Monthly Archives: September 2014
Of Slaves in Utopia: From Thomas More’s Utopia
They do not make slaves of prisoners of war, except those that are taken in battle; nor of the sons of their slaves, nor of those of other nations: the slaves among them are only such as are condemned to that state of life for the commission of some crime, or, which is more common, such as their merchants find condemned to die in those parts to which they trade, whom they sometimes redeem at low rates; and in other places have them for nothing.
Throughout the text, Thomas More’s Utopia consistently placed emphasis on the need for people to stringently follow rules, regulations and ‘Utopian’ values/lifestyle in order to maintain the Utopian way of life. However, I feel like it is exactly these extreme moral codes which promote an “unforgiving” society that they’ve also created an underlying dystopia for those who’ve made mistakes, who ultimately are condemned into eternal slavery. I feel that giving people the room to right their wrongs means giving them a chance to help better society as a whole.
From Thomas More’s Utopia
Deceit in the New Atlantis
” Therefore in regard of our Deliverance , and our danger present, and to come, let us looke up to God, and every man reforme his own wayes. Besides we are come here amongst a Christian People, full of piety and Humanity: Let us not bring that Confusion of face upon our selves, as to show our vices, or unworthiness before them. Yet there is more. For they have been Commamement, (though in forme of Courtesie) Cloistered us within these walls, for three days: who knoweth, whether it be not, to take some tast of our manners and conditions? And if they find them bad, to banish us strait-wayes; if good to give us further time. for these Men, that they have given us for Attendance, may withall have an eye upon us. Therefore for Gods love, and as we love the weale of our Soules and Bodies, let us so behave our selves; as wee may be at peace with God, and may finde grace in the Eyes of this People.”
I know this is a long quote, however I wanted to capture what I found to be deceit by the men arriving in this new land. For them it was very important to behave in a manner that they thought would be accepted not because they wanted to show their thanks but because they felt they were somehow being deceived or maybe even being watched after in expectation of finding flaws in their character and personality. For them it was important to hopefully gain the acceptance of the Christian people as to hopefully be later on accepted by God. Their thinking was very deceitful not just in thinking that they could deceive the people who were helping them but to think that this would somehow help them gain acceptance of God- did they think they could deceive God as well?
I thought this was very interesting as I read because I never assumed the purpose of the Christian people was to deceive the men but to be cautious of their land and of their people. However, their kind, although cautious gestures, were looked at as a ploy to watch over the men and uncover their true personality and character by the men who arrived.
From Bacon’s New Atlantis
The quote I picked is “For the children of such Marriages, are not admitted to inherit above a third Part of their Parents Inheritance…”. I found it interesting that if your parents didn’t approve of your partner you would receive less inheritance. I didn’t think there would be a monetary loss if parents didn’t approve. But here it’s sort of a law.
“They have but few laws…” From Thomas More’s Utopia
They have but few laws, and such is their constitution that they need not many. They very much condemn other nations, whose laws, together with the commentaries on them, swell up so many volumes…they think it an unreasonable thing to oblige men to obey a body of laws that are both such a bulk and so dark as not to be read and understood by every one of the subjects.
I chose this quote because it describes a society that is so well kept, it does not need books of complicated laws to govern it. In theory, laws are created to keep people in control and avoid chaos. Therefore, there is no need for extensive laws in the utopia because people follow the system set up in the utopia and those who do fall through the cracks are punished accordingly. The utopian society is meant to work with everyone caring for each other– wives serve their husbands, children serve their parents, and the younger always serve the elders. Furthermore, theft is not common because “there is no reason for giving denial to any person, since there is such plenty of everything among them.” Lastly, people are happy and have no reason to protest since ” the chief end of the constitution is… to allow people as much time as necessary for the improvement of their minds, in which they think the happiness of life consists.”
In the utopia, there are few laws and they are clear to all its citizens. I would assume that More specifically stated that the utopia “think it an unreasonable thing to oblige men to obey a body of laws” that are both extensive, dark and confusing because of how he viewed his own society in England. Even today, there are thousands of laws governing society in the US that many of us do not fully understand and will probably never fully read.
“There is no danger of a man’s asking for more than he need”: From Thomas More’s Utopia
“…every father goes and takes whatever he or his family stand in need of, without either paying for it, or leaving anything in exchange. There is no reason for giving a denial to any person, since there is such plenty of everything amongst them; and there is no danger of a man’s asking for more than he need; they have no inducements to do this, since they are sure that they shall always be supplied. It is the fear of want that makes any of the whole race of animals either greedy or ravenous; but besides fear, there is in man a pride that makes him fancy it a particular glory to excel others in pomp and excess. But by the laws of the Utopia, there is no room for this.” -Excerpt from More’s Utopia, pp 82 in “The Utopia Reader”
When reading about the governance of any utopia, we are almost always presented with rules that enforce the society’s perfection. A few pages earlier, More explains that in an effort to contain communities and counter any over-crowding, families must be held to a strict limit of members. Laws like these are necessary to maintaining a utopia. We can observe similar regulations in the controversial one-child policy demanded by the Chinese government. However, here we are told that men are simply trusted to act in accordance with what is deemed best for society in terms of commerce and trade. Why should we blindly accept the fact that in More’s utopia, men will follow the ideas set forth by the rulers of this society without any fear of punishment? In other words, what is there to stop a man from taking more than just what he needs to survive?
I recall that our country’s founding fathers had explicit reasoning behind their intricate design of checks and balances in our government: all of this is necessary for people to prosper and order to be kept due to the inevitable fact that “men are no angels,” as BLANK once declared. This is true in our society, and in every society on this earth; thus why should this truth be ignored in More’s society? Why must the line between the fantastic and the realistic be crossed when discussing men in his utopia?
Voluntary Death: From Thomas More’s Utopia
“When any is taken with a torturing and lingering pain, so that there is no hope, either of recovery or ease, … but choose rather to die, … they shall be happy after death.” (Thomas More, Utopia, Utopia Reader pg.91)
There is a lot in these readings that I disagree with but this actually sounds like assisted suicide/euthanasia which is something that I do agree with. I personally believe that it is better to live a shorter life with a high quality than a long life of misery. Of course, quality of life is subjective; one man’s heaven is another man’s hell, but the man in hell should be able to leave if he so choose.
That is something I thought was interesting because it’s something that’s only legal in four US states according to the Wikipedia page on assisted suicide.
This is short because I’m posting from my phone and it’s really awkward trying to correct the auto-correct.
Vices and Virtues: From Thomas More’s Utopia
“They have, however, two sorts of games not unlike our chess…the other resembles a battle between the virtues and the vices, in which the enmity in the vices among themselves, and their agreement against virtue is not unpleasantly represented; together with the special oppositions between the particular virtues and vices; as also the methods by which vice either openly assaults or secretly undermines virtue; and virtue on the other hand resists it.” (Claeys, Gregory, and Lyman Tower Sargent. “Of Their Trades, and Manner of Life.” The Utopia Reader. New York: New York UP, 1999. pgs 78-79. Print.)
I found this quote to be fascinating in its somewhat negative examination of human nature as it ties into the rest of the work. Utopia is not perfect by virtue of its people, but rather of its societal system of laws. Its carefully constructed rules and regulations seek to keep man’s natural instinct towards evil in check.
We see a few instances in which citizens do the wrong thing in this excerpted reading. For example, some people in Utopia rebel against the laws of travel. Rather than obeying, these offenders visit other cities without authority from the Prince. Repeated violations of this crime lead to a life of slavery (as with other crimes). Even more extreme, those who commit adultery more than once are sentenced to death. Punishment of this sort may serve to keep the Utopian people in check. More may be suggesting that utopia can only come about through a society that regulates and controls people’s vices through the proper “education.” If vices are severely punished, the citizens of Utopia will more naturally strive towards being virtuous as a form of self preservation.
Besides punishment, another way in which this occurs is the reduction of money’s worth. Societal values and needs are built in such a way that the natural jealousy and greed that stems from the love of money is curbed. The potential for jealousy and greed therefore lie dormant in mankind, and Utopia’s laws serve to avoid any activation of these passions. The virtue of society therefore overcomes the inherent vices in mankind. The game described, one of only two that the people in Utopia play, is an almost propogandic reminder that immoralities and sinful pleasures will always be resisted and overcome by virtue. This whole system of government is essentially a way to battle those evil passions in mankind which historically have caused the best of societies to spiral downward.
The Virgin of the World
“You shall understand, that there is not under the Heavens, so chast a Nation, as this of Bensalem; Nor so free from all Pollution, or foulnesse. It is the Virgin of the World…” (Bacon, The New Atlantis)
I found this quote particularly emblematic of the utopia Bacon describes. This portion of the world untouched by pollution and all things foul. Bacon repeatedly describes Bensalem in terms of this innocence as seen in his quote here where he uses the word “chaste” to describe the nation. He also exemplifies this chastity, purity, and innocence through his claim that Bensalem is “the virgin of the world.”
This quote also reminded me of a theme I noticed throughout the book. Bensalem is a place free from total authority and even religion to an extent, and serves as a new beginning for the men on the ship in an untouched, and perfect world.
Perhaps the Bensalem is meant to represent Bacon’s idea of a utopia to be created in the Americas?
Utopian Flaw: From Thomas More’s Utopia
“The hospital are furnished and stored with all things that are convenient for the ease and recovery of the sick; and those that are put in them are looked after with such tender and watchful care, and are so constantly attended by their skillful physicians…” (UR, 83)
This type of sincere, serious care can only originate from a genuine, familial love. Because we are first able to experience and understand love within our own family, we are able to then proliferate that love unto others (neighbors, friends, partners, patients). How can this Utopia, which easily ignores the importance of maintaining genetically-linked families, encourage an environment that fosters such a love?
In a household, the number of members must remain between ten and sixteen. Any “extra” member is trafficked into another household– even into another city or town or continent (81). This is clearly a form of human trafficking! If parents are able to send out their own children and receive others, how can love really exist? It may be easy/natural to care for another being as your own (e.g. adoptions), but can you disregard the love for your own at the same time? Can you easily transfer that love around?
Because this Utopia encourages its people to be proficient in specialities that they enjoy doing and/or are talented in, these “skillful physicians” are obviously medical experts. But someone who knows exactly how to treat a virus or disease may not have the same capacity to truly care about their patients. If they are just doing their jobs, why is More describing them as such caring attendees?
Where does this “tender and watchful care” originate from?
“Man is the symbol using animal, inventor of the negative, separated from his natural condition by instruments of his own making, goaded by the spirit of hierarchy, and rotten with perfection.”
Kenneth Burke, “Definition of Man,” The Hudson Review 16.4 (1963), p 507
“Throughout the ages the Utopias reflect the anxieties and discontents amidst which they are produced. They are, so to speak, shadows of light thrown by darkness.”
H.G. Wells, Australian Radio Address, January 19th, 1939
“April 29th 1992” by Sublime
On April 29, 1992, four Los Angeles Police Department officers were acquitted of their use of excessive force on Rodney King, a black man whose life-threatening assault at the hands of the mostly white officers was videotaped and shown on news stations all over the country. That same day, protestors in Los Angeles turned to looting, arson, and extreme violence, targeting people based on their ethnicity. Over the course of several days, 53 people were killed and thousands were injured, until the involvement of the National Guard and curfew hours allowed police to regain control of the city.
Inspired by these events and his own frustration with them, Bradley Nowell, singer and songwriter for the group Sublime, wrote “April 29, 1992” in 1996. His lyrics describe a society with complete lawlessness, where there is no fear of punishment. He tells us about the crimes he and others are committing with a certain pride: “You were sitting home watching your T.V. / While I was participating in some anarchy /… Next stop we hitted was the music shop / It only took one brick to make that window drop…”
He goes on to tell us about the various stores he’s robbed with ease, but his tone quickly turns to that of frustration when he explains the reason for all the chaos “Cuz’ everybody in the ‘hood has had it up to here / It’s getting harder and harder each and every year /… It’s about comin’ up / And staying on top…” Further lyrics suggest that in his society, he sees people of all different races coming together and uniting under a common cause: to continue rioting and focus their violence towards the police.
The song finishes by urging other cities all over America start their own acts of anarchy, calling “Let it burn / Let it burn… Riots on the streets of Chicago / On the streets of Long Beach / And San Francisco…”
Muzzio’s Five Favorite Utopian/Dystopian Songs (posted by Professor Hoffman on his behalf)
Click here to view the document: Utopian_songs top five 9-1-14
Wouldn’t It Be Nice vs. Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)
Love is a powerful advocate for peace– meaning that someone who is consumed by pure and honest love is overcome with mental harmony. It is a calmness and a freedom from anxiety that washes over someone who is deeply loved, and loves deeply in return. Because love enables a sound mind, it sets up a strong baseline for a utopia.
The character singing Wouldn’t It Be Nice, by Beach Boys, is yearning for some utopia where his innocent love can freely flourish beyond what his current society believes is just too young. A different world is fantasized– where the character is already older and married, spending time with his loved one in true happiness. The presence of carefree innocence–which almost always accompanies teenage love–is what masks all problems and struggles, therefore, creating a perfect place.
However, the stanza “You know it seems the more we talk about it / It only makes it worse to live without it / But lets talk about it / Wouldn’t it be nice” reveals admittance from the singer that such a place does not really exist…but wouldn’t it be nice?
It is important to point out that the love the singer is referring to may not be as deep of a love as what we may define to be a true, sacrificial love (e.g. spiritual relationship or parent-child relationship). Although we may all remember our first flings and intimate relationships during high school as an “all-mighty love”, in hindsight, we are able to understand that that kind of love is definitely a more playful and youthful “love”. Still, the innocence that attaches to that playful love can be persuassive enough to dream up one’s own utopia.
Listen to Wouldn’t It Be Nice, here.
Read the full lyrics, here.
In contrast, an example of a deeper, more serious (and spiritual) love is Oceans (Where Feet May Fail), a song by Hillsong United. The singer is calling out to her God, letting go of her anxieties and burdens and letting Him take care of her. The trust and honest faith that she embraces allows her heart to feel at peace– she is emotionally experiencing her own utopian world.
“So I will call upon Your name / And keep my eyes above the waves / When oceans rise / My soul will rest in Your embrace / For I am Yours and You are mine”
Listen to Oceans (Where Feet May Fail), here.
Read the full lyrics, here.
We Didn’t Start the Fire by Billy Joel
The lyrics of this song mention many people, places, and events that are significant in history. Most of these words bring a negative image to mind. Some examples are, “Richard Nixon…H-bomb…Children of Thalidomide.” Richard Nixon was one of our presidents and he was involved in the Watergate Scandal which led to his resignation. The H-bomb, or hydrogen bomb, is a device which is far more powerful than the atomic bomb which was dropped over Nagasaki and Hiroshima and injured many civilians. Thalidomide was a drug that pregnant women took to reduce the symptoms of morning sickness. Consequently, this drug had an adverse effect on their children. In the chorus, Joel mentions a fire that has constantly been burning. He says, “We didn’t start the fire It was always burning Since the world’s been turning…No we didn’t light it But we tried to fight it.” The happenings mentioned above can be considered “fires” that have had a negative effect on the world. The whole world has dystopian occurrences and the people in it are just trying to find a way to live and find happiness in it. In the music video there is a family going through their years and they are affected by many of the occurrences but they also have their happy moments.