Thursday, June 14, 2012

Community In the New (Old) Age: An Update on Ecotopia

A week ago I posted an article on LifeCentering and on my Facebook page discussing how those of us who lived through the birth pangs of the “New Age” might look back on those days from our “mature” perspective (note the emphasis on mature).  The idea for the article arose out of my reading of the last article found on the computer of author Ernest Callenbach following his recent death.  In 1975 he published his classic tome on building a new society. (Twenty publishing houses rejected it before a small print house accepted it.  It went on to be “working” paper for folks around the world who felt the need for societal change.)  Ecotopia was about the hypothetical secession of Washington, Oregon and parts of Northern California from the rest of the United States because the residents saw the decline in the quality of the air, water and indeed human life itself because of their failure to heed the warnings of the damage being done to Mother Earth.

I bought the book and have now finished reading it.  As I told my friend, Lloyd, I felt exhausted emotionally as I read the final pages.  Let me share something I said to Lloyd as well as to another friend.
I am struck by the way it (Ecotopia) speaks to some of my own thoughts about relationships and how what is offered in the book reflects things I wish I were able to embrace freely.  I am not speaking simply of the manner in which they handle open relationships, but rather the sincere and open way people relate without pretense, agendas or seeking gain of some type.  That, of course, leads to an entirely different way in which sexual situations are embraced as well.  What is important, to me, is that "relating" is developed first and everything else comes after.  It does not eliminate all of the personal pitfalls--some hurt, some jealousies, some disappointments--but because "relating" came first there is a different basis for resolving subsequent issues.  In Ecotopia it is possible to be an individual, and a better one, because community is understood as something beyond the arrangement of people.  It goes into the relationship with our Mother Earth.  For me this draws from the depths of my being something I wish I could more adequately express--the real oneness of all things.  I "know" this intellectually, and occasionally I get out of the way enough that I do experience a measure of that REALITY.  Maybe the next time around I can more fully experience this broader potential.
I will not go into all of the details of how community building took place or how education, industry, employment and entrepreneurship were achieved.  It is very well developed in the book for those who may be interested.  What I do want to talk about to the best of my ability is my emotional connection with certain beliefs, philosophies and practices that I encountered within the story.  In fact, I found those things to BE the real story of Ecotopia.

The whole process of change and examination of new ways of living and doing things is a challenge.  We tend to get comfortable with what we know and our present experience.  Often meeting someone new brings a concern as to whether they will like us, or we them.  There is a hesitancy to engage.  This is not always true, of course, but I am certain most can identify with those feelings.  Meeting new people in new environments in Ecotopia is just the opposite.  It is, after a number of years as an independent stable state, the most natural and comfortable of situations.  This is possible largely due to a greatly decreased sense of “yours” and “mine.”  This is not to say individual ownership does not occur.  In fact, rather than large industrial complexes the emphasis is on small groups of individuals doing what many would consider “brainstorming” ideas and eventually forming a business producing their “product.”  It is not the same as how brainstorming was or is typically done where the ideas are thrown out without judgment from other members of the group.  In Ecotopia ideas are challenged, adjusted and improved upon until a consensus is arrived at.  As to the personal sense of “yours” and “mine” the emphasis is not on things, but on people and harmonious living.

This process is only possible, in my opinion, because before anything is started or an idea even tossed out for consideration, much time and energy has gone into developing relationships, honoring each other and the individual gifts/contributions each person makes to the society as a whole.  There is no judgment of class or hierarchy of power as existed in the regular USA.  A great amount of attention is given to the “needs” of the individual for free time to simply be, (work week consists of 20 hours) to recognize oneness with the forests, the streams, the sky, and sunsets.  This may sound idealist.  It is!  But, as the story developed, a strong rationale for its viability was demonstrated.

In one part of the story the reporter, who came from the main USA ostensibly to write about how this utopian plan could not work, found himself in the hospital after taking part in a ritual “war” exercise.  This concept in itself was worth reading the book for because it dealt with possible hostility in a much different way than the building of armies.  The hospital was like a small country place with about 30 patients.  There were more nurses and doctors than patients and a nurse assigned to a patient was always with that patient or within immediate reach by pager.  A whole different kind of relationship develops due to this concentration on the healing of the patient using every modality that might be of benefit.  As he was preparing to leave the hospital the nurse asked if he was going to write about her in his diary.
“Yes,” is all I can reply, and I hug her, and feel like crying.  This country has certainly taught me to cry, and for some reason it feels good, as if it is not only my tear ducts that have been opened up . . .
As the reporter writes his final piece, “Ecotopia:  Challenge or Illusion?” he concludes that the risky social experiments undertaken have worked on a biological level.  Systems are working and can continue to do so indefinitely.
While extreme decentralization and emotional openness of the society seem alien to an American at first, they too have much to be said in their favor. . . Ecotopians are adept at turning practically any situation toward pleasure, amusement and often intimacy.
It was the mention of emotional openness that got my attention as I realized that was one of the keys to understanding the Ecotopian society.  We Americans, by and large, are a long way from being open emotionally.  We tend to be very guarded in our relationships, whether personal or business.  Yes, there are exceptions to this condition, but I feel they are far too few to make much of a difference in how our society functions.  I could go into our whole political dilemma, but that is not the purpose of this article.  What I come away with, primarily, is that we must come to the place where we are confident enough in who we are (not from the ego) that we do not feel negatively challenged by others, nor do we feel inferior or superior.

Because relationships were well grounded in personal self-worth, it was easy for Ecotopians to feel free in touching and embracing one another.  To Americans, we find touching often is an invasion of our personal space.   I would love to quote from the final page of the book because the author’s recounting of the impression made on this reporter from the “outside” was very moving for me and summed up the values of the Ecotopian society.  But, I will leave it to you to read and I hope many of you will.

This was not so much about withdrawing from the society that we know and creating a better one.  It is, for me, about knowing who we are and what facilitates our continuing understanding of what is really important in our present community.  I strongly believe that will lead to the necessary changes that would produce a better, more stable-state society.

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