Posted by: HAT | October 14, 2009

Suffering

Trying to understand, so as to be able to discuss, the relationship of suffering to (1) utopia and (2) discussions of specific aspects of utopia, or specific representations of utopia. Reasonably on board with Ruth Levitas’ insight that images of utopia are expressions of desire, feel we need to recognize the tight relationship between suffering and desire. Any Buddhist will unhesitatingly acknowledge that desire is simply a form of suffering. Non-Buddhists, particularly westerners, might not make the relationship quite as tight as that, and might reserve some limited non-suffering role for desire — maybe — but would surely also admit the many many times when desire springs directly from suffering. It also seems entirely possible to develop an analysis using resources from the western intellectual tradition in which all desire can be read as an expression of suffering, albeit highly mediated or repressed.

One consequence of this line of thinking comes to this: the usage in which “utopian” means “so silly and stupid as not to be worth bothering with,” “completely impractical and not worth a second thought,” amounts to a prescription of resignation to suffering humanity. Insofar as utopian imagination, as an expression of desire, is by that fact an expression of suffering, the brushing off or putting down of that imagination, precisely as utopian (in the sense of “impractical” or “impracticable”) amounts to an admission that what is realistic and practical or practicable is some specific concrete organization of suffering. It also amounts to an insistence that participation in society, collective life, must entail suffering and that efforts to eliminate that suffering are stupid.

But what it would take to eliminate most of the suffering people encounter in the world as it is and has always been involves, really, in the end, no great efforts. Just small efforts, efforts that could be easily accomplished — under appropriate forms of life. This strikes me as important.

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