Say we have a rich, rich society, where due to scientific advances, a generous socialist-bent government willing to tax the rich at 75% and patriotic citizens mysteriously willing to pay said taxes, it becomes possible to genetically modify the entire next generation to predispose them towards being kind, good-looking and frighteningly intelligent.

I'm not saying violence would be eradicated once the natural generations die out, but rather (at least according to the pre-implementation vision of the planners) it might be reduced to maybe 1% of its previous level; while most people would be able to eat ice-cream all day (if for some reason they wanted to) and yet maintain a slender, healthy figure; and in terms of intelligence, the average 10 year old would be able to pass our current university exams with ease (not that they would be interested in our silly quaint ways of trying to teach, of course).

I'm trying to think of why such a world would actually be a nightmarish dystopia. Perhaps a society needs all sorts to work, and without mean people, or less-smart it would collapse into a crap-sack world in quick order?

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    $\begingroup$ People forget sadness and the concept of "societal problem.". Without sadness, they lose the ability to write Dystopia stories. And that makes everyone sad. The End. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 11:54
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    $\begingroup$ More seriously, being kind and smart makes conflict of all types hard. Your protagonists would literally explain the situation, and both society and the antagonists would fix it and apologize. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 11:57
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps you should read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley to see how a "Dystopia of nice" could be formed. $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 15:16
  • $\begingroup$ I did read BNW, it's not what my question is asking, tho. BNW has genetically dumbed down and drugged lower classes for working drones. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 15:22
  • $\begingroup$ If everyone becomes mother Teresa how to make baby? all good looking where is the standard deviation? no stupidity where's the fun? Synergy is the foundation of a successful empire while loose canon bring down the entire civilization. $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 16:27

11 Answers 11


The meat of your problem is this:

You assume your approach on how to achieve a Utopian society will work and then ask why a Utopian society would be bad. The problem is not that Utopian societies are bad, it is in your assumptions that your prescriptions will achieve a Utopian society.

In a manner you are saying assume my story has no problems, then what do I use as a problem?

If you're looking for the dramatic tension in a story, then I'd look at approaching it like this:

  1. Society is told that if they cooperate, Utopia (as you've described) can be achieved.
  2. Society cooperates.
  3. Nothing works as advertised.

Alternatively (and as @Tim B. said), assume that your Utopian society delivers everything that it promised. What unsuspected problems arise from the situation you describe?

What might the "enlightened" new generations do to the "barbaric" natural generations to accelerate the transition to the new society?

What might the "enlightened" society do to individuals who do not wish to participate in your Utopia? Previous attempts to create Utopian societies have resorted to mass executions of tens of millions of their own citizens to purge their ranks of the unpure or those who did not wish to participate in their leader's ideas of Utopia.

One of the biggest lessons of history shows that if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is.


You've set a very hard problem here, since as described it society will be rather Utopian.

You're going to need to look for cracks or edge cases. For example perhaps people who are not enhanced might be looked down on, treated like pets or sub-human. Look at the film Gattaca for an excellent treatment of this concept.

Alternatively someone may decide that perfect happiness means that no-one is allowed to be hurt or sad ever. Any hint of unhappiness gets you dragged in for "a talk" with nice people with drugs and therapists who don't let you go until all the sadness is gone.

You can see how that could be Dystopian, and could become very oppressive. There are all sorts of other takes on this theme you might tackle as well. Basically the "bad guys" are doing this for your own good, whether you want it or not!


A possible issue with this type of society could be apathy and boredom. A society where all problems are solved or easily solvable can result on the loss of some of the main driving forces in human behaviour, be it ambition, curiosity, etc. This could degenerate in a situation where many humans could gradually lose the will to live or act, living just by inertia, and producing a huge raise in the number of suicides. The Matrix universe explores this concept in the paradise matrix.

  • $\begingroup$ If people are bored they will probably build some distraction. Since the creators of the distractions are also geniuses, it will be possible to actually entertain other geniuses, and avoid boredom. $\endgroup$
    – Kolaru
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 17:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Kolaru Boredom would be only a part of the problem. Sure, such a society would be able to produce entertainment of enough quality to stall ennui for generations, but in the scenario I propose the true problem would be the lack of purpose and motivation derived from a life where every problem is already solved and all needs are easily covered (entertainment being one of these needs). $\endgroup$
    – MACN
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 19:03
  • $\begingroup$ I do not get why the lack of "problems" (sickness, war, hunger, poverty, etc.) would result in apathy. Lot of people (I am one of them) do not dedicate their life to tackling such problem and do not live in boredom. In particular the ambition to prove better than the other has no reason to disappear. And for me there is also a contradiction in your scenario : if apathy is a problem, then it becomes a challenge to solve it, so all problems are not easily solved. In the contrary, if the problem of apathy is solved, then you have no problem. $\endgroup$
    – Kolaru
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 20:41

Kind, Intelligent, and Good looking people a Utopia does not make.

Whose definition of kindness, intelligence, and beauty do you go by? This can cause divisions. What if mildly obese people become the new ideal, such as in the european Renaissance? What if brown hair is more valued than red or blond? If albinisim beautiful, or a defect to be engineered out?

What about "the no-right-answer" situations? Consider some of the following: Is it kinder to make comfortable the terminally ill, or simply end their suffering now, especially if the sufferer wants to die? Are liberal arts or sciences better than the other, and therefore more important to invest resources in? Do we invest in nuclear or renewable energies? If we did invade Syria, which rebel group would you place as the head of the government? Do you give the homeless man some money now, presumably for food, or do you merely point him to a shelter where he can be "reformed" or convalesce? (You may be surprised about the controversies in these, so even if you stand firmly on one side, you will easily find people to oppose you!)

What about specialization? If an office worker is as smart as a doctor, but the doctor gets paid more, why would you not be a doctor? Okay, kindness may make someone initially say "I'll be the office worker so society can live" but even kind people can only take so much of that. So the office worker gets paid as much as doctor, but then a new problem arises. If being an office worker requires much less effort, then why bother being a doctor? Wait, then no one wants to be a doctor. What about the business that employs these high-priced office workers? I'm afraid not everyone can be paid like a doctor for different tasks. Kind acts now may lead to situations of great discontent later.

I suppose the point is that these attributes solve a lot of problems, but come with a host of their own! Besides, very few conflicts need to be about or solved by violence. The troubles of everyday life can be an entertaining on their own.


You will probably need to dig at the phrase "kind, good-looking and frighteningly intelligent" a bit more and dig out the behaviors underneath that you wish to explore. All of these terms are relative terms, so you could have interesting challenges as they normalize for this new society.

One thing to consider is that not every entity in the world is receiving this special genetic treatment. Nature is still nature. If aliens exist, they are unaffected. These could provide new forms of conflict.

Related to the future, meaning of life questions are notoriously difficult to work through intellectually. If one has an idle intellect and decides to tackle the meaning of life, tremendous disagreement can rise up, challenging kindness.

If kindness prevails, the only room for continued discussion is the future. everyone would be fanatically obsessed with the distant future. If everyone is just getting along chummily back home, and there is an entire intellect sitting idle in your brain, it would be natural to try to apply it to the future. Solving world hunger in 40 years would be a neat trick, but how about trying to maintain stability over 4000 years, or dealing with the death of the sun in 4000000000 years? Proton decay? Nasty problem when you're dealing with meaning of life questions.

  • $\begingroup$ Good points. Larry Niven explores this when his UN ARM disarms & pacifies the world. Human worlds are then attacked by a highly aggressive species that doesn't believe in living peacefully. $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 0:31

The cynic in me suggests that humans will autorange their predjudices to fit the minimum and maximum variation, even if that minimum and maximum is very close together.

Or, to put it another way, if you eliminate all the big differences between people, then the small differences become relatively more important.

So you might end up with massive discrimination against people with wavy hair. You might find that the political spectrum is polarised between the raving right wingers who advocate helping the (very slightly) less well off in MOST circumstances, vs the hippy left loons who advocate helping the (very slightly) less well off in NEARLY ALL circumstances.

As a slightly related example, see how the anti-vaccine movement is often driven by statistically very unlikely side-effects now that the real risk of dropping dead or being horribly paralyzed by actually getting the disease has been reduced to the point that side-effects are a larger relative threat.


There are three obvious approaches to me

1) underclass forms. Maybe they can't afford to genetically engineer everyone, and those that are not engineered become an underclass, a slave race of folks that can not stand to compete against the super geniuses. Their life would suck, plan and simple.

2) genetic mind control. The government is already engineering you, why not toss in some other tweaks. Maybe everyone is now genetically predisposed to following authority figures like the government. Everyone is predisposed to being a bit too happy about paying taxes. Basically they have messed with your disposition to get you to behave the way the government wants, no matter what.

3) disease Armageddon. Variance in genes is important because it provides adaptation potential. If everyone has the same genes from engineering they may find they lack the ability to adapt, and suddenly a disease ravages them because they engineered away all the genetic difference.


Say we have a rich, rich society, where due to scientific advances, a generous socialist-bent government willing to tax the rich at 75% and patriotic citizens mysteriously willing to pay said taxes, it becomes possible to genetically modify the entire next generation to predispose them towards being kind, good-looking and frighteningly intelligent.


How is this achieved? We can look at the opposites of kindness for an answer:

  • Aggression
  • Selfishness and self-interest
  • Lack of empathy

So, in order to genetically create kind people, we'd need to counteract the above traits by increasing the following:

  • Passivity
  • Selflessness
  • Empathy

Now you have a situation where one current generation that tends to think more heavily about the needs of others than the baseline person.

But you still have the baseline progenitors, and the 1% or less of the population where the modifications didn't take. These people, who are more self-serving, would have a whole generation of super-intelligent pushovers to manipulate and coerce to do their bidding.


Attractiveness can be subjective, but some research suggests facial beauty, for instance, can be determined by how closely a face lies to the average of faces (composite images) an individual sees, and how symmetrical that face is.

What baseline humans would determine to be ideal beauty would not necessarily be what the altered generation would see as beauty. As they are all going to look more like one another, the minute differences will stand out more. (Related to this is the controversial Cross-race effect). Since our minds are powerful pieces of facial-recognition software, those differences may not even be noticed consciously.

I could see this have multiple consequences:

  • The perfect ideal is upheld more, and even extremely minute variation from the standard is seen is subpar. Since these people are kind, they're not likely to bully or tease, but I think some ostracization could be inevitable. Perhaps it's more kind to keep the sub-optimals with eachother, so they aren't constantly reminded of their genetic failure.
  • Fetishes could develop around the idea of deviation from the norm, with the possibility of body modification becoming a wide trend. (See the Scuttler's from Revelation Space for an example of an extremely, intentionally asymmetrical species.)
  • The new generation, depending on their exposure to the previous generation, may have issues seeing their parents as being of the same people or society, because they're so physically different.
  • How are peoples with abnormalities handled? Surgery? Euthanasia? Shunning? How do the physically abnormal individuals handle their difference?

Frighteningly intelligent

You can bet that baseline people will be frightened by children so intelligent. Baseline people will be forced to confront their own weaknesses, obsolescence, ugliness, and so. People won't be happy, especially since this was a government decision, not a unanimous decision of the entire population.

There's going to be some conflict there. Baselines are going to want to have some control over these super-people.

Even aside from fear and control, you may run into social issues with the baseline people. For example, in Childhood's End, people were free to pursue arts and leisure when the Overlords took over running the planet. However, many were emotionally discontent and unsatisfied. In your scenario, the intelligent generation would essentially become the Overlords.

For some baseline people, pursuing those interests may not be satisfying, so the geniuses may have to create some Good Work style fake jobs to keep people busy.


The problem with trying to create an ideal society in the immediately proceeding generation is that the ideals of the new society will not be the same as those of the parent generation. They will have been given the power of extreme intelligence and health (and probably longevity), and thus the ability to start creating a society that they deem is ideal.

You're also going to have to deal with the problem of how the parents are going to be dealt with. In less than two decades their generation will most likely become entirely obsolete, but still requiring an inordinate amount of resources and care. How are disagreements about handling them going to be resolved?

Then there's the possibility of all of the genetic modifications not working 100%, and you end up with frighteningly intelligent, good-looking unkind person that may want to rule the world, using everyone else as unwitting pawns. That outlier, to me, is extremely intriguing, especially if there's the possibility of them being even more intelligent than the new average. How would anyone else even know he was running things behind the scene?


Intelligence has little to do with morality. There will always be the immoral who seek to elevate themselves above others, and they will surely act similarly in such a world. If not intelligence, then the particular shade of hair color, eye color, or some other little detail will come out as "an effective metric of superiority", to which those who are compliant to or benefit from will adhere and promote. If they happen to be in the media, we already know how they'll act...

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    $\begingroup$ In this question people don't only become intelligent, but kind. Please read carefully :) $\endgroup$
    – Tyrabel
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 17:54

With only minor modifications, H.G. Wells covered this in his 1895 story, The Time Machine

The Time Traveller stops in A.D. 802,701, where he meets the Eloi, a society of small, elegant, childlike adults. They live in small communities within large and futuristic yet slowly deteriorating buildings, and having a fruit-based diet. His efforts to communicate with them are hampered by their lack of curiosity or discipline.


The problem is of course the 1% violent people that you talk about. These become the Morlocks.

Later in the dark, he is approached menacingly by the Morlocks, ape-like troglodytes who live in darkness underground and surface only at night. Exploring one of many "wells" that lead to the Morlocks' dwellings, he discovers the machinery and industry that makes the above-ground paradise of the Eloi possible.



Well, the basic problem with your premise is that socialism is based on violence and coercion and fosters a political class that maintains its hold on power by making people dependent on the state for their livelihoods while constantly fostering mutual antagonism such that people fear their neighbors more than the state.

Socialism requires a unequal concentration of political power in the hands of a few who in turn control a force monopoly so that those who are more productive than the norm can be coerced into supporting those who not as productive. So, if your society designers set out to eliminate the capacity for violence in the population you can't have a socialist system by definition.

Without the capacity for violence, you'd actually end up up with some kind of anarchist-libertarian society in which no individual or group could coerce another to do anything. All interactions would be voluntary and negotiated. Government, as it exist solely to manage violence, would simply "wither away" as one theorist once put it in his own flawed theory.

(Frankly, a lot of people would consider a world already a dystopia if they couldn't violently coerce others for the "common good". But I digress.)

But assuming the societies designers understood that no violence means no state and no coercive redistribution, they could try to ensure that a everyone got cared for in a non-violent society by engineering out sociopaths and then engineering the rest of the population to have high levels of empathy. With high empathy, one person experiences the pain of another and if confronted by a person in need, they experience that person's pain of want and give the other whatever they just to stop their own empathic pain.

(Of course, you have the classic problem of the "in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king problem. If even a tiny minority could commit violence or lacked significant empathy, they could forcibly dominate the rest. There are several classic science fiction stories based on that premiss. We'll skip over that trope.)

But lets say your designers were careful did engineer an entire society of non-violent empaths who automatically and non violent redistributed the material wealth thye personally created automatically such that no one would go wanting. Well, it would likely be pretty nice...

For a while.

But if you did have automatic empathy based redistribution to make everyone at least materially equal, how would the society be able to build up surpluses resources to build new things?

For someone to have a have a house, someone must create and possess the resources required to build the house but forgo immediately consuming those resources. But if such individuals are such super empaths that they cannot withhold any surplus resources from others who have even a little less than they do, then all resources will be redistributed and consumed immediately and usable surpluses will ever accumulate.

In such a world, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniack would never find the capital (surplus resources) to create new computers and if even if they did, they would never be able to hold back their first dollar of profits and all subsequent profits to build a company to make more computers. There would be no innovation, no creativity nothing new would ever get made.

For that matter, could the society stockpile even enough resources to ensure the repair and maintenance of existing resources?

I would say that your sunshine and puppies utopia society would turn into a dystopia as it first stagnated and then began to material fall apart.

The material standard of living would simply continuously decline. Thanks to redistribution, everyone would grow material more poor equally, but a society that landed in starships would find itself at a struggling preindustrial level in just a a few generations. People who try has hard as possible to mitigate the suffering of others but people would suffer and die horribly from disease, accident, natural disaster and eventually simple want.

For the super empaths, all the death and suffering would be horrific torture. Especially if they understood that for some reason, their ancestors did not have to suffer so. They'd feel the suffering of others as their own, watch children die in agony and and feel like they themselves were dying. They suffer that torment with every death and yet not be able to stop themselves to continuing the cycle of spreading out the declining resources thinner and thinner over fewer and fewer survivors.

At some point, they'd be faced with the choice of withholding the seed corn and letting some starve now so that the survivors could plant the next crop in the spring.

But their programming would not allow them to not feed the starving right before them. So, they'd eat their seed corn and in the next year, they could not plant any more crops and all their food would run out. They would kill everyone by sharing out the food equally such no one received enough to survive and everyone would would starve equally to death.

And the last super empath would feel it all, perhaps spending his final moments vainly trying to push the last crust of bread between the lips of a child whom the empath is to delirious to understand is already dead. His last thought as he tips over himself into the dust would be, "everyone was so smart, pretty and caring, why did we all die?"

A society of pretty, super caring geniuses who turn their entire world into a robotic extermination camp. Sounds like a pretty horrible dystopia to me.


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