Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Integrity in Utopia

The word Utopia is a corruption of Greek οὖ τόπος "no place" with a suffix denoting place. It was supposed to mean something like "nowhere" because it does not exist.

Ronald Millet has a thought provoking piece on the necessity of integrity in a utopia.

I would actually extend his piece. One simply cannot have an ideal society without integrity. It is impossible to work with people who cannot be trusted.

For example, in a utopia one does not especially need to have anything in writing because the integrity of those involved will cause them to keep their agreements whether they were in writing or not. Without integrity verbal agreements are worthless because they are not honored. Instead they are a means by which people can be freely dishonest: Such individuals tell people what they think they want to hear to manipulate them for selfish purposes and then deny it later because they think there is no record of it. In this world, as opposed to utopia, an untrustworthy individual who insists on not putting anything in writing is being openly and deliberately dishonest.

An example of the havoc wrecked without integrity can be found by considering the case of Abdi-Ashirta, the ruler of Amurru, in the El-Amarna correspondence. The modern reader who sorts through the correspondence can see that other officials were constantly complaining to the Egyptian ruler of Abdi-Ashirta abuses of them and their people. Rib-Addi, the ruler of Byblos, complained of Adbi-Ashirta's use of murder and subversion. Abdi-Ashirta would then protest his innocence to his Egyptian overlords while falsely claiming his loyalty to Egypt and claiming to act in their interests and doing their bidding.

The late Bill Murnane describes it this way:
A strong and independent kingdom of Amurru was incompatible with its current status in the Egyptian empire—especially with its resident commissioner at Sumur, on the coast, within easy reach of Egypt by sea. The house of Abdi-Ashirta was thus committed to a dangerous double game: to dislodge the commissioner, but also to keep him out by constituting the kings of Amurru as defenders of imperial interests in the locality. (William J. Murnane, The Road to Kadesh, 2nd ed. [Chicago: Oriental Institute, ], 6.)
And so it was
when Abdi-Ashirta came to power in Amurru, . . . the Egyptians were already having trouble keeping possession of Sumur—the result, perhaps, of the unsettled conditions that Abdi-Ashirta's campaign of subversion had unleashed within Amurru? In any case, the commissioner had retired to Egypt, and Abdi-Ashirta could write to him (perhaps disingenuously) that the city had been virtually undefended when he had rescued it from marauding warrior bands. With Sumur thus under his control, Abdi-Ashirta could beleaguer meighboring city-states at his leisure, and at one point Rib-Addi even claimed that his territory was reduced to the very environs of Byblos. (Murnane, Road to Kadesh, 6.)
When Tushratta, the king of Mitanni (the neighboring super-power to the northeast) sent his armies in, Abdi-Ashirta immediately threw his lot in with Mitanni against Egypt.

One might make the case that Abdi-Ashirta was merely a canny administrator. That may be, but he did not have integrity. As a consequence, the Levant at the end of Egyptian Eighteenth Dynasty was anything but a utopia.