Blending enlightened visions into the real world, the crux of eutopian desire.
Back in 1993-94, I embarked on an exciting journey with my first experience in public service through helping a public teacher friend of mine. I was working in the entertainment field and was introduced by orchestral conductor John Axelrod to an innovative educator and fellow Harvard alum, TH Culhane. TH eventually began teaching at Jefferson High School in Los Angeles and we started co-creating a curriculum blending entertainment with education by folding lessons and material into media composition.
With the student’s short attention spans due to the “MTV generation” factor, we thought we could engage sustained attention by involving the kids by having them work with media technology in creating their own projects—but only drawing from a palette of information and compositional choices we’d previously laid out.
We recorded the students and worked with them in the studio developing a unique curricula entitled, “Eutopia”.
Decoding the Past
Eu-topia, as opposed to U-topia.
In Greek, Topos means “place”.
Eu- is the Greek prefix for “good” or “well”, as in eu-phoria (well-being), eu-phony (good voice or sound), or eu-logy (good words).
Eu-topia, or “good-place” —versus—Ou-topia, or “no-place”.
Now, it has been presumed that St. Thomas More in authoring Utopia in 1516, was alluding to the impossibility of the proposition of, say, humanity arriving at a peaceful and equitable coexistence. Historically, the contention has been that Utopia meant “no-place”, as in, Ou-Topia, Ou- being the Greek prefix for “No”. “Utopians” are Pollyannaish unrealistic idealists; and to use a common expression, prone to making “perfect the enemy of the good”.
But if this was the case, why did More leave out the O and name his book Utopia?
Maybe this was a code for only the perceptive to perceive?
Interestingly, there isn’t any other occurrence of the Greek prefix Ou- in English besides its supposed use in “utopia”, but there are plenty of Eu- “Greek-lish” words like eulogy, euphony, etc.
If one Googles the topic today, the double entendre of either “ou-topia”, or “eu-topia” is out there and readily available. But back in ’93 when TH and I researched the issue, this was not the case. We hadn’t found any illumination as to some hidden double-meaning in references to More’s coinage of the term Utopia.
Our thesis was that in the spirit of the times, Thomas More was communicating a very important message “to those with eyes to see”. Utopia was not a fanciful and escapist imaginary tale, a “no-place”, but rather, the public introduction of significant enlightened social philosophies, such as complete religious freedom, communal ownership of land, no private property, and education for women and men alike.
Eutopia was a good place, a real place; a worthy and achievable pursuit that must be assumed by those mindful enough to be considered evolved and enlightened. These ideas encapsulated in a fictional vehicle theoretically could insulate More from the wrath of Church and Crown, consequently he coined ‘Utopia’—sans the ‘O’ or ‘E’— and left it up in the air. It was code for scholars and men of learning and science; after all, the first English dictionaries did not even appear until the late 16th century.
“Off with their heads!”
This was an era in which speaking your mind was literally a question of life or death. Contemporaries of More included fellow humanists Desiderius Erasmus and William Tyndale. Erasmus completed early translations of the New Testament, as did William Tyndale in English, leading to him being tried for heresy, strangled and burnt at the stake in 1535. Information was power that was to be reserved for the Church and Crown—it was not to be disseminated to everyday folks. This is why many scholars and philosophers wrote in code as they wanted to keep their heads attached to their bodies.
Social commentary had to be purposefully parked as assets to the Crown—advice to the monarchy—like “Education of a Christian Prince” written by Erasmus in 1516, the same year as Utopia, 16 years before publication of Machiavelli’s “The Prince”.
Thomas More eventually ran afoul of the English Crown by refusing to recognize the Church of England and was tried and beheaded in 1535.
More and his colleagues bravely sought to empower people with information; even the publication of the Bible, putting scripture in the hands of average folks, became a threat to those in power, not unlike the impact Jesus’ teachings had on the Romans and Priesthood in Judea.
From “People, Places and the Realities of Conflict in the Holy Land 2009“,
The Beatitudes were a shock doctrine delivered to upturn an upside-down world; a world all too familiar, in which political, financial and military power would dispassionately crush any opposition at the first sign of insurgency.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven”
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the Sons of God.”
To the powers that be, these were fighting words, especially when people began to rally behind this radically different worldview and question the status quo. When combined with later teachings warning about the spiritual degradation brought on by excessive materialism, “…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” the gospel Yeshua was preaching had to be answered by those in power; these ideas had to be shut down and the messenger brought to a violent end.
Sadly, an end shared by Thomas More and William Tyndale. Philosophers, printers, scholars were carrying on the true intent and teachings of Christ. In our musical opus, Eutopia (see video below), we hear from Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lennon, also martyred visionaries.
Eutopian thought has inspired a trove of opuses exploring facets of fictional societies to instruct the real and present ones. Works like Sir Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis (1624) gave rise to philosophical groups like the Invisible College, a precursor to the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, allowing for ideas and information to be freely shared among scientists and leading thinkers. The land Bacon envisioned, “Bensalem”, possessed greater rights for women, abolition of slavery, separation of church and state, and freedom of expression—all enlightenment ideals eventually realized in Western nations.
In our modern times, the thought of being persecuted for freely celebrating knowledge and learning is anathema; but when attempting to divine the purposes behind the coinage of the term “Utopia”, we must take into consideration the culture of oppression and the very real dangers associated with freely expressing oneself in the 16th century.
We favor an optimistic view of the future, and felt St. Thomas More was sending a message to future architects of a more Godly world—he used the term “Eutopia” because it was a good-place; a state of mind, and being, that materialized in the optimistic thought enshrined in his vision of a contented, more equitable and evolved society.
I have included a Youtube slide-show with excerpts from the Eutopia album as a gift to all our beautiful eutopians, peacemakers, and visionaries for the New Year 2011. There are two songs back-to-back. “Eutopia (Move a Mountain)”, and “Mansour Ya Salaam (I Dream of Eutopia)”.
Eutopia (Move a Mountain)
Man: What’s wrong with adults?
Young Girl: They’re ruining it for us.
Young Girl: If the adults started being our role models, then maybe when we grow up, we could do that. We would raise our children that way and so on.
Man: So basically what you’re saying is, we adults need to grow up?
Young Girl: I think it’s really about time.
Yeah, I know man. Well, here’s the dope, you don’t need a microscope, cause its plain as day to me, should be to you, ain’t what you say, it’s what you do to get busy and do a deed that ain’t dizzy and all about greed, cause, love is still the same (love is still the same). It’s giving it up that’s the name of the game.
So don’t bust up the world, start at home, move a mountain stone by stone (move a mountain stone by stone, etc.)
Eutopia, eutopia, etc.…eutopia of love.
Time to come together and start to live as one.
We’ve been through stormy weather.
And now we need the sun to shine on through
To get to a eutopia, eutopia, etc.
MLK Jr.: We’ve got some diffuclt days ahead—but it doesn’t really matter with me know, cause I’ve been to the mountain top.
Eutopia of love, eutopia of love…