07 August 2011

Cohesion vs. Anarchy

I've been getting materials put together to teach Treasure Island this next school year the last several months. It's a great book that can be enjoyed on several levels. Most people teach it as an adventure novel, but teaching it alongside the Revolutionary War, I'm focusing most of the discussion on the two political organizations presented in the book. It's had me thinking all week.

In Treasure Island the hero Jim is presented with two potential groups to follow - the English Captain and his crew or the charismatic Long John Silver and his mutineers. The English are organized, uniform, and predictable. They follow orders, get the job done, and are always aware of what their roles are. They're also boring. The pirates have absolutely no order whatsoever, and little control over their own minds thanks to large quantities of rum - but they live in an environment where people can do what they are excited about. Because they have no clear government telling them what to do, they can pursue what they're interested in. The result of Jim's adventure is unclear - you're never really sure which world he chooses, if he chooses either of them.

Thinking about this in context of a blog post I read recently on The Mormon Child Bride, I've been thinking about how, like Jim, we are faced with many opportunities to decide which "world" we are going to pick. Are we going to actively choose the comfort, security, predictability world or the world that is more lawless but full of creativity? How do you take the strengths of both groups and insert them into the world of religion, education and politics? Is it even possible to have a world that is organized to promote creativity, or is creativity by its very nature best served outside of the world of organization?

I don't believe so. I still believe quite firmly that creativity can thrive in an environment that is organized. In fact, I think an organized society is best for a creative environment because of the stability that comes from organization. Aristotle would, I think, call an organized world the business that needs to come before leisure can be truly obtained. Hugh Nibley would call it honest recognition of goods of first and second intent. There are very good examples of businesses (like Pixar or Apple or Google) who do a particularly good job of organizing creativity. But the balance is precarious.

In education, for example, it becomes quite tricky to encourage a student to discover what they are best at when the state (and now the nation) dictates how and when a student should achieve certain skills. The state also dictates which classes a student must take in each subject with only one or two periods a day available for "electives". The organization is set up to squash out creativity and individualization.

The culture of the church occasionally has the same problem. A mother who works is a sinner. A father without a traditional job is frowned upon. Come to church dressed differently and you risk being a social outcast. Decorate your house wrong or watch rated R movies or have a strange hobby and people wonder about you. I wonder sometimes if people imagine Zion as a place like the community in Lois Lowry's The Giver - everyone has the same house, the same number of children, the same allotment of food each week.

I don't know the answer to this. Robert Louis Stevenson doesn't give any answers. But I do think that we have a responsibility as people to fight against systems that squash opportunities for creativity and individuality to grow. I also think that we need to resist the temptation to become an anything goes lawless society. I think the immediate application means following the advice of church leaders in avoiding judgment of the lives of others.

1 comment:

Brad and Kimberly said...

I agree that people need to judge less, but I also think that often people are feeling judged when they are really not. I think people need to care less about what other people are thinking about them. I always worried about being a working mom but I just decided that working is what is best for me and my family right now and I feel good about it. I don't feel judged at all by my ward members, friends, or family. But also at the same time I don't look for judgement from those people. I think sometimes people are insecure about what they are doing so they feel more judgement than is really there. We should all just do what we think is right and wait for judgement on the other side!