Friday, September 14, 2007

column 4; Utopias

Utopias have been around for a long time. Sir Thomas Moore coined the phrase back in 1515 with his novel, but even Plato's Republic, written 1,800 years earlier sets about to create a Utopian society. My favorite version is the 1975 Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach. An amusing account of when the North-Western U.S. seceded from the rest of the union and founds a sustainable country. And they even make San Francisco the capital!

Part of me really likes the idea. I mean, living in communes, lots of gratuitous sex (in Callenbach's novel, at least) being all sustainable and living off the land without working too hard. Sounds pretty great to me. Heck, probably sounds pretty great to most of us. I've had serious far-fetched talks with my friends in college, and before then high school, about creating a commune after graduation. Perhaps we will, afterall. Guess we'll have to wait and see, though for my part I vote on New Zealand as our base, since you're required by law to use some of your land for farming.

But, of course, there's another side of me that thinks utopias are an awful idea. In every utopia I know of the case is one of isolation. Seperating ourselves from society, (the mad fools!), and living peacefully, keeping our neighbors at bay. The more I think about it, isn't that the same notion behind gated communities? No, only certain people are allowed beyond this point, only these special people can use te swimming pool. No, you can't come in here without a badge. Everyone else left outside who wants in becomes honorary bandits: "Badges!? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinking badges!"

Because we feel excluded. People hate to be excluded. We want to be a part of it, whatever 'it' is. But most utopian visions aren't about inclusion, as they are about exlusion. They're all about leaving the rabble behind, and the enlightened ones living alone. None of them propose how to help the others around us, or how to fix the society, rather than shun it. We often, sadly, still hear people say "If you don't love [name of country] then you should leave". Not always in those words, but the sentiment is the same.

I disagree with that idea. I think if you don't like you're world you shouldn't leave it behind or go found a commune. You can do, there are communes out there eager for membership, but doing so is only helping yourself. You may indeed be happier if you join them, perhaps it's the fullfillment you've always waited for. By all means if you feel the need to join a commune don't let me stand in your way. But I won't be joining you any time soon.

I once experimented with the idea. For a few months I lived in a monastary. Not the same as a commune, but pretty similar in trappings, one must admit. It was nice. I was healthy, doing good work, eating well, and happy. For anyone interested in checking them out I'd happily give you their contact info and my praise of the place, just this year a friend of mine went and stayed with them. So, you know, nice monks.

And yet, while I was there I kept wondering if I could be doing more good doing something else. Its no secret that I plan to teach after school, at least for a while. 'Cause, frankly, the more people you can help, the better. I'm not advocating everyone going out and becoming teachers, just like I don't reccomend everyone becoming firemen, policemen, soldiers, or librarians. And while it would be nice if those first three didn't exist, in reality accidents, crime, and even war, will always be a part of human society. And those types of people, looking out for others will be needed to make sure our society still runs, even if people are leaving to the monastaries and communes. To imagine any other world would be a utopia.

No, I'm not saying war is a good or necessary idea. No, I'm not advocating crime. No, I'm not, listen, lets just agree that the world can be a better place, okay?

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