[Editor’s Note: This was originally published in May 2005.]
Surfing around the web, I happened upon a provocative blog by Tim Carney on the America’s Future Foundation (AFF) website entitled, “Imagine there’s no countries,” about John Lennon’s song, “Imagine.” Hmmm, I like all three, wonder what Carney has to say?
Carney didn’t hold back. He was “terrified” by the song, saying, “This is Satan’s temptation of Christ set to acoustic guitar.”
For a moment, I thought perhaps he’d been listening to some other song, since “Imagine” is principally scored by a piano, with maybe a drum. Ah, he’s just using poetic license, I figured.
Still, the imagery in the song might, at first blush, sound a bit challenging to those who hold liberty as the highest value. But is it necessarily the only value? For me, it’s not. Peace is the highest value. Liberty happens to be the best way to organize things here on Earth to achieve and maintain peace, as I see it.
If one were looking for merely political themes in Lennon and the Beatles’s works, one might be well served to spin “Tax Man,” and go home. But the spiritual messages in The Beatles, especially Lennon’s, works are undeniably powerful, and still resonate today for this free-market peacenik.
The song starts:
Imagine there’s no heaven,
It’s easy if you try,
No hell below us,
Above us only sky,
Imagine all the people living for today…
Commenting on “Imagine’s” notion of “living for today,” Carney finds:
“This is a world stripped of meaning. If we’re all living for today, why would my neighbor not defecate on my lawn? How could I convince the waitress at the Hawk and Dove [a Capitol Hill restaurant] to bring me my beer? I think this is what Kurtz imagined in Heart of Darkness [and in Apocalypse Now] that evoked his dying words, “The horror. The horror.”
Living for today or maintaining a present moment consciousness is associated with Hindu and Buddhist practices. The Beatles had all gone to India to study under a Hindu teacher, and many of their songs reflected what they learned there. But to call this view “Satanic” seems disrespectful to Eastern philosophies. This is especially so, given this quote from the Sermon on the Mount, arguably the most important section of the New Testament: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.”
In an increasingly anxious world, the idea of living for today is not a prescription for nihilism and chaos, as Carney fears. It requires living by one’s conscience, which — except for the thankfully very few Charles Mansons among us — means to be respectful of others.
Carney moves on, stating that he finds “[t]he next verse… even scarier”:
Imagine there’s no countries,
It isn’t hard to do,
Nothing to kill or die for,
No religion, too.
His concerns for world federalism and ending the opiate of the masses notwithstanding, the anarcho-capitalists among us would certainly, in theory, at least, not have a hard time imaging no countries. In fact, they’d probably like it. And, without countries, the motive for so many senseless deaths goes away. Ditto, sadly, for many organized religions.
However, Carney uses this as a launching point to discuss the negative implications of the Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST). His arguments seem well taken regarding LOST, but he then skips the rest of “Imagine.”
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…
You may say I’m a dreamer,
but I’m not the only one,
I hope some day you’ll join us,
And the world will live as one.
Rather than some neo-Marxist ranting, the key line here is “A brotherhood of man.” Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and even atheists can (and many do) ascribe to the notion that we are all — in essence — brothers and sisters. This is, after all, the keystone of the Declaration of Independence — the self-evident truth that we were created equal.
I take Lennon’s song to be a kind of thought experiment: What if we all really were one, brothers and sisters, sharing and respecting each other as true equals? With no walls separating us, with no boundaries, with no attachment to things, with no fear of attack, would not the world be a far more harmonious place? Put another way, what if people actually practiced the Golden Rule?
Lennon was no Pollyannaish dreamer. Based on his body of work, he certainly recognized that there were many dysfunctional aspects to modern society. Nor was he necessarily suggesting a socialist utopia. We surely know now that socialism fails because, among other things, it relies on coercion to enforce the norms it (putatively) wishes to establish. Sharing is necessarily a voluntary act.
Instead, could it be that — even more than freedom — all we need is love? All this is saying is give peace a chance. But, in the meantime, whatever gets you through the night is all right.