Utopian Society According to the curriculum of our Athens to New York course, we are supposed to study certain themes that are carried through history and literary works of various eras. In addition, there are some recurring themes that also become evident, especially in some of the more recent works that we have studied. Works like Cornel West’s Race Matters, Elie Wiesel’s Night, and Franz Kafka’s The Trial, carry many similar themes, and teach us readers some important lessons about ourselves as the human race. Through each work’s message, we can study “what it means to be: human, a member of a community, and moral, ethical, or just, as well as how individuals respond to differences in race, class, gender, and ethnicity in relation to action” (this quote taken from one Bob Anderson). While I dare not attempt to categorize each of the meanings that the authors gave to their books, I can find one major similarity.
In each of the books, the author is in search of a Utopian society that does not contain all of the faults of our modern day society. Charles Darwin heavily believed in “survival of the fittest” in his work with evolution. In the society that we have created in our world today, one can see this belief holding true. Survival and all around relations between different groups in general has become dependent on five little letters. These letters spell out “power.” One who holds the “power,” seems to try and lord over those who do not. This struggle over power has become one of, if not the, reason for the major differences between groups.
While the battle over power rages on, a Utopian society will continue to be an impossible goal. Allow me to explain by use of the books I have earlier highlighted. Franz Kafka’s Night tells the story Joseph K., a man who must defend himself against the courts of the day, while lacking any and all information about his case. The man finds himself suddenly arrested one day and placed on trial for a crime he does not know he committed. The man becomes increasingly frustrated as he finds no one capable of helping him develop a case to defend himself with.
No one can even provide him with any information about why he is on trial. With no where to go, and no one turn to, Joseph discovers that the justice system that was designed to help the people has worked against him, and his situation is utterly hopeless. Kafka makes a strong about how modern bureaucracy and totalitarianism has become so extreme that it harms the people that it is designed to protect. Justice has become jaded by its own self and its own methods. A government is created by the people, for the people, but has instead gained the power to lord over the people. Here we see the power switch from man to the system.
Joseph has become alienated from normal society because of crimes that he does not know he committed, displaying the corruption of the justice system. This nightmare is not entirely too far from our modern day reality. According to a well-known book that discusses this topic, Urban Administration-Management Politics and Change, “Contemporary technological society places a heavy burden upon the individual to adapt to a large-scale, highly complex, and often times impersonal bureaucratic environment. For a substantial number of the members of the modern mass societies this burden has become the source of pervasive feelings of anxiety and estrangement now fashionably termed ‘alienation.'” (Bent & Rossum, p. 201) Man now has the choice of falling into line and being another “cog in the wheel,” or finding himself alienated from the rest of society who presumably does.
In this dark and dreary portrait that Kafka paints of our modern world, a community is formed when everyone agrees to accept his role, be equal with everyone else. It seems that being human is more of being part of a system and being like everyone else, than being an individual. In order to be morally just, one must follow the laws and the system, even if they work against you, rather than for you. Men’s minds have been warped to believe that justice is merely a state of mind. Elie Wiesel searches for his Utopian society amid the horrors of the Holocaust. His book Night, gives an autobiographical account of his real-life nightmares during World War II. He had seen things that no one should be forced to see; things that may have swayed his once immovable faith in God.
In a world of despair, where the Nazis had unlimited power over the Jews, a Utopian society where are all equal seemed unattainable. It was sadly simple, one group (the Germans) had the power and ability to eliminate another group that they deemed subordinate, so they tried to erase them. Elie had high religious morals. He strongly believed that the power of prayer could overcome all, although this belief became questionable as his horrors continued. He loved his family very much, and wanted to stick by his father through thick and thin from the beginning.
Even in the end, his only concern was that his father survived. Survival was of dire importance, and in order to survive one needed to keep his faith in God and his love for his family. The light in someone’s eyes showed if he was alive or dead, once that light was lost, the body followed. I wanted to use some quotes from The Diary of Anne Frank in order to complimented Wiesel’s accounts, but I found I learned much more from observing the ongoing, daily tribulations than finding one exact quote. The holocaust consisted of so much gradual torture and the best quotation that can be used is an entire book as opposed to one small insignificant sentence. Cornel West brings the issu e of Utopian society to our modern-day lives. Regarded as one of the greatest thinkers and racial leaders in the world today, his book Race Matters not only expresses his feelings about the situation of the human race today, but it also provides some suggestions and optimism for the future.
He states that although Whites have much of the political and social power in today’s world, Blacks do not due entirely too much to help their situation. He confronts prejudice but expresses his belief that all races share the same destiny. According to Newsday, “West’s thinking consistently challenges the conventional wisdom [and] confronts the reader with profound and unsettling insights.” (West, back cover) West calls for some positive action to be taken in order to make all races truly equal. He sees many differences among all races, but he feels that this is natural, and each must be understanding of the next. In the book Jews and Blacks, West was asked to comment on how to confront the problem of anti-Semitism by inner-city Blacks. “You have to convince people that it is a problem.” He states.
“Black people are facing so many difficult issues today-Blacks don’t have enough resources, and food and housing and health care and so forth-that it’s not always obvious to African-Americans that alongside of these there’s also the problem of anti-Semitism.” (Lerner and West, p.249) West’s Race Matters explains his ideas and beliefs in full detail. He pushes for a Utopian society, in which all races get along and treat each other as equals. He says that we as a human race need to see things from “all angles.” One must step back and look at the entire picture before making a judgement. Perhaps the most meaningful point that Mr. West tries to express is that our society as a whole needs strong leaders.
Today we lack strong racial leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Very much like Martin Luther King, West dreams of a day when one group does not have any social advantages over another. He dreams of a day when there is no power struggle between races. Through each of these monumental works, we learn some important lessons about the human race.
West, Wiesel, and Kafka preach against the alienation and segregation that we create in our society. We design our governments and create our political systems in order to aid us in dealing with each other, however, they have been obscured through time. Now they have begun to work against us, alienating us from each other. Justice has truly become in the eye of the beholder, as its rules and regulations have become as cold as stone. I see the main theme in Night, Race Matters, and The Trial as being “the impossible quest for a Utopian society.” The struggle over power has created a wall between different groups.
Whether this be the power of the government, or of one group over another, the human race cannot peacefully coincide unless each individual sees “the big picture” instead of being limited to his own point of view. Everyone needs to take a step back at look what is wrong within himself and the world that he surrounds himself with, if any positive movement is to be made in order to unite everyone. If a Utopian society is ever to be reached, a common ground must be reached on “what it means to be human, what it means to be a member of a community, what it means to be moral, ethical, or just, and the manner in which individuals and communities respond to differences in race, class gender, and ethnicity are related to action.” (again quoted from one Bob Anderson) In order to do so, we must place this struggle for power on the back burner for the greater good of all humanity.