“Beware of sentimental alliances where the consciousness of good deeds is the only compensation for noble sacrifices.” (Otto von Bismarck )
The late antiquity philosopher Plotinus suggested that by means of reason we can intellectually transcend the confines of our body and attain a blissful vision of the perfect places that exist at higher levels of consciousness. St. Augustine saw the city of God in the heavenly New Jerusalem that would surely be more eternal than the Eternal City. Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England and venerated Saint, actually coined the term utopia as a double entendre on the Greek words for no place and best place. Though he lost his head to the Tudor King Henry, his idea that our most desirable place is both a fiction we project on the world and a truth that we create within it could not be so easily departed. He told his tale through a voyager named Raphael Hythloday, meaning speaker of nonsense, recently returned from the imaginary island country. In utopia there is no want or strife or tyranny as there is everywhere else in the world of Man.
More adeptly constructs a dizzying communal political system that foreshadows Karl Marx, a peaceful farming collective that employs an army of intrepid mercenaries to destroy foreign aggressors and even rewrites the conventions of husbandry as to require the betrothed to first see each other au naturel before the vows are read much in the same way one would check the teeth of a nag to determine its proper age. Though Utopia reads a bit like a dungeons and dragons manual where the description of the troll haute couture is a bit excessive, Saint Thomas introduces a game changing idea in the suggestion that pagans are readily accepted but atheists are not for they do not believe that living a virtuous life will bring them rewards or punishments after death. Ironically More, who condemned many heretics in his role as privy counselor, was judged to be one himself when he refused to sign an oath declaring the King to be the new Head of the Church of England as well.
Utopia represents our own growth in the context of our variegated communities and the itinerant world at large. We find our ideal place both inside and out with the integration of our three selves: The Individual Self as person, the Communal Self as member of social and cultural groups and the Universal Self as unwitting or mindful part of larger and cosmic forces. In this interplay we are both actors and acted upon. We not only integrate the three within ourselves but do so for others as well. Utopia requires a collective symbiosis with each of us drawing sustenance and meaning from the other. It requires shared beliefs that transcend exclusionary differences of type and degree to produce communities that provide higher sources of energy and produce greater opportunities for growth to all participants. This is why like attracts like, not because of some magnetic covenant but rather from the many roads we travel together on the way to some mutually desired destination.
Our aspirations signify how we are connected in meaningful ways and are signified by how we act upon them together. Utopia or dystopia, we participate in the making of our own heaven or hell on earth but do not possess the singular ability to construct either in its entirety. For example, it would be unconscionable to suggest that a starving child in Sub-Saharan Africa chose their fate but reasonable to propound that caring relatives and resource rich benefactors could provide some remedies. What is missing is the sense of connection and shared responsibility. This is why Sir Thomas railed against atheists. It wasn’t that they didn’t believe in the right deity or in the right way, it was that he thought they didn’t believe in anything greater than themselves. While More’s depiction of atheists is unfair and untrue, many of our greatest humanitarians are nonbelievers, his concern about the greater good remains. He might well have pointed out that many who walk among us are driven only by their base needs and only slightly better those that adhere closely to accepted convention and dogma. There is no growth without variation. There is no variation without others who are growing. The transformative force not only provides the constructive deviance by which we are remade but contributes these same generative energies to others seeking to grow. Utopia is nowhere without more of us.
Integrate the levels of growth with others to create something greater.
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