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Saturday, October 29, 2005

"The Loss of Utopia"

Here is a terrible essay from someone writing in the Guardian. Supposedly explaining why "Muslims hate us" he only manages to get round to that in a glancing way at the end. The rest is a weak critique of liberal democracy and the evil consumerist society we live in. The article is titled "The Loss of Utopia" and begins with
It is the lack of idealism and complacency of the west that is viewed with repugnance
But we'll get to that later.

Ever since Plato, western thinkers have dreamed of ideal societies, utopias that could perhaps never be fully realised, but which at least gave us something to aspire to - noble, beautiful visions of what society might one day be like. Thomas More, Tommaso Campanella, Francis Bacon and Karl Marx all painted pictures of a future in which there is a strong sense of community, in which work is fulfilling and leisure is used wisely and creatively. Now, at the dawn of the 21st century, this long tradition of idealism has all but vanished. We have no vision - just the paltry consolations of consumerism.
What a load of toss. Utopia cannot of course be realised, utopia always exists in the future since always what we have now is flawed. It is the search for perfection that never ends. Religions place it after death, which is at least more realistic. These other guys place it at some unspecified point in the future. Look around today and think about what this would look like to a serf in medieval Europe. No king demanding all your crop in tax, no local baron demanding his cut, no suddenly being taken from your home to go fight the king next door, no subsistence farming threatening death every winter... This would be utopia to them. By comparison this supposed consumerist hellhole is just terrible, never mind that it is each individual that decides what they buy or do. The government are such bastards when they make us go out and buy a new stereo every couple of years, or a new car when the old one is still working. Oh wait, they don't. But who can resist all that advertising from the evil corporations? Well, a lot of people actually. Of course a utopia can't be a place where people make up their own minds, now can it? No it obviously is a place where someone decides what level of consumption is "right". But why strive after these supposed utopias? They are all built on ideas of people who had no idea about how the world would be when communications were vast and fast, where information is available from everywhere on the planet and we can travel to every corner of the planet. Their utopias are built round extending the idea of their ideal local community up to a level involving millions of people, and that just does not work. It is why socialists cannot deal with a free market and did not predict the freedoms that come with it. Who would live in these utopias anyway? All those derived from Marxism turn into totalitarian hells that murdered untold millions of their own, the Platonic republic would have been another totalitarian hell. Why do we want to go there for the supposed reward of their ideal community? These supposed wisemen construct their futuristic paradises but in the process ignore human aspirations to something else. Ask a Marxist why all these socialist states never managed to achieve the ideal communist state, they will never answer that it is in fact impossible, that too much of human nature is neglected. Why else was there the push to create the ideal socialist man, or the ideal Nazi man? Because the utopia could not exist with people being who they are, people had to be redesigned to bring about the utopia. Of course it failed. Give me consumerism any day thanks.
Sixteen years ago Francis Fukuyama saw the collapse of the Soviet bloc as "the end of history". What he meant was that liberal democracy had emerged triumphant over all alternative forms of human government.
And Fukuyama was a fool. How can history possibly end, except by the achievement of these impossible utopias? Anyway, the Soviet Union collapsed, but look around at that time, more than half the world still lived under totalitarianism of the socialist or despotic religious kind. Liberal democracy did not emerge triumphant, it won a single struggle in Europe. It is not at all obvious that it will survive, in fact there was no guarantee it would have always defeated the Soviet Union in the peaceful manner it did.
But if idealism without a dose of reality is simply naive, realism without a dash of imagination is utterly depressing. If this really was the end of history, it would be an awful anticlimax. Look at the way we live now, in the west. We grow up in increasingly fragmented communities, hardly speaking to the people next door, and drive to work in our self-contained cars. We work in standardised offices and stop at the supermarket on our way home to buy production-line food which we eat without relish. There is no great misery, no hunger, and no war. But nor is there great passion or joy. Despite our historically unprecedented wealth, more people than ever before suffer from depression.
I like this paragraph, it is wonderfully stupid. "Idealism without reality is simply naive", in some cases yes but in other cases, the more important ones idealism without reality is a nightmare that kills millions of people. "Realism without imagination is depressing", again yes, if the reality is depressing and your imagination is vivid. On the other hand if reality is pretty OK then why be depressed? Again with the end of history thing, maybe this is an anticlimax for the author if history were to end. However, the whole "end of history" thing was a joke as soon as it was uttered, simply naive really. History does not end as is perfectly obvious. Then he starts in with the litany against fragmented communities, which is rubbish. He pines after the village life where everyone knows everyone and rails against the city where no one knows their neighbours. It is a strawman, people living in cities or in these supposed fragmented communities still know many other people... they just don't happen to live next door to them. Of course it is nice to know your neighbours, if they are nice to know, especially when someone needs help. But it isn't a fault of Western society, writers have been railing against city life since the first cities began to grow. Anyway, he can always move to a village where people do know each other intimately. But there are just as many people who hate that and move to the city to live the life he hates. Or move to the suburbs, but then he'd have to drive to work. Oh it is so hard to be a utopian! Driving to work in self-contained cars, as opposed to non-self-contained cars maybe? Big deal, would he be upset about taking a self-contained horse to work maybe? Or should we all take the bus? Look around on the bus, strangers aren't mad keen on starting up conversations and people hate being squeezed into those things. Supermarkets! My god! How can one go to the local supermarket and not see the vast range of foods available, from "production line" to specialty products, imported foods and so on. I remember the supermarkets as a kid in the 70s and 80s, they were pitiful in comparison to now. Anyway, there is nothing stopping him taking his self-contained car to market gardens, boutique shops and so on, is there? Or is he really, as is so common among this type, just upset that people choose convenience on the way home from work in those standardised offices. Of course all this gives us is no great misery, no hunger and no war. Well boo fucking hoo. Managing all that without ruling over peoples lives is pretty good if you ask me, but no it's making everyone depressed. Or not, because really how many people admitted to or were diagnosed as depressed in all those earlier times? It's a weak attempt at the canard of money can't buy happiness... except of course it goes a long way towards it when you're not starving or working yourself to an early grave trying to keep the potato field growing.
The major political parties are reduced to tinkering with the details of our current system. Their only objective seems to be: more of the same, only perhaps a little bit more cheaply. They have no grand vision.
Well, if it ain't broke don't fix it. Obviously improvements can be made, but what grand vision does he want? Most politicians with grand visions end up killing their countrymen or running the country into the ground, requiring yet another grand vision. When more of the same means not messing with the bits that work better than anything else, then tinkering is just fine.
It is this complacency, this lack of idealism, that is in part responsible for the repugnance with which Muslim extremists view western society. When George Bush speaks of exporting democracy to the Middle East, he should realise that liberal democracy on its own is a limp, anaemic idea. If the west is to provide a more inspiring ideal, then it is time we devoted more thought to the questions that Plato, More and Marx placed at the heart their utopias; the question of how to make work more rewarding, leisure more abundant, and communities more friendly.
Bzzzt, complete and utter BS. It is not the complacency or lack of idealism. It is the wrong sort of idealism. An idealism that is the wrong religion, or no religion, a tolerant society that allows women to go about as freely as their brothers, a financial system run by Joos (supposedly) and an infinitely freer place for evil people like gays. Liberal democracy isn't weak and anaemic, it just isn't the sort of thing to inspire the flame of jihad. Why on Earth would murderous Islamic terrorists be more disposed to us if we subscribed to some other extreme idealism? The only idealism they'd respect would be one they could bend into agreement with theirs, with strict Sharia-like laws, regular beatings for gays and so on. Do you not wonder why the radical Islamic factions of the early 20th century were so mad keen on allying with Hitler and now look to the other extreme strains of socialism? If we all talked to our neighbours and had all this supposed leisure time we lack now, do you imagine for one second they'd still not demand the destruction of the West?

Like so many other of his ilk, the author imagines that some fiery idealism is going to pave the way to this friendly, leisurely society that simultaneously makes peace with terrorists bent on its destruction. Of course he is too blind to look around and see that it already exists, just not in the manner he likes. Oh it can be improved, but people will do that for themselves under the freedom of that limp liberal democracy. What we don't need is a utopian dream of the impossible.

But here is the best bit of all, the author is giving a talk... on morality.
Dylan Evans will be speaking on morality at the Royal College of Art, London
Bwa ha ha ha.

In many ways the "loss of utopia" is a great thing.

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Posted by Chefen | 10/29/2005 09:42:00 PM

4 Comments:

Blogger Antarctic Lemur said...

I don't have enough coffee left in the house to read this one.

10/29/2005 11:47:00 PM  
Blogger Chefen said...

Don't blame you. I wouldn't try it at midnight either ;)

10/29/2005 11:59:00 PM  
Blogger ZenTiger said...

Nice fisk. So much of this crap is presented for reading, and I suspect the average joe tends to absorb, not critique, and thus opinions are shaped.

A bit like advertising really.

And because people are becoming more wary of advertising, they are becoming more inclined to seek a range of views.

Blogs will grow, because they are so useful in finding another opinion, and assisting in the critical thinking process.

10/30/2005 11:33:00 AM  
Blogger Psycho Milt said...

Show me a leader with a great vision for how everyone should work and live, and I'll show you someone we should kill ASAP - at least that way the body count will only be 1. If the rest of us are boring bastards just going to work and shopping and not getting to know our neighbours, that's for us to do something about.

Funniest part of the whole article is the idea that a more idealistic, utopian West might prove more inspiring to Moslem society. More inspiring than their religion, Mr Evans? Put down that crack-pipe buddy, it's not doing you any good. Maybe Evans hasn't noticed all those Moslems that immigrated to the UK because they can have a good standard of living there without being related to the ruling family - that was inspiring enough to get them to move countries. It's exactly the West's idealism - you know, all that crap about democracy, human rights, tolerance etc - that annoys these guys about the West. If the UK's Moslems that hate the UK could get away with treating their female family members as personal property, that would make them feel a lot better about the UK. Yeah, real inspiring.

10/30/2005 06:04:00 PM  

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