Why “Good Will Hunting” is so Important, and Why you MUST Watch it Again.

I will warn you in advance… This blog entry contains movie spoilers.

A lot of people, it seems, have quite an emotional response to the two-time Oscar winning film Good Will Hunting. The film’s success is clearly reflected within its awards and figures, but most people who have seen the film seem to draw something deeper from it. Often it is a very on the surface account of the plot that is given by people to explain their emotional attraction to the film. It is, after all, a rollercoaster of a ride. It begins with a troubled young man – who can only be described as a genius – who works as a janitor at MIT; the film ultimately ends with him being in a much better place than he was before – a true underdog story. However, I feel as though this summary does not do the film nor the viewer justice. I would go as far as saying that Good Will Hunting is the most important Hollywood film ever made from a philosophical perspective. If viewed through the lens I am about to offer now, I think the film can give you great insight about yourself, your own life and the direction of your life and own being.

I want to focus on what I believe to be the most important part of the film (at least from a philosophical perspective): the relationship and discussions between Will Hunting (played by Matt Damon) and his counsellor Sean Maguire (played by the legendary Robin Williams). Will Hunting, who is the main character, is a 20 year old boy genius, capable of effortlessly solving mathematical problems that award-winning mathematicians struggle with. Will, however, and mainly due to his history, has what one might describe as a bleak view on life; he is very nihilistic, and spends most of his time avoiding all meaning and responsibility in fear of being emotionally hurt. Sean Maguire, on the other hand, is the complete opposite to Will. He is a middle-aged man, who wears his heart on his sleeve but is also very intelligent. Sean had lived a life of meaning; he had been married to the love of his life for years, until she died of cancer. A lot of the key conversations between Will and Sean seem to revolve around love, relationships and pain.

On the topic of relationships, Will and Sean, yet again, are at two polar opposites. Will, who begins dating a girl and seemingly falls in love with her, refuses to commit himself emotionally or even admit his feelings to himself and others. Sean, as we know, was romantically and wholly committed to his wife, who he clearly loved very much. In short, Will is afraid of getting hurt, whereas Sean has been hurt in the most tragic of ways. When Will questions Sean over this, Sean says that he has no regrets, because it was worth spending all that time with the love of his life, despite his pain. This is what we call meaning, and Will refuses to see it. For anything meaningful to occur, there must be some pain along the way. To give a common and obvious example, somebody who is looking for a long-term partner is likely to experience heartbreak at least once on the road to a relationship. It is very much like the Yin and Yang symbol – there can be no white without black, no love without pain and no happiness without sorrow. But Will undertakes what Sean (and others) describe as a “super philosophy”. Will’s life philosophy was as follows: never get close to anybody or anything, never commit to anything meaningful, because that way you can’t get hurt. But, as Sean constantly tries to point out to Will, how can one lead a meaningful or happy life with such a philosophy? I would, if you have not discovered this deeper philosophical plot already, recommend watching the film again. But, instead of just viewing the conversations between Sean and Will as therapy sessions, view them as philosophical battlegrounds, because that’s what they essentially are.

But it is not only the therapy discussions between Will and Sean which are extremely philosophical, but the entire films plot within itself. What is most interesting is that the film seems to be an inflated version of the discussions between Will and Sean; or, between meaning and nihilism. Everything from Will’s relationships, education, social life and career is a constant flirtation from nihilism to meaningfulness and responsibility. He dips his toe into the pool of responsibility, but then always seems to end up refusing to take the plunge (until the very end of the film, at least).

Now, the question is, what can watching this film tell us about ourselves and our own lives? Quite a lot, I think. I’ll give you my own personal experience of this. When I first watched the film, I was about fifteen years old. At this time in my life, mainly due to personal reasons, I was very nihilistic and negative. I took a very similar view as Will in terms of how one should live life. However, from the ages of around 17-18, I undertook a huge personal transformation. I now actively seek meaning and responsibility, and in short, I would now identify with Sean’s outlook on life rather than Will’s. When I first watched the film, I found myself (for obvious reasons) sympathizing and relating to Will more. But watching the film for the second time as a nineteen year old, after this huge personal transformation, I found myself whole heartedly admiring Sean, and almost egging Will on to take the plunge every time he dipped his toe into the pool of meaning.

The film, as far as I can see, can be used as a good measure on one’s life. Given these two contrasting characters, and the running theme of nihilism vs meaning throughout the entire film, it can be used as a tool to discover where you – or somebody else – is in terms of the way they live their life and how they view more specific things such as family, friendships and romantic relationships. I found, on second viewing of the film and general reflection, that my views on life have swayed dramatically, and I am now reaping the rewards of that, and living a much fuller and more meaningful life. I would be very interested to hear how others perceive the underlining philosophical battle within the film. So, I would highly recommend watching the film again, especially if you have undergone a huge personal transformation since the last time you watched it. And, I can guarantee you, that it will reveal a bit more about yourself than you’d expect.

The “New Atheists” are Wrong.

I should perhaps begin this piece with an explanation of what “New Atheism” actually is, or at least what it is in the common use of the term. The wave of New Atheism seemed to properly reach the shores in the mid 2000’s, following the publication of books such as The God Delusion and God is not Great. As a very young thinker at the time of discovering the likes of Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris (to name just a few), the idea of New Atheism appealed to me strongly. It was sharp, venomous to the opposition and the movements “leaders”, so to speak, were charismatic and extremely articulate, and often very humorous and witty. It was, I have discovered on reflection, nothing more than an intellectual fad for myself – it was “cool” to be a New Atheist, it was smart to mock religion and spiritualism. And it is here where we discover what New Atheism actually is: it is, in essence, anti-theism; it is the belief that humanity would be better off without religion, and for this reason we should work as hard as we possibly can to persuade “believers” to step away from their God/s.

Before the accusations begin to fly around, I must make it very clear that I have not, in any way, converted to a religion. I am still an atheist in the traditional sense of the word – I do not believe in a supernatural creator of the universe, but I’m open to persuasion. But I have, since the age of about seventeen, moved away from the New Atheist movement and am now a rigid critic of anti-theism (for reasons I will explain in this piece, obviously).

It is difficult to know where to begin with such a broad subject, and I must confess that I do not intend to project absolutely every single little detail and opinion on this topic in this blog entry, because – to be completely honest – it would take far too long, and would not be suitable for blog format. However, I will underline what I believe to be the strongest and most obvious critical points against New Atheism/anti-theism. I think an obvious starting point would be the claim that religion is evil, and that humanity would be better off without it.

The argument that religion makes people partake in horrific crimes is, undoubtedly, true – I am willing to concede that point to the New Atheists. However, I always feel as though this argument is – and I can’t think of a better word – political, it reminds me of a tedious session of PMQs. When you watch a theist and an anti-theist debate the atrocities of Religion, what tends to happen is a tennis match of historical dates and figures. The anti-theist will, for example, point out that Religion is responsible for the deaths of everybody in the Crusades, and in response the theist will bring up a figure like Joseph Stalin. You could spend all day listing atrocities done in the name, or at least by the followers, of those two particular “worldviews”. If you were to find a Capitalist and a Communist, and then get them to defend their preferred economic systems against the others, you would find that the debate takes the same direction as the example above: “Capitalism kills people” says the Communist, and in response the Capitalist growls “well look at how many people Communism has killed!”, and the debate quickly turns into a mudslinging match of horrifying statistics. This is not to say that these points are irrelevant, obviously questions on human catastrophe are raised in such debates, and of course serious discussion should be had about such events. However, I do not feel as though these points, or style of debating, are constructive in the argument on whether or not humanity would improve without the aid of religion. To begin with, as I have already pointed out, both sides have had a share of ideologically driven murder. Secondly, and I know this is a cliché argument (but I believe it to be true), tarring everything with the brush is never a useful or truthful exercise, in my opinion. It would be like, as a friend put it, “saying all politics is bad because of Nazism existed”. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I do not think the world would be a better place without religion because, unfortunately, people would simply use another powerful form of community to spread their dogma and commit atrocities. Religions are, obviously, powerful belief systems, and like all belief systems, it can be used by awful people to convince others to partake in their evil agenda, in the same way they can use politics or any other ideology.

There is also a lot of criticism concerning truths when it comes to Religion, and this is greatly exaggerated specifically by the anti-theists. In the words of Richard Dawkins, “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world”. Of course, whether one is right or wrong should always be what leads the debate. But, I strongly believe that a great landscape has remained unseen by both the Atheists (in particular anti-theists) and a lot of the Religious themselves. First of all, I think the debate around the Holy Books and Science is completely irrelevant. Scientific truth of the world is, to be extremely crude, a different type of truth to those portrayed through holy books such as the Bible. I will not burden you with my analysis of the Bible or other Religious texts, but I will express my conclusion from studying such texts: it is irrelevant whether they are scientifically true or not. The moral of the story, as they say, is still constant. One could argue, as Christopher Hitchens did, that it is irrelevant whether or not Socrates actually existed, because it is his message that truly counts, not his existence. Of course, both the Atheists and the Christians will argue that the resurrection of Christ, for example, does count, because whether or not it was true (in the form of historic and scientific truth) will decide the fate of humanity and the universe. I argue against this theory, simply because there is still a deep symbolic truth within the story of the resurrection, but perhaps this is where me and the Christians part ways. In conclusion, we must accept, whether we like it or not, that religion is open to interpretation; and yet again, we find it impossible tar with one singular brush.

I will conclude this blog post with what I believe to be the most important point of them all, and, as far as I can see, this is my ultimate defence of religion. I feel as though the New Atheists lack an understanding of human history and psyche. And I confess this as somebody who once identified as a New Atheist. Even the earliest beings of articulate man could not avoid the religious question, and even the modern being, with all our technological and scientific advancements, can not avoid it . For thousands upon thousands of years, the idea of God and the supernatural has been present within all societies and cultures. I tend to find, but not always, that the New Atheists bat away this historic pattern with the claim that it was simply a pathetic attempt by uneducated ancient peoples to explain the world. This may be true, but it does not explain why they explained things the way they did – each mythological story from our history contains symbolism and an unnecessary amount of detail, in the form of the stories “plot”. In my opinion, there is a imprint branded on our psyche; there is something that makes us believe there is a divine truth or state of being, which is both above the individual and the collective. I have found that we all believe in God, but a lot of people have simply replaced the traditional concept of God with an “ism”. Political ideology is a great example of this. Many people see Socialism, for example, as some kind of divine way of living.

In part, our society, and what I would describe as the human psyche (the inner self), clearly revolves around symbolism, which is very well represented within religion and mythology. Religion, mythology and spirituality are representations of the human psyche; their messages are archetypal, and often multiple randomly selected religions are more closely related to each other, in terms of message, than we expect. One common link between religions is the message that “life is suffering”. We cannot just withdraw the foundations of religion and spiritual symbolism from society and expect the core messages that have been portrayed through them to just levitate by themselves in mid-air. The truth is that we couldn’t do away with spiritual foundations if we wanted to, for mythological and mystical symbolism is entrenched within our brains. Take marriage as a prime example. Most adults within our society, it seems, are married (or at least they once were). Marriage, when you strip it down to its material basics, is nothing but two signatures on a man-made legal document. But, for some reason, we humans see it as more than just ink on paper. We view marriage as a divine declaration of love, as lifetime commitment, as a holy bond between two lovers. We must differentiate here, for I am not saying that this is evidence of the supernatural. But what I am saying is that the idea of there being something higher than just the material, the idea of God, is clearly present within us all on a psychological basis, and for that reason I do not feel comfortable mocking, degrading or heavily punching the idea of God or the paranormal, because I believe it represents far, far more than just stupidity, gullibility or indoctrination.

How can the Conservative Party win over the Youth?

Firstly, I feel obliged to point out that I actually didn’t vote for the Conservatives in the 2017 General Election. Instead I voted for the Labour Party, despite being fairly torn towards the party leader Jeremy Corbyn for various reasons (none of which I will cover in this blog post). This seems to be a consistent theme for my fellow millennials. Under Corbyn’s spell, the turnout for 18-24 years old surged from 43% in 2015 to 66.4% in 2017, with 63% of those young people voting for Labour (source: Sky News). So, given the statistics, it was no surprise that Tory MP Damian Green recently said that the Conservative Party must “change hard” to win over the youth. No matter how old (or young) you are, or where your political allegiances lie, it is simply impossible to deny that the Conservative Party are failing to win over young voters, especially when it comes to getting those voters to turn up to the ballot box in the first place. We must now ask ourselves, with Damian Green’s comments in mind, what must the Conservatives do to inspire the youth?

To begin with, we must contemplate whether the problem is actually the Tories, or is it perhaps the millennials themselves? Yes… We need to talk about my fellow millennials, and I’m no longer afraid to say it. (although, as an anti-Tory, I will rush to say that I think the problem lies with both the Tories and the youth). The “problem”, so to speak, with the millennials is clearly reflected on many of our university campuses and social media platforms. A huge proportion of the politically engaged youth, for various reasons, seem to have an obsession with playing the victim. “Safe space policies” are ripe on our university campuses, and identity politics is seemingly more popular than ever. However, I feel as though it is important to remember that the youth have always been radicals; which 16-year-old doesn’t want to free the working classes from their chains, right? So, naturally, many of these millennials may shift to the centre of the political spectrum, in that all-so cliché way. Corbyn has, to his credit, hacked into this social climate. His slogans, campaign material and policies were often centred around equity, state-funded opportunity and giving the future of Britain a helping hand. But before I put forth a potential Conservative alternative to solve such issues, I will swing the gun of criticism from the youth, and point it firmly in the direction of the Tories.

One of the most obvious problems with the Conservatives is their image, or at least how the youth perceive that image. Despite Theresa May’s fairly modest upbringing as the daughter of a vicar, the Conservatives still continue their age-old tradition of being a posh boys club. Everything from the media to technology has changed, and it is very easy for the computer savvy youth to look past the mainstream media and discover the history behind key Conservative figures. It is only natural for an 18-year-old working class student to look at Boris Johnson’s Etonian upbringing and think: “How could that person possibly know what is best for me?”. Something simply must shift in the Conservative Party’s image; they cannot survive on their current dose of Etonians and Bullingdon Boys. As history proves, Prime Ministers are more than often elected based upon how connected a television viewer feels whilst watching them deliver a speech in the comfort of their own home.

But, of course, politics shouldn’t be about personality. The Conservative Party’s policies are unpopular with the youth, as well as many older people too. Most strikingly, it is the economic policy of austerity which has disgusted and angered the vast majority of young voters. The education, NHS and Social Care systems seem to be severely underfunded, and understandably this is a huge worry for many a voter. In order to win over some young voters, the Conservative Party simply must make a giant U-turn on austerity, and bring it to an end once and for all. Some have argued that they should do the opposite, and make the noble case for austerity. However, with many economists torn on the issue, it seems near impossible to sell the policy as an “economic necessity”, as they have done in the past.

As equally as damaging as the problem of austerity, in my opinion, is the lack of Conservative principles. With Labour’s shift to the Left, Theresa May scrambled desperately in the dark chasms of Blairism in a pathetic attempt to snap up those Labour voters who felt alienated by Jeremy Corbyn. But, as Fraser Nelson said in his latest article for The Spectator, “If voters are sold Labour ideas, they’ll buy them from the Labour Party”. So, what should the Conservative Party be offering the electorate? And more importantly, which kind of alternative to Labour and the status-quo can the Tories offer young voters?

Of course, given my political preferences, I am more than happy to be accused of being biased at this point. But, I feel as though a shift towards Classical Liberalism and conservatism (with a small “c”) would offer the youth something to believe in. It feels as though the Conservatives have abandoned the importance of liberty and the individual. By developing such principles, and deeply rooting them in their future policies, the youth (and everybody else, for that matter) could have an alternative to the identity politics which is flourishing within our university campuses, faculties and society in general. It seems cliché and predictable, especially coming from myself, but if the Conservative Party even want me to consider donating my vote to them, they must make an extreme shift away from their fetish for the Neo-Liberal economy, and place all emphasis on the crucial values of freedom, individuality and opportunity for all.

Part 1: What is Meaning, and is Our Society Meaningless?

I would like to, if I may, begin this series by starting at the very beginning of all things (according to some): The Book of Genesis. As many of you will already know, according to the Biblical story, God created the world and the universe in seven days (but resting on the seventh), and from the hand of God sprung the human race and all other life forms. God’s first two humans, Adam and Eve, were placed in the wonderful Utopia of Eden. I’m sure many of you know what follows: Adam and Eve ate fruit from the forbidden tree, after caving in to the temptation of the Serpent. They did, as you could probably imagine, enjoy the fruit. It was, as pointed out by God in the Bible, the most succulent and delicious fruit in the entire garden. However, despite its luxurious taste, eating it came at a cost – the cost of unleashing pain, sin and suffering upon the entire human race, forever and always.

If you do not take kindly to religious stories, then I may be able to tempt you with the fantasy world of JRR Tolkien. (For those of you who have not read The Hobbit or The Lord of The Rings, I will warn you that this paragraph contains “spoilers”). In The Hobbit, a young hobbit by the name of Bilbo Baggins wins a magical ring from the creature Gollum in a game of riddles. Over the years, thanks to the powerful spell of the magical One Ring, Bilbo begins to wither and feel “stretched”. When the time comes for him give up the ring he does, at first, refuse bluntly. The spell of the ring, despite tearing a hole within him, makes him feel good, powerful and can be used as a quick escape from his fellow Hobbits (who Bilbo considers to be an annoyance). But when Bilbo finally gives up the ring – with a bit of help from his old friend Gandalf – he goes on to live a tranquil life in the company of Elves. Perhaps a more striking example from the world of Tolkien is the story of Isildur, who was handed the chance to destroy the ring many years before Bilbo was even born, ridding the world of its evil before it could do any further harm. But instead Isildur gave in to temptation – he thought of only himself in the present, not himself in the long-term, or the rest of Middle-Earth for centuries to come.

I will now move away from the tales of religion and fantasy fiction, and enter the realm of real life. Picture, if you will, and twenty-five-year-old female. She is unemployed by mere choice, and spends most of her time sat on her sofa smoking cannabis, whilst watching daytime television. This is a very real scenario for some, and I’m sure that we all know somebody who lives a similar, if not mirrored, lifestyle to the semi-fictional person I have just described. She could, of course, logically justify her lifestyle: she doesn’t have to work, so she can just sit around all day relaxing, doing what she enjoys, living responsibility free on her regular state benefit. The cannabis she smokes leaves her relaxed, it makes her feel happy. But, the real question, which is also raised in the two examples given above, is what does this do for her life and the life of others as she goes on, as she ages?

Some of you may have already noticed, but there is a common theme running throughout the given examples. Some might say we have stumbled upon an Archetype. Stories of people doing long-term harm to both themselves and others in exchange for quick and often sensory pleasures have existed within our societies for thousands of years. It’s here, I believe, that we discover the answer to the first part of the titles question (what is meaning?). Meaning, in the sense of having meaning in your actions and life, is doing something that is not only good for yourself, but good for others too. But more specifically, it is doing those things to cause good in the long-term, not just the short. As demonstrated in the above examples, it is easy to sacrifice long-term prosperity and meaning for extremely short-lived feelings of positivity and pleasure. To a lot of us, it may seem logical to chase as many of these highs as we can, and just hope that they last and recycle themselves enough times so you can go to the grave a happy man. But as the wisdom of our elders teach us, this is simply not the case. Many middle-aged and elderly people – and even some young people – will openly tell you that they regret the time they spent “fooling around”. It would, if Adam and Eve were to take greater responsibility and look for deeper meaning in their actions, have been wise of them to resist the Serpents temptation, and refused to have eaten the fruit in order to blockade the terrorising rage of their creator, and therefore saving themselves and their descendants from the pain of suffering. The same applies with Isildur – had he cast the ring into Mount Doom, destroying it once and for all, he would have saved millions of lives, including his own. So, what do these fictional characters, and real people, all from completely different worlds, have in common? It’s extremely simple: they all made the common mistake of exchanging long-term peace and joy for instant and short-lived pleasure.

Now that I have explained what I believe to be the definition of meaning – in the sense of having a meaningful life – we must now ask the second given question: Is our society meaningless? Firstly, and above all, it is important to understand that the title of this series is, in fact, bogus. When I say “finding meaning in a meaningless society”, what I really mean is finding meaning within yourself and your own personal life, whilst living in a meaningless society. But, nonetheless, the content of our society, so to speak, is more likely to lead you towards the “short-term pleasure” path, rather than the pursuit of meaning. Also, if we all stride to live a life of meaning, then our societies too would look, to some extent, different. So, what are these traps laid out by our own society?

We must begin with ideology. Practically all of us are invested in an ideology for one reason or another. Whether you’re a Marxist, a Fascist, a Liberal, a Conservative, a Humanist or a Christian, you have an ideology. For many, their ideology is relatively harmless. For some, admittedly, it may even give them some purpose and, dare I say, meaning in their lives. It is not so much the political allegiances or set of religious beliefs of your ordinary man/woman that causes you and others harm, rather the arena in which these ideas manifest and clash (society). It would be too much for me to ask every individual to shred their ideology, and I would even argue, to a huge extent, that having a set of fixed beliefs is simply part of being a modern and evolved human. However, there is one huge problem with ideologies: they are fixed ideas, and for many, causes people to refuse to accept questions or criticisms of their beliefs without becoming defensive or upset, let alone giving them the openness to change their beliefs. Truth is key to finding the meaning in your life, as in order to discover what is good for both you and others, you must be open ears to all sides of the spectrum. In other words, we all must accept that we get things wrong in order to better ourselves and our society, no matter how attached we are to a certain set of beliefs.

Perhaps one of the most obvious threats to finding “deeper meaning” (a rather hippyish phrase, I must admit), would be the current economy of consumerism. We know, or at least those of us who follow economics know, that the success of an economy, and to some extent a society, is measured by economic growth. Of course, we should be very thankful that we live in such a rich and vibrant country, but it feels as though many of us are falling into a trap. The craving of clothes, superb mobile phones, jewellery, and many other material things, is at the forefront of most of our lives; it’s what makes the economy tick. This is not to say that I do not enjoy indulging myself in such things from time to time, it would be hypocritical of anybody to say they don’t. However, what one owns, particularly when it comes to products branded by a simple logo or name, dominates and drives a huge section of our society. Material possessions and money, for many people, are easily used as a short-term stimulus (like the One Ring or the forbidden fruit).

The rise in Liberalism has also had, in many aspects, a negative effect within our societies here in the West. This is not to say that it is a bad thing (I would consider myself a Classical Liberal, if I were forced to put a label on myself); I would much rather live in our Liberal society rather than, say, Saudi Arabia; and I am a passionate believer in freedom and personal responsibility, which Liberalism opens up for us. However, it is vital for us all to remember that Liberalism does not mean discarding all responsibility for both yourself and others, and I feel as though some use Liberalism as an excuse to do this. Although we have the freedom to sit around all day doing nothing, spend hours doing drugs, refuse to work, abandon your children or partner, does not automatically mean that that is the right thing to do.

I could, if I really wanted to rant (which is tempting), write paragraph upon paragraph of what I think is wrong with our society. However, I will not burden you with such a painful course of reading. This is mainly because finding meaning within our society has more to do with yourself than it does with those around you. Yes, as I have pointed out, there are a lot of material comforts, time wasting and instinctive actions to achieve short-term pleasure within our lives, but that does not mean you have to abide by the ways of others.

So, in short, to answer the question of is our society meaningless?; yes, our society is meaningless… But, that does not mean life is and that your own life must be. In this series I will be looking at unavoidable aspects and stages of every human’s life, from growing up to stabilising oneself. It is important to realise and remember that this isn’t, and never will be, a moral guidebook. In fact, this series has absolutely nothing to do with morality, and I have never believed for one second that I, or anybody else for that matter, is in the position to give advice on morals and ethics. It is not my intention to demonstrate how people should live their lives, but rather to express ways in which I believe can help us in our quest for a meaningful life (something we all want, I would hope).

To conclude Part 1 of this series, I would just like to expand on the importance of your own individuality. In the words of the great Carl Jung (the father of Analytical Psychology) – someone who will be getting another mention in this series later on – “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become”. No matter what your position in life may be, there are always ways in which we can strive to better ourselves, and by bettering yourself you naturally better those around you by sheer influence, and from that will spring the meaning of your life. As the old saying goes “charity begins at home, but does not end there”, and in this case, each individual is their own “home”, and fixing your home will only have a positive effect on the whole neighbourhood.

 

Introducing: Finding Meaning in a Meaningless Society

I have decided to construct a new series of posts for this blog. Finding Meaning in a Meaningless society will aim to, in fairly basic terms, critique the current attitudes and beliefs within our society, as well as explain ways in which one can find meaning and purpose through all the baggage of modern life, so to speak. Given the rapid changes within our society (particularly when it comes to lifestyle, technology and politics), I believe this will be a fun series to write, and hopefully an even better one to read!

The series will be divided between six blog posts. The order is as follows:

Part 1: What is Meaning, and is Our Society Meaningless?

Part 2:  Growing Up

Part 3: The Symbolic Deaths

Part 4:  Stabilising Yourself

Part 5: Relationships

Part 6: The Importance of Goals

 

Don’t be a Utopian

Have you ever dreamt of an ideal world? A world where humans can co-exist in perfect harmony? You have? In that case, my friend, you could well be the most dangerous person on the planet. The Utopians have been, undoubtedly, the most dangerous people on the planet, and many of us today have fallen for the very same trap. This is not to say, of course, that we shouldn’t aim to improve our society. But I am suggesting, however, that we improve our society keeping one fundamental key in mind: the key of personal freedom.

To understand why we shouldn’t be Utopians, and why liberty is so important, we must first of all understand what being a Utopian actually means. For God knows how many years,  and partciuarly in the 20th Century, there have always been Utopian thinkers. The Utopians have created, or at least taken to, various ideologies in order to create a “perfect” society. From Marxism to Nazism, Mao to the Medieval Crusaders, the dream of a perfect society was at the very core of their ideas and actions. After studying the book “Hitler’s Table Talk”, a collection of notes compiled by Martin Bormann (Hitler’s own personal secretary), I discovered something quite shocking: Hitler did not think himself to be evil. Of course, many of us (I hope) would have no hesitation to say that Hitler was at least one of the most evil men to ever live… But he didn’t think so himself. Like most people, especially when I was younger, I pictured the likes of Hitler and Stalin to be Sauron type villains – people who knew what they were doing, enjoyed being evil, and only used their political “beliefs” as a way to manipulate and disguise this evil. But as the deeper historical records prove, this is not the case. Even Hitler, the genocidal murderer and war monger, believed himself to be good and sincere – Hitler believed in the perfect German, and global, society. Hitler was a Utopian, and that should scare us all more than anything.

But what connects all these Utopian thinkers? What can an innocent, caring and optimistic 16 year-old Communist possibly have in common with Joseph Stalin (somebody who many Communists are extremely critical of)? The connection is quite a simple one: Utopians believe in one moral truth; a truth that the economy, society and political system must be based upon. This is the danger of Utopianism. You might think that you are noble, and perhaps even moral, for believing in a world where everything is perfect, but ask yourself this, how do you know your vision is perfect? According to who and what do you have the moral high ground over everybody else in society? And believe me, some of the most common answers to these questions would have been like a twin to the answers given by the likes of Hitler and Stalin.

In Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s masterpiece critique of the Soviet Union, Stalin and Communism in general, “The Gulag Archipelago”, he wrote the following on the topic of Soviet”traitors” being jailed after returning from the WW2 battlegrounds:

“Capitalist England fought at our side against Hitler; Marx had eloquently described the poverty and suffering of the working class in that same England. Why was it that in this war only one traitor could be found among them, the business man “Lord Haw Haw” – but in our country millions?”  

The above quote is, perhaps, a prime example of the difference between what we might describe as a “normal” society and a – aspiring – Utopian society. For all its flaws, in Capitalist England there are very few moral codes to abide by; and the codes – or laws – that are already in place (like murder being illegal) have been engraved within global societies for thousands upon thousands of years, and have stood the test of time and critique from a wide range of opposition beliefs. Utopians, on the other hand, have set the rules based on their ideology, and those who do not obey are for the Gulag. If you don’t want to give up your farmland to the collective, to use just on example, then you are a traitor to the revolution, and you must be punished. You can see just how quickly and logically people could (and do) jump from “peaceful theory” to brutal totalitarianism.

In order to maintain a fair and functioning society, one antidote must forever be present: individual freedom. As we already know, a Utopian is somebody who believes their own personal moral point of view is the only acceptable one, and that it must be forced upon all others in order to create a better world

 

But as history proves, when such people gain power (often by violent means), it does not end well. Freedom, and in particular freedom of speech, is crucial for all people to engage in debate and discussion, and then come to a conclusion on which way is the best way forward. But, perhaps most importantly, a free mind living within a free society has the right to choose his own way in life and find his own meaning. Or, in other words, he does not have to obey by the ideas and teachings of Marx, Adam Smith or any other figure.

In order to move ourselves forward as individuals, and with that comes the rest of society, we must all accept one brutal truth: we are not nearly as moral as we think we are. There is always room for improvement, always room to learn, and most importantly, there is always time to consider an opposing point of view. So, if you are a Utopian, if you believe that entire civilizations should be built around your own personal moral code, then you are far more dangerous than you could ever dream of being.