My knowledge, my life, and my heart are pedestrian things. I am not an expert, a professor, a professional, or in any other way superior in knowledge or intelligence. I am a denizen of the modern world, where destinies are decided by ancient religions, the economic infrastructure, and indecipherable, futuristic sciences. Some of the most influential people in my daily life—the president, various CEOs, myriad artists—I will, most likely, never meet. Every hour of every day the media accost me with dangers, enemies, and ever-mounting specters of death.
I am powerless in the face of these forces. I lust after, vote for, and labor under people I will never know. This is a destiny I share with billions of my sisters and brothers, worldwide. We pretend to decide, but secretly we know that the important decisions are made for us by powers so great that they could eradicate any one and any number of us from history.
And so, in an attempt to reach out into the void of the billions who share my fate, I wrote a book, Folding the Red Into the Black, which says that the world we live in is unconcerned with our predicaments; that it is a world that lies to us—and if we see past the lies it might demote, debilitate, imprison, or simply kill us. Our greatest treasure, human happiness, is not valued by the systems that govern us unless that happiness puts money or power in their pockets.
The main way we are fooled is by being convinced that there is some perfect society that awaits us if we follow all the rules—a utopia, if you will. It is the American and the Marxian dream that one day we will be part of a well-oiled machine that moves productively and elegantly in perpetual motion.
I have no doubt about the explanations of these perfect models. My problem, our problem, is that humans will never have a perfect society because we are seriously imperfect beings. My book says that we need to raise our imperfections to a political platform that says, “My flaws need attention too.” This is what I call the “untopia,” the world where me being happy is more important than any system, bureaucracy, corporation, or bribed member of Congress.
We don’t need a perfect society, but rather a world that muddles through, on the way equating success with general happiness.
About 40 years ago, I enrolled in a PhD program in political theory at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. There, I studied the philosophies of politics, culture, and, more abstractly, the struggle of humanity against its own nature. The thinkers I explored were mostly Western, white, and male, but the ideas had the appeal of universality and contained at least a grain of hope for everyone—especially the inhabitants of the modern world, where political and economic isolation is pretty much impossible. My doctoral education was not in any way complete or even rounded, but I applied myself as well as I could. I learned some things about the study of modern political systems of thought and how these thoughts helped define and explain political culture as it lurks in the streets of everyday life.