The Utopian Part of Utopianism

I am stuck now that that oft-quoted summary of Marxist utopianism – From each according to his gifts, to each according to his needs – (gendered language aside) contains within it the most utopian of all ideas. An idea so utopian as to be absent from lesser versions of that ultimate ideal. In fact, dystopias proceed exactly from a loss of this most utopian part of utopianism. Lose this part, and a dystopia is sure to follow.

This most utopian part of utopianism is this: the existence of an intelligence sufficient to justly discriminate between people. Take this effectively divine omniscience away, and we’re left with gray gruel for everyone, or else some kindergarten morality, such as imagining society as nothing more complicated than being spectators at a sporting event.

People who share that image seem generally completely uninterested in reckoning the limits of the analogy, and so become idiotic in their obtuse literalism. Like Biblical literalists, they think that their story explains everything sufficiently. And I always want to scream: How is it decided who gets to play on the field?!?

Anyway, again, that Marxist summary contains the Great Mystery of a perfect awareness able to justly recognize both gifts and needs. If I understand him correctly, Marx imagined that this perfect awareness – which appears in Adam Smith as the Invisible Hand of capitalism – would somehow emerge out of a dialectical historical process. Somehow, capitalism would not just give way to socialism, but manifest the effectively divine omniscience on which a socialist utopia depends.

Critics of this mad scheme continue to notice that this divine omniscience continues not to exist, either on the scale of government or in the minds of individuals. Instead, the best history has yielded is a crude matrix of identity, composed of intersecting dimensions of race, class, religion, sexual preference and gender expression.

At least until recently. The spooks and marketers have developed vastly more sophisticated means of measuring and manipulating identity. The surveillance capitalists and politicians have gone a giant leap beyond the intersectional cultists toward a real science of individual capacity and need. On the other hand, their aim in developing this science has been diametrically opposed to the espoused aim of the cultists.

Whereas the intersectional cultists have as their aim the liberation of humanity, the people with the vastly more sophisticated toolkit of individual apprehension and control have as their aim nothing other than complete control.

Is it possible to marry such good intentions with such powerful means, or is the very act of seeking such control over others bound in its hubris and misunderstanding to fragment into well-meaning foolishness and selfish wisdom?

Such was the critique the taoists made of the confucianists, who presumed by their ritual technology to be able to in effect manufacture the divine omniscience needed to properly run a state. This “divine omniscience”, again, is the intelligence of justly recognizing and responding to the gifts and the needs of all.

With this in mind, HAMLET might be read as an instance of this taoist critique, within which the State of Denmark splits into the well-meaning foolishness of Polonius and the selfish wisdom of Claudius. Within this reading – which I believe is the correct one – Queen Gertrude represents the Loss of the Way. She is the blindness of that loss personified – a blindness that might be expressed in this old comedic form:

Queen Gertrude is so blind…


She’s so blind she married her husband’s killer.

Prince Hamlet, in this version of events, is the fool set out on the hero’s quest, to reform his inner self and so restore and restory his nation. His situation is described in the six in the sixth place in Confucius’ commentary on the moving lines of the 34th hexagram of I Ching:

A goat butts against a hedge. It cannot go backward, it cannot go forward. Nothing serves to further. If one notes the difficulty, this brings good fortune.

Hamlet is the goat here. He cannot go forward to either revenge or ascendency, describing himself to Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern as the horse who starves while the grass grows. And he cannot go back, to not knowing what he knows.

We might note that to his credit, and to centuries of criticism from students and teachers alike, Hamlet does not take what he knows for granted. He devises the mousetrap, as a subtle instrument for weighing the secret heart of the king; that piece of himself that he might most conceal, but upon which the whole health of the kingdom depends.

Remember that the rotten thing in the state of Denmark is not simply a murder most foul, but what this murder represents: that being the loss of the effectively divine omniscience upon which the government of a nation depends. This effective omniscience breaks down into well-meaning foolishness and savage wisdom. The Good and the True part ways, leaving the Beautiful to drown in the moat between them.

The taoist healer in this story, whether Hamlet or Paul Atriedes, means to revive the government, to reunify above and below, the North and the South, by coming to understand this alchemy within his own psyche.

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