29 January 2011

Seriously, World Leaders, Read This Book!

Okay, so I'm reading More's "Utopia", right? Hands down, this is the best line of the whole book, IMHO:

"...they [the Utopians] never enter into an alliance with any state. They think leagues are useless things and believe that if the common ties of humanity do not knit men together, the faith of promises will have no great effect."

The common ties of humanity!

I have no idea what this means for mankind or the state of the world's affairs; I just know that I am touched by the phrasing.

Now, on to perhaps the most thought-provoking passage of the book. Or, at least, here at Chez Nelson, the most conversation-inducing.

First of all, religion in Utopia is purely individual - everyone believes what they want, in who they want...although most of them acknowledge a Divine Essence (not a man, not tangible, not even visualizable). Huge, beautiful temples exist all across the island, but they are bereft of any particular imagery of "God", because all religions and spiritualities come to worship there - and everyone can then free to imagine the Divine Essence in whatever form they wish. Mind-blowing, yes!? Can you imagine implementation of this particular concept/philosophy in America? Wow.

But, here's the biggie: Utopians do not grieve when one of their own dies. Death is to be celebrated, because it is a time of joyous transition. Going to "God" (Divine Essence, etc.) cheerfully when He calls you is worth exultation. On the other hand, Utopians are very horror-struck and disdainful at those who try to drag their own demise out - they see it as a very disrespectful way to meet the Maker.

This passage impelled Brent and I to think about the concept of death in our culture. Many, many people fear dying and countless others try to prolong it for as long as possible. Scientific and medical technologies have helped us along in that sense, and so, here's the ethical bugaboo: Should we knock it off with the cures, vaccines, treatments for all of our diseases and whatnot? Because it deliberately flouts the natural way of the universe?

There's no black or white answer, and even I am still undecided. I do like the dignity factor, however, and that we spend way too much time mourning loss than we do celebrating journeys.

I did go so far as to state that when I have the first indication that it is time for me to leave this planet, I will go without so much as a fight. Brent agreed with me, to a point: it depends, he stated, on when that time is. When he's seventy (maybe even sixty), then yeah, he'll desist. But, he said, if it's just a few years from now, he'll want to fight to live. Deliberately flouting the authority of the universe. *collective gasp* Nevertheless, I can see where he's coming from.

This turn in the dialogue led to another interesting concept: fear of the unknown. Who knows really what awaits us on the other side? It could be a glorious Heaven/Summerland/Eden or it could be eternal darkness. The fear of this unknown leads most of us to flail desperately at the end our lives, even if maybe the quality isn't that great. Because we know what's here, we are reluctant to give that knowledge up for a trip to a place we have no idea about.

Not that it's bad, of course. I mean, after all, it is human nature. But worth thinking about.

To reiterate: All World Leaders - I know I'm just a measly, inconsequential English major and all, and yes, it's great you all read Plato, and 'Beowulf' and Machiavelli...and yes, you should read Shakespeare and Jane Austen and the Bible. But honestlyseriouslywithallmyheart, you all really, really should read 'Utopia'.

None of the others I mentioned can touch modern-day situations as much as this book can.

26 January 2011

Utopian Concept Of Pleasure

I'm averaging one post a week for the month of January. I must be blowing my own mind, in addition to the five people who read my blog.

The total upside to owning a electronic book-carrying device is that I have instant access to tons of excellent literature...to be read in the evenings at my leisure, as I wait twenty minutes for a train to pass, while my hair dye is saturating, while I do my morning rituals...

Right now, I'm reading Sir Thomas More's "Utopia". Very good stuff...I think I was supposed to read it in college, but never found the time to do so. I certainly wouldn't have appreciated it then, that much I know.

The book is a near-constant narration of one man, who describes a society he came into contact with during his travels. This society's manner of conduct, treatments, standards, etc., prompt the narrator to refer to it as a Utopia. So far, there are descriptions that are entirely too idealistic for their own good...and there are ones that I desperately wish we could implement in our society today.

Anyway, the section on pleasure is one I have found to be the most interesting so far. Let me nutshell it for you:

1. Yes, Utopians concur, there are pleasures that "tickle the senses" (e.g. hunting for sport), but since those pleasures are a matter of personal taste and preference, they cannot be considered "true" pleasures.

2. True pleasures are indeed few, and fall into two categories - of the mind and of the body. The pleasure of the mind involves knowledge and seeking truth, in addition to pondering and reflecting upon one's life.

3. Pleasures of the body include partaking of those things that every human body must have to survive: food, drink, rest, freedom from pain, carnal relations. Besides this, there also is the pleasure of music.

4. Utopians preciously treasure "undisturbed and vigorous constitution of body, when life and active spirits seem to actuate every part." They consider physical health so valuable because it forms the basis of every other pleasure. Being free of sickness or pain allows one to pursue other true pleasures.

5. While the body pleasures stem mostly from necessity, the pleasure of the mind does not, and therefore, is valued and sought after more than anything else in Utopia. In fact, Utopians are described as "unwearied pursuers of knowledge".

Now I know what makes this text 'timeless'. It may be five hundred years old - but the ideas I've just summarized here are just as meaningful (maybe even more) to today's audiences.

So...long story short, let's stop worrying about accumulating stuff like power, prestige, money, fame, cars, and kitchen appliances...and instead focus on increasing these two things:

Physical health and useful knowledge.

Excellent plan. Everybody got it? Okay, go forth and make it happen.

Huh. If it were that easy, we'd all be doing it instead of reading canonical literature about it. But, we must keep searching, pondering, reflecting, asking...

It's what the Utopians would want us to do.

The answer is out there.

15 January 2011

Let's Talk About Death

A half-dozen times I have attempted to start a blog post here, and half a dozen, I have deleted in because I could barely articulate coherent thought.

On the seventh time, I am just going to forge ahead and hope for the best.

My dad's eldest sister, my aunt, is dying. She has what the doctors call fast-moving cancer. Most of my aunts and cousins have poured in today from various parts of the country to say their goodbyes and be there for each other.

I visited Auntie last Saturday, yesterday, and then again today. I do not know if I will see again before she passes.

As can be expected with these types of events, I can't help thinking about death and reevaluating my life.

Yuena Zhen reminds me that the Tao says death is natural and Nature does not discern - it is "impartial". This I know and have been at peace with since I became a pagan.

I am not afraid to die. My only wish is that I don't die a violent death at the hands of someone besides myself. I don't want my death to be a "senseless tragedy"...but then, Yuena reminds me that just because it doesn't make sense to me or my loved ones, doesn't mean it is without sense.

The universe is unfolding as it should, whether I realize it or not. I won't always be privy to events I might consider "senseless". Death is inevitable, even if it doesn't happen at the time we want it to.

It is what it is.