Sat 14 Aug, 2004 11:12 am
The Ideal World
Zeno's days were all different, all challenging but sometimes painful. This morning, he had a cup of re-heated coffee left from the day before, and a stale donut for his breakfast. Some days he had nothing at all, and left his third floor walk-up still buttoning his dress shirt from the Salvation Army. He was always a bit anxious that someone might have stolen his 1989 Dart from the back of the mall parking lot. The car was dented from a thousand forgotten collisions, leaked oil, and seldom passed a filling station without wanting to stop. Not much of a chariot, but Zeno loved his car that he had worked and saved buy. The old Dart wasn't a luxury, but a necessity. Zeno's job was across town, and the Dart was the only practical way to and from work. While Zeno loved his car, he hated the daily traffic jams. Sitting for sometimes a whole hour hemmed in by other cars spewing out clouds of noxious fumes, was not fun.
This morning Zeno was lucky and arrived at the factory with plenty of time to spare. His luck was compounded when he saw an empty parking space just outside the entry. He clocked in, and went up to the employee's lounge for a decent cup of coffee from the machine. He joined a brisk discussion over the relative merits of the LA Lakers and the Boston Celtics. Joey came in and handed out cigars to the gang in celebration of the birth of his new 8 lb. son. Zeno tucked the cellophane wrapped cigar in a pocket; maybe he would smoke it later outside the No Smoking building. Someone told a joke that insulted and belittled the political candidates, and that set off a round of joking. Just a year ago a couple of workers were fired when a joke got out of hand. Since Hannah had come to work as a drill-press operator the jokes had suddenly gotten much milder. A loud bell sounded and the lounge emptied quickly as the workers hurried to their machines.
On the factory floor the noise made any conversation less than a shout unheard. Workers had to be continually alert since steel bins of greasy parts were stacked everywhere. The machines themselves could take off a finger faster than an eye could blink. There were rumors that the plant was about to change, and that made the workers nervous. Some said that the owners had begun purchasing automated machines from Japan, and that a layoff was sure to follow. The more pessimistic feared that the whole factory would be closed and moved to Pakistan, or Mexico. The Union tried to reassure its members, but most of them thought the Union leadership weren't all that different from the owners. Who could believe any of those guys anyway? They don't even have to clean their nails but have some sexy beautician do it for them.
Zeno had started as a stamping machine apprentice, but now had worked his way up to Master Toolmaker. He spent his day in a wire cage checking out specialty tools, and repairing damaged tools. For the last year plant productivity had insured that Zeno got at least four hours overtime every week. The extra money was welcome, because Zeno was half way through the local college's evening program leading to a Bachelor's degree. Zeno needed that degree to fully develop an idea he had for improving the Universal Widget Wankler. The degree and his skill should secure his future. Often he worked through the coffee breaks. At lunch he did his homework assignment. Other workers spent their lunches in Bible Study, or went outside for a smoke with others who ignored all the health warnings against tobacco. It was amazing how fast Zeno's eight-hour shift passed. Today, the foreman announced that Zeno wouldn't be needed for overtime, so he had to fight the flood of workers trying to get home just a few minutes earlier.
Having a bit of extra time, Zeno stopped off to see his parents. Dad was getting on, and his Mom was always worried over something or another. Zeno's visits were always looked forward to, and he liked the macaroni and cheese casserole that his Mom had been making since he was in grade school. He usually slipped a twenty into his mother's "secret savings account" in the old cookie jar to help out. Social Security and Medicare just barely covered his parent's expenses, and his Dad's pension wasn't much help. Dad once loved to tinker in his shop, that was where Zeno had first fallen in love with the idea of making and fixing things. Now Dad seemed to prefer sitting in front of their large screen television watching reality shows. The one thing that seemed to cheer both his parents up was to hear Zeno talk about his life during his visits. "Have you met a nice young girl yet" was the first question he always had to answer. Zeno worried about the future for his parents. Their small savings must be getting low, and what if one of them should break a hip.
After leaving his parents apartment, Zeno stopped in to see his old high school chum. Ablonski was part owner of Tavrena Trevoli, and would usually spot Zeno a free beer when he came in. They compared notes, and Zeno dutifully asked how Lorraine was doing. Lorraine was a hairdresser but might have to quit work soon as her pregnancy neared term. This evening the television over the bar was filled with the usual murder and mayhem, but there was a funny little inspirational story of a woman who contributed her entire collection of mittens to the poor children of Finland to keep them from frostbitten fingers. The Presidential candidates exchanged sneering references to one another's pet policies. There was a story about another bombing in Israel, and another about the problems encountered by the new Iraqi government. "Hey Ski, change that over to Jeopardy will you?" Half the bar patrons focused on Alex and the rest resumed their conversations and foamy drinks. "Well Ski, I've got to be going. Got two chapters to read, a short paper to write, and a test this Friday."
Zeno found his favorite parking spot unoccupied, so he locked up his Dart and went into buy his groceries. The price of milk was up, but there was a real deal on lettuce and carrots. Zeno lingered over the bin filled with steaks and assorted cuts of beef, but ended up selecting a package of extra-lean hamburger. "A loaf of bread, and thou" he thought as he tossed a day-old loaf into his shopping cart. A couple of cans of soup, and a quart of vanilla ice cream for later, joined his selection. Zeno almost danced to the Muzak as he went up to the checkout counter. He was careful to get into Alice's line, even though it was the longest. Alice was pure pleasure to be around. She was gorgeous, but even more important they seemed to "click" on a deeper level. "Once the mid-terms are over, maybe she'll go out with me", he thought. He scanned the front page of the National Inquirer whose lead story was a girl in Alabama who claimed her pregnancy was due to a visit by an alien with golden wings.
"Hello, sailor." Zeno had been daydreaming and had not noticed that Alice was ready to run up his bill. He blushed, and she gave a little smile, which caused the blush to deepen. "Zeno, are you ever going to ask me out? That'll be $12.85, puleez." Alice gave a little laugh that made Zeno's heart hop. As he went from the air-conditioned store out into the parking lot, he gave in and did a little two-step jig.
Are you trying to show that good has no meaning without bad?
utopias are less interesting than reality, and much less likely. The world we live in at the beginning of the 21st century fulfills many of the characteristics of what people believed an ideal world would be like one hundred years ago. Those dreamss of an ideal world seem quaint today, as our ideas of what an ideal world must seem in the distant future. Ultimately, our satisfaction with the world we live in has less to do with any of the "big issues", than it does in how individuals view their world. Our "take" on the world is formed more by our internal hopes, fears and expectations than by the morals of exploiting natural resources, or the relative truthfulness of society at large. Abstract notions of what is a perfect world always are wrong, and always end up as nightmare worlds. The ideal world is one where we do the best we can in the world we find ourselves. We measure our happiness in personal triumphs and tragedies, not in the degree that statistical abundance is distributed around the world. We are human, not some sort of abstract equation solved by someone's idea of what is "good".
Really? I think it would be interesting to read the description of a perfect world from 100 years ago.
Utopian writing has been around for a very long time. Here are a few:
The Republic, Plato ... Plato's description of Atlantis has frequently been the model for other Utopian writings.
Utopia, Sir Thomas Moore (late 15th century) This is the book whose title has become the generic for all other imaginary, perfect worlds.
The New Atalantis, Sir Francis Bacon (1627)
Utopia, Eliza Haywood (1725)
Looking Backward, Edward Bellamy (1888)
A Traveler From Alturia, Willam Dean Howells (1890?)
Alexander: A Novel of Utopia, Thomas Mann (1929)
Lost Horizon, James Hilton (193_)
Utopia or Oblivion, Buckminster Fuller (1970)
There are a number of Utopian writings of a religous nature from the Middle Ages, try St. Augustine as a start. Marx's writings while not specifically Utopian, are often cited as Utopian in their description of a Communist State. The same idealistic and unrealistic notions can be found in the Nazi ideas about how wonderful the world would be if their notions about an Aryan dominated world could be established. Almost all "blueprints" for building a better, more perfect world have some tinge of Utopia to them.
Far more common after 1918 was the creation of the Anti-Utopia, or Dystopia. A couple of well-known examples of are:
Brave New World, Aldus Huxley
1984, George Orwell (also Animal Farm)