If there’s no God, we need one anyway;
We need a higher vision of our nature
Lest “red in tooth and claw” still rule the day
And ruthlessness remain our signal feature—
As it has done in many eras past
When chieftains, kings and emperors have reigned
Like Ozymandias over wastelands vast
With egos gross and powers unconstrained.
No. God is Love and Peace personified,
A model of our high humanity
Implicit in our genes, too little tried,
Yet what we crave to cure insanity.
Without a God to worship for its worth,
We’ll never reach the promise of our birth.
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.
* * *
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.
* * *
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.
* * *
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.
The premise of this primer is that crafting verses is a game before it is an art.
While artful compositions may eventually flow from the pens of talented and well-practiced versecrafters, the process begins with fooling around with words, playing games with sounds, while fashioning rhymes and rhythms in the service of many sorts of sense: from frivolous to serious, from light verse and doggerel to odes and epics.
But it begins with te-TUM, te-TUM, te-TUM. It begins with rhyme / chime / thyme / Guggenheim / and paradigm.
It’s a game of hide-and-seek, with the supposition that a poem's THERE to be found and that it’s your job to follow the clues and hints that rhyme and meter throw in your path, eventually leading you to discover the elusive verse implicit in your unconscious mind waiting to be revealed—AH-HA!
Invention means coming in—you come in to the presence of what you have sought. Discovery means taking the cover off what already exists, perhaps in some Platonic realm of potentiality, like the horse that Leonardo or Michelangelo envisioned as already dwelling within the block of marble, needing merely to be freed from the rubble around it.
Likewise, the game of, say, sonnet-making proceeds beat by beat, rhyme by rhyme, line by line for fourteen lines, with tinkering and polishing until—Voilá it’s revealed in its entirety—out of seeming nothing: Something.
We, Homo sapiens, ought rather to be named Homo questor—not Man the Knower, but Man the Seeker.
As the least predetermined, most unfinished of animals, we possess the greatest potential to shape our own motives and courses of life.
Obviously, we share the same constraints of mortality with other species, being subject to injury, illness and death, like them; but our scale of needs rises above food, shelter and sex into ranges emotional, intellectual and spiritual, beyond what less complex species appear to recognize.
Our highest need—never an issue for those below us—is for meaning and purpose. Not content merely to sleep and feed like beasts, human beings innately seek for higher satisfactions, yearn to understand why we exist and what we are good for, a yearning that fires our infinite aspirations.
For many, their purposive impulse is satisfied by religion or ideology, a systematic scheme designed to answer the fundamental questions of meaning and purpose we feel compelled to ask, the “ultimate questions” that transcend what our ever-more sophisticated sciences address empirically.
While science gratifies much of our seeking and questing for knowledge, our urge for ultimate purpose and meaning draws us beyond the physical toward metaphysical and esoteric realms of speculation, imagination and invention—beyond proof and toward conviction.
Above all, we yearn to be convinced, subdued by certainty, convicted by an unshakable sense of Truth: THIS IS SO.
My ordinary state is scatter-brained,
Thoughts skittering all about, diffuse, untrained,
Disorderly, unless I take a pen
In hand, apply it to some paper, then
The mob shapes up and forms into a squad
As if attending to the voice of God.
Then thoughts fall into line, proceed apace
And demonstrate unwonted style and grace,
Directed, as it seems, by some design
That’s more than I can rightly claim as mine:
Good Orderly Direction, an acronym
Deciphered, which implies not quite a Him
But something that defines a rightful course,
Suggesting both our proper end and source.
That society is best which best fosters the fulfillment of true human needs. True human needs are to be distinguished from mere wants and desires not essential to human flourishing. Abraham Maslow’s famous “hierarchy of human needs” offers a good model ranked from food and water to higher consciousness and peak experiences.
That society which promotes such a hierarchy of values and provides for its people to ascend toward the higher reaches of individual and collective development is a sane and humane society, more mature than societies that foster simply the liberty to pursue a nebulous and undefined happiness.
The better we come to understand our own nature as a species and our vital relationships with other species and our planetary and cosmic environments, the more precisely shall we comprehend the needs we need to fulfill.
There is no more imperative question for humanity to answer adequately than how to regulate our behavior sanely and rationally.
Irrational and insane human behaviors, individually and collectively, now threaten the viability of Earth’s ecosystems, causing immense and wanton damage to the habitats of countless species, even extinguishing thousands of plant and animal species entirely.
We humans have become too numerous and too powerful not to become more conscious, careful and committed to changing our minds and behaviors as wisdom requires.
Wisdom requires relevant knowledge. We need to know how our behaviors affect each other positively and negatively, comprehending the consequences of our decisions and customs.
Wisdom requires kindness toward others who are similarly struggling to thrive. Although predation is a fact of nature, humane behavior can transcend the brute instinct to conquer and dominate. Our intellect can comprehend the higher principle of kinship and reciprocity, of treating others as one wishes to be treated in turn, a principle of cooperation and partnership surpassing conquest.
Wisdom requires honoring and cultivating the higher-order intellectual potential that human beings possess, distinguishing us from other earthly organisms, giving us the possibility of creating a heaven on Earth.
That "heaven” is the grandest efflorescence of truth, beauty and goodness that we can manifest.