My latest work, 'Living in Utopia,' takes a look at problems inherent with the way we, as a society, live today. While critical, I do however raise the possibility, under the first title - ‘Is Evolution the only Threat to Capitalism?’ - that we might yet evolve into an egalitarian race. I follow this question up with a look at life in a utopian society, and start with, ‘The Myth about Success and Wealth.’ Next up is ‘The Myth about Family and Relationships,” and lastly, “Being Green is Easy.” Each article, accompanied by an original drawing, focuses on areas of social behaviour and habits that will need to evolve if we’re to make a better world for all.

 
Is Evolution the only Threat to Capitalism?


The twentieth century saw capitalism establish itself as the principal tool used by governments to run the economy, and today ‘liberal democratic capitalism’ is considered by most people as the only viable way to create and distribute wealth - Marx and Engels still rolling about in their graves at the abysmal reputation Socialism has, thanks to the former USSR, China, and sadly, Cuba. Yet in spite of all this, the majority of people would still like to see a more evenhanded world, but unfortunately with the proviso, to paraphrase the Pink Floyd number, “Share it fairly, but don’t take a slice of my pie.” 

So, how do we spread prosperity so that everyone enjoys a high standard of living? Will we always have a situation where some people live in obscene wealth while others in abject poverty? It’s an issue rarely discussed, economists being mostly interested in the difficulties of short to medium term governance, happy to leave the vexing question for the G-20 and the like to ponder. 

Of course it could be argued capitalism is slowly paving the way to utopia. After all, over the last hundred years hasn’t it been responsible for a significant rise in the living standards of millions of people? It’s certainly what we’re encouraged to think, but capitalism, at best, is a two-edged sword - providing incentive for people to better their lot, while at the same time promoting an unhealthy preoccupation with wealth. And while it has been the current driving force for economic expansion, without pressure applied to lawmakers, mostly from unions, the aforementioned changes might not have had such widespread benefits. 

Okay, so capitalism has its problems, but things are still pretty good aren’t they? Again it depends on your perspective. Unfortunately, most people’s views centre on their own personal circumstances - the bubble in which they live. I’m inclined to think that if a more advanced race visited the world today and looked around at the incredible imbalance between rich and poor, the vast amount of corruption and nepotism, the greed and avarice that’s destroying not only the environment but the planet itself, laws that often make no sense and reek with hypocrisy, the mindless murdering of people on religious and ethnic grounds, they’d conclude, “No intelligent life here.”

But surely all of the world’s problems can’t be blamed on capitalism? Again it’s a debatable issue - is it the root of all evil, or a good thing just badly administered? One detrimental element that puts capitalism in the former camp is its need to create continual ‘growth’ for sustained prosperity. This requirement often fosters unnecessary consumerism, encourages business to put vested interests ahead of the common good, and depletes the world’s resources artificially, all contributing to the sort of social mess described above. Perhaps under benevolent management, akin to say Warren Buffet, this constant need can be met without undue social consequences? It’s a nice thought, though it’s worth noting continued sustainable growth is proving elusive in first world nations, and living standards are, in most circumstances, falling. A range of environmental issues further compounds the problem, including ignored action on climate change.

Well then, it would seem we’re doomed? No! 

Evolution will eventually ensure the human race changes its behaviour. We’ve seen enormous progress on civil rights for minorities, feminism, and animal welfare. Good work that needs to continue, brought about predominantly by individuals prepared to unite for a worthwhile cause. The fight continues  – Tunisia, Egypt, Hong Kong, Wall Street. History is littered with unsung heroes, and over time more and more people will make selfless sacrifices in the hope of creating a better world, pushing the human race up the evolutionary ladder.

Unfortunately evolution is slow process, even slower than Ronnie Reagan’s trickle-down economics, so it’s unlikely the vast majority of people alive today are going to be living in utopia, and it may even be the case conservatives take us a long way backwards before commonsense finally prevails. But if things are so bad, why wait? Shouldn’t progressives take up arms? Again no! Change can’t be unilaterally forced on people; bloody revolutions replace one bad regime with another. Progress is a gradual development, so we must wait until society as a whole embraces the need for a philosophical overhaul of the structures that bond us together. Bringing about a world where living without material comforts, for example, becomes a choice and not a trap will require a paradigm shift in attitudes. 

So in conclusion it would seem evolution is the only threat to capitalism, as it's not so much the system that needs changing, but individual behaviour and habits. 

Living in a Utopian World

It would of course be fun to speculate about how a civilization hundreds of years from now might operate, in fact the mind may well boggle at the possible technological advancements, not to mention the idea we may very well have expanded our domain to include other planets in the solar system. Conjecture of this sort, however, is largely the provence of science fiction writers, with realism a minor consideration. Nonetheless, changes in both social behaviour and physical habits require a stimulus - ideas to provoke us to think outside the square.  So lets have a look at life in my utopian world. 

Most religions promise, if you toe the line, access to some sort of paradise, unfortunately however, it’s normally only available after you’re dead. Another frustrating aspect is the lack of an explanation on how these posthumous utopias might actually work; though I guess it’s mysticism and not reality we’re dealing with here. But if humans do eventually evolve into far more enlightened beings, what would it be like to live in an ideal and perfect place?

Before beginning, I should point out that I don’t seriously believe humans can live together in perfect harmony. Conflicts of one sort and another will always exist, even if only because of people's inherent, often problematic, individuality. What I’m suggesting will emerge through evolution is a radically different mindset as to how we manage society, resulting in a more equitable and compassionate world.

The Myth About Wealth and Success

The fundamental question in relation to creating a world where a civilised standard of living is available to all is how society will pay for it? Let me again voice some provisos before attempting to answer this most vexing of questions. 

I’ve already mentioned that I don’t envisage a future world without conflict, and it follows that not everyone will be happy to live the same sort of lifestyle. It’s natural for people to want different things. However, living with few material comforts in my utopian world will be a choice and not a trap, as it is for so many people today. Why would an individual choose to live this way? The answer is simple, a philosophical decision. It happens now and will happen in the future. Choosing to live an ascetic lifestyle, though,  shouldn't exclude you from the benefits of society. 

The task of distributing the world's resources so everyone has the opportunity to enjoy a reasonably high quality of life is beyond the scope of our current political systems, and, in truth, our ethical beliefs. The undeniable fact is that there is more than enough wealth to go round, what’s lacking is the means - by which I mean the overwhelming desire by the vast majority of people - to make it happen.

Part of the problem of getting people to part with wealth they don’t really need, and often don’t deserve, is what I've already called the “share it fairly, but don’t take a slice of my pie,” syndrome - a desire to help the disadvantaged, but not at the cost of their own right to be rich. After all, affluence has traditionally been society's way of rewarding those who have been successful in their aims, and the right to accumulate wealth has become entrenched both in our economic systems and in our way of thinking. Mixed up with this confused logic is a misconception that prosperity is simply out there waiting for those who work hard, or are clever enough, or perhaps lucky enough, to get it. And while there may be some truth to this, it is far from the whole picture, or anywhere close to a realistic aspiration for the great majority of people. 

There are of course many other reasons used to mask our moral turpitude toward wealth accumulation and distribution. Some argue that without massive financial rewards as incentive, along with the freedom to do virtually what one likes with that money, people would not feel obliged to work hard and achieve success. Security also plays a part; affluence can buy protection from troubling situations. There’s legitimate concerns about one's offspring’s future, and the list goes on. However, I believe the single most important reason is the symbol or status of success that society affords those with great wealth.

Affluence is clothed in glamour, and, as already mentioned, held up as the one thing we should all aspire too. Even untalented and ignorant people endowed with money often see themselves as superior in status to those less fortunate. The symbol of success wealth brings to individuals often inflates both their egos and sense of self-importance. Mediocre talent, if coupled with high remuneration, is held in high regard. The quest to be seen as successful encourages individuals to seek more and more money, leading to a preoccupation with activities that produce the greatest financial rewards, often at the expense of pursuits for the greater good of humanity. Wealth also buys considerable influence over the way in which society functions, ensuring the notion “right to riches” is deeply entrenched in our subconscious. 

It’s obvious then, in helping to eliminate poverty and creating a fairer and more equitable world, our current correlation between wealth and success needs to evolve. The crux of the issue is how we reward people for their contribution. Wanting one's skills and talent recognized is of course only natural, and the simplest way to do this is to be paid money. However, in truth, to be happy, people don’t need massive financial remuneration. To simply be appreciated, and be able to live in relative comfort, within a free, safe and secure environment, is all that is required. Foregoing enormous material wealth to create a place like this for “everyone” would of course become a large part of that fore-mentioned reward. Would it, though, stifle both creativity and the desire to succeed? I don’t believe so. A genuine passion to be at the top of your game, combined with a sense of social responsibility, will keep people both inventive and motivated. 

A world where the overwhelming majority of people look down on ostentatious displays of wealth, and in which success was measured by one's constructive involvement within society, would be a far different place than it is today. For a shift in thinking of this magnitude many things would need to change. Civilization would need to become a safer place, war as outdated as hand to hand combat. We’d also need to see the influence of dogma (especially religious) replaced with common sense. Education would have to be far more widespread, with an emphasis no longer on the individual, but on the common good. In fact, to reiterate, little of the way we live today would survive in this brave new world.

Is a change in our society as radical as just described really a feasible proposition? While humans can be compassionate, aren’t they, to a far greater extent, susceptible to greed, selfishness and pride, therefore incapable of living in peace, let alone sharing the world’s riches equitably?

It’s possible of course life in the future will be like in most science fiction movies - the same as today with just more whiz bang toys. However, evolution is not just technological advancement. As we continue to progress as a society ideological attitudes advance as well. A growing number of enlightened wealthy citizens are beginning to question the widening gap between them and the poor, and philanthropy is on the rise. While this is still a long way from actually repudiating the accumulation of wealth, it’s a start. Most people living a hundred years ago would never have been capable of imagining a world like we have today. So, despite the efforts of many rich and powerful people to halt the advancement of the human race, we will continue to progress. The accumulation of century after century of open-minded and rational thought will ensure we evolve into a more sensible, compassionate, and equitable civilization. 

Unless of course some conservative crackpot blows us all up first!

The Myth About Relationships and Family

So now we've found the key to sharing wealth so people, the world over,  can live in relative comfort, let's look at some of those other factors that inhibit our social harmony and would need to change in our utopian world. 

I was surprised to read once that historians believed our early ancestors apparently hadn’t quite grasped how children were actually conceived. It seems that back then the union of man and woman was viewed upon as simply pleasure, and pregnancy was the result of divine intervention. The resulting baby, however, was a cause for celebration and a welcome addition to their clan - a clan back then being nothing more than a group of people drawn together predominately for the sake of survival. It would be interesting to speculate on how children raised without perceived patriarchal influence fared.    

Today clans, particularly long-established ones, are commonly associated with power and privilege, big business in themselves. The sad truth, however, is that these dynasties are, by and large, self-serving, and simply a convenient mechanism for keeping that influential position within society firmly in family hands, more often than not at the expense of the common good.

Our current style of domesticity not only helps keep the rich and powerful, rich and powerful, it also encourages ordinary families to act and think in an expedient manner. How so? Well, in short, following the example set by their wealthy counterparts they put their own kin’s selfish aspirations above the broader needs of society. Governments also play a role in this insidious cycle by adopting policies that influence people to think about what is best for themselves, rather than what’s best for all of us, egged on by greedy and unscrupulous capitalists. Way back when the church wielded extraordinary power it knew the manipulative advantages of keeping families preoccupied with their own self-interest, and established the rules and regulations we now live by to help keep it in place. 

The shortcomings associated with the current domestic arrangements society has imposed upon us go deeper, however, than just selfish pragmatism. The matter goes to the very core of our personal relationships. 

We’ve been taught to see getting married and starting a family as sacred, the ultimate goal in life, yet in reality far too many marriages end up in divorce, or worse, exist on a basis of ignorance and hypocrisy. While no relationship is immune to failure, unrealistic pressure on couples today to conform to certain standards of behaviour, that are pretty much against human nature, make the task so much harder. 

Our civilization's obsession with sexual fidelity causes far more harm than good. The pain and suffering that results from people being unable to observe this unrealistic principle is enormous. It’s the overriding cause of most relationship breakups. Adultery (the love for another person outside the relationship) is often considered a far greater sin than committing acts of violence. The absurdity, however, reaches its pinnacle by the tremendous hypocrisy associated around men who ‘play the field.’ Despite these fellows happily flaunting those sacred vows of faithfulness, they’re held up as icons, given glorious titles such as playboy, Casanova, da man, while on the other hand, women who behave this way are simply seen as sluts.

Being realistic about human nature's sexual proclivities does not, however, preclude the fact many people may happily choose to live their entire life in a monogamous relationship.

Another starry-eyed expectation imposed on relationships is the prerequisite of not only having to live together, but also forever sharing the same bed. If couples are genuinely happy to do this then that’s fine, go for it! However, it should not be something imposed, or even expected. How would couples and even families be better off by not being forced to cohabit? Living together apart, as it’s often referred to, gives relationships room to breathe, and allows participants’ to continue to express their individuality that too easily is lost by one or both partners when forced to live together. It even improves the romance within the bond by heightening the time spent together, maintaining planning, and creating expectation. Over-exposure, not just with your partner but with your children as well, can have fatally damaging effects on the relationship.  

Of course financial necessity plays an important role in forcing people to live together, but so does society's perception. If we emphasized the importance of individual freedom, even within a committed relationship, our housing policies would be different - a room of ones own would be everyone’s right.   

The generation gap might be an outdated term, but children pressured, or worse, forced, into lifestyle choices they’re uncomfortable with by well-meaning mothers and fathers is still something that happens far too much in our society. Despite government regulation, parenting is largely an unqualified occupation, and is, and will remain, a difficult and complex task. And while it goes without saying most people want what’s best for their kids, more often than not these decisions become subjective, and often counter productive to the child’s healthy development. Opening the household up to greater influence from the broader community would not only lead to better decision-making all round, but ease the burden of children raising considerably. 

Condoning extramarital affairs, an end to cohabitation, and opening the family up to outside influences, is, no doubt, going to have reactionaries making comparisons with the hippy movement. It’s true that during the radical social upheaval that occurred in the west during the 1960s and 70s something akin to the changes I’ve mentioned were experimented with, and, largely failed. It is important to note, however, this was more-or-less a period where many old and archaic views and practices were replaced with more sensible progressive ideas. It is not surprising that some aspirations were too radical for the times. 

Conservative commentators enjoy trivializing attempts at alternative lifestyles, painting many as a return to some sort of barbarism, void of the love that binds us as a society. For this reason alone let me stress that it is undeniably true that the most important thing for humans to do is to form lasting and meaningful bonds with one another, and when appropriate celebrate that union with offspring. 

It is my belief that as we continue to climb the evolutionary ladder our customs and habits will continue to alter along more sensible and egalitarian lines. The myths we currently adhere to in relation to families and relationships will be replaced with more tolerant and understanding behaviour, freed from the baggage of unrealistic rules and expectation. A society based upon such principles would no longer encourage people to constantly attempt to outdo one another, and the barriers and fences we put up today to hide behind and protect us will crumble, replaced only by those required for privacy. Families will intermingle more freely and individuals would gravitate naturally to people with whom they felt kinship, even if they were not actually related.

This may all sound too fantastic, and it may very well be. However, if the desire for a fairer, more peaceful civilization where commonsense overrides selfish desire and unrealistic dogma, then the world in time may very well evolve as I’ve described.

Being Green is Easy

The last areas of change, in this brave new utopian world, that I am going to talk about all relate to the environment.  There’s little doubt that if a future world is to provide a high standard of living to all, then what needs to alter is our attitude to ecological issues, (even our current Pope acknowledges this). The controversies surrounding most green arguments at the moment are, in my opinion, nothing more than a case of science versus self-interest. However, in a future society where our behaviour has become instinctively egalitarian, and our communities even more closely integrated, it’s inevitable that we will also choose to live a cleaner lifestyle and combine it with sustainable practices.

What environmental changes then can we expect to find in our utopian world?

The most obvious is a move away from energy production that creates damaging green house gas emissions. Even in the unlikely event that climate skeptics are proven correct, it still makes much more sense to use clean, solar, wind and sea generated power than dirty coal, or potentially dangerous nuclear. 

One of the most significant ecological challenges facing civilization now and into the future is the size of our population. The world’s natural resources are being drained at a dangerous rate to feed, clothe and warm the vast number of people currently sharing the planet. While science may continue to assist us in dealing with this problem, ultimately society needs to accept the reality our population must reflect what is manageable from available resources. Limiting human's natural desire to procreate would be especially important in a world where the likelihood of vast improvements in heath care will prolong our lifespan, and given there would be little if no wars to cull numbers. 

Of equal importance to the issue of overpopulation is accepting the fact that we don’t own this planet exclusively. We have a responsibility to co-exist with other life forms. It may be argued it’s survival of the fittest, however, our whole eco system depends upon having a healthy balance of different organisms. Continuing to put our own needs above those we share the world with is not only selfish, but also short sighted.    

Sustainable agriculture is already beginning to become the accepted practice. In our future world it will be standard behaviour, alongside either organic or biodynamic modus operandi. Another important development will be the shift back to micro farming. This sensible approach to the production of food will be aided by the world having a smaller population. And while I’d like to believe that over time we will all evolve into vegetarians, if not, then at least the practices of rearing livestock will be done humanely throughout the world. 

It isn’t difficult to be green; in fact the evidence from the last forty years or so demonstrates how quickly we’re evolving towards a cleaner and environmentally sensitive lifestyle. Virtually no one nowadays throws garbage out the car window, recycling is standard practice, and increasing numbers of people today are becoming conscious of ecological footprint, (a measure of human demand on the Earth's ecosystems).   

In conclusion let me say I’m aware that many readers may find it frustrating to think that my only solution to the troubling woes of our civilization is to trust to evolution, a fix that will take centuries. I’m one of you! But alas, even within developed countries perceptions and habits are slow to alter, and to achieve the world that I’ve described the overwhelming majority of people globally need to heed the call for change. Salve yourself with the thought of those who had the challenge of getting people to believe the world is round. Despite the fact none of us are likely to live to see utopia, it doesn’t mean that you good people promoting the issues I’ve raised need give up the fight. We need to keep highlighting the absurdities of our current systems, while encouraging people, in a peaceful and tolerant manner, to broaden their viewpoint. 

Before signing off let me recap briefly on the positive points raised about living in a utopian world. Society, the world over, will offer all people a relatively high standard of living, paid for by removing the excesses of capitalism – accumulation of massive wealth, the payment of unconscionable rewards. These changes won't be forced on society but adopted willingly, as the notion of success switches from being measured by how rich you are to more egalitarian concepts. Relationships freed from unrealistic impositions will be happier and healthier, leading to families being less competitive with each other and more closely integrated. Working in tandem with these social developments will be a greener world.

Well, here’s hoping anyway!





 













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