Monday, November 29, 2010

Who would've guessed a utopian community that assumed human perfectibility would fail?

Fruitlands: Bronson Alcott, Charles Lane and their unsuccessful search for utopia – Richard Francis – Failure magazine |:
Their philosophy was an offshoot of a movement called Transcendentalism that developed in Boston in the 1830s. The most important aspect of it was a belief in the [perfectibility] of humankind. Transcendentalists believed that Jesus wasn’t the son of God, but was simply a perfect human being, setting an example for other human beings to become perfect likewise. The spin Alcott put on this was that if you could orient yourself correctly to the material world, you would solve that problem. In other words, he believed the spirit is born into a material environment and it’s becoming material that erodes your spiritual perfection. Therefore, if you could calibrate the material environment around you correctly, your spirit would be safeguarded.
Reading this reminded me of the historical lesson provided by armies that have tried to invade Russia in the winter. Even if you think it looks like a good idea to fight a land war in Asia in the spring, it's not going to look quite so easy when the temperature drops and the snow starts flying. Similarly, thinking your perfect human spirit will make cold showers in the New England winter, followed by dressing up in linen clothes to eat a hearty breakfast of raw fruit, tolerable is the kind of pie-eyed optimism that'll get you fleeced skint by even the most somnolent rookie carnival barker.
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