Tag Archives: Utopia

On Prophets, Priests, and Prodigies

Dearest Father,

I was occupied with a particularly difficult problem a few weeks back. This was not one of the many philosophical and abstract issues that have plagued me for years now, but a mundane, earthly problem, one that concerned my chosen profession. I sat for hours puzzling over the issue, and after consulting with fellows in my trade I came to a hackish but working solution. Of course this was not the first difficult problem I have faced, and the only way it would be the last would be if my death were but a few days away. However, my struggle over this one issue drew my attention to something I appear to have overlooked in letters past.

I mentioned while writing you about free will that one of the many handicaps your children enjoy is our lack of perfect knowledge. At the time I used the point to illustrate how we are slaves to our ignorant, porous minds, minds that render whatever little freedom we possess rather pointless. After all why bother granting us free will when the very tool you’ve given us for making decisions is so easily distracted and cannot retain the things of utmost importance to our survival and salvation?

My recent brush with intellectual difficulty highlighted this in a manner most stark, as the “hackish” solution I came up with was simply a variation of one that a friend had described, hurriedly put together in order to preserve academic integrity. My problem wasn’t the first of its kind I’d seen, but that did not stop it from holding me hostage for hours. And yet this friend of mine, with little thought and even fewer words, managed to describe a solution that seemed so obvious in hindsight I felt a little foolish.

There are many of your children like this, people who can easily see things that millions of us go years if not lifetimes without even suspecting. In the more earthly circles these people are called prodigies, gifted fellows with minds that can see through the logical and mathematical and physical quandaries of our time and give us insights into the tangible nature of our universe. In Fatherly circles, however, we have priests and prophets, people you have chosen to reveal your truth to the huddled, ignorant masses. Of course while prodigies are universally acclaimed in their fields and arts, your prophets and priests are often only loved in select circles, circles that usually grow into compounds and compounds that often transform into Houses.

If one were to assume our earth was a cold uncaring rock that breathed life into our ancestors eons ago, it would not be too difficult to come to terms with the concept of prodigies. A universe that doesn’t care about us would hardly care that only a few of us could parse her secrets. One could even assume that the prophets and priests that act as voices for non-existent Fathers and Mothers were simply prodigies driven mad by whatever realisation had dawned on them, or devious manipulative people preying on the weakness and gullibility of their brethren.

But as all things are when faced with the fact that we have a loving omnipotent Father, the system of prodigies, priests, and prophets seems completely counterproductive. These brilliant people are essentially gatekeepers of knowledge and wisdom, guardians and visionaries without whom our people would still be hiding in caves, scared of their own shadows and worshipping the sun that cast them.  If our Father loved all of us and wanted us to come to him, why would he place this completely unnecessary bottleneck between himself and his children? Why would he limit revelations of his true nature to a very, very tiny segment of our population, tasking all to go through them if they are to truly know his will?

Ironically there are many in the House of the Cross that actually agree with this; they just happen to believe you have already solved the problem. They cite the verses in your Book that mention that your laws are written in our hearts as proof that we all know your will. They point to the very existence of the Book itself as proof that no man need act as gatekeeper to your kingdom; all can read it and see for themselves what you truly want from your people.

The problem with both these statements is readily apparent. If your will was truly written in all our hearts why do we need the Book at all? Why have a Book state what we all know when we could all just feel in our hearts that these things are true? And even more damning, the existence of the Book and the grand theory of liberation championed by its adherents have not led to fewer gatekeepers; they have led to more. These days any one of your children can pick up your Book, read a line of text that has been read by millions before him and claim to have seen something new within it. Such a person would shout from the rooftops that you have spoken to him and made him your prophet, and thousands would flock to him seeking to hear the new truths that they should already know. Of course with such a scenario it is little wonder your House has grown increasingly divided as the centuries have gone by; without authority vested in a chosen few your children have seen fit to disagree on the finer points of every single line in your Book, erecting fresh wings in the House the moment one man’s “truth” counters their own.

Quite evidently your truths are not inscribed in our hearts, or there would be no need for Houses or the prophets that build them. And quite clearly the system of prophets and priests and prodigies is by design, not by mistake. So ingrained is the nature of this system in the world around us that Platocrates and More did not bother to refute it when describing their utopias. Instead they built their cities around it, creating special classes for these priests and granting them stewardship over the perfect worlds they had constructed.

Left with all this one once again has to wonder how it all meshes with your love, Father. What grand plan could you possibly have that can only be served if but a select few know what you want? What great purpose could you have for the child from whom you have withheld both yourself and the capacity to find you? It is becoming increasingly more difficult to even pay lip-service to the concept of your love, dearest Father. When the majority of your children face such terrible odds for salvation, is it little wonder that so many have grown disillusioned with you?

 

With a deficient mind,

Your Prodigal Son

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On the Worst of All Possible Worlds

Dear Father,

A common point often brought up when faced with the contradiction of your benevolence and our evil is that this world, this cruel and harsh earth we inhabit, is the best of all possible worlds. The reasoning often goes that you, in your boundless and infinite wisdom, considered all the worlds, all the possible outcomes of all the possible actions, and chose to create this world because it was the one in which the most good was found. We are told that this has to be the case because you are good. Any evil we see in a world such as ours exists in spite of your benevolence and not because of any hidden malice, for had you been less than perfectly good our lives would be much, much worse than they are now.

As with nearly all explanations that come from your House and your children this one is quite circular. It doesn’t actually prove your goodness; one must assume your benevolence as incontrovertible truth in order to reach a conclusion such as this. There are, however, more interesting implications to this line of thought than its basic circular nature.

Consider first dear Father the process of imagining all the other worlds. When a being of your stature brings to bear his imagination, one can expect it would not be quite as vague and imprecise as those of your children. When we imagine things our minds gloss over tiny details. We look at the big picture so to speak, only getting into the specifics when we have determined a certain course to be desirable and wish to flesh it out. For you Father one would expect the opposite to be true. When you imagine, everything, from the smallest detail to its largest effect, would at once be laid bare before you. You would know intimately the details of your imagination, because an intellect as all-encompassing as yours would simply be unable to gloss over anything.

I’m sure you would agree that such intricate imagination is fundamentally indistinguishable from actual creation. There would be no new discoveries to make when making your imaginations real. There would be no quirks, no bugs, no tiny little idiosyncrasies born from the “specifics” of your implementation. In fact because even the very concept of “real” is something that would be created by you, simply imagining a world would be tantamount to making it. Many House elders and lovers of Sophia have posited that the universe exists entirely in your mind and it is easy to see why. Even if it didn’t, even if there was a tangible qualitative difference between your mind and reality, the things themselves in both these cases would be indistinguishable. An observer moving from mind to reality would be unable to tell that he has changed environments as all observable entities would be exactly the same.

What this means Father is that your defenders have not escaped the problem of evil by stating that our world is the best. They have in fact made it worse. By considering all possible worlds you have essentially created all possible worlds, including those where life is as bad as it can possibly be. And because we do not know how bad life can be, it is entirely possible that this world is the worst of all possible worlds.

Of course one would be hard pressed to argue that our world is the worst that could ever be. There is, admittedly, quite a bit of happiness attached to our existence and we can certainly imagine things being worse than even the horrors we witness and hear about today. But we can also imagine things being so much better than they are now, making the argument that our world is best specious by the very same standards.

Even if our world isn’t the worst possible world it means that the worst possible world has existed at some point, perhaps exists right now (some in your House believe you to be timeless, meaning that all things happen at once from your perspective). It means that somewhere, in your mind or otherwise, there exist children of yours that are undergoing as much suffering as is conceivably possible simply because you thought it. What justifications for their torture exist in their world I wonder? How do those faithful to you even there come to terms with their suffering? How do they manage to praise your supposed benevolence?

Of course it can easily be countered that you needn’t have imagined all worlds with a level of intricacy that makes them indistinguishable from reality. Ignoring the fact that such a statement places a needless limit on the breadth of your intellect, it still does not absolve you of the suffering in our world; it indicts you even more. How can you be sure there aren’t better worlds if you didn’t uncover every stone, consider every possibility? If your imagination is as limited and as vague as ours, how do you guarantee to yourself that the earth you picked is in fact the best? How do you square it against your standard of being good if you cannot stand before your children and tell them there are truly no better worlds because you checked?

And in the event that this is in fact, by some as yet unknown justification, the best of all possible worlds, does that not fill you with sadness Father? That you, with all your might and power and wisdom, could create no better a world than one where your children still starve to death every day, are tortured mercilessly, and inhabit an existence so bleak some of them choose to end their own lives? I know those within your House felt they had come up with an excellent point when they posited that this world was the best you could do, but as with most explanations from that hallowed institution it just leaves me even sadder. For if this is the best you can do, dearest Father, how can you ask us to believe in your perfection?

With a heavy heart,

Your Prodigal Son

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On Good Places and No Places

Dear Father,

It was not too long ago that I concluded Platocrates’ Republic, that wonderful treatise on the perfect city, the home of truth and justice. With the melancholy of Augustine’s final words hanging over my head, I have spent the past few weeks in search of something uplifting, something that could take my mind away from the apparent futility of my quest. Imagine my joy when I stumbled across yet another book on perfect cities, this one by famed Elder of the House Thomas More. Recalling the glee with which I had received Platocrates’ dialogues I sat to read More’s Utopia, hoping that perhaps I would find not only a reprieve from the sadness that plagued me, but a more achievable vision of perfection than the unattainable ideals contained in Plato’s Republic.

The differences in their approach showed right from the start. Unlike Platocrates, who made it clear that he was fabricating a city in order to find the true meaning of justice, More makes play that Utopia is a real place. He is brought news of this fantastical island by one Raphael Hythloday, a man that claims to have been to the isle and to have seen first-hand how much better their system of governance is than those of the leading nations in More’s Europe. More was struck by the simplicity of Raphael, by his unwillingness to apply his wisdom in pursuit of personal gain, and by his superlative knowledge of states and governance, knowledge he claimed to have obtained by living among the Utopians. It was this impression that led More to listen to Hythloday’s account of the island, and – if we are to go along with the fiction – to put it before us in the form of a book.

In keeping with the realism of his republic, More (or rather Hythloday) paints Utopia as a land that could actually exist. Their government is a democracy, with its basic unit in the family. The families choose philarchs (or magistrates), the philarchs choose their archphilarchs, and the archphilarchs choose the island’s prince. There are checks to ensure that the prince does not abuse his power, and checks to ensure that no one can sway the vote for prince in his/her favour. The archphilarchs debate on the pressing issues of the land, and the greatest care is taken to ensure that the people have a direct hand in the decisions taken by their princes and magistrates.

Unlike Plato’s Republic, where each man has a duty he performs to the best of his capacity, the central duty of all people in Utopia is agriculture. The people all share an intimate knowledge of the land and how to till it, but are also allowed to practice whatever art they feel an affinity to.

There is no property in Utopia, and no money to speak of. Houses are shared, with smaller families given smaller homes and larger families given larger ones. The produce of each city is brought to a central market where all are allowed to take as they please. No one hoards, as there is no need to; all are certain that they would be provided for.

All men live in full view of the others, and this is done in order to ensure that they perform their tasks and employ themselves properly in their spare time. The people are encouraged to be ever busy, with the day split into segments that allow for leisure, education, hobbies and work. The fathers teach their sons their trades, and if they have sons that do not take a liking to their arts the sons are moved to a family where their talents are appreciated.

In keeping with their lack of property the people of Utopia do not value gold and silver, preferring instead to adorn their children with these metals and to use them in the basest of manners, such as in making toys and chamber pots. They sell whatever surplus food they have to neighbouring nations, trading their food for whatever raw materials they need. In the event that they want for nothing they trade for gold, which they keep not for themselves but for necessity, such as the need to pay nations that wish to collect money and not bartered goods.

Utopians do not engage in war, preferring instead to employ mercenaries with their devalued gold, and even then they fight only in self-defence, or when they wish to help their neighbours depose a tyrannous leader, or when war is completely unavoidable.

Of course, unlike Plato’s Republic More’s Utopia is not composed entirely of perfect men. While their laws are few and far between there are those that break them, and these people are entered into slavery as punishment for their crimes. The slaves perform all the tasks that the law-abiding citizens consider beneath them, such as the killing of beasts and washing away of filth. A lot of Utopia’s labour comes from slaves, be they lawbreakers, prisoners of war, or people sentenced to death in other lands whom the Utopians have bought, that their lives be spared. In so doing they put even the undesirables to good use, preferring to use all hands to the good of their society instead of killing wantonly simply to “set an example”.

I must admit Father that Utopia, as described, is certainly a much better state than many you would find on your earth today. Where Plato’s city sprung up only as a side-effect of his quest for justice, Utopia appears to have been conceived for equality. There is no nobility, save for those naturally arising in the men that achieve great things. There is no property, no money. Nobody, from the prince himself to the most depraved slave wants for food or home; no sick man goes unattended; no child goes uneducated. All in More’s Utopia are treated equally, and all are happy and at peace. In his Utopia it seems More has constructed what he believes a real, ideal society should be, accounting for even the miscreants, people that could not exist in the perfection of Platocrates’ Republic.

I cannot help but feel, however, that even with his exactitudes More’s Utopia is just as unattainable as Platocrates’. For all his exposition on the minutiae of Utopian life, with the great pains he takes to ensure that his people are not selfish or greedy, that all have freedom of religion, that equality is guaranteed through a lack of property, and that war is avoided due to the island’s isolation, More makes an underlying assumption, one that the histories of many a nation on this earth have shown to be completely and entirely unfounded. More, much like Plato, assumed that the very people in his Utopia were “good”.

Their princes and philarchs, regardless of the power they wield, are rarely (if ever) cruel. Their slaves, even the ones brought from strange lands with different customs, never attempt a successful revolution. Their knowledge of agriculture is so perfect their markets are always full, unhindered by the fluctuations of the seasons. Their children are very amenable, always given to one useful art or another, never rebellious or lazy. Their people possess great intellects, able to know all the laws of the land to such an extent that they can argue cases for themselves. Somehow even the basest of human emotions, things that we know exist in us not because of our societies or the circumstances of our births but simply because we are human, these emotions are non-existent among the Utopians. More (through Hythloday) seemed to believe that the ills found in his country and others across Europe were as a result of bad starts, that if one could begin society anew, with no property and no money and a willingness to ensure equality for all, a place like Utopia would emerge. And looking upon your children Father, with our laundry list of faults endemic to our existence, looking upon even the First Brother and his fall from what was a land more perfect than Plato’s Republic or More’s Utopia, it is quite evident that that belief holds no water.

It is certainly possible that More suspected this. The name of this perfect isle, Utopia, comes from Greek and means “No place” or “Not a place”. Perhaps More, like Plato, was describing a state of mind, and not a particular location, though the level of detail with which he describes the lives of the Utopians and his lack of an explicit ulterior motive make this unlikely. Perhaps he simply knew that while he could dream of what the perfect land could be, as long as your children remain the way they are made, crude and blind and ignorant, such a place would never be possible. Perhaps the entire book was simply a long-winded way of saying that there are in fact no good places. An interesting thought, dearest Father, when one considers that as a son of the Cross More must have believed in the perfection of the Great Upstairs. If we are doomed to forever be flawed beings, if all good places are no places, how then do you plan to fill the halls Upstairs? How can you ensure that none of the children that make it there would ever fall, ever again? Those in the House today still fall prey to the whisperings of You-Know-Who. What makes their presence in the Great Upstairs any different?

With a questioning heart,

Your Prodigal Son

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On the Justice of Platocrates

Dearest Father,

I have finally finished reading Platocrates’ Republic. I have read his points on forms and ideals, on truth and knowledge. I have seen his perfect city, a beautiful world where all men know their place, where they all perform the functions for which they are made, and where their kings are lovers of Sophie in the highest degree, pure of heart and sound of mind; and I must say, dear Father, that I am impressed. With smart logic and wonderful analogies Platocrates has managed lay before me a most comprehensive work on reality and justice and government, and he did so with such flair I found myself smiling as I sifted through his words.

It was not smooth, this road to justice. There were many false starts along the way, preconceived notions held by his companions that had to be put away before his truth on just things could be revealed. The first definition of justice, brought forth by a man named Cephalus and championed in turn by Polemarchus, stated that justice is doing good deeds to friends and ill deeds to enemies, a most intuitive definition if there ever was one. One can see the sense in helping those that wish you well and spurning and harming those that wish you ill; one can see the ‘good’ in it.

Socrates, however, showed two glaring issues with this line of thought. The first is one of knowledge. People often seem friends when they are truly enemies, and enemies when they are truly friends. It is rather impossible for one to know in truth who is one’s friend and who is not; actions can be deceiving and intent is all too often very difficult to ascertain. Applying Polemarchus’ definition of justice would then imply that ‘just’ men would at times do good to people who were in fact their enemies and evil to people who were in fact their friends, the very antithesis of the definition itself.

The second issue with Polemarchus’ definition lay in the perceived nobility of justice. For Platocrates justice can never result in the production of evil, much like heat can never produce cold, and a (true) musician can never by his art make men unmusical. By associating justice with evil, whether this evil is done to a perceived or actual foe, Cephalus and Polemarchus had rendered it contradictory; they had turned justice into injustice.

The second definition of justice was put forward by a very animated fellow by the name of Thrasymachus, and for him justice was whatever proved to be “in the interest of the stronger”.  Socrates, once again seeking something much more noble and pure, made quick work of this definition. As with the first, he illustrated its two problems. The first problem, once again, was one of knowledge. It is not always that a man knows what is in his interest; many times he makes decisions that are revealed to be so damaging to his person they would appear to have come from his enemy and not himself. As in the first case, this then would imply that ‘just’ men are once again doing unjust things, as they are working to their detriment and not in fact to their benefit, the very opposite of what the definition purports.

Thrasymachus, ever ready to counter Socrates, replied vehemently that such a person is not a true ruler, is not truly the stronger. The true ruler, you see, would never work against himself; all that he does would indeed be towards his exultation, and not, as Socrates pointed out, towards his downfall. Socrates then proceeded to demonstrate the issue with this secondary point, employing a wonderful analogy. To use his words:

“…no physician, in so far as he is a physician, considers his own good in what he prescribes, but the good of his patient; for the true physician is also a ruler having the human body as a subject, and is not a mere money-maker…. And the pilot in the strict sense of the term, is a ruler of sailors and not a mere sailor… and such a pilot and ruler will provide and prescribe for the interest of the sailor who is under him, and not for his own or the ruler’s interest…

Justice for Platocrates could not then mean one’s interest but the interest of one’s subject, and for a ruler this meant the interest of the thing(s) he ruled, and not himself.

The third definition of justice, much like the second, focused on power, attempting to prove that justice is in fact in the hands of the powerful and is a compromise between men of power seeking to prevent ‘injustice’ being done to them by their peers. With such a definition the unjust man with unlimited power could do what he pleased with impunity, without fear of punishment or retaliation. Men that attempted to remain just would find themselves at a severe disadvantage, for the unjust man would possess neither the scruples nor the deterrent to do what was right. Justice then would not result in happiness for the truly just man, but in loss. Socrates, firm believer in the ultimate good of justice, did not agree with this and he was thus challenged to show how justice would benefit the just man, a point he made by building his perfect republic.

I will spare you further details of the journey, dearest Father; rest assured that fine points from Socrates’ long monologue will surface in coming letters. My business today is with the wonderful nature of the city he constructed, and the men he placed at its helm.  As I said at the beginning of this letter, in Platocrates’ Republic everyone knows his place. In this city, the soldiers have no purpose but to fight; the musicians to make music; the poets to compose; and the writers to write. And as a direct consequence the rulers have no purpose but to rule. For Platocrates this is perfection, this is where justice lives: in a city where all do as they should and where rulers rule as they must.

The beauty of this definition lies in the fact that it is yet another analogy, for Platocrates’ city refers not to an actual city, but to a soul. Like the city the human soul is composed of many parts, each with separate purposes. One finds true justice when one allows one’s mind to rule his soul, and the other parts to follow. Like the Sophie-loving kings of his city, schooled in truths most profound, when we let our minds discover the truths of our world and give them power over our hungers and lusts and feelings, when we let them rule us as they should, we shall truly be just; we shall truly be good.

With this final statement Platocrates showed why he is at heart a lover of Sophie, for the entire point, the entire quest for justice, was in fact a means of illustrating the necessity of seeking out the great Sophia. Loving Sophia meant seeking truth; finding truth meant finding justice; and knowing truth meant knowing what was best, both for oneself and for all. Thus one that knew, one that had stepped out of the allegorical cave and glimpsed the sun, could never be said to be the loser when placed against the man that did not know; justice could never result in harm for the man that practiced it.

It is a wonderfully optimistic book, Plato’s Republic, and I admit that these days I need such wonderful optimism. I am, as you know, yet to fully recover from the damaging blow struck by the more contemporary Russell in his Problems of Philosophy. Platocrates fills me with hope that my quest for Sophia would not be in vain. If finding her means finding justice and finding justice means finding you then maybe, just maybe, there is yet hope that I will return home, Father. I see Doubt shaking his head; I hear him saying very clearly that without verification Platocrates’ words are nothing but sweet, sweet arbitration, but I do not care. On this day I need such sweet arbitration; it has been quite the while since my thoughts and discoveries have brought a smile to my face.

With cautious optimism,

Your Prodigal Son

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