November 23, 2012
By Hal O'Leary
In the face of world chaos, a world in which any hope for Utopia seems impossible, a positive and progressive attitude may still be found to lift us from the profound depression.
By Hal O'Leary
Long ago, in the innocence of my youth, I had dreamed of Utopia. That was, until it occurred to
me that all through the ages others must have been dreaming the same. Slowly my dream
succumbed to cynicism. The sorry history of the insanity of humanity leaves little hope for
anything approaching Utopia, and, if anything, it seems to be receding. We are now in an
age of perpetual war with the senseless horror and sacrifice of soldier and citizen alike.
Beginning with Guernica, followed by London, Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki respect for
human life, once considered sacrosanct has all but disappeared. It's now referred to as
unintended "collateral damage" which makes it somehow acceptable. I am amazed at the
seemingly smug hypocrisy of those who, in their "right to life" obsession, would murder or
endorse the murder of doctors who perform abortions, and at the same time support the
slaughter of millions of innocent men, women and children taking place daily in the Middle
East. This insanity is supported, of course, by a church that tortured and burned suspected
witches at the stake.
The virtues that once were looked upon as the necessary components of Utopia are fast
receding. Truth is no longer expected. Deceit is now condoned as being necessary for success.
With the loss of truth, trust becomes impossible, and, of course, with the loss of truth and trust,
love becomes unimaginable and meaningless. The irony, of course, is that it is not hard to find
adequate instruction for a better way. The sages of the ages, The Buddha, Confucius, Socrates,
Christ and more recently the great poet John Donne, to name a few, have outlined in detail the
path we must follow should Utopia be attainable. The great truth revealed by all of these
ancient figures that we foolishly pay lip service to but fail to heed is brotherhood. We are our
brother's keeper. How could we have gotten it so wrong? As a Secular Humanist, I have long
contended that the book of Genesis, with its tale of Adam and Eve being evicted from the
garden of Eden after eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge, is but a myth to
depict the dawning of man's awareness of his own existence. By virtue of this knowledge and
in the interest of survival, it became the onerous obligation of man to be responsible for those
of his kind. "We belong to each other." Buddha, "Do your best for others." Confucius, "I am a
citizen of the world " Socrates. "Do unto others"" Christ, "No man is an island" John Donne.
But in spite of all the warnings modern man seems bent on alienation. How has this come
about? Could this idea of competition we take such pride in be the culprit? I believe It may be.
In nature, there are more examples of symbiotic relationships than competitive ones. Darwin's
"Survival of the Fittest" became "the law of the jungle", which is a misreading of Darwin's
intent. It had nothing to do with competition. It simply meant that through natural selection
the most adaptable organism to the environment would be more likely to survive.
BUT, the Law of the Jungle became the law of the land for capitalistic societies. It made it not
only acceptable for employers to exploit labor, it made it mandatory. Robber barons like
Andrew Carnegie were suddenly freed from the dictates of their religions and conscience to,
obsessively and without obstruction or inhibition, pursue wealth for the sake of wealth. Of
course, this dismissive rejection, not only of the basic tenants of most religions but of the
wisdom of the ages, brought about man's inhumanity to man. Such evils as eugenics and
genocide were seen as a means of improving and controlling the population. While Hitler's
drive for the Aryan Ubermensch discredited eugenics, genocide is on the rise unabated, and in
the mad pursuit of wealth, avarice and envy have given credence to the foolish notion of the
"rugged individualist" in defiance of all the wisdom to the contrary. The irony of all this is that
with all the talk of individualism, we live in a society that insists on a, not so subtle, conformity
which is all too often in conflict with the natural and unique talents and tendencies of the
individual. For acceptance he is required to sacrifice his interests and aspirations to the
questionable objectives of a neurotic society. Even his education is directed to the end of
bringing about his conformity. In fact, he is not educated in the Socratic sense but indoctrinated
and trained to meet not his unique needs but the needs of the corporate controlled society.
However, in the face of all that seems to have led us astray from any possible hope for Utopia,
at least in my lifetime, if ever, my cynicism was recently alleviated. I was thankfully taught by
my son, a playwright, that although I may have had to give up on any dream of Utopia, I can be
at ease in believing in the basic goodness of man for which there is so much evidence. I truly
believe that we are hard wired from birth for empathy and altruism and it becomes a day to
day struggle to keep it from being overwhelmed by the machinations of those who have
succumbed to the status quo. In his very first play, "Wine To Blood" he writes of the futility of
the Loyalist cause in the Spanish Civil War. In truth, it was a war between two ideals, Fascism
and Communism. While it is doubtful that Communism could lead to Utopia, it is certain that
Fascism could not. So, what is one who aches for justice, Utopia, to do if even the dream seems
out of reach? This line at the very end of Wine To Blood says it all, and it has served to show
me a way forward.
I don't know if there is a Utopia, but I am certain that we must act as though there can be.
Hal O'Leary is an 88 year old veteran of WWII who, having spent his life in theatre, and as a Secular Humanist, believes that it is only through the arts that we are afforded an occasional glimpse into the otherwise incomprehensible. As an 'atheist in the fox hole', he composed his epitaph at age 20.
With open mouth and open mind,
I came into the world to find
Life's riddle in one word defined,
And now, that Life is left behind,
Although I know they would be kind,
With open mouth and open mind,
Hal was recently inducted into the Wheeling Hall of Fame and is the recipient of an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from West Liberty University. His two favorite quotes are:
"I build my house on nothing, therefore the whole world is mine."
Johann Wolfgang Goethe
"I don't know if there is a Utopia, but I am certain that we must act as though there can be."