Holistic civilization

I have been reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s book The Dispossessed. In short, the book involves two planets, or a planet and its moon, to be exact, Urras and Anarres. The civilization on Anarres is an anarchist utopia where there are no governments or hierarchies. All decisions are decided collectively within syndicates, which are the decentralized institutions in Anarresti society which replace hierarchical organizations such as corporations or governments. Everything is also corporately owned and there is no private property. There are also no warring factions within Anarresti society. Urras is more like Earth as we know it with capitalism, governments, wars and private ownership of goods and property.

On Urras, women and men not have equal access to education and there is still poverty. On the other hand, the greater wealth of Urras allows for greater beauty in the form of architecture at universities and public buildings. Furthermore, Urras has more advanced science and technology. On Anarres, there is no poverty and there are no class hierarchies, but the Anarresti civilization is austere. The arid nature of the Anarres climate makes resources limited and requires most people on Anarres to live a spartan lifestyle in order to keep resources evenly distributed. Furthermore, the Anarresti do not appear to have religion or spirituality other than the dominant socialist-anarchist political ideology.

It seems that on Urras you do not have justice but you have beauty and spirituality. On Anarres, you have justice but you have a deficit in beauty and spirituality. It is particularly hard for Westerners to be holistic. We often tend towards one extreme or the other. For example, there are those who embrace the power that comes from wealth and technology to allow us to accomplish great things and create beauty in the world, such as cathedrals or the images from interplanetary exploration missions, but ignore or rationalize the abuses of power that can come as a result of having great wealth and advanced technology. At other times, Westerners, and humans in general, will uncritically reject the power that comes from wealth and technology despite the good that can also be done through it.

The best scenario is when the things which are necessary to live a truly human life, such as justice, beauty, spirituality, and relationships, are seen as inseparably intertwined, when the assumption is that you cannot truly have any of these without the others.  We want children currently in poverty to become self-sufficient and to develop their own visions for a better future which fit with their cultural and social context. At the same time, since they are children, there is a need to help guide them to develop a vision of the future that is holistic. We do not want them to escape physical poverty only to become isolated doom-scrolling zombies addicted to consumption and alienated from their work and relationships. We also do not want them to become austere legalists who reject human cultural achievements just because they might be tainted by injustice or exploitation. We cannot help them avoid the idols of their own culture, but we can help them avoid the idols of our culture that we may import through providing assistance in poorer communities or countries in their development. We can avoid imposing our own models of development which may lead to the same problems we have in the developed world with consumerism and addiction to technology. It is up to the children and their communities to figure out how to become self-sustaining and create a technological future in which they can flourish in their cultural context. What we can provide them with is the Gospel. A person or community that makes spirituality, justice, beauty, or relationships the point to life will end up missing one or several of them like the societies on Urras and Anarres. A person or community that makes the Gospel the point to life will have them all and more.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s