Every year around this time I like to abandon my sociological imagination and just use my um normal imagination to describe my hopes and dreams for the coming year. These dreams are not necessarily grounded in the most current research, but I like to think they are unexpurgated by prevailing social and political trends. I allow myself the luxury of free expression unrestricted by the normal fact checking and data searches that normally ground the Journal of a Mad Sociologist and the Agitate newsletter.
This year I was inspired by a popular song, John Lennon’s Imagine. Can there be a better song with which to start the New Year? Imagine! That’s what the New Year is all about, isn’t it? Imagining what the coming year will be like, the accomplishments, resolutions and even the hardships and obstacles that will be overcome.
Lennon’s song, however, asks us to do more than that. It asks us to imagine an entirely different world; some might even suggest an alien world or an unrealistic utopia. Some might even suggest that John Lennon’s invocation of a world without a Heaven or a Hell or religion in general is rather dystopian, or a world of unrestrained immorality and bestiality. I disagree, but that’s not the point.
Lennon was not necessarily offering us a world with no God, or no morality, but rather a world unbound by institutions that constrain us and keep us from recognizing the basic humanity in others.
This year, Imagine seems to strike a different chord in me, one that resonates within and reminds me of my most basic tenetthat all human beings are, in essence, the same. I have a theory describing what I call the Basic Human Essentials. In fact, the first draft of this issue of Agitate started out by laying down the principles of this theory, but I realized that that was not what I wanted to do. I did not want to be saddled down with theory and sociology and philosophy. I just wanted to imagine for a little while. I wanted to contemplate this wonderful song.
I think Imagine captures the idea of Basic Human Essentials quite well. It refutes all the things that distract us from recognizing the essential humanity in our neighbors, in our countrymen and, especially, in those with whom we share this magical planet.
Instead of embracing the basic human essentials common to all humanity, we embrace ideologies that narrow our vision, blinding us to the great and beautiful human panorama around us. This tunnel vision brings us pain, forcing us to accept a lonely existence in a world of billions who share our desires. In our loneliness and desperation we accept the cold embrace of those who use our blindness to achieve power and dominance.
We dedicate to such follies as earning our way into Heaven, or trying to keep ourselves out of Hell because we are told that somewhere there is a judgmental god who is keeping tabs on us. This god is, by all accounts, great enough to bring forth existence, creator of Heaven and Hell, all that is seen and unseen, all that is known and unknown, but petulant enough to be offended if we kneel in the wrong temple, or call out the wrong name in our prayers. Proselytizers endear us to the fantastic poetry of an ancient book, thousands of years old, whereas those who endear the verses of their own books are suffered as misdirected fools who must be ignored, ostracized, convertedor killed.
Would those who abandon fantasies of Heaven recognize their fellow human beings as infidels? Would they be inclined to torture or kill if their actions were not condoned by the varied names of some capricious god? Would we accept as gospel the archaic wisdom of those who believed the Earth was flat if it did not have the imprimatur of the holy attached to it? If not for charlatan shamans would we be inclined to condemn others for nothing more significant that how they love, or the clothes they wear or choose not to wear, or the holidays they celebrate? Wouldn’t the world be better off if we lived our lives without the great weight of Heaven pressing down on us? “Imagine all the people living for today,” rather than the prospects of some Heavenly reward tomorrow.
I remember many years ago, before the invasion of Iraq, I was reading a report by Amnesty International. I don’t remember the contents of the report, but it was about the consequences of sanctions on the people of Iraq. Though the text is lost to recall I remember clearly a picture that accompanied the report. It was a little boy suffering from a flea born virus, a virus spread because Iraq could not import the necessary pesticides to control the sand fleas. He was two years old and he looked just like my own son of the same age. His body was wracked with pain and you could almost hear him screaming through the photograph. His mother held him, desperate to comfort him, to save her child, by force of will, from what would almost certainly be death. In that boy I saw my own son, and felt my own desperation, and my own un-reconcilable anger at those who would sentenced my child to death for nothing more flagrant than being born in the wrong country.
I’ve spoken with many immigrants over the years. Most of them have endured the process of legal entry into the United States. An undisclosed number of them were in the United States illegally. They were all good people who wanted only to have a better life for themselves and their families. Indeed, they wanted exactly what I wanted, a basic human essential. However, they had the misfortune of being born on the wrong side of a little, muddy river. On one side of the river, a corporate induced poverty, on the other side, hope. In between, nothing but nonsensical bureaucracy that defines a human being as “illegal” depending on which side of the river he or she happens to be standing.
And yet money can travel freely across this river. Corporations can travel freely, taking their jobs with them. Trade goods can travel freely across the Rio Grande
but not people!
“Imagine there’s no countries.” Imagine there was no such thing as nationalism and patriotism on which to justify the exclusion, imprisonment and even extermination of others based on nothing more real than on what side of an imaginary line they happen to reside. How about a world where a human being can freely pursue his hopes and dreams, where she can escape the prison of the sweatshops and labor camps by crossing a river? Only a world of national boundaries can provide corporations with lucrative opportunities to exploit poverty and increase their profit margins.
Only a world divided by imaginary lines could parcel humanity into a globalized medievalism. Within these lines are the serfs and slave laborers, who assemble the goods consumed by those between other lines. Those who consume need do nothing but consume. Certainly they shouldn’t worry about the working conditions between lines that are not their own, the forced labor, the slave wages, the sexual exploitation, the children in the coltan mines, the death. After all, that’s what those people are for! They produce, you consume. And there are precisely mapped national boundaries that clearly delineate one’s role in the new world order of globalization.
The only one’s free from these imaginary lines multinational corporations. So long as we are willing to ignore their abuses in our artificial quest for cheap consumables the world remains theirs. Our addiction to stuff feeds the fungal growth of corporate greed and power. “Imagine no possessions.”
Of course there are those who hear this song and read this essay and think I’m dreaming of a back to the Stone Age communal atheism. That’s not true. I imagine a world in which one’s religion or nation of origin is considered secondary to their basic humanity. I imagine a productive world that raises the standard of living for all by rewarding the producers for their labor rather than the one in which we now live, which raises the few on the backs of the many. I imagine a world not bereft of religion or national identity, or possessions, but rather a world that recognizes the “brotherhood of man.” In such a world brothers and sisters come together, working toward a common goal, working toward the basic human essentials (which I will address in the next Agitate commentary).
These musings might not be easily attainable. Nothing worthwhile ever is. But they are not unrealistic. They are not outside the realm of possibility. Humanity has been through many transformations in the last 5000 years. It’s unrealistic to think that our current form of global medievalism is the end of history. There will be other transformations to come, and I imagine being a part of them; I imagine fulfilling my role, however significant, in bringing about the world I dream.
“You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.”
Have a great year
let your imaginations soar
and let your dreams come true.
For a PDF version of this essay click here