Friday, December 31, 2010

UTOPIA IV THE CULT OF PERSONALITY

As I have looked into ideas of Utopia for my fourth novel (of the four I am working on), I realize that writing is utopian by its very nature. We are writing about things that have not yet and may never come to pass. Some writers have absolute control over their material and others seem to just let it range out there a little. A writer writes and perhaps that is as far as it should go. In our work we can give our thoughts the kind of freedom our actions can never have. It is only when we try to put into practice some of the things we have thought that the trouble begins.

Louisa May Alcott (‘Little Women’) was the daughter of transcendentalists who tried to put their theories into practice. The results were not disastrous, at least, but they were disappointing. She summed it up with words to this effect: “Great thinkers tend not to make great farmers.” And, since most utopian efforts are agriculture based, (and often led by great thinkers), you can see the problem.

We here have set our utopian efforts to agriculture as well, on a small scale. (One acre). On a morning like this while I was out shoveling snow and working in the greenhouse and bringing in firewood, I began to wonder if I would ever get to my writing. (The snow does pile up here in Colorado at times – it took three hours just to move it). Of course while you are shoveling snow all morning you can let your mind convince yourself that you are the leader of some great utopian enterprise if you want, but the reality is somewhat grittier than that. And for a writer to be shoveling snow, well, it’s just unseemly. But I guess Robert Frost owned a working farm and if it was good enough for him, who am I to complain? Besides, if we run into economic bad times in this country – as we certainly might - at least we’ll know where our food is coming from.

Utopia is normally considered unattainable and perhaps that is true unless we stick to a micro-utopia like ours and leave it at that. I would like to think ours is the mustard seed of the New Testament Church as it will one day be, but even that may simply be grandiose thinking. Utopia cannot be completely lived out as long as it is wrapped in a society that remains organized around other principles. (With a nod to Karl Mannheim ‘Ideology and Utopia’ 1929). The dominant wish prevails. Or, in the words of Meister Eckhart, “Nothing so much hinders the soul from knowing God as time and space.” Since Utopia in reality is fixed in time and space, we are hindered from other-worldly results. Of course no one would love it more than I if the true Christian ideals of love as taught in the Sermon On The Mount would suddenly burst into existence and that love of one another would become a reality at last, but I think I will have to continue to be patient for that day.

In the work of Utopia we must choose what to remake and what to leave as it is. To tear down without a plan of rebuilding is simple destruction. Yet many a charismatic leader has led followers into destruction. (I am thinking specifically of cult leaders on the order of Jim Jones). The charismatic leader can be temperamental and self-seeking. No, I know the vision must lie with the people themselves if anything is ever going to change. I know that change must be implemented nonviolently. Only in that way can we avoid the pitfalls of violence and destruction.

But I leave this subject with a bitter-sweet meditation, again from Louisa May Alcott: “They said many wise things and did many foolish things.”
For those of us who attempt to step outside the norms of society: Beware.

Have a Happy New Year

Jim

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