Why Europeans Needed to Maintain a “Utopian” Image of Pacific Islands During the Enlightenment

Map of islands and their locations in the Paci...

Map of islands and their locations in the Pacific Ocean (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to Outram, Europeans during the Enlightenment needed to maintain a “utopian” image of Pacific Island culture. Why was this? What were the contributing influences?

Europeans maintained a “utopian” image of Pacific Island culture where inhabitants lived in simple societies with no great distinctions of wealth or social class, and lead peaceful, natural, pure lives outside of intrusive governments (Outram 51). They needed to maintain this image in order to believe that life like that was possible as they themselves struggled against growing inequalities and restrictive governments. Since few Europeans actually travelled to the Pacific Islands, the Pacific could be whatever they wanted it to be in their imaginations.

This way of thinking reminds me of the way that many immigrants think of America. They view that money in America grows on trees and that living here means that everyone here lives an idyllic life. Likewise, many Americans themselves view Los Angeles/Southern California or New York City in much the same way. This way of thinking is really more about the society they currently live in than the realities of the society they want or dream about living in. Many people who come to America believe they will have a better life here even though they have never been here (and know little about it in reality). As a result, the thinking is entirely based on the things in their own society that they do not like, rather than the realities of life in the new society.

Outram, D. The Enlightenment. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University. 2005. Print.

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