That was the name of one of the best undergrad classes I had the fortune of taking. Dr. Ed Spann taught the course in the Honors program. It was a challenge. Through reading utopian and dystopian novels we were introduced to so many social failures and triumphs. We read the obvious ones–Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, 1984, A Brave New World, Walden Two. And some others that I enjoyed–Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward and one of my favorites: Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia. Those are the most memorable. I learned about Henry George’s ideas about land reform. I researched the Transcendentalists and their attempt (and failure) to create a utopian society at Brook Farm. Religious communities seemed to have some success–but also a lot of failures. Leadership or the failure to transition from one leader to the next created tension. The Shakers had recruitment problems., There are so many other groups. I sometimes run into small groups that are reminiscent. The Grail is one–begun as a Catholic women’s organization, but now focused on women from many areas. Their international headquarters, Grailville, is in Loveland, Ohio.
Many of the examples we covered were led by people that bought into Enlightenment ideals and believed their group could make a fresh start in America. Places like Oneida and New Harmony were relatively successful. The remind me a bit of ecovillages–and also some of the permaculture work many are engaged in. Each community, each group
During the class, I became more sensitized to how the stories of a people shape its culture and its direction. This 30 minute video (warning: it is extremely disturbing) put out on the Disinformation site, drew my attention. Not only does it contrast the fears of Orwell and Huxley, it reminds me that although I spend my days doing the work that builds life and resilience: growing food, tending children, and teaching about permaculture, there are views and behaviors that strongly contrast with mine. It is a very good attempt by some to wake our culture up to its life-denying, desensitizing practices. In the fashion of Huxley, I have great fears for the future–the future that is very much true today.