Friday, March 18, 2011


Imagine a place we’ll call “Paragonia” because it represents the paragon of human societies, a model of excellence and a peerless example.  And, since paragon literally means a whetstone, along which you sharpen a dull blade, think of Paragonia as a tool by which we can sharpen our own dull social systems.
But distinguish Paragonia from Utopia, since utopia (another word with roots in Greek) means not a good (eu-) place, but no (u-) place, a Never-Never land of mere imagination (specifically the imagination of Renaissance humanist Sir Thomas More in 1516).
Rather, our imagined Paragonia is a proto-reality, a vision of how things might and ought to be—like the blueprint of a unique building not yet constructed, or a new spacecraft, not yet flown.
While the potential repertoire of human behavior is very wide, culture serves to limit and govern which behaviors will actually be expressed in any society.  Therefore, if we aim to alter certain harmful behaviors in groups of people, then apt adjustments in culture—in customs and mores—must be designed and instituted.
The point of imagining Paragonia, therefore, is to conceive of human behaviors more salutary than those now prevailing and then to reprogram our attitudes and actions accordingly, altering outmoded and obnoxious lifeways. 
Although imagining Paragonia is a speculative and visionary project, it aims to be not merely fanciful but practical: to serve as an inspiration and a guide to the development on Earth of “advanced” societal systems, cultures, customs and practices—our ways of being human.
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What chiefly distinguishes Paragonia from most earthly societies today is the primacy of health and sanity as governing values.  Physical health, mental health, emotional health, spiritual health, expressed and reinforced in healthy institutions and customs—these are no longer mysteries or fantasies but the everyday realities of Paragonians.
Deviant and aberrant behaviors that harm selves or others can now be clearly diagnosed and palliated, if not cured.  All medicine is now psycho-somatic, curing minds and bodies integrally, since each is recognized as a function of the other, just as the corporal bodies of individuals are seen to be linked to the body politic as well as to the global body of Gaia, on whose health all organisms depend for our well-being.
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Paragonia may be imaginable, just as humans have long dreampt of Paradise, but Paragonia may likewise remain an unworldly fiction.  Why is that?  Because we are imperfect and imperfectible.
What negative characteristics of human behavior are inevitable or intractable?  Which of our instincts and impulses are so hardwired, even necessary, as not to be denied or undone?  “If you prick us, do we not bleed . . . if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”
Is not the Judeo-Christian premise right that we are innately corrupt and incorrigible?  We are born broken, flawed, naturally inclined to harm others.  Being descended from primal carnivores, we kill other animals to survive, and such instinctive violence can spread to fellow humans, at least to those deemed Other: not of our kind or kin.  
Like all other animals, we are born needy, and live so all our lives, our gratifications and satiations being but temporary.  Over and again, we must feed our needs, from lower needs to higher needs, up Abraham Maslow’s scale from physical to spiritual, from mundane to transcendental.  Those needs can make us greedy, and greed will drive us to harm others out of rivalry and emulation.
“I can’t get no satisfaction,” says the song; and so, over and again, say we.  When it comes to needs, we humans seem bottomless, forever discontented and questing after more.  That is the glory of our quenchless species, Homo insatiens, and our damnation.
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Another way to imagine Paragonia is as any country or region on Earth once it has advanced to a certain degree, in certain ways.
One principal way to advanced is toward sustainability, a favorite term of ecologists who reckon the depletion of Earth’s varied assets, its species and resources.
Paragonia has learned and actively practices the ways of sustainability, thoroughly understanding the delicate balances of Earth’s tenuous ecosystems, honoring the natural principle of efflorescent diversity.  Earth on its own, without interference from human disruptions, tends to proliferate profusely, copiously, amazingly.  And although we humans may regard ourselves as the consummation of evolutionary invention, we have also proved to be Nature’s worst enemy, a depredator of species, a desecrater of Earth’s womb, befouling it with wastes and toxins.
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(to be continued)