Wednesday, 6 February 2008

A world of pure being

Auden described utopia as ‘Earthly Paradise: a world of pure being’ in which ‘what people are and what they want or ought to become are identical’. There’s a superficial attractiveness about this, I suppose; but it doesn’t survive close analysis. Auden is describing a world in which, were it to be conjured forth, bliss would become boredom, and boredom bliss. He has simply misunderstood the nature of living in the world: which is to say, it is not living but the obstacles to living that make it worthwhile. The aim of the utopian theorist ought to be to keep those obstacles within human parameters: a world in which fundamental lacks of food, or shelter, or healthcare, or security lead to death is a world in which obstacles have become absolute barriers. By the same token affluence, or materialism, or religion, if raised to a social absolute (as they are in a number of countries in the world today) place absolute barriers, rather than mere obstacles, in the way of human beings.

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