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An Ideal World

June 4, 2013

I often spend a lot of time thinking about dystopia’s, and what may go wrong in the future, but how about thinking a bit about what I would want for the future if things go well?

One of the reasons I don’t ask myself this question much is because it is ground trodden over so repeatedly, to the point where almost anything you say regarding it is a cliche. From the wish-fulfillment ideals of religious people, of a heaven where everything is good and put right that is wrong here on earth, to the ideals of an egalitarian and peaceful society. True, peace at least, is an ideal I esteem highly out of these ones. But even that can have its negative consequences that ripple through society like a butterfly effect. Changing not just what you wanted to change, but many other things also that you didn’t want to change. For some basic examples, the child who cannot feel pain, will chew off there fingers. An isolated society of birds on an island, lose the ability to fly and to feel fear, and become easy prey when humans come along, falling right into their laps to be cooked and eaten. In both cases, a seeming situation of peace, absence of pain, absence of enemies, had a ripple of consequences that ultimately causes the downfall of those involved.

So what positive ideal is left for me to suggest? Can I avoid the butterfly effect that undermines the practicality of many a seemingly good ideal, and can I avoid resorting to mere cliched wish-fulfillment?

I have always been inclined in my personal utopian visions towards the kind of utopia suggested by Plato in the Republic. A society where there is a harmony of interests between groups of people performing different tasks, such that there is no need for a disembodied consciousness to emerge and question it all. A society where people find their freedom, their joy and their self-expression to the extent that questions of utopias, and better societies never arise. People get suspicious of such visions now. Ever since Karl Popper’s rather reactionary criticism of Plato in the light of the world wars of the 20th century. A harmony of interests is seen as a threat to our individualism, to our ability to criticize, question and change our society. But I think this misses what Plato was trying to say. People do not criticize and question things in Plato’s utopia, because they are happy and content. Not just in an externally conformist sense of pretending to be happy for the sake of the social order, like in a totalitarian state. But in the internal sense of living it and feeling it.

Our current individualism is more a sign of ill health than anything at times. It is indicative of our personal alienation, and our need for escapist fantasies. Yes, we have the right to these fantasies at least, which is better than to not have them, or to have them oppressed by some totalitarian order needing to delude itself that people are happy with things as they are. But still, in an ideal society, we would express ourselves within it, and with our whole being. We would not need to withdraw ourselves from it to create fantasies. I think a few people are lucky enough to express themselves in this way in our current society, and I think for many of us we have our moments. But ideally we would live it much more often and much more naturally.

If I tried to map out in detail a society with a harmony of interests as did Plato, it would be impossible for me to avoid being influenced by my local prejudices and inclinations. And so inevitably most people would see my utopian vision as oppressive in some way. This is the same for us all. The human mind is simply not capable among the sheer numbers of people in our world to allow for them and allocate to them all a place that they can be happy with. It is not because we are just never happy and always want more. As a capitalist/materialist would like to put it. It is because we know better what we want for ourselves than others, because others are too far from our concerns, from our personal story and history to prescribe what is best for us. In a world of small communities as humanity had in the past, we could trust upon the wisdom of others to guide us through life pretty much, as the mind can comprehend small numbers. But in a global world as we have now, interconnected in so many ways over vast distances and numbers, the best guide for what we want among it all is ourselves. For we are the only one here and now to make those decisions and think them through properly.

This changes everything about our relationships with other people in a fundamental way. We cannot control other people with mental images of what should be, or comforting visions of what should and will be. Because no one, and rightfully so, is going to trust to another the decisions they are best placed to make for themselves. What is left for spirituality among a community of people is in an unassuming awareness of the need to maintain a harmony of interests. But it must come about of itself and naturally, it cannot be forced by the grandiose visions of one person’s mind telling us what is best for us. For no one is better placed to know what is best for us than we are ourselves.

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3 Comments
  1. “Our current individualism is more a sign of ill health than anything at times. It is indicative of our personal alienation, and our need for escapist fantasies.” I read this and came to a sort of realization about how true it is. I never really knew that I felt this way. Or if I did, I didn’t realize it. Thanks.

    • Thanks Megan, I am glad to have helped you to come to a realization there. Yes, it was a bit like that for me also when I was originally writing it down. We take individualism to be a sign of progress, and it can be this in some cases, such as having more freedom to organize our own lives and choose our own paths in life. But when we take individualism as a belief about human nature and adopt a whole world view based on it, it can become more like a prison, limiting our self expression in the ways mentioned in the quote you took from the post.

  2. To thine own self be true. One’s own feelings, owned thoughts should be free for self expression, no matter who you are with or where you are. Coming from different walks through life, everbody is different and when the world comes to accept and respect the multitude of differences among us, then there will be peace.

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