“What fun it would be,” he thought, “if one didn’t have to think about happiness!”

– Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

D-503, the protagonist in Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (the book that was the inspiration for Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and possibly–though he denied it–Huxley’s Brave New World) writes about OneState’s “heavy burden of inescapable happiness”–the “happiness” that the state wishes to spread from the Earth to the stars. The idea of happiness as a burden, and an inescapable one at that, is of course completely absurd, yet this is an echo of what we see and hear in today’s political ideologies. We is a dystopian novel set in the future city of OneState. The aim of OneState is “happiness” through absolute order, arrived at by an almost complete mathematical elimination of freedom, which is seen as the cause of chaos and thus everything bad. We makes a great mockery of ideologies like communism by calling out the absurdity of their goals and means of getting there.

Schopenhauer defined justice as a negative, and injustice as a positive. To illustrate this clearer consider justice as an act of negation–you wish to amend the injury that was done, the injury being something positive in the sense of being an act of will. Justice thus is a restraint over that act, over that will. From this Schopenhauer defined human rights as the following: “everyone has the right to do anything that does not injure another”. I think this is by far the best definition of human rights. Human rights are a negative, too, in the sense that human rights are freedom from other people.

If you look at various ideologies like communism from this perspective you’ll see just how much they tread on human rights. Instead of protecting you from other people, they create designs for the “perfect” world, and try to line everyone up along those designs. Whether the aim is happiness or something else doesn’t matter because the state is not a person, and so cannot benefit from its own design. As such there will always be a division–some people will benefit, while others will surrender their rights and their happiness to the rest. The only point of such ideologies is to tie chains around people so that they can better serve their leader’s own goals. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche calls the state the coldest of all cold monsters: “Coldly it lies, too; and this lie creeps from its mouth: ‘I, the state, am the people.’“.

Thomas More’s Utopia is often cited as the ideal state, the paradise on Earth. But these people obviously haven’t read the book for there’s plenty of little gems like, and I quote: “If you’re caught without a passport outside your own district, you’re brought home in disgrace, and severely punished as a deserter. For a second offense the punishment is slavery.” and “Everyone has his eye on you, so you’re practically forced to get on with your job, and make some proper use of your spare time.” You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s something out of Nineteen Eighty-Four, but no, this is Saint Thomas More’s Utopia. Yes, in many other respects the design of Utopia may make its citizens happy, but it is also a design that destroys a lot of freedoms and so puts those very citizens in a sort of frozen state, forcing upon them a predesigned life. Utopia means “no place” in Greek, and this is exactly what the book is, an exploration of human failings rather than a blueprint for an ideal society.

Oftentimes I read people complaining about the injustices of capitalism and how cruel and cold the system is to the poor. What’s cold isn’t capitalism though: it’s freedom. Freedom is not happiness, and freedom is not just. What are often suggested as “solutions” to world’s problems are ideologies that simply lay down more and more chains and so turn the state into a sort of absurd machine that begins to choose the people it serves by picking the people to serve it. The stronger the ideology, the more freedoms are lost to achieve its goals–something that you should always keep in mind when trying to build a “better” world–better for whom?

May 2011