Thoughts on Utopia

I picked up Thomas More’s classic book, Utopia, the other day.  Publsished in 1516, the book describes what More conceived of as an ideal place.  The word “utopia” is derived from the Greek, and means “no place.”

Thomas More was trained as a lawyer and worked in government service under King Henry VIII of England.  As most people know, King Henry was desperate for an heir to the throne, and his wife, Spanish Catherine of Aragon, was barren.  King Henry wanted an annulment, but this was denied by the Roman pope.  To obtain his desire, King Henry had Parliament pass a law in 1534 declaring King Henry the supreme head of the Church in England.  This eventually became the Anglican Church..

Thomas More was a devout Catholic and refused to accept King Henry as the head of the church.  For this treason, he was imprisoned and ultimately beheaded by the king in 1535.

The book, Utopia, opens with More involved in a conversation with one Peter Giles, and a traveler, Raphael.  At the time, More is on the king’s business in Antwerp.  Raphael proves to be well travelled, having visited many known and unknown kingdoms and other territories.  He shows a familiarity with many forms of government and impresses More and Giles with his comprehensive knowledge and understanding.  Giles naturally asks him why he does not enter the service of some king, as an advisor, as he could be quite useful.

Raphael refuses to consider the idea.  He says kings have advisors who are jealous of each other and of new information.  Also, kings want wars to expand their power and influence.  Working in the service of a king would amount to slavery, and Raphael prefers his freedom.

The subject of thieves comes up, and Giles notes that thieves are being hanged on a regular basis, yet there is no reduction in stealing.  Raphael says hanging for thievery is unjust, a punishment far in excess of the crime, and that the plague of thievery is created by society.  He notes that wars, for one thing, produce a multitude of maimed and mutilated former soldiers who are unable to work and have no other means of supporting themselves.  Wealthy landowners, who keep many idle hangers on, only like the healthy ones.  When their lackeys become sick, they are tossed out, with no place to go.  Add to this the fact that kings keep standing armies, even in times of peace, in order to keep prepared for eventual war.  These soldiers are not trained in any other livelihood so are without recourse should anything happen to interrupt their military careers.

Raphael goes on to say that the problem is rendered worse in England, where the wealthy have commandeered large tracts of land for the grazing of sheep.  Formerly agricultural land is fenced off, with whole towns being displaced from their former livelihoods involved in agriculture.  These people have no place to go and no alternative sources of income, so they are forced into thievery to survive.

This is prelude to the rest of the story, about the ideal civilization of Utopia, but what strikes me is how little has changed in 500 years.  Wars and displacement continue to be the primary causes of poverty, with the corporations and governments commandeering large tracts of land for such things as dams, airports, and power stations.

Ongoing discussions about the increasing disparity between rich and poor neglect to consider the most fundamental, root cause of poverty, as prominent today as in Thomas More’s time.  War and displacement debilitate the most vulnerable members of society and lead, ultimately, to the crime and violence we see in the US today.  While we don’t have actual war on our turf, we are involved in wars around the globe, to expand our US economic empire, while neglecting problems at home that are destroying the fabric of the society in which we live.

One would think we would have learned something in the past 500 years.  At least we don’t hang people for thievery, which may be a step in the right direction.  Should we begin applying our vast resources to constructive rather than destructive activity, we may begin to revitalize our debilitated national spirit and make a justifiable claim to being a civilized society.

33 thoughts on “Thoughts on Utopia

  1. Sha'Tara

    That’s a well written and concise article that demonstrate the truism, the more things change, the more they stay the same. America is based on capitalism and capitalism is a destructive force designed solely to enrich the already rich. To make any significant change, you have to destroy capitalism at its roots. Neither soviet Russia nor communist China were able to avoid being re-swallowed in capitalism and now the entire world is crumbling under the final overreach of its capitalistic elites. If you could bring some of the destructive forces back home, they would still be run by capitalism and they would still be destructive. For to be a Utopia on earth you have to literally wash your hands of the whole system, religious, political and financial – all of it, down the toilet and any little bit remaining, crushed viciously under foot. All the books, the “great writings” extolling any of it, burned. I’m talking a complete cleanse. The next question is, what do we replace it with, assuming it needs replacing? Perhaps nothing more than mere survival for those alive after the fall? Could Utopia be a “powerless” society, without God, politicians or money?

    Reply
    1. katharineotto Post author

      Sha’Tara,
      We make the mistake of assigning “capitalism” to the inhuman corporate globules that think only of profits. My definition is that “capitalism” is an individual thing, such that I use my “caput” to generate enough income to survive. I’ll have more to say on the insecurity inherent in hoarding wealth and wanting to control more than you can reasonably manage.

      Reply
      1. katharineotto Post author

        Sha’Tara,
        Me, too. Briefly, I see all the “isms”, capitalism, communism, socialism. and fascism, as being essentially the same, as currently defined. All depend on the collusion of government, corporations, and military, in various mixtures, to wield power over the people who pay their way. People don’t know how to be free so through fear or tradition, allow themselves to be so controlled.

        My version of capitalism would put the individual at the center, with self-determination–and allowance for the same in others–the guiding principle.

    2. katharineotto Post author

      Oh, the reason I started re-reading the book is I am seeking a reasonable alternative to what we have now. Mankind is not ready for big changes, but they may be forced upon us. Question is, what can we replace it with, as you also ask.?

      Reply
      1. Sha'Tara

        My question was rhetorical: I most certainly have the answer. I just thought that was already obvious by my articles and comments, so was doing a little test there…:-)
        Mankind is ready for a radical change, s/he just doesn’t realize it because if the programming. We’re back to the same conundrum: more bits and pieces of changes that accomplish nothing except temporarily validating a corrupt System and prolonging the pain and suffering of billions, or taking a plunge into a whole new way of life via a change of mind? That change of mind is choosing to start one’s day in an aura of compassion and allowing it to guide one’s entire day while observing the results.

      2. katharineotto Post author

        Sha’Tara,
        I don’t presume to have “the answer.” I believe there are many answers. That “whole new way of life” remains a mystery that from a practical point of view does not explain “how.” That’s why Utopia and books like it are interesting to read and contemplate.

      3. Sha'Tara

        Yes indeed, there always are many answers. The question is, where do they lead? Have they been used before and was it successful? Are they simply feel good convenient, hole-plugging, traditional answers? Is there power in those answers?

      4. katharineotto Post author

        Sha’Tara,
        I imagine different earths splitting off from each other all the time, with different idealogical perspectives travelling the different worlds. Like bubbles.

  2. Sha'Tara

    I should have added one more necessity of the greatest cleanse ever: no more history. That too, gone; all books burned, consigning all the old “heroes” of civilization to oblivion. If you want to talk about change, that is the only way it will mean anything.

    Reply
    1. Rosaliene Bacchus

      I don’t agree with you on this one, Sha’Tara. History should serve as our record of what works and what doesn’t in human development. On the other hand, we have become masters at distorting our historical records to suit our narrative. Those are the books that should be burned.

      Reply
      1. Sha'Tara

        I wasn’t looking for agreement, I never do. What I try to fire up is alternate thinking; alternate views, those annoying “what if’s” that never get asked. OK, about history, how do we choose which books to keep, which to burn? Ultimately, if Earthians do choose the path of self empowerment and if they choose to become compassionate beings, all our discussions of the day, and all our accomplishments of the past will be utterly meaningless – we will be a new species, with a new mind and a whole new understanding of how it all works. But be certain of this, that with or without any written history at all, with or without any Internet or other media, we will know all we want to know; we will not go about lost as to how to proceed. We will create our own utopias from our own minds and nothing artificial about any of it. Now then, there was indeed an “IF” up there.

      2. katharineotto Post author

        Sha’Tara,
        Alternative views are always welcome, providing a different perspective that encourages thought. I’m no fan of book burning, since even the worst books contain an element of truth, or elements of what not to do. Remember Fahrenheit 451? Most books don’t stand the test of time as it is, and the classics have lasted because they have enduring wisdom. Then, there’s the most legitimate question of who can be entrusted to burn inappropriate books? The current moral police? Scary.

      3. Sha'Tara

        This is a response to the book burning thing. The point with self empowerment and compassion literally means becoming a new species. It isn’t just an app, or an add-on to an existing system or combination of systems, it’s a whole new way of thinking and approaching life. That said, any old information that never accomplished the change some of it demanded of society would no longer have any relevance, and NOTE, would only be museum pieces. No one would wish to go back into that which never worked to flesh out their new understanding of life. In fact even the best of the old classics would be considered poisonous. Certainly a parent would not want their child exposed to philosophies that misdirected an entire civilization, would she? When we make that switch, and either we do or we die, we will be very protective of our new way, not as collectives, we won’t have those any longer, but as individuals. There will, of necessity, be a complete break with the past, all of the past with its obvious manifold failures. So why keep any of the old? Further to this, we will have new powers which we can only dream of today. We will be empathetic and we will develop telepathy and instant recall. We won’t need libraries or media.
        When we learn to look into the future we come to realize that our type of life today can only be described as that of total slavery. We know nothing of freedom because we cannot “know” unless we are taught how to read, write, cipher and so on up the ladder. Currently an Earthian child cannot just “know” or if it did who would listen? If I were in my teens and realized I had an innate ability to understand architecture and knew without fail I could design a bridge for example, who would hire me? Who would automatically trust me to know what I’m about? Wrong age, no proper education, math, physics. Perhaps even wrong gender and perhaps even wrong race. But the telling aspect would be, I don’t have degrees after my name; I haven’t gone through the hoops. The System is in control and what really matters is the control, and what profits it makes for those in charge of that control. What gets done is practically irrelevant. There is a saying, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know… and let’s add, who you belong to and who owns you.
        The new world that is entered into only through self-empowerment and compassion will be a world of complete freedom of thought, word and act. It will be a world which will render this one anathema. None of the old is to be kept or remembered. By the way I’m not making that up, it’s been written already, a long time ago. I think it’s in the book of Revelation, in the Christian New Testament.

      4. katharineotto Post author

        Sha’Tara,
        I like the variety, even of misinformation. It gives me the opportunity to use my powers of discernment and critical thinking to separate the truth from the distortions.

      1. Sha'Tara

        Don’t want to monopolize this page but… perhaps they’re not burning witches anymore because there are no witches, and if there were they would currently be of no threat to the System. They do however murder investigative journalists. The do murder holistic doctors. They do torture innocents in Guantanamo and other hell holes around the planet. They do conduct a growing sex-slave trade. They do have endless wars of disruption of legitimately elected governments. Oh, and they do have a very healthy growth of marginalized poor all over America to make Dickens’ world look almost benign by comparison yet there will be thousands who will enjoy re-reading or watching one of several versions of “A Christmas Carol” at this time. It’s like a tennis match: we need to watch where the ball is being sent, it’s always the same ball, not the same serve, and the endgame’s always the same. So I beg to differ: history does not teach anything at all. That’s one of the “why’s” it keeps being repeated.

      2. katharineotto Post author

        Sha’Tara,
        Your points are well made. We don’t call them witches, anyway. However, I think of the ominous predictions doctors make and think they are “witch doctors” in their own way. Unfortunately, too many people believe them, because of the credentials, and this has a debilitating effect on health.

      3. Sha'Tara

        If I follow your argument, these modern “witch” doctors do very well for themselves while whoring for Big Pharma. They are in little danger of suffering persecution for their lucrative position in society.

      4. katharineotto Post author

        Sha’Tara,
        They are part of the same delusion of those who actually believe what they say. In this regard, they are on the same “team” with pharma and insurance, believing they are good guys who are helping humanity, both individually and collectively. Maybe just as prostitutes believe they are “helping” their johns.

  3. Rosaliene Bacchus

    Love your post, Katharine. Thomas More took a courageous stand and paid the price with his life. Tragically for we the people, our government representatives are incapable of taking any moral stand against the elites who own and control them.

    Yes, I agree with you that our world has changed little over the past 500 years. As Sha’Tara notes, we are firmly entrenched in a destructive capitalist system that serves only a tiny dominant elite. We pass our days on electric treadmills.

    Reply
    1. katharineotto Post author

      Thanks, Rosaliene, for your read and comment. I’ll have more to say about Utopia as I read further. More was truly ahead of his time and a courageous soul. His Utopia was certainly not a capitalistic system, with no private property, and everything held in common. I think of the Native Americans and how private property was an alien concept to them.

      Reply
  4. mcaimbeul

    I’ve pondered the human equation for over 50 years only to conclude there are too many variables for a definitive answer. Those who lead the charge into destruction manipulate their way to the strongest horses while the majority are left in the dust of complacent despair. But I believe that those of us who consciously participate in a lifestyle dedicated to the holistic whole are in the strongest position for meaningful existence. That which is overlooked doesn’t go unnoticed.

    Reply
    1. katharineotto Post author

      It does come down to the individual, does it not? And the more individuals who dedicate themselves to the “holistic whole”, the closer we get to tipping the balance in favor of the good guys. Or so I hope and believe.

      Reply
  5. Mark Miles

    I just read this for the first time within the last year, and I was dumbstruck–as you said–by the parallels between sixteenth-century England and twenty-first-century America. Considering that, there’s a great deal to be gained from reading this book.

    I especially liked the use of gold chains to indicate the lowest rung of criminals in society. The emphasis on ensuring that everyone in society has work and the basic necessities of life was another stellar point. In short Thomas More was far ahead of his time, and his writing remains relevant to this day.

    Reply

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