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John Lennon – Imagine: behind the grand piano (Part 2: Society of Saints)

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John Lennon – Imagine: behind the grand piano (Part 2: Society of Saints)

Following a religious apologist’s rant and rave in part 1, one might ponder over the need for stabbing such a frustratingly rusty critique in the chest of a pop culture song from the 70’s, after all no one took John Lennon’s solo career seriously anyway? Such a perspective is a serious blow to the most influential work by Plato: the theory of forms. The commercial success of this album is enough of an indicator towards what the masses found their ideals and fantasies in. Our perception of an ideal state is the only light that motivates and guides us towards the path of first highlighting the problems in our imperfect village and then struggling to push it towards an improvement. Not much can be expected of the first ideal model if the very blueprint is distorted.

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

While singing the tales about a world of absolute peace, John Lennon seems to be sketching an image of what Emile Durkheim might call a ‘Society of Saints’. Even if the social consensus or solidarity of the society rests on the peak of our moral evolution, the idea of social deviance does not cease to exist as no one is socialized with precisely identical values and not every deviance is a utilitarian one with material goals to achieve. Alas, the social sanctions towards the slightest of deviances bend radically towards a more punishing end as our primary deviances may turn secondary in such a state and pose a greater threat. Thus, it is shallow to assume that the degree of peace and solidarity expected in such a society can be sustained by anything but an absolutist authority punishing the mildest of deviances in the harshest manner possible. This authority might adopt any form from central authority like a monarch to the general goals and values of the greater society the way expected under Marxist communism, the only real victim would be an individual’s negative liberty.     

Another way of looking at this is through the lens of Foucault’s ‘discipline and punish’ where he explains how the way crime or deviance is treated in a society tells a lot about the blanket of power dynamics under which it expands. The postmodernist demi-god argues that when executions were public and focused towards bodily torture, the population was more aware of the power structure which often resulted in revolts against the authority, favoring the persecuted one; this made the flow of power more flexible and the elites more vulnerable a change which allows a greater room for progress in a society. In Lennon’s fairyland of eternal peace, it’s safe to assume an absence of public and bodily executions since they have nothing to kill for, all the sanctions are directed at the mind of the deviant and the pattern does not become obvious to the majority, forcing any source of progressive evolution back into the dark cave of retreatism or ritualism. In cases where a central authority of justice does not exist, this idea vaguely matches with what Stuart Mill might call the “Tyranny of the majority”. And as Edwin Lemert might suggest, societal reaction might only add to the spirit of deviance.

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world

What may seem like a Marxist wet dream is in reality a complete distortion of the context in which Marx predicted, in ‘Critique of the Gotha Programme’, the establishment of communism “after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime demand” explaining how in such a scenario all the work we do willingly will contribute to the sharable goods and the artistic and technological development of the society without exploitation. In no way was it implied that the world would not still be vulnerable to changes in population structure, scarcity, and climatic changes; the complete absence of hunger would still seem like a goal requiring some degree undesirable hard work, which fortunately in this case will be free of any labor exploitation. 

No matter how euphoric this song might be, it’s still advocating for a doctrine of conditional joy; that happiness is only achievable when we follow a set of rules we do not completely understand or predict the implications of. Setting our ideals on such standards can be as problematic as the Beatles influence on pop music.   

Following a religious apologist’s rant and rave in part 1, one might ponder over the need for stabbing such a frustratingly rusty critique in the chest of a pop culture song from the 70’s, after all no one took John Lennon’s solo career seriously anyway? Such a perspective is a serious blow to the most influential work by Plato: the theory of forms. The commercial success of this album is enough of an indicator towards what the masses found their ideals and fantasies in. Our perception of an ideal state is the only light that motivates and guides us towards the path of first highlighting the problems in our imperfect village and then struggling to push it towards an improvement. Not much can be expected of the first ideal model if the very blueprint is distorted.

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

While singing the tales about a world of absolute peace, John Lennon seems to be sketching an image of what Emile Durkheim might call a ‘Society of Saints’. Even if the social consensus or solidarity of the society rests on the peak of our moral evolution, the idea of social deviance does not cease to exist as no one is socialized with precisely identical values and not every deviance is a utilitarian one with material goals to achieve. Alas, the social sanctions towards the slightest of deviances bend radically towards a more punishing end as our primary deviances may turn secondary in such a state and pose a greater threat. Thus, it is shallow to assume that the degree of peace and solidarity expected in such a society can be sustained by anything but an absolutist authority punishing the mildest of deviances in the harshest manner possible. This authority might adopt any form from central authority like a monarch to the general goals and values of the greater society the way expected under Marxist communism, the only real victim would be an individual’s negative liberty.     

Another way of looking at this is through the lens of Foucault’s ‘discipline and punish’ where he explains how the way crime or deviance is treated in a society tells a lot about the blanket of power dynamics under which it expands. The postmodernist demi-god argues that when executions were public and focused towards bodily torture, the population was more aware of the power structure which often resulted in revolts against the authority, favoring the persecuted one; this made the flow of power more flexible and the elites more vulnerable a change which allows a greater room for progress in a society. In Lennon’s fairyland of eternal peace, it’s safe to assume an absence of public and bodily executions since they have nothing to kill for, all the sanctions are directed at the mind of the deviant and the pattern does not become obvious to the majority, forcing any source of progressive evolution back into the dark cave of retreatism or ritualism. In cases where a central authority of justice does not exist, this idea vaguely matches with what Stuart Mill might call the “Tyranny of the majority”. And as Edwin Lemert might suggest, societal reaction might only add to the spirit of deviance.

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world

What may seem like a Marxist wet dream is in reality a complete distortion of the context in which Marx predicted, in ‘Critique of the Gotha Programme’, the establishment of communism “after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime demand” explaining how in such a scenario all the work we do willingly will contribute to the sharable goods and the artistic and technological development of the society without exploitation. In no way was it implied that the world would not still be vulnerable to changes in population structure, scarcity, and climatic changes; the complete absence of hunger would still seem like a goal requiring some degree undesirable hard work, which fortunately in this case will be free of any labor exploitation. 

No matter how euphoric this song might be, it’s still advocating for a doctrine of conditional joy; that happiness is only achievable when we follow a set of rules we do not completely understand or predict the implications of. Setting our ideals on such standards can be as problematic as the Beatles influence on pop music.   

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