Thursday, January 11, 2007

Norm Geras, quotes in his blog today, two of 'the world's twelve worst ideas' and the explanation why:

One is: 'In the modern world, we do not need utopias'.

Why is this a bad idea?

Because "Dreaming, the aspiration to a better world and the imagination thereof, is a necessary part of the human condition."

and the second idea :

'The world is divided into incomparable moral blocs, or civilisations'

is bad because "set of common values is... shared across the world: from democracy and human rights to the defence of national sovereignty and belief in the benefits of economic development."

I find a contradiction here. Utopia is an idealistic place, where all ills and lacks are removed and perfect equality and justice prevail without coersion. It appears to be a benign aspiration, until we realize that all this good can only be achieved upon the exclusion of certain beliefs, people, and customs. Hitler's Jew-less Germany was a Utopia. The Jihadist dream of turning this world into an Islamic paradise is such an idea*. Utopias, even the most benign among these imaginary places, can only subsist upon absolute exclusion. There is an underpinning of shared ideas and values, rendering Utopias hermetic and uniform. Or they cannot survive as utopias.

Utopia, by definition, even as an imaginary one, is based on the premise that the world is divided into different and often contradictory moral and cultural values, some of which will make it into Utopia, some will not.

If the idea that 'The world is divided into incomparable moral blocs, or civilisations' is bad , its antidote precludes a utopian idea.

For me, it's a clear choice between the universal idea of of human rights, democracy, the defence of national sovereignty and belief in the benefits of economic development on the one hand, and Utopia, on the other hand, even when Utopia may purport indeed to contain all these ideals. But on its own terms. After all, Hitler believed that Jews were better off dead, didn't he?

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* "Today's Islamic radicalism began as an 18th century modernizing movement. It is an important force today because, as Ira M. Lapidus, an American historian of Islam, has written, its leaders "mobilize the religious yearning for salvation and project it into modern politics." The revival "embodies a totalistic and utopian dream of a perfected human condition - not only in private morals but in political life, not in the next world but in this one."

http://www.commondreams.org/views01/1213-06.htm

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Additionally, against Utopia:

http://modies.blogspot.com/2007/01/pursuit-of-millenium.html

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