The Danger of Laughter

I’ve been reminded recently that one of the most dangerous things in the world is laughter, especially when aimed at bureaucracies. I was reviewing some things about the Cold War, and found a brief description of Vaclav Havel’s early play The Garden Party. The dialogue makes no sense. It is a pile of cliches and double-speak and nonsense, all spoken by the protagonist and bureaucrats. The protagonist’s glory is that he has, at last, mastered how to navigate the bureaucracy of Czechoslovakia in the 1960s. The very absurdity and nonsense of the play is the point of the story.

The Soviets and other totalitarians fear laughter, even when it is not aimed at them. Laughter is an escape. The Grand Ayatollah Ruahola Khomei famously declared that “There is no joy in Islam.” At least not as he understood the faith. Living a life in full submission to the deity was far, far too serious a business for humor or laughter. (Aaaaand my mind went to the old cough drop commercial, replacing “Ricola™” with Ruahola. I’m a naughty blogger, yes I am.)

As you would expect, jokes flourished under the Soviets and inside the Warsaw Pact. And outside of the Warsaw Pact. People who can laugh at themselves tend to do better under stress, and have a more realistic view of the world.

You might be a Calvinist if . . . you believe that the 12 Apostles are Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, James the Brother of Jesus, Thaddeus, Peter, Augustin, Jerome, Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox.

For Stalin and others, the Cause or The System is far too important to laugh at it. For others, some things are too important not to laugh at them, or with them. I was amused to read that the Biden Administration hired a consultant to do research to find out what would be the most effective insult for political opponents. Their researcher worked very diligently, including holding focus group meetings to test the response to various terms. It took six months. Contrast this with the rapid speed with which said insult was turned into jokes. The Administration was Very Serious and believes very deeply in their cause. The opposition is not very serious, but also believes deeply in their cause. You can fill in Administration and opposition as you like – political, theological, historical, bureaucratic . . .

The Soviets and their puppet governments took laughter Very Seriously, which is part of why they fell apart. The rest of the world was serious about laughing at them, and at ourselves. Aggies tell Aggie jokes. Teachers tell teacher jokes. Christians tell church jokes, Jews tell rabbi jokes. Humor is healthy for the body politic. And dangerous, terribly dangerous for bureaucrats.

How many sopranos does it take to change a lightbulb? One. She holds the bulb and the world revolves around her.

The article below is a wonderful discussion of political humor in Soviet-controlled Europe, and has some really good jokes as well.

https://hungarianreview.com/article/20140314_the_rise_and_fall_of_the_political_joke/

The World Outside of One’s Head

There’s nothing quite like reading about the modernists in Vienna in the period of 1870-1914 to remind the reader that some people just needed to get out more often. Granted, a number of the characters had serious mental problems, medical problems, marital problems, or all-of-the-above. That didn’t help their view of the world. But yipes, the circle around Freud, Schiele, Mahler, and Co. was so small. I hadn’t realized that until a very good art history tour through the Leopold Museum, where the docent explained all the interrelations. You really wonder what would have happened if some folks had gotten outside of the world of their own head, and had to deal with real problems (as in Four Horsemen problems. See Vienna, October 1914-November 1919 for examples.)

A few weeks ago, I was reminded that the world inside of my head, and inside my daily round, is very different from the real world. Rehearsal was long, and difficult, and breakfast had worn off about half-way through. So I stopped at a What-a-Burger halfway between the concert site and home. I went in and got a patty melt, fries, and a shake. And sat, happily chewing away, listening to country music, and observing normal people and a very efficient and friendly restaurant staff.

A family with small kids was eating in the corner, and the kids did kid stuff, including an older toddler sending a large water sailing off the end of the table just as they finished eating. The parents apologized, the manager said “no problem, we got this,” and she got the mop as the parents tidied the table and ushered their offspring out. A customer moved a chair or two out of the way. Everyone else just shrugged, and said, “Little kids happen.”

There was a trainee working the cash register, and people on both sides of the counter were patient. She tried hard, got things 95% right, and was cheerful. No one gave her a hard time. After all, we all have to learn sometime, and we’ve all been the new person.

The diners were a cross section of the world. Little kids to “seasoned citizens,” solitary diners (yo) and families, different colors and sizes, all interested in a hot hamburger or chicken sandwich. Lots of smiles, using french fries as pointers, and so on.

I spend a lot of my time in my own head. This is in part because of the demands of Day Job and of writing. It is in part because DadRed insists on doing all the shopping (he’s retired. I’m not. I believe in batch cooking. MomRed is Not A Fan of leftover leftovers.) It is in part because I’m an introvert, and in part because my default mental position is “What will go wrong and how do I plan for it?” That’s not exactly normal. Getting out and about, dealing with other people in stores and at burger joints and all doesn’t happen much. Day Job, concert prep, Easter prep, Day Job, writing, that had been my world for too long. I needed to get out and see the real world.

There’s a danger in a closed system, be it mental, political, or ecological. Here’s to the world outside of our heads.

Protection from Bad Ideas

In the first episode of HBO’s miniseries Chernobyl, the most important things lead up to a meeting of the local Committee of the Communist Party. Something bad has happened, word has been passed up and down the chain of command, and the higher-ups have decided to let the locals deal with the problem, while also sending a couple thousand “police” and military. The inference is that the police are the NKVD as well as the military. The party committee members gather in a bunker to decide what to do. Should they evacuate? No, because there’s not really any radiation, according to the available dosimeters [which have all maxed out at 3.6 Roentgen, because that’s as high as they go.] The glow in the air is harmless.

The senior party member reminds them that their duty is to serve the people, and to protect the people. The best way to do that is to prevent panic and suppress false information. He orders the phone lines cut and the area completely isolated. The people will be grateful for the Committee’s actions when they see how well the Party protected them [the people] from bad rumors and hysteria. Viewers know that, well, it’s not going to end that happily.

The Soviets were not the first to want to protect people from dangerous ideas and bad data. The Imperial Chinese censored things, lest otherwise virtuous and moral people be corrupted. Most (in)famously, the first Emperor is said to have burned books and executed authors and philosophers, since no one needed to know the old things or anything that he disagreed with. Since the history was written by someone who disagreed with Qin Shi-Huangdi’s policies, there’s some doubt about the story.

Various governments medieval to modern, also censored people and things, blocked the publication of books, ordered plays to be changed to better suit proper morals and politics, and so on. The princes of Kiev, in the late 900s-1100s, censored various books and works of art. In Early Modern Russia, Peter the Great censored books, forbidding those that demeaned the government, and even ruling that monks did not need to write things privately in their cells. The Russian Orthodox church also censored incoming books, Russian or otherwise, to ensure that foreign or heretical ideas did not lead to people being damned by bad information and ideas. The Roman Catholic church had the Index of books considered to be in gross error, heretical, salacious beyond the usual, and other things. Getting on the Index often meant that the book would sell better, at least pirated editions, because someone is always going to want to know what’s so bad about it, or to rebel by reading naughty literature.

This sense that the mandarins (to abuse a Chinese term) know better and have a duty to protect people from bad ideas did not go away with the 1900s. Certain media platforms routinely censor material, sometimes leading to great ire, as when YouTube decided to remove lots and lots of NSDAP stuff, including university professors’ class materials. Trust me, a lecture on wartime production and economics that includes clips from propaganda films is not going to encourage people to become NeoNazis. Other platforms do the same thing with materials that “contradict the science” or “deny the scientific consensus” about various topics. China has its “Great Firewall.” There are always going to be people or institutions that are certain that some information is too tempting, scandalous, or offensive for ordinary people to be exposed to. Just as a parent protects children from things they are not ready for, so too should the state/church/wise leader/bureaucrats protect the public.

Me personally, I’d rather have Alex Jones as well as Al Franken on-line for people to read. Let the ideas compete. OK, step by step instructions for making a breeder-reactor in your back yard might be going a wee bit far, and I disapprove of doxxing people no matter their ideologies. Iran’s theocratic government considers the US “the Great Satan” because we tempt Iranians into straying from proper beliefs and behaviors. The Imperial Chinese censored materials so ordinary people without the proper education to resist bad knowledge would not fall into vice and corruption. Russian schools teach that Russia won WWII with barely minimal assistance from the US and Britain, and discourage people looking for other sources and stories. The Greek government used to prohibit the importation of Bibles, especially Bibles in Greek, at the behest of the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church. Which . . . made studying the New Testament a bit of a challenge for laypeople.

The Party will protect the People from accidentally destroying the fruits of their [the People’s] labor. It will be the great heroic moment for the Pripyet Subcommittee of the Communist Party, and the People will thank them for their labor.

Except for that glow in the sky over the power plant, and the men coming out of the plant. With fresh sunburns. At night.

“On the Eighteenth of April in ‘Seventy-Five”

Paul Revere by John Singleton Copely. Public Domain, found at: https://www.ladykflo.com/paul-revere-by-john-singleton-copley/

I strongly encourage you to read the article about the painting. It is both an excellent portrait, and a political statement about the times in which the picture was made.

Paul Revere was a silversmith, or to use the older term, a type of whitesmith. Blacksmiths worked with iron. Whitesmiths worked with tin, copper, and eventually silver before silver-smithing and gold-smithing became separate trades.

A silver set made by Paul Revere and his workshop. Items and photo from: https://worcester.emuseum.com/collections

As a silversmith, Revere was not exactly a “gentleman” since he worked with his hands, but he wasn’t a common laborer, either. In the colonies and the later US, this wasn’t really a problem, since skill and finances meant more than the traditional marks of social rank. In the British system, he would have been respected, but he would be “upper working class,” to use today’s terms. He was also a master craftsman, responsible for training apprentices and ensuring the quality of his and other masters’ work. In other words, he was your modern small business owner, one with a lot of skills, and a strong determination to live his life the way he wanted. Which, in April of 1775, meant joining with another man to ride through the night and warn the people of Middlesex County that the British regulars were coming to requisition the powder, shot, and weapons assigned to the militia.

We all know what happened next . . .

The Cross on the TV Tower

Everyone remembers the speech because of “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” [12:00 min in] But we forget that that was NOT supposed to be the focal point. The focus of the speech was about faith and fortitude [start at 21:00 in], and how the Truth will shine no matter how hard the Communists tried to cover it up.

The cross appeared on the glass of the TV tower almost as soon as the East German government finished building it. They tried several ways to get rid of the glare, but it just would not vanish.

“And you shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free.”

Used under Fair Use, Creative Commons 4.0. Link: https://farm1.static.flickr.com/158/356251434_5a2bc0b964.jpg?v=0

I was looking up material for a lesson on 1980 (Solidarity) and 1989. As always, I choked up and the room got dang dusty. Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, Pope John Paul II, PM Margaret Thacher, President Ronald Reagan . . . they knew evil, and they knew good, and freedom, and they chose goodness and freedom.

Happy Western Easter, to those who celebrate it. He is risen, Indeed!

Culture and a War

I’ve been messing around in the 1600s for the past few weeks. That period marks such a shift in European political thinking and warfare that I’ve been doing more digging in that era than, well, since I was researching the Colplatschki books. This is the era when war and politics starts shifting from purely dynastic concerns to what we think of as nation-state politics. Rather than religion and family dominating a lot of conflicts and diplomacy, the idea of “reasons of state” start appearing, along with the beginnings of an internationally-recognized, non-religious International Law and Laws of War. The roots go into the political organization of the Holy Roman Empire, and how problems between cities, lords, and others were mediated, as well as into Catholic and later Protestant discussions about war and the law. Warfare also developed rapidly, as the Ottomans discovered to their ongoing chagrin after 1683.

None of this was instant, and there’s not a clean break between the late Renaissance and Early Modern periods. Dynasty doesn’t go away, as Louis XIV would demonstrate with the War of the Spanish Succession and other conflicts. Multi-national states would continue to dominate central and eastern Europe well into the 1900s, another three hundred years from 1648. But the Thirty Years War sees the beginnings of the process. When Catholic France—governed by Cardinal Richelieu as regent for Louis XIII—is funding Dutch Calvinists and Lutheran Swedes to beat up on the Catholic Habsburgs, while waging war against its own Calvinists and against Catholic Spain, um, messy doesn’t start to describe things. The war is no longer “just” about religion, if it ever was. Sweden will claim to be defending Protestantism while beating up on other Lutherans.

The Thirty Years war left cultural scars on Central Europe, notably in the Czech lands, Rhineland and Elbe watersheds, and other major areas of conflict. The inflation and disruption of trade, exacerbated by bad weather (cold and wet, very cold) knocked cultural life askew north of the Alps. Heinrich Schütz, for example, was forced to leave his official post and flee to Denmark in order to find work. He wrote small, limited compositions that are still beautiful and/or inspiring, because he had no other option. No one could afford the large choirs of Venice or the glory days of the High Renaissance. The grinding nature of war and the repeated waves of fighting marked German-language literature. Those marks still appear.

I was listening to a bit of Sabaton the other day, and then Blind Guardian. Both of those metal bands have albums centered on the Thirty Years War, although Sabaton’s includes the Great Northern War as well. The closest thing in American culture might, might, be Glorious Burden by Iced Earth, about the Battle of Gettysburg. I can’t think of anything else, although there’s probably something floating around. Bertold Brecht drew on a novel written during the Thirty Years War for material, and knew that everyone would catch the references. German-speakers still do. One of the great novels about the conflict, Der Wahrwulf, has been translated into English recently. The original is still in print in German (hard copy and e-book. I have the e-book). You could argue that the American Civil War/War Between The States/ The Late Unpleasantness is still leaving cultural traces, but I’m not so certain. It might be that not enough time has passed, but the Civil War was not the enormous break, with the horrible population loss and extended period of chaos, that the Thirty Years War forms.

*shrug* I’m an American looking in, for all that I’ve read and studied. I always will be. But it’s intriguing to speculate and to see how some things still resonate.

Red Lights, Rules, and the Running Of

So, I have gotten used to people running red lights in the early and late hours of the day, when traffic isn’t as heavy as at other times, and the law-enforcement presence is muted. In fact, on my route to Day Job, there’s one county road intersection (with stop lights and turn arrows) that I just assume will be run, often flagrantly. Indeed, on a daily basis, people race through north-bound, not even on a “stale green.” Sometimes the left turn light has been green for a while and they still blast through. Thus far no one has been hurt or killed *taps wood*, because those of us who travel the path anticipate the running of the light. But some day . . .

In other aspects of life and driving, I’m seeing similar disregard for the law. Rolling stops when people used to halt fully. More aggressive driving, less patience, more cutting off of other drivers. Less patience in the grocery store, or on the phone. Fewer people smile at strangers, or check to se if anyone is nearby before moving and thus causing a minor collision or thump. On a larger scale, civic organizations and places of worship are seeing less participation, at least in the larger towns. Fortunately, the recent spate of small disasters (only four houses lost, only hundreds of miles of fence burned, only a few tons of hay and forage burned to ashes, only two firefighters badly hurt. Only . . .) has generated the usual wave of assistance and kindness. There but for the grace of a wind-shift, and so on.

I suspect part of the problem comes from the past two years. Governments and well-meaning other organizations encouraged isolation, shifting to on-line presence, and discouraged participation in civic life. Or perhaps I should say “civil life,” because the little rubbing against each other that trains us into civility and politeness was suspended. Add to that the appearance of “rules for you but not for us” or “rules for you but not for them,” and a feeling seems to have seeped into life that, “if it won’t hurt anyone, why follow the law?” So lights are run, stop-signs ignored, polite greetings brushed off, doors not held, eye contact and handshakes not made.

Those are relatively minor (or will be until someone hits someone else at 55 MPH at 0630 AM). The greater sense of “rules can be ignored because those people get to ignore them” is poison. The US is based on the idea of the Rule of Law, that all are equal under the law, and that red lights apply to the mayor as well as to the school bus and the family car. When the Authorities ignore the rules, or apply them selectively, then everyone else looks at “pointless” and “petty” rules and ignores them as well. Or when rules are created that cannot, and will not, be obeyed, other more important statutes get flouted. Even Newton’s Laws, which, alas, often leads to fatal results for more than just the initial offender.

The decline in civility and civil (in all senses of the word) discourse happened so fast. Two years, and things have changed. I suspect that the change was in progress, but concealed, at least around here. The pattern of decay was not so obvious. Two years of abnormality, and of increasingly flagrant disregard for the concept that “all men are created equal” in the eyes of both G-d and the Law brought the pattern into the open.

Or perhaps it just seems like a pattern. One of my talents is finding patterns and seeing how pieces of the past fit together. I could be seeing patterns that only exist in my own mind, or even just in my own region.

Little Square Churches

You find them all over the Panhandle, and elsewhere. Generally small, brick or wood, and often square or rectangular, only the stained glass windows and/or cross in front tells passers-by that they are not old schools or businesses. Around here they are usually Methodist, Baptist, or Church of Christ (if Protestant.) The Catholic Churches generally have a steeple. There are traditional “church-shaped” churches around, but also a number of little square churches, all standing firmly in small towns, holding down the corner of a town lot and defying fashion, time, and weather.

The Methodist Church in Claude, Texas is a solid example of the type.

First Methodist, Claude, TX. Creative Commons Fair Use: https://res.cloudinary.com/faithstreet-production/image/upload/c_fill,h_286,w_286/v1533670557/vck7bciyfyzsufkomykz.jpg

As soon as you had a few families, and a traveling minister, a church was built. Sometimes denominations shared, sometimes you had a (brief) monopoly. Below is the Methodist Church in Channing, TX, north of the Canadian Breaks.

Stucco over brick, and sturdy. http://www.texasescapes.com/Churches/Images/ChanningTXUnitedMethodistChurch308TJnsn5.jpg

Perryton, Texas just had to be a bit different, and went neoGothic.

From the northeastern corner of the Panhandle. https://live.staticflickr.com/1004/928639389_5a5d6e775a_b.jpg

Although the Methodists were one of the first Protestant denominations in the area, The Church of Christ was not far behind, and in some cases arrived first. Here’s the Church of Christ in Panhandle, TX.

Photo by Tyler Brassfield. Creative Commons Fair Use, from: https://is5-ssl.mzstatic.com/image/thumb/Purple123/v4/d6/8c/4f/d68c4f13-6e9a-32fe-74c9-66860c354a25/source/512x512bb.jpg

And in some cases, the Baptists were first on the scene for the Protestant side. Catholic priests and missionaries had been active in the area since the early 1600s, with mixed success until after 1873. The area is still considered a mission area, but the Catholic Church is solid and trying to expand, like the others.

St. Ann’s in Canyon Texas. Another solid church. https://bgrarchitects.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/StAnns1_web.jpg

If you get the sense that churches in this part of the world are built to withstand a lot, you’re right. But the building is just part of the story. Some buildings are newer (like St. Ann’s), some have been around since the beginning, almost (First Baptist’s old building in Amarillo, the Methodist Church in Channing, Jenkins Chapel in Amarillo) but all have endured drought, flood, depression, war, the 1960s and 70s, and changes in ecclesiastic fashion. They’re still here, as are their parishioners. Some churches are fading, others are growing, but the little solid churches remain important to the community. They are a living link to the past, to the saints who have gone before, to harder times and better times.

There are a few places where only the church remains of a once living town. Ranchers and farmers around the church keep it repaired and “alive,” using it for special services, weddings, funerals, and gatherings.

Little square churches. Solid and serene, they weather the storms inside and outside, providing a reminder that “upon this rock” a church was built, one that will outlast scandal and success. Good times, hard times, little square churches are there, ready, waiting.

Types of Smarts

A good friend of the family was lamenting his lack of book smarts at lunch the other day. He’s not a big reader, and I almost wonder if he’s one of the boys that got turned off of reading for fun as a kid. Or it could be that he’s just not book minded. He was sighing about not being as well-read as my folks are. Then he proceeded to describe his latest construction project, and how he realized that a part of it needed to be re-engineered, and something routed in a different way, and how it only took him an hour to worry out a solution and then start sketching.

He has the most amazing 3-D sense. He can look at something in his field, think about it for a few minutes, and then come up with the materials, the clearances, and sometimes, a better way to do it. And he can teach that to his crews. He’s one of the most highly sought-after specialists in the area. He makes more money than I ever will. He also knows how to make computers do with he needs, be they accounting programs or CAD-CAM stuff. And he says he’s not smart.

He’s street and skills smart. I’m book smart. As far as the survival of humanity is concerned, we need a lot more of him than we do of me. He’s one of the people who ensures that plumbing flows properly, that buildings don’t fall over, that the wiring doesn’t burn the world down, that roads don’t crumble ten minutes after the paving truck departs, that your car works after something under the hood goes sproing. He’s a maker, and he teachers other people to be better makers in that same field, and even in related fields. I can barely get my mind to sort out what he’s describing when he goes into how a run needs to work, and how to cut this thing that way, in order to solve an odd problem caused by an architect who forgot about gravity. And he makes it sound so easy and intuitive!

I love talking to people like him, and watching them work. I’ve learned so much just listening to them talk about plumbing systems, house wiring, what makes a good roof, how cement should work, and so on. Book stuff is neat, too, but watching people build joists or staircases from scratch and everything works and does its work . . . That’s art in progress. It’s different from an oil painting or a statue, but it is art.

Skill smarts are a field where innate talent plus experience leads to amazing results. “I’m actually really slow,” I recall one gent telling someone. “I just learned to cheat.” No, he’d been doing things so long, and had such an sense of how materials worked, that he could produce the maximum of result with the minimum of material and effort. It was beautiful.

Skill smarts, street smart, book smarts. They are all different. A few people have a little of one or two of them. I’ve got book smarts augmented by painful experience (“So that’s why you don’t do that.”) and insatiable curiosity. Toss in a large dollop of ignorance (“Um, what do you mean that most people don’t want to try doing this? Why not?”) and you get a bit of a polymath. Or a very, very expensive disaster involving power tools, a hole in a garage wall, and a lot of explaining.*

I admire people with street smarts and skill smarts. Anyone can learn history and many can teach it well. But to plumb a house well so that everything flows perfectly and there are no leaks, or to look at a mouse nest of wires and then undo the wreck to wire something neatly and efficiently? Art, and rare. It’s beautiful. It’s like looking at a Roman water system that’s still going strong. There’s beauty there, and a lot of awe for the engineers and builders who dig the channels and carved the stones so long ago.

*Not me. Someone I had a class with, who discovered how to launch wood using a table saw. There’s a reason I give table saws the same respect I give a hippo with a toothache.

The Utopia Problem

There’s been a larger-than-usual wave of utopian ideas and Millennialism running around the world in the past decade or two. Granted, utopian ideas never go away, because someone always has dreams of a perfect world, not just a World To Come in the theological sense, and a smaller number of someones want to put everyone else into their personal idea of paradise. Most utopian ideas never get past books, or a very small and limited group that eventually gives up, or dies off without harming anyone else (or in a rare case, without benefiting anyone else). These ideas tend to come in waves, usually associated with some sort of serious social stress.

Millennialism takes its name from the 1000-year period associated in some Christian theologies with the Second Coming. When used in history, it describes a religions movement that has a very, very strong End Times component and either seeks to undo major social and religious crises, or to bring the New Creation sooner. The Münster Anabaptists, the Ibo cattle-cult, the Ghost Dance among some of the Plains Indians in the US, Extinction Rebellion, are all examples of Millennialism. The Ghost Dancers sought to call the spirits of the bison to return, the dead would rise again, and the Anglo-Americans would be driven away. Things would go back to the glory days when the Plains peoples had horses, some trade goods, and lots and lots of buffalo. Justice would be done and a new world arise from the ashes of the old. Extinction Rebellion sought [seeks?] a reversion to a world without internal combustion and petrochemicals, where small numbers of humans live in harmony with Nature and are no longer in charge of the environment. Some E.R. folks go to the extreme and see the world as so terribly broken that nothing save the elimination of all humans can possibly right the terrible wrong. Then a new, perfect world will arise from the old and justice will be done.

Millennialism by definition is religious. Not necessarily Christian or Jewish, but there’s a religious core to the movement, and it behaves as a faith. Utopian ideas often incline toward religious language, but they can be secular, or at least work very hard to be “post-religious” in today’s language. A perfect world can be made here, on earth. And have people in it. Which for me right there means utopia is not going to happen.

My utopia is far, far different from yours. My paradise is another person’s “I’m-dying-of-boredom.” You want a tropical island paradise of easy living and warm climate, with lots of friendly people and things to do with people. I want a place where it’s always autumn and there are lots of books to read and stories to tell and there’s frost some evenings, and chilly rain on occasion, and people leave me alone. Utopia – Nowhere – because there’s no place on this planet that is autumn all year round.

When peoples start trying to impose a utopia on others . . . it gets ugly. Workers’ Paradise! Kingdom of [Deity] where all worship and live according to religious teachings! The General Will of the People where true freedom is obedience and you can be forced to be free! A world where everyone lives “small,” and has only a few possessions and lives in an apartment and finds self-worth and happiness by, um, following their bliss? Working for the state? Doing what gives them joy and somehow getting paid for it by the State? Or, combine several of those, and everyone will live at a a very low level of physical subsistence, work for the state, and be very happy eating protein made from insects and other things because the People don’t have to/can’t compete for stuff and status. And a small group of wise people will run everything and the planet will heal.*

That utopia is close to my idea of an infernal plane. There’s no room for variation or chance (the 5 Year Plan always works, da, Tovarish?) There’s no room for stories other than those approved by the small group of wise people. There’s no place for my books, electronic or hard-copy. There’s no room for the individual in that utopia. And it is static. Static states . . . tend to become un-static in messy and sometimes catastrophic ways. Even when I agree with the ideals of the utopia, the thought of trying to impose one on other people makes me back away slowly while reaching for a large stick or a can of bear-spray.

Human nature always defeats utopias. New Harmony. The Shaker colonies. Those are the most benign examples that come to mind. Jonestown. Münster and the fiery end of the Anabaptists there. Unless you have an outlet for the Odd, the stubborn, the determinedly individual, and also for social tension, well, utopia turns into something else.

In the 1960s-70s there was a trend for sci-fi where computer chips and supercomputers allowed for the creation of a tech-topia. Everyone had a chip in their brain (or something similar) and so bad thoughts and impulses were muted or burned away by the super-wise computer and the world was perfect. Until it wasn’t. Today it is social programming through the internet and government control of assets (with a government run by a small group of wise, kind people who will know what is best for everyone.)

No, thanks. Millennialist movements sometimes end quietly, other times they end in blood and fire. They almost always hurt someone, if only the group members. Utopias imposed on people are not paradises. Any time someone starts promising a wonderful, better world on earth, I start to twitch. I’ve read about those. No, thanks.

*Heal from what? The last time a large civilization declined and shrank in Europe, that being the end of the Western Roman Empire, some of the worst environmental degradation and erosion before 1800 happened. Why? No one was around to do flood control, to maintain canals and drainage systems, to keep fields from eroding. I’d wager similar things happened in the 1300s, albeit on a less obvious scale. There’s some serious speculation that the CO2 in the atmosphere, in addition to making plants happier, is keeping at bay the global cooling that should accompany the current solar minimum. I don’t want to “heal” back to a Pleistocene climate for most of the Northern Hemisphere, thanks!