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Ovi Symposium; forty-eighth Meeting Ovi Symposium; forty-eighth Meeting
by Abigail George
2015-03-27 23:22:29
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Ovi Symposium:

“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity
and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”

between Ms Abigail George, Mr Nikos Laios, Drs. Paolozzi, Paparella and Mr. Rywalt
Forty-seventh Meeting: 26 March 2015

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Symposium's regular participants (in alphabetical order)

abigailAbigail George is an African activist for human rights, a feminist, writer and poet. She has received writing grants from the National Arts Council, Centre for the Book, and ECPACC (Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council). She is not purely devoted to poetry but to pursuing writing fulltime. She has written two volumes of poetry, and her latest book is titled Winter in Johannesburg. Storytelling for her has always been a phenomenal way of communicating and making a connection with other people. All About My Mother (a collection of short stories) was published by Ovi magazine in July 2012.

laios_01Nikos Laios is a poet, artist, lover of philosophy and student of the human condition, currently writing poetry and producing art; he is also a sculptor, a photographer, widely read in the humanities. He hails from the highlands of Epirus in Greece; greatly influenced by the poetic traditions which have been passed down from his poet ancestor on his maternal side from the island of Cephalonia. He currently resides in North Sydney Australia, is an autodidact and a passionate ‘renaissance’ man, has always been a practical philosopher, throwing himself into the hard questions that life has to offer in search of elusive gems of wisdom.

enDr.Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely and published several books, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science. His book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom was printed as an e-book in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

papDr. Emanuel Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida, USA. One of his books is titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico, Mellen Press. His latest e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers was printed in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

rywaltEdwin Rywalt is a computer specialist living in Pennsylvania with his family. He is a talented and accomplished pianist with a college education from Columbia University and a life---long scholarly interest in the nexus between science, technology, and the liberal arts. Beginning in May 2014 he will be offering pro bono services to the Ovi Symposium with typo correction editing and other useful suggestions aiming at improving the overall format of the twice a month section of Ovi magazine. Perhaps in the future, if his commitments allow it, he may decide to join the Symposium’s ongoing dialogue.

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Subtheme of session 48: Utopia and Imagination in Western Civilization

Indirect Participants within the Great Conversation across the ages: Plato, Fukuyama, Kolakowski, Kant, Socrates, Augustine, More, Campanella, Bacon, Marx, Machiavelli, Keats, Tolstory, Hobbes, Nietzsche, Spencer, Rand, Croce, Vico, Kerouac, Ginsburg, Carr, Burroughs, Pollock, De Kooning, Kline, Artaud, Bretton, Camus, Sartre, McKenzie, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso, Dali, Huxley, Orwell, Darwin, Rand, Allen.

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Table of Contents for the 48th Session of the Ovi Symposium (26 March 2015)

Preamble by the Symposium’s coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 1: “Western Civilization’s Tragic Loss of Utopia and Imagination.” A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella.

Section 2: “Croce’s Concept of Freedom as Utopia.” A Presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi, excerpted from his Ovi e-book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom (2013).

Section 3: Utopia: Illusion to Reality.” A Presentation by Nikos Laios.

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Preamble by the Symposium’s Coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

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Let me begin with a question relevant to our readership: could the rationale for the symposium, as announced in its heading, aiming at the envisioning of a new Humanism, be construed as some kind of Utopia? And if so, how desirable is such a vision? In this issue of the Ovi Symposium we will attempt to answer such a question by the analysis of a perceived loss of Utopia in Western Civilization, all in the wider context of cultural anthropology and the vision of a new humanism, already explored in past issues.

There are of course various interpretation of the meaning of such a concept, first and foremost the one derived from Plato’s Republic, which indeed represents a place nowhere to be found in the empirical world, as its very Greek etymology of utopia surely implies. It can only be found in the realm of the intelligible, outside the dark cave of the deceiving senses, in the transcendent idealized world of ideas. Nevertheless, despite its negative connotation as dystopia, or the other side of the coin, it has remained an ideal of perfectibility to be valiantly aimed at by individuals and societies. Dystopia is an ideal that is imposed on the unwilling violating their freedom and by which to justify and rationalize erroneous, even criminal ideologies. Both sides have been adopted by Western political scientists. Indeed, the other side of Plato remains Machiavelli or perhaps Marx who within a modern positivistic rationalistic era, proud of its vaunted enlightenment, have turned out to be much more popular than Plato’s ideal polis and republic.

 As is widely known, the contemporary literary genre called “Utopia” was introduced by St. Thomas More in the 16th century, but the idea of an ideal society is much older just as socialism is a much older concept than the ideology of Communism. In the first section we examine and compare the various conceptions of Utopia throughout Western history as provided by Plato, Augustine, Campanella, Bacon, More, and last but not least Marx. We do so using as a scaffold Yale University’s Professor Leszek Kolakowsky’s scholarly insights on Utopia’s as developed throughout the ages.

What we have lost with the disappearance of Utopia as a positive socio-ethical force, all but forgotten in our age of rampant positivism and scientific deterministic progress. For indeed, with such a loss goes the tragic loss of the poetic and the degradation of the humanities, the world of the liberal arts and the classics. The most tragic consequence is a dehumanization process leading to the triviality and banality or our present era, the loss of the historical imagination and “the death of history” as already analyzed in the last meeting, even to what Soren Kierkegaard labeled “the sickness unto death” which is the worst of all possible outcomes. Time is running out. The question arises: is it still possible to turn the whole negative process around and envision a new Humanism? As the reader well knows, a new Humanism is one of the principal utopist ideals, as spelled out and advocated at the outset in the general heading of this Ovi Symposium.

In section two Ernesto Paolozzi follows up with an excerpt from his Ovi e-book Croce’s Philosophy and the Duty of Freedom where Croce’s concept of freedom is presented as a particular kind of Utopia, one which is to be interpreted philosophically but remains always connected to a very concrete ethics and politics aiming at changing the world for the better. Vico and Croce remain fountainhead as an inspiration for an ideal humanistic society but they need to be better appreciated and studied. Unfortunately, they have at times been misunderstood and even distorted as we have argued in Symposium 47.

In conclusion, in section three of this meeting we have Nikos Laios’ presentation titled “Utopia: Illusion and Reality.” Perhaps his presentation can best be characterized as “the poetics of Utopia.” He too offers a panoramic historical view of the concept of Utopia but it is combined with the poetic (substantially aided by two beautiful digital poetical paintings thus imparting the notion that the concept itself is poetical and highly imaginative. When manage to reduce it to mere rationality or a technologically perfect society governed by efficient ordering, we also degrade it and end up with dystopia. Paradoxically, Laios teaches us that the concept turns up to be more real and authentic when it is imbued with the poetical and the ideal, which may be nowhere on earth but nevertheless they remain necessary for the flourishing of our humanity; for to deprive our humanity of the poetical is to run the danger of what Kierkegaard called “the sickness unto death,” a type of dehumanization from which there is no redemption since it means that the victim is sick but he/she knows it not.

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1
Western Civilization’s Tragic Loss of Utopia and Imagination

A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

 sy00030_400

Is it Utopia that buttresses the desire of the human heart for justice and the vision of a more just and fair social order? If we survey the history of Utopia as an idea, beginning with Plato’s Republic,  we may well come to the conclusion that Utopia is now dead; so dead, in fact, that the death of history, with which it is usually associated, has also been declared by the likes of Francis Fukuyama.

Let us begin by reexamining a renowned article by Professor Leszek Kolakowski of Yale University titled “The Death of Utopia Reconsidered.” written way back in 1982 and delivered at the Australian National University for the Tanner Lectures on Human Values.

Professor Kolakowski ends that lecture thus: “…both Kant’s theory of the radical evil and his belief in the indefinite progression of rationality - a progression which can go on amid the unremitting tension between our love of freedom and our sociability, between individual aspirations and societal order, between passions and reason - are useful to us. In the standard sense of the word “utopia,” Kant was clearly an anti-utopian as he had never expected an ingenious technical contrivance that would bring about the actual state of perfection and bliss. He did believe, though, in the calling of the human race, in a teleologically propelled movement, the end of which we can never achieve or locate in time-an asymptotic growth, as it were - and which we nonetheless always have to keep in mind if we want to remain human. These two complementary sides of his “as-if ” philosophy - a belief in a perpetual motion, loaded with struggles and contradictions, toward a goal, and a disbelief that the goal might ever be effectively reached - are certainly reconcilable in philosophical terms. It is unlikely, however, that mankind as a whole could ever be converted to Kantian philosophy. Therefore it is likely that two kinds of mentality - the skeptical and the utopian - will survive separately, in unavoidable conflict. And we need their shaky coexistence; both of them are important to our cultural survival. The victory of utopian dreams would lead us to a totalitarian nightmare and the utter downfall of civilization, whereas the unchallenged domination of the skeptical spirit would condemn us to a hopeless stagnation, to an immobility which a slight accident could easily convert into catastrophic chaos. Ultimately we have to live between two irreconcilable claims, each of them having its cultural justification.”

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Plato (428-348 BC)

It is obvious even from this brief concluding excerpt that Kolakowski considers Utopia open to two divergent interpretations (which he calls the skeptical and the utopian): it could degenerate into a political ideology (such as Nazism or Communism) for which political fanatics are ready and willing to commit all kinds of atrocities and crimes and then rationalize them via the utopia (the utopia justifies the means…), or it could be an imaginative blueprint to inspire people to a vision of a more just society, albeit ultimately unreachable, the way the humanist Thomas More, who coined the term Utopia, understood it. Kolakowski sees those divergent interpretations as unbridgeable; which means we have no choice but pay attention and live with both.

But to go on, it is no great revelation that ever since Plato’s Republic western philosophers have dreamt of ideal societies, which we now call utopias, or societies which have no chance of being realized here on earth. Plato, via Socrates even proposes “the noble lie” or myths to be told to people who cannot do philosophy and thus motivate them to live an ideal life of virtue in an ideal polis. Some have called this Platonic proposal as good intentioned but anti-democratic. Some have gone as far as calling even Augustine’s City of God an utopia, with God as the supreme lawgiver on top, but of course that opus does not describe a society of this earth but a transcendent one, a spiritual world beyond space and time; therefore, strictly speaking, it is not an utopia.

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Thomas More (1478-1535)

As mentioned, the philosopher who actually invented the term utopia was not Plato however but St. Thomas More. In 1516 he wrote a short book titled Utopia. The word derives from ancient Greek and literally means no place; that in itself is quite revealing. Other great utopias or description of ideal societies are Tommaso Campanella’s The City of the Sun (1602), Francis Bacon’s The New Atlantis (1624), and last but not least Karl Marx’s Das Kapital which starts out with a vision of everyday life in the communist society, where a person might "hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner". On the negative side, as a dystopia, we have George Orwell’s 1984’s Oceania as a sort  ot totalitarian all controlling society, not to speak of Hobbes’ Leviathan. There are many others, but what all those utopias have in common is this: they all portrayed a future in which one finds a strong sense of community, where work is fulfilling and leisure is used wisely and creatively. It is that vision, independent of ideological political attachments, that is all but vanished in the 21st century. Utopia for such Machiavellian “realists” conjures up naiveté and a quixotic attitude.  The only thing that exists in the real world are the considerations of consumerism and the economy and, of course, political power, for by bread alone does man live. That statement has been put in the mouth of Karl Marx but he never proffered it. He considered the just society one that had aesthetic features in its grand design and he would have agreed with the English poet John Keats who said that “truth is beauty and beauty is truth and that is all you need to know on earth,” or with Leo Tolstoy who wished to alleviate the poor’s hardships with aesthetic beauty. All this may sound heretical to confirmed ideological Marxists but were they to research the matter they’d be surprised to find out that Marx was not a Marxist after all. 

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Tommaso Campanella (1568-1639)

In any case, it is the collapse of Communism that brings about Fukuyama’s “end of history.” What he means by that was basically the end of utopianism. Liberal democracy had triumphed over all other forms of government and from now on, beginning with the 21st century, there would be no more struggles, no more history to be made. We need no Vico or any other philosopher of history to teach us that man makes history and at the same time history makes man, for in reality history is finished and done with.

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Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

This is quite philosophically intriguing because it could be argued, thus turning the table around on Fukuyama, that such an interpretation is itself utopian. The struggles go on, as one can readily see in the Middle East, in Ukraine and other places. It means that there is much more to history than politics and the economy. Most utopias in fact put stress not so much on grandiose Machiavellian political schemes but on practical matters such as the nature of work, leisure, the structure of local communities.  Both Campanella and Bacon agree that everyone must work. When work is shared out, Campanella calculates that each person will have to work no more than four hours a day. That would leave plenty of leisure time, as well as energy to use that time wisely. As an aside, here is a morality tale: the Tainos of Puerto Rico worked only five hours a day and they were a happy community. When the Spaniards arrived on the island, far from respecting this Utopian world redolent of Rousseau’s “noble savage,” they forced them to work ten or more hours a day. In thirty years or so there were precious few Tainos left in Puerto Rico and the Spaniards had to resort to importing African slaves to work on their formidable colonial fortifications. The question persists: who was the “ingnoble savage” in this shameful historical event?

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Karl Marx (1818-1883)

By reducing history to the mere question of governance and the economy, Fukuyama in effect consigns the questions about work, leisure and community to the dustbin of history. In fact, the issue of work and leisure may be more difficult to imagine and resolve than a grandiose scheme such as the "end of history," as even our myopic politicians are fast finding out as the good old ways of managing an economy come crashing down on them.

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The Utopian World of the Indigenous Tainos of Puerto Rico

Indeed, the rationale Fukuyama adduces for the “end of history” is that visions can be politically toxic in the hands of brutal dictators who will get busy writing or advertising “red books” or “green books” or “Atlas Shrugged” or “Das Kapital,” or other such social schemes and subsume everything, including human life, to such totalitarian visions. Marx's dream can easily became a nightmare for millions as Solzhenitsyn testifies in his The Gulag Archipelago, despite, or perhaps because of Machiavelli’s  “the end justifies the means.” In the 90s, all ideas of radical social transformation came to be regarded with suspicion. After all had we not just witnessed another utopia put into practice: the genocide of Pol Pot? With the 18th century luminaries of the so called “Enlightenment” Fukuyama was proclaiming that humanity had finally grown up, and left adolescent fantasies such as utopias behind. The Ubermensch of Nietzsche or “the new man” of Marx had finally arrived condemning ideologies of all stripes. It was like having the cake and eating it too. Utopia had finally arrived but we shall not call it utopia; we shall call it “the end of history.”

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Professor Kolakowski of Yale University

But in the final analysis Kolakowski, may have it more on target. If idealism without a dose of reality is simply naive, realism without a dash of imagination is utterly depressing, for indeed not by bread alone does man live. If this really was the end of history, it would be an awful anticlimax. Look at the way we live now, in the west. We grow up in increasingly fragmented communities, hardly speaking to the people next door, and drive to work in our self-contained cars. Each man is an island unto himself, but strangely, this “rugged individualism” is considered virtue. Socially we have a savage capitalism which proclaims the survival of the fittest with little compassion to spare for the less fortunate or the less privileged. It is called social Darwinism as advocated by the likes of Herbert Spencer, Ayn Rand and the present mean-spirited brand of Republicans of Tea Party variety, those who now advocate socialism for the rich on Wall Street and savage capitalism for the poor and the middle class.

We have sadly become consuming and producing automatons. We work in standardized offices and stop at the supermarket on our way home to buy production-line inferior food which we eat without any relish. Even bread is not to be relished any longer. Meanwhile the gap between the super-rich and the indigents of this world becomes wider by the day.  Despite our unprecedented wealth on both sides of the Atlantic, more people than ever before suffer from depression. This is even more evident in the so called “developed” countries of both the EU and the US.

Where is the joy and the passion? Where is the vision? I submit that those who are now protesting on Wall Street in New York and in all the major cities of the first world, may be expressing more hunger for a vision of justice than one for mere bread. In other words, they have been starved of utopia and will simply not put up with it any longer. If the West is to provide a vision and a more inspiring ideal, then it is time we devoted more thought to the questions that Plato, More, Campanella, Bacon and Marx placed at the heart their utopias; the question of our human nature and how we preserve our humanity: of how to make work more rewarding, leisure more abundant, communities more friendly and just, so that we may all live an abundant and happy life. By “the happy life” or the pursuit of happiness (what the Greeks called “eudemonia”) By “the pursuit of happiness” Aristotle and the Founding Fathers of the US did not mean trips to Las Vegas and Walt Disney, or surfing on the beach, nor did they mean unattainable infantile fantasies but a flourishing fulfilled life lived to the maximum of one’s potential and nature. They would most probably exhort us to be more imaginative and retrieve the vision of utopia once again, for “without vision the people perish” (Proverb 29: 18).

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2
Croce’s Concept of Freedom as Utopia

A Presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi

(excerpted from his Ovi e-book Benedetto Croce’s Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom)

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Benedetto Croce

One could define Croce’s liberalism as a methodological liberalism as is, after all, his entire philosophy that he calls a methodology of history. The term “method” can also help resolve many of the ambiguities created by the definition “meta-political theory of freedom.” From here, in fact, derive the many misunderstandings and accusations of metaphysicism, abstractism, and contempt for institutional empiricism. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Liberals (and they are in the majority) who persist in elevating to a single liberal doctrine a particular political or economic program end up by abstracting from complex reality only a part of it. These doctrines are put forward in the schematic form of logical reasoning joined together and perfect in their form so that at first they seem extremely concrete because exact but, as we saw, they are really abstract.

Croce’s liberalism, instead, is a method of interpretation of reality and, at the same time, a regulatory idea of reality itself. In this sense, and only in this sense, it is possible to rethink the concept of freedom as utopia, meaning by it the moral rule one intends to follow, and for whose realization one organizes always new concrete politics. One can rethink, historically, new institutional models; parties, unions, associations are founded; laws are promoted; if the need arises one fights and one struggles to abolish privilege, old institutions, surpassed laws. A very concrete liberalism, therefore, and not at all metaphysical. Croce does not always explain these concepts thoroughly but only here and there in occasional writings and interventions.

Another points needs to be brought to the attention of scholars and politicians. If liberalism so understood has a methodological value and is not a collection of doctrines put together ad hoc at a given historical moment and then arbitrarily elevated as eternal theories, if modern liberalism is this, it can dialogue and open itself up to comparison with other movements that do not pretend in their turn to be representative of the entire reality, transforming themselves in philosophies of history. This is the case of the socialist movement.

Liberalism is extremely exacting when it is a question of contesting and contrasting even with force (which is not mere violence) any political movement that proposes implicitly or explicitly to limit liberty, but is prepared to recognize the reasons of the adversary and to make them its own when they do not contrast with the fundamental regulatory principles. In our example, if socialism abandons, as it has already done in large part, the old Hegelian- Marxist trappings, as Croce defined them once, and transforms itself (or returns to its origins, as Croce says) into a movement for social and political emancipation of the least well-off, the workers, the disadvantaged, it will be able and will have to cooperate with liberalism.

This is Croce’s position and one should not be misled by the sharp and perhaps excessive polemics that he entertained with some representative of liberal-socialism and with some distinguished representatives of the Action party (azionismo), who moreover were often his pupils and his friends. These polemics, in fact, were dictated by contingent factors and by the exquisitely philosophical preoccupation of keeping the categories (liberty in this case) well distinct from the empirical concepts such as those of justice and democracy.

Naturally, what has been said for socialism also goes for other ethico-political movements with the exclusion of those, it is worth repeating it, decidedly totalitarian. Similar remarks can be made with respect to the great question of party legitimacy. If liberalism is a method, a general conception of life, then the parties, and the so-called political programs, cannot be absolutized and immobilized. They are judgments not prejudgments , as the title of one of Croce’s famous essay goes. They are concrete and empirical formations that are inspired by an ideal, that represents interests that must conform, every time, to the always new concrete historical conditions.

This mobility, which is not ambiguity, is the fundamental guarantee of liberty and democracy, and is the very foundation of responsibility, because an act is truly responsible if it is the result of a choice, and in those ideologies, in those parties that believe to be founded on absolute certainties, no choice is possible. Democracy can degenerate in totalitarianism if it absolutizes its principles by changing, for instance, the principle of majority in the tyranny of the majority. Therefore, Croce’s liberalism represents a novelty within the sphere of traditional political philosophy. Critical literature on the subject is still slight and only recently one begins to be aware of the originality and the force of this aspect of Croce’s philosophical activity, not to be seen at all as secondary. But the crisis lived by liberalism, almost dragged in the vortex created by the collapse of the opposed totalitarianisms of our century, communism and fascism, will be a stimulus to seek and certainly to find new and more secure roads. Croce’s thought, while perhaps producing aporias and certainly pointing out new problems, proposes itself as a secure reference point for those who intend to defend and extend the right of citizenship, the rights of the individual, and to preserve and promote the cause of liberty.

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3
UTOPIA: ILLUSION TO REALITY
By Nikos Laios

I
UTOPIA EXPLORED
'Ουτοπος'

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A Digital Painting by Nikos Laios

Humanity has lived with the hope of a better idealised world from the moment we arose out of the blue-green slime of the prime ordeal soup of our genesis. From the moment that humans started to walk the earth in small clumps of hunter-gather societies, who crossed the world and progressed and grew to populate the earth, and form settled urban centres of civilisation.

From the moment that the generations of men like ephemeral leaves lived and shimmered on the branches, to die and for the generations to live and die thereafter above the bones and legacy of their world, one societal legacy washing over another. We have yearned for an idealised, simple society within the context of the growing complexity and problems that a sophisticated world brings with it; the competition, anger and strife.

In our modern nihilistic western world, we need utopias now even more so than ever; from the barfly who sits on a creaking stool and watches the world dance outside. The rusting trusting city punctuated by cold glass and metal towers, with the bums and the hookers curling on street corners as the groaning rusted hulks slap against the dock, the green moss gathering on the hulls. The red and blue neon lights glowing through flimsy, tattered, taupe colored blinds; the radio crackling strains of old slick crooner music, as a million kettles whistle and a million microwaves buzz across  the broken cities. With millions of bleary eyes staring sleeplessly out of windows above cement and bitumen roads that cross our world, living individual lonely lives filled with material and consumer goods to fill up the void of their meaningless lives, a humanity that has stopped dreaming poetically, that has stopped believing.

We live in a western world that flows with alienation under the bitumen skin like an ancient brittle decay; the Sodoms and Gomorrahs thriving like a rash across the land.That bleeds the bubbling blood of materialistic martyrs, and glowing radioactive floods that wash the  dust and bones down Into the sedimentary memory of the world. It is this sense of loss and melancholy, of the perception that the preceding ages were better than ours that resonates.

We yearn for a return to a perceived golden, halcyon, bygone age when man lived a simple and primitive idealised life; an age which was happy and perfect, where man's needs and desires where simple and few which was satiated by an abundance from mother nature, devoid of war and oppression by a pious humanity, an ideal and bucolic 'Arcadia'. The question needs to be asked, what do we mean by a utopia? how is it defined?

The term utopia was first coined by Sir Thomas Moore in 1516 and is Greek in origin, coming from the Greek words ο ("not") and τόπος ("place") and means "no-place", which means a non-existent  society which is intended to be better than our contemporary society. There is another Greek derived word that also describes this idealised state, which is Eutopia; which comes from the Greek words ε ("good" or "well") and τόπος ("place"), and means "good place",and which is the more appropriate word, where utopia and eutopia are interchangeable, but the word utopia has now gained prominence in usage.

Indeed, there are many versions and definitions of what a utopia is or should be; from a political, religious, social, ecological and philosophical utopia. Where every era has attempted to define itself by an iconoclastic rebellion against the social mores and ethics of a previous generation to define an ideal world, of a utopia of their own, and this phenomenon of the aspirational search of humanity runs to this modern era - however successful or otherwise the attempts are - in attempting to forge a better world.

Where in the 1950's in Europe and America we had the beatnik generation rebelling against materialism, an optimistic attempt to better the human condition. Bohemian hedonists who celebrated spontaneous creativity and non-conformity, the rejection and challenge of the stratified societal standards, the exploration of philosophical and religious ideas and the experimentation of differing sexual and moral lifestyles, and the stark portrayals of the human condition. An attempt to live a more authentic life and break out of the strict moral and intellectual confines of the Christian-Judaeo legacy that that generation of the '50's perceived was a stultifying tradition that weighed down the youth and vigour of their optimism.

A flourishing of a generation of poets and artists who congregated in beat cafes adorned in turtlenecks, berets, and goatees, with whirling sandalwood scented curvaceous nymphs clad in black leotards gliding fluidly under low-hung cafe lights to the beats of bongos and guitars. Adorned with literary figures like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lucien Carr, William Burroughs. Who mingled in an era of the artistic movement of Dadaism, and the poetic tradition of surrealistic poetry; where abstract-expressionist artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem De Kooning and Franz Kline mingled with the poets of their generation. Whilst in Europe, the works of surrealist literary figures such as Antonin Artaud and Andre Bretton influenced the current movements of the time, and French existentialists such as Albert Camus and  Jean-Paul Sartre - who through their philosophy -  attempted to give modern man the tools to build for himself an individual subjective utopia, an individual world ruled by the actions of one's own thoughts and choices, to strive to live an authentic life with rebellion, freedom and passion.

Then we have the last explosion of an optimistic utopianism in the late 1960's in America and Europe through the hippie counterculture which extolled free love, anti-war, communal modes of expression and lifestyles, which can be traced to European social movements such as Bohemianism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, or the Mazdakist movement of Persia which advocated communal living, shared resources, vegetarianism and free love, or the counterculture of the ancient Greeks such as the Cynic philosophy of Diogenes.

A movement that was marked by the song, 'San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)', where the singer Scott McKenzie sang;

"If you're going to San Francisco

Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair

If you're going to San Francisco

You're gonna meet some gentle people there."

Where this song was adopted as an anthem for freedom by the young people of Czechoslovakia during the 1968 Prague political uprising, where the people of Czechoslovakia attempted to leverage themselves from under the yoke of communist totalitarianism. The periods which have marked the high tide of the western world's attempts at constructing a utopia for myself start with the golden age of Athens during the time of Pericles, then the Italian Renaissance, the Bel Epoch era of nineteen century France and the classical music of that century, the 'Moveable Feast' decade of Paris during the 20's with Hemingway, F.C.Fitzgerald, Picasso and Dali; the existentialist movement of Europe, the Beatnik era and the hippie counterculture.

Yet if we explore the origins of humanity's yearning for a utopia, this can be traced back to religion and politics, and to the attempt to give meaning to life and the cosmos, and to make sense of our lives and the perceived aspirations of societies with religion built into the core of their modus operandi. But this attempt at a religious - or for that matter a political or social utopia - comes with the double-edged sword of the potential usurpation of the utopian ideals which can result in a negative effect through war and violence and which ends in the dehumanisation of the individual and the imposition of totalitarianism of various kinds.

II

DYSTOPIAS AND GOLDEN AGE THINKING
'Δυστοπος'

 sy00040

A Digital Painting by Nikos Laios

In considering utopias, one must first explore the very first utopias of mankind which was one based on religion. Where societies were constructed around the belief of an all-powerful God or deity who lived eternal before the birth of the cosmos. Where members of these societies believed that a membership to a particular religion bestowed a ticket to a journey to a utopian existence; by living life according to the laws of their God, they would find peace, harmony and understanding in this life; and an eternal paradisal utopia in the afterlife. Where this concept has influenced many great nations and civilisations which gave rise to a technological, ethical and moral advancement.

Our first utopia - and a utopia which was lost - was the garden of Eden: an earthly paradise where man immortal lived in a garden of earthly delights; fig and sweet fruit trees, babbling streams and crystal waterfalls splashing amongst beds of aromatic flowers, with hummingbirds, peacocks and birds of paradise decorating this world; while man lived life lounging in this paradise on earth until he was expelled by God for breaking god's laws.

Where it has been the goal of various religions around the world since to enable the followers of their religion to return and enter this eternal paradise again, and this has been attempted with religions with various beliefs and dogmas both positive and negative; the positive being peace, love  forgiveness, and the negative being death, rape, slavery, subjection and genocide.

If the goal of a utopia is for the creation of an ideal society that brings with it positive benefits for man, then how can a utopia then result in something negative?

The answer is in the concept of Dystopia, which is the flip-side, the negative and evil twin sibling of utopia. Dystopia comes from the Greek words δυσ ("bad") and τόπος ("place"),which is an imagined society where everything is bad, terrifying and undesirable. Where one of the first dystopias was caused ironically by religion; for example during the inquisition by the Catholic Church which persecuted people and nations in Christianity's name causing death, destruction, blood and chaos; or the death cult of radical Islam that seeks to kill and subjugate all that do not follow their creed and is causing so much of the chaos in the world today, or the intolerance of Hindu society against the Moslems and Christians who live amongst its society, or the atheist society of China which persecutes any religion of any creed which seeks to gain some kind of a profile in Chinese society.

This twin-sided coin of utopia/dystopia can be easily applied to many other concepts, and in our modern era, this applies very aptly firstly to the industrial revolution and capitalism. Where the mechanisation of industry and production through the innovation of mechanical technology brought  about the mass-production of food, materials, resources ,electricity and power; which freed humanity from a slavery and servitude to the daily drudgery of eking out a subsistence living, to having more leisure time and material goods to consume. Where cities of a grand scale where thereby able to be built supplied with plentiful food, water and power; that freed man's spare time to focus his leisure time on culture, society, art, music and literature, which culminated in the flowering of the Bel epoch period of France in the late nineteenth century.

Where this evolved and lead to the creation of the leisured middle classes of the 1940's and 1950's ,living a premixed, instant consumerist society; but these very benefits have also lead to the corruption of the soul of western man, of an abandonment of ethics and morality where life has evolved into an alienated individual life in millions of cities. Where millions of people live their nights crouched on lounges glued to flickering television screens, as scraps of crumpled paper tumble down dark alleyways past the homeless, the dandies, the drug dealers and the street-kids; as families wait sporadically in the suburbs for their homes to be repossessed, or the old people who live on tinned food and can hardly pay their bills, while the world banks hold nations to ransom.

The last one hundred and twenty years has seen the rise of many dystopias, the slavery, suffering, famine and death wrought by communism, fascism, religious fanaticism and imperialism; all in the name of a higher cause, of an initial utopian vision turned bad. It is with the clarion call of an oracle that the last century has been marked by literary works that portend these dystopias that haunt our world.

To the dystopian novel of Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World', which paints a future world where the family is eradicated and society broken down into a genetically determined class structure into Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons where the lower classes have lowered brain functions and conditioned to make them satisfied with their lives; or to the brutal totalitarian world of George Orwell's novel '1984',where the rule of the state is all pervasive and all intrusive into every facet of life and where its citizens live a colourless mechanical life in a drab, grey world. But the most shocking of all dystopias is the philosophy of a Darwinian capitalism espoused by Ayn Rand through such novels as 'Atlas Shrugged', which supports a brutal capitalism and the survival of the financially fittest in a capitalist Utopia.

Yet even with the negatives that have been brought by this Utopian/Dystopian dichotomy, we still dream and look upon the past with nostalgia to a past age which we consider ideal or better than our own. This philosophy of golden age thinking has been aptly explained by one of the characters in the Woody Allen movie 'Midnight In Paris', where one of the characters states: "The erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one ones living in. Its a flaw in the romantics imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present."

Whether golden age thinking is erroneous or not, we all indulge in it at some time, and to romanticise the past: that the music in the 90's or 80's was better than today's ,or when the price of an ice cream or a hamburger was so much lower that today, or how we miss those cassette-tape walkmans, the era of disco and aids-free sex, the beatniks of the 50's or the 20's in Paris.

Yet in the end, a utopia does not exist, for it is an illusionary chalice that floats in the air that is never able to be fully grasped. For perfection as a concept is a contradiction in terms in that it does not exist or is impossible to attain, therefore the asymmetrical value of imperfection is perfection; for all we can do is to live and develop a society that is the best it can be, and it is these very flaws and imperfections that enhances the shinning ephemeral gems of golden moments or periods that have shone throughout human civilisation.

It is these small personal golden moments that can renew humanity; to fall in love with living again, to walk out the front door and feel the privilege and magic of existing, of the cool breeze caressing one's face under the shining sun. The aroma of fresh bread wafting through the streets from the local bakery under the siesta sun penetrating the grills of the closed green shutters; geraniums decorating the sills,with your lover sleeping by your side, the filtered sun falling on her summer hips, wrapped in the aroma of her frangipani hair.

For the search for our utopia starts within us, where we firstly need to get in touch with and find our humanity, and then to share this humanity: for the road to a utopia might be as simple as this, to rediscover our soul.

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 END  OF 48th SESSION OF THE  OVI  SYMPOSIUM (26/03/2015)

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Intro - P. 1 - P. 2 

2nd Meeting - 3rd Meeting - 4th Meeting - 5th Meeting - 6th Meeting - 7th Meeting - 8th Meeting -

9th Meeting - 10th Meting - 11th Meeting - 12th Meeting - 13th Meeting - 14th Meeting - 15th Meeting -

16th Meeting - 17th Meeting - 18th Meeting - 19th Meeting - 20th Meeting - 21st Meeting -

22nd Meeting -23rd Meeting - 24th Meeting - 25th Meeting - 26th Meeting - 27th Meeting -

28th Meeting -29th Meeting - 30th Meeting - 31st Meeting - 32nd Meeting - 33rd Meeting -

34th Meeting -35th Meeting - 36th Meeting - 37th Meeting - 38th Meeting - 39th Meeting -

40th Meeting -41st Meeting - 42nd Meeting - 43rd Meeting - 44th Meeting - 45th Meeting -

46th Meeting - 47th Meeting - 48th Meeting -

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