Utopia, if our daughters are to be married to Hottentots by regulation. I'm jolly glad.”

He turned his back on me.

Now did I say anything of the sort?…

I had to bring him, I suppose; there's no getting away from him in this life. But, as I have already observed, the happy ancients went to their Utopias without this sort of company.

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