We all want to live in paradise. Americans have just voted to go back there. Something in every human heart wants to return to the wholeness of the Garden of Eden. We long for a place where everything is perfect. A utopian kingdom where everyone is at peace and our daily evils are gone.
Englishman Thomas More coined the word “utopia” when writing his book by that name, creating the word from the Greek, “ou-topos” meaning “no place” or “nowhere”. He was punning on the almost identical Greek word “eu-topos” meaning “good place”. More’s little joke that there is no place that’s a completely good place.
More was also finance minister (treasurer of the exchequer) to King Henry VIII who beheaded him 1535 for opposing his divorce plans. No public protector back then!
Written in 1516 More’s utopia was an elaborate democracy without hierarchies and corruption, similar to the biblical paradise where Adam “walks with God in the cool of the day”. What wonderful equality and freedom!
Just as Thomas More’s utopia referred to no possible place, our dreams of returning to paradise somehow ignore that in the biblical narrative there’s an angel with a flaming sword guarding the entrance. A sad reminder that we can never go back home.
How evident that is in South Africa’s life right now! With almost everything we fear being expressed in some trending hashtag, it seems #paradisehasfallen.
How did South Africa come to this? The rainbow nation in 1994, we were the world’s newest and most envied democracy with an equally enviable economy too. Now we teeter on the edge of being rated with the world’s junk both in economics and political ethics.
Were we deluded in 1994 to think in Milton’s words that we had “regained paradise” from the hell realms of Nationalist Apartheid? Was the “New South Africa” an illusion? Are the 101 ANC stalwarts who back Pravin Gordham against King Jacob, just nostalgic old folks trying to salvage our non-racial democracy? And was Mandela, the ultimate utopian idealist whose dreams made sense on an island off Cape Town, but couldn’t survive the relentless heat of the African sun?
If we aren’t deluded utopians, exiled from the paradise of our democratic dreams, who are we? And how far will we wander into this political wilderness before we become another Zimbabwe ruin? Interesting to archaeologists, but with no practical currency in the unfolding global story.
How the hell we get here? Simple. We gobbled the forbidden fruit of self interest, croneyism and greed.
There is an old joke about Adam and Eve’s sin that got them expelled from the garden. When God called them to account, Adam blamed Eve. She blamed the snake, and the poor serpent didn’t have a leg to stand on.
Outside the gates of our Saxonwold paradise the blaming has just begun. The axe is swinging and who knows who will slither away when it’s over?