Will the Real Thomas More Please…

The Real Thomas More

 

Will anyone be able to pinpoint which voice in Utopia is the historical Thomas More – More the fictional character, or Raphael Hythloday? He seems to split himself between the two. On the one hand, he is Hythloday because everything that Hythloday says is More the author’s invention. He must consider some of the values of the Utopians to be truly noble and worthy of imitating, or else he would not be using them as elements of a society where overall communal happiness is achieved.

            At the same time, however, the author More shows his doubts about the possibility of achieving such a society. He vocalizes these doubts through the character More in the way he confesses his disagreement with Hythloday in the end. The author does not go to great lengths to explain why More “cannot agree with everything he said,” or to make an argument against Hythloday, and even acknowledges that Hythloday is a man of great learning. In this way he seems dismissive and passive in his disagreement, and one could argue that the historical More sided with Hythloday. Yet, if More truly believed in the Utopia he imagined, why would he have given it a name that can be translated “no place,” or given Hythloday’s character a name which means “speaker of nonsense?” With this fact are the apparent contradictions within the Utopian world, such as their placing no value on gold in local exchange affairs, yet finding value in it to finance foreign wars. It also seems unlikely that the Utopian people would embrace Christianity, as they abhorred sacrifices and the shedding of the blood of animals.

            More was a clever author who understood the 16th century English audience he was writing for. It would have been outlandish for him to write a Platonic dialogue detailing each ritual act, custom or state-sanctioned activity necessary to create what he conceived as the ideal society. He wanted to get his readers thinking and reflecting on their own society – its customs, values, and the ideals from which they were derived – by using the alluring images of the mysterious New World to engage their imaginations.

America: Delicious and Nutritious

Response to Christopher Columbus’ Four Voyages

By Amanda MacLean

            The other night I had dinner with some friends of mine in a church small group. One fellow had brought an Indian dessert that turned out to be a big hit – a mixture of crushed almonds with butter and sugar that was, as one person commented, “Delicious and nutritious.” We all wanted to know what this dessert was called, but our friend couldn’t remember its foreign name. So Jeremiah, who is sort of the leader of our group and happened to be appropriately sitting at the head of the table, declared, “In honor of the history of exploring new territories and naming places that already have names, I hereby call this dessert…America.”

His wisecrack made everyone laugh. However, I think it struck me in a different way than it did the others, as I had spent a good portion of that day reading Columbus’ Four Voyages. This very issue prevailed in my thoughts as I read the text. Columbus was on a mission – one that was both personal and national in scale. On the personal side, he aimed at exploring new territories and proving his own cosmographical theories. He was also there to lay claim to new territories for Spain and wield its imperialistic powers against other, competing empires.

In today’s American cultural consciousness, it seems that imperialism is generally perceived as an archaic and perhaps barbaric practice. As part of a democratic republic that emphasizes individual freedoms and separation of church and state, it doesn’t appear that the current generation is interested in making the United States an empire in any overt way. Yet many wonder if we have not abandoned this explicit sort of imperialism for another, more sneaky type. With the U.S. military having occupied Iraq and Afghanistan for nearly the last decade, large portions of the population have seriously questioned and accused the motivations of our national government. Do we simply see ourselves as the democratic big brother of every other nation in the world? Is there really a threat of terror that we are trying to defend ourselves against, or are we just trying to spread our own model of democracy in a militaristic way? Are we occupying the Middle East to exploit it for its resources?

Most people have some opinion or idea of how they feel about these questions, but I’ve never been certain about what I think. It does seem certain to me, however, that throughout history, powerful people have always found some way of conquering those more weak and vulnerable around them. Other classes of animals attack and devour other species for their own survival; ours seems to be the only one that attacks and devours within its own. Could it be that conquest, whether it’s in the name of science, religion or political power is something that simply runs through the veins of the human race? However we choose to label or justify acts of domination, both our nation and countless other great empires have a rich history of it. I sometimes wonder if we all, as humans, simply cannot help ourselves.

Where You Takin’ Me in That Time Machine?

[Essay Prompt: If given the opportunity to take a time machine to the future, what time would you visit and why?]

When I was little, I was obsessed with Michael J. Fox’s classic movie, Back to the Future. At the age of three, before I could even pronounce the title, I would demand of my mother, “Back to Foochur, Back to Foochur!” and the tape would roll and roll. When I was twelve I revisited the film and became seriously fascinated with time machines and the concept of time travel in general. Metaphysical and philosophical questions flooded my head: What is time? Do all events occur simultaneously on one long, streaming world line? Could one possibly manipulate and navigate time? Could I experience another period of human existence? These thoughts consumed me as a seventh-grade researcher. I remember making visits to the library to peer through the works of Isaac Asimov and Stephen Hawking while daydreaming about other realms of the space-time continuum.

I never particularly wanted to visit the future. When I imagine the timeline of the world, I see the past on the left – fuzzy images of events from my life and the history of humanity. On the right, I see blank squares of the units of time in white. It was frightening to think about what could be written there. Just imagining it brought me anxiety.

Lately I’ve been writing narratives about my own personal experiences. I love writing about the past because it’s the only concrete thing I have. The present is almost illusory. It slips by so quickly that I never even realize that I have it, much less feel like I know what I ought to do with it. The future is altogether problematic. It is, in reality, completely uncertain, yet somehow I convince myself that I am capable of controlling it. I visualize, plan, and predict. When future moves to present, I wring my hands in helplessness and watch as it slips into the paralyzing ambiguity of “now.”

How can I determine what to do with “now” when I am so focused on all the possibilities of “then” – of tomorrow, some distant time and space? Now? What is Now?

But then, as the moment – carefully dancing with and gripping all the other molecules surrounding it and qualifying its existence – slips into the past, it frees me from this worry. It is over. Its existence, quality, and validity do not depend on me or what I do with them. Conscious effort is no longer required; my only task is to remember. I can laugh. Sometimes it is better to cry.

Linford Detweiler and Karen Bergquist said, “Every day is a one-act play…without an ending.” I don’t want to ask God or Mother Nature or a Time Machine what the future holds. I only wish to ask the pen in my hand as I write the story of my life, myself.