Octavia Butlers, the “Parable of the Talents” was an extremely surreal depiction of a broken America. Butler does an amazing and in depth, yet gloomy job creating a post-apocalyptic America. One aspect of her book that struck me as somewhat familiar was her depiction of the Reeducation Camp. After reading this segment I couldn’t help but see the resemblance of the Reeducation Camp, to the holocaust, and concentration camps of WWII. It seemed that Butler was stating that past atrocities will always have an effect on the future, and may always attribute to problems of the future. If this is true, it would contradict idea that in able to move forward, one must learn from the past, but if past inhumanity does not always effect the future in positive ways, it seems there is a downward spiral towards a dystopia. How can a nation truly build and escape from a past tragedy as monstrous as these?
One of the conclusions I have drawn after being in this class is that acting on a smaller scale is a more effective way to implement a system of values that one would ideally like to see everywhere. From the beginning of the semester, we have acknowledged Thomas More’s play on words – that “Utopia” is a good place that is no place. At first, it can seem disheartening. What is the point of trying to create a perfect place if it is impossible to devise a system under which everyone can be happy? There are too many variables, too many exceptions to the rule that simply cannot fit under one umbrella. No matter how many people buy into an idea, it is the nature of life on this Earth as a human being that someone will not find his or her brand of happiness in someone else’s Utopia.
However, the daunting futility of creating a utopia need not cause one to abandon his or her journey to an ideal, since it is along the journey itself where change happens. However improbable the existence of an actual utopia, to think about utopia can actually help one to take practical and realistic steps towards a goal. On a personal level, I am at that point in my life where I am about to enter the “real world”, completely overwhelmed with the unmapped territory ahead. It is not change or new experiences or leaving a comfort zone that is daunting. It is the desire to jump into everything and have a positive impact. I don’t know what my next step is because I can’t choose which interest to pursue, not because I don’t have interests. And this is where thinking about utopia has actually helped lead me to a tiny personal epiphany. Perfection does not exist, but one can still aim high. And so to make small steps, to act effectively on a small scale is better than making no steps at all. Eventually, those steps add up to something bigger, where the failures were just as important as the successes.
After reading The Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler, one theme I pondered on was Olaminas comparison to “change” as another form of God. When she describes change as the only “unavoidable, irresistible, on-going reality of the universe” and that because this is “the most powerful reality” thus another word for God, I found myself caught up on this theme throughout my reading. Although Olamina is describing Earthseed in this quote, the idea itself is quite interesting. I took it as: because change is one aspect of life all can rely on as inevitable, one could see it as possibly a godly hand always pushing. Whether it is pushing towards “good” or “bad,” it continues to push and in turn continually change the world each individual knows. Others may have interpreted this differently, but in my mind this opened up many new questions regarding how people construe the presence of God.
Though I have already posted my two required entries, and though I very much doubt that anyone will see this one, considering exams are for the most part complete, I feel compelled to share what I have learned thus far, and only begun to discover, over the past year at the College.
I enjoyed every aspect of this course a great deal, however, I suppose to Dr. Curtis’s chagrin, as I conclude this semester, I have discovered within myself the belief that the system of a utopia is problematic and bad, and furthermore, that I am opposed to it. I am not disagreeing with the assumed utopian notions of universal happiness, peace, equality, or community, however, the way I see it, the foundational construction of utopia is antagonistic to the aforementioned values. I do believe in a better future for our world and I do believe that we can achieve greatness as human beings, but I do not believe the utopian way is the means to this end.
I have reached my conclusion on utopia through a plethora of considerations, but in the interest of space I shall be brief. First, I should like to point out that I do not believe there is no room for utopia in making the world a better place, I just do not believe that it should be taken with much more than a grain of salt. I think that Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story, The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas perfectly illustrates one of my main issues with the concept of utopia as a model for social change. The inherent reality and weakness of utopia is that ,no matter how seemingly perfect it appears, it will ultimately be another person’s dystopia, therefore contradicting itself. The strong subjectivity of utopia is obviously to blame for this dilemma, which is why I believe utopias are only useful if they exist in an individual society, in which people can dream up their own.
However, putting the above aside, I should like to make clear, that my chief opposition to utopia comes from the simple reality of every utopia we have read, studied, and every utopia attempted in reality; they only work under communitarian values antagonistic to individuality. I am of the mindset that a person’s individuality should never be subordinate to the state. I suppose here I am making a utilitarian argument in the sense that I believe a majority population of happy people is favorable to an entire population of neutral people.
Quite obviously, the free system in place in the United States for instance is far from perfect, and in fact terrible at times on many levels, however, it is the freedom which people are afforded to think their own thoughts and pursue their own dreams that allows us to move forward in the social arena so that we might someday break through the threshold of peace and leave conflict in history books. Furthermore, I believe that the very essence of life, is entirely connected to our right to individuality. Consider this, in Plato’s, Thomas More’s, and Karl Marx’s utopian visions, there would not be any space to dream up and present their ideas in the societies they suggest–to quite varying degrees obviously. Yet, nonetheless, the fact remains that it is the free will of the individual which allows us to imagine and construct utopias–to be used perhaps as think tanks or sign markers along the road to peace in the world.
To borrow a concept from Aristotle, the sum of the body politic of the individualistic society is infinitely stronger than the parts which comprise it, whereas Plato’s body politic consists of particular regions of said body whose sum is greater than other parts, as opposed to an egalitarian strong front.
To conclude my rant I would just like to outline the way I think regarding the betterment of society, improvement by utopian examples and the like. In contradicting myself, I would like to share a concept introduced to me during the fall semester which changed my entire world view and self-consciousness; to which I subscribe to entirely and believe to be an unsurpassed guidepost in life. In his Republic, Plato outlines and explains a concept of duty, to which every person is inextricably bound, and that duty matters, whether it be herding sheep or leading a city. It is with this concept interjected into our potentially great society that I believe we can truly move forward. If bound by a sense of duty, not to the state but to ones self and to those whom one shares their realm with, we can begin to work toward a more cooperative individual existence. It is only a start, but I believe if bound by a sense of duty to our individual talents and loves while working for the greater good, we can progress.
I know my place and I know my part. I am one of a minority of lucky individuals to have been born into a privileged life that has given me countless amounts of individual happiness and joys. However, such fortune comes with great responsibility, as whether I care to live or hope to die, I, by the circumstances of the accident of my own birth, am bound to a duty to work towards the public good and to assist those not as fortunate as me, so that they or their next of kin might be so lucky as I. Communism preaches allegiance to the state, and most utopias ring eerily similar to te provisions of Marx’s Communist Manifesto. We must be bound to our individual duties to each other and ourselves.
How much freedom can be granted in a Utopia? The United States of America was founded on principles of freedom, but has numerous laws and regulations in addition to the Bill of Rights and other constitutional amendments that limit government authority. North Korea on the other hand is an oppressive state where the people are given no freedom. Utopian societies must be aware of how they wish to grant individuals freedom and how much. A collective society such as Japan would likely have a very different vision for Utopia than someone from the U.S., especially concerning freedom. It’s not just how much liberty an individual can have, but what kinds of freedoms are available and how these rights interact with each other. Our most relevant assigned text on this issue is Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. The people of Anarres are anarchist who have no formal government. The world of Anarres is scarce, forcing it’s denizens to cooperate for survival. The way freedom manifest itself on Anarres is very different from the way one would expect it too. According to Dan Sabia’s essay “Individual and community in Le Guin’s The Dispossessed”:
The notion that freedom can be defined negatively must be rejected and the idea that it must be used responsibly, because its exercise involves the welfare of others, must be emphasized. …[T]hat the exercise of liberty almost always affects other human beings, and that it always requires interacting, cooperating, and often sharing with others, mean that free actions do impose general and particular obligations on the individual, and this is what makes Shevek’s society an ethical community.
Freedom is usually described in the negative, that is actions that cannot be performed because they contradicts and individuals rights. The constitution’s Bill of Rights is an example of negative freedoms. The people of Anarres may be free to do as they wish, but they also understand the consequence of what that freedom means. As a result they are constantly striving to balance what is best for themselves and the whole community. Negative freedom is meant for people to be left alone, freedom for everyone to do as they wish as long as others aren’t harmed. The Odianians flip this notion and work together to ensure mutual freedom, survival and quality of life for the collective. Shevek and his peers do not feel weakened by these obligations, but strengthened.
Dan Sabia, Individual and community in Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, The New Utopian Politics of Ursula K. Le Guin’s the Dispossessed: http://books.google.com/books?id=9goKmJQaMzEC&dq=the+dispossessed+analysis+of+odonianism&q=freedom#v=snippet&q=freedom&f=false
i was at my house the other day watching tv and a commercial came up that was talking about going on a vacation to a number of far away place,for example they brought up hawaii and as they talked about it they showed all the different ocean scenes and people getting back rubs and all the different flowers, bacally making it look and feel like a utopia. a place where all your worries just fade away and your mind and body are in complete relaxation. but what made me think of this class is at the end of the commercial it said “find your utopia today”. it does seem that way that everyone wants to go to places like this becasue they feel like there is nothing there that is bad and that everything there is made out of sunshine and rainbows. even when people are at work they have the screen savers with a picture of an island with white sand and a blue ocean surounding it. so my question is do you think that places like hawaii have utopian principles? when you go there is everything just perfect and you dont have a worrie in the world. if so are there places that have dystopian properties? if you think that places have this utopian quality where would your place with utopian principles be?
While i was in class the other day my mind started to wander and i somehow started thinking about the matrix. now if you have never seen the matrix you should probably move out from under a rock. the matrix is a move about machines taking over earth, during this the human race bascally trashes the earth trying to find a way to stop the “robots” from taking over. after the humans make it so the machines cant use solar power they start to use the humans as a source of power. with this is wher they create the matrix which is what the machines use while they grow humans in these growth sacks. the matrixs is bascally a vitual reality where everything is like we see it today. the machines use it to preoccupie humans so there minds are constantly running. a quote i found intresting is when the agents( machines in the matrix) talk about how the first matrix didnt work because they gave everyone what they wanted and it was anarchy. so bascally humans turned the world into a dystopia. is it so bad that the humans live in this nice new world in which they have no idea that it is all a virtual reality? and the old world they live in is pretty much gone so that means that something had to be done. even know that means that they are being harvested by machines when they die. but for all we know we could be in a matrix. so the question is do you think that the matrix is good or bad?
I am posting about the empty industrialized cities in china, specifically the ones that are modern and have booming real estate markets at present. The uninhabited cities in china demonstrate a utopian tendency within industrial societies. They tend to think that they will always invent a technological way to solve the problems that are the result of the constant growth necessitated by industrial society. These problems range from pollution, to nutrition, to climate change, to economics. People in industrial society expect multi-national corporations and government to solve these problems by funding and encouraging the creation of things that solve pollution, malnutrition, and climate change. The idea that the elite “super-humans” that corporations are in this society, will save us is a utopian and naïve expectation. This expectation is faith based and dangerous. People can do lots of things in their daily lives to reduce pollution or improve their nutrition. People in industrial societies are pressured to believe that endless economic growth is possible. This is another utopian dream of industrial society. Endless growth is impossible insofar as the resources on the planet are finite. The uninhabited cities in China are uninhabited because there is a lock of people to populate them, because enough people are still living an intensive agricultural lifestyle after Mao imposed it on all of China. China assumes that people are going to be driven from the farms to the factories, but they have forgotten what happens when their workers organize and finally increase their wages. Eventually all the industry leaves or collapses whichever comes first.
Parable of the Talents is a critical dystopian narrative in which the United States falls apart at the hands of religious zealots – Christian Americans – who purportedly seek to return America to puritanical values, but who reframe religion into an increasingly rigid and political force. The overlap of the political system with a religion that seeks to proselytize and convert people to the “truth” feels vaguely familiar. However, in this novel, there is no sanctioning body putting a stop to what would certainly be called human rights violations. We are launched into a dystopia without a back story about the function of the rest of the world, particularly the Western world. All of the world agencies, like the United Nations, that should be intervening in this world are seemingly no longer active. The United States democratic government seems to be a farce, allowing groups with power operate entirely outside of the criminal justice system and without the morals and ethics protecting individual autonomy that we value. Continue reading
Upon reading Peter Stillman’s Dystopian Critiques, Utopian Possibilities, and Human Purpose in Butler’s Parables, I found that it focused on three major points. The first uses the Parable books as a warning against this possible dystopian version of our future. Next, it investigated a discussion of the individual versus the collective/ community as a means of exploring utopian possibilities. Finally, the role of processes and change and human agency in solving the problems associated with the conditions created in this potential dystopian future.
In Parable of the Talents, there is a warning against the religious right and the intolerance that comes from what Stillman describes as “social totalities”. This warning seeks to show how a utopian dream of some today can become a dystopian nightmare. This point in particular made me think of our discussion on whether a nation can be considered a community. Today, there are man people that think of the U.S. as a “Christian nation” and are intolerant of others’ beliefs. But it seems like on a national level, this type of belief would lead to the type of theocracy Butler warns against rather than a community.
The next major point Stillman makes is that the Parable series often explores how individualism and collectivism are used to create a utopian vision amid the dystopias described in the novels. There are instances described of people, with the means, locking themselves away from the world but it seems Butler’s conclusion is that individualism often fails and communities based on individualism will also fail, such as communities that are based on ownership of property rather than collective agreements. Acorn is a response to this problem; it is based on the need for interdependence and trust because the individual is too weak. This point seems to have been raised in almost all the works that we have discussed this semester. I especially think of Looking Backward, this belief that no person was self-sustaining was particularly relevant in Bellamy’s work. The role of community is central in the utopian vision. While Acorn does not survive, Olamina finds the Earthseed is the greater unifying factor and she chooses to abandon Acorn and focus her efforts on Earthseed.
Finally, Stillman discusses the role of processes, change, and human agency in Butler’s works. The idea of Earthseed is that change is inevitable and true immortality is the survival of the species. Stillman explains that Olamina is able to see the importance of her message through her active role in spreading her beliefs; it is only when she is an agent for this change that she feels she is making an impact. Earthseed as a religion becomes popular and the people who follow it create a larger stronger community because of their faith. Stillman does describe some of the problems associated with Olamina’s rejection of individualism (including relying on a neighborhood or traditional nuclear family) is that it cost Olamina her family and Vere is highly critical of that fact. Also, throughout Parable of the Talents Olamina does not attempt to radically change the political system but works within it when she must, this is another critique Stillman addresses about the work.
Thinking about community in the way Olamina seeks to achieve shows that community is both important and can have unintended effects. I think as Americans we think of community in terms of family and neighborhood, both of which Olamina finds as unviable options in the dystopian future. She is willing to lose her family to achieve her vision and I think that ignoring familiar relationships to create a real community based on interdependence and trust is quite radical but also causes us to rethink how we can form communities now.
Secondary Article Citation:
PETER G. STILLMAN