Monday, April 4, 2011


In her essay "Lush Life: Foucault's Analysis of Power and A Jazz Aesthetic," Sharon Welch quotes Steven Weinberg's list of five widely held utopian visions:

Free Market utopias: In this vision, government is limited and the world, freed of regulations, becomes “industrialized and prosperous.” However, “For many Americans the danger of tyranny lies not in government but in employers or insurance companies or HMOs, from which we need government to protect us. To say that any worker is free to escape an oppressive employer by getting a different job is ... unrealistic," Weinberg writes.

Best and brightest utopias: The best and the brightest are put in charge. The problem: all elites end up prioritizing their own interests.

Religious utopias: Religious revival sweeps the earth, getting rid of secularism. We know what happens when religious communities start to safeguard their "purity."

Green utopias: The world rejects industrialism in favor of simpler living and small communities. This vision “falls prey to the common tendency ... for those who don’t have to work hard to romanticize labor.”

Technological utopias: A dream of a world made efficient and rich through the dispersal of cutting edge technology. This vision doesn’t sufficiently address environmental concerns of loss of local community.

I've read much about all these visions, and the one I probably fall prey to is the Green utopia, probably because I never have supported myself through farming. Do you have a "favorite?" Are there more to add to the list? Could all of these work together or is that another utopic fantasy?


Alice Y. said...

Yeah - sign me up for the green utopia. I am working hard to do an ever-greater proportion of my living from scratch. Growing as much of my food as I can. Hauling water to drink; eating locally; learning to make compost.
I love Wendell Berry for this stuff. Non-industrial life isn't hell: that is a lie of the Industrial Growth Society. I feel I have begun to untangle myself from the materialist prison.
I am learning to do a little more of my own labour a little more instead of relying on the work of others and on stealing from the future (by using unsustainable resources including fossil fuels). It isn't *easy*: all the mainstream socialization I got is yelling at me that it's wrong. But there is peace in knowing I am joining in God's work of mercy, following my guide who is teaching me the way of peace. Maintaining critical consciousness towards Industrial Growth and changing direction takes collective consciousness! It's not so hard to haul water and compost, to dig and weed and harvest when there are others doing that as well. I hear it as a call to join the rest of the world. It is a kind of hard work worth doing, for many reasons.

Hystery said...

I'm also yearning toward a green utopia, although my current living situation with my extended family excludes some of the elements. Even so, living in a rural community and practicing green homemaking and child rearing are among my greatest joys. The trap of forgetting that such a utopia requires hard work and continuing evolution and revelation is still problematic, but I believe we can do a great deal of good if we do not become too easily cynical about the process and the associated pitfalls.

Diane said...

Alice and Hystery,

I agree there is much to be said for the joy that comes with green living. Also, I think our vision of "green" doesn't have to exclude modern technology or mean a return to grinding dawn-to-dusk physical labor but more a sense of control over how we use our time and resources, taking more time to do some things (say, hanging laundry) than others (say, commuting to work). A greener world is appealing on a deep level.

Unknown said...

Hi, Diane, How are you? Maybe it's the time of year -- the Daffodils and Forsythia just came out, and there are little greens in the vegetable garden -- but I'm definitely on board with the Green Utopia. I'm not sure the criticism that green undervalues physical labor is 100% valid. The farmers I know (including my 85-yr-old Dad) love to get out and work in the field; Dad and a couple pals dug up a drainage tile by hand a few years ago. I also don't agree with the criticisms that local gardens, farmers markets, et al, don't "scale up" to feed the world, and appreciate that NYC's farmers markets accept food stamps. We'll never know if we don't try. Be well, and hopefully I'll see you again soon in class, Jon Berry

Alice Y. said...

@Jon "I also don't agree with the criticisms that local gardens, farmers markets, et al, don't "scale up" to feed the world,"

Hey quite the opposite in fact: see recent report from UN's FAO: "Agroecology and the right to food". They are saying that small scale ecological agriculture is what has the potential to feed 9+ billion of us, given the situation with fossil fuels declining - which is just one of the factors which yields in "conventional" farming conveniently fail to count!

Unknown said...

Alice thanks so much for the lead to the UN report -- I've been looking for something like that! Have a great week, Jon

Shak El said...

Green Utopianism does not have to mean a return to the farm (tho it would not stop those who wished to do so). It could easily embrace an industrial society based on green energies (sun, wind, wter, geo-thermal etc). necessary labor would be gradually reduced by moving ever towards full automation and shared work load divided amongst the population. Some estimate that we could produce everything we need with only 10-15 hours of necessary labor.

Shak El said...

The Hutterites combine communist living and production and sell their product on the market. They have combined religion and communism for several centuries

Ben Arnold said...

Such a beautiful page, thank you very much. Yes it's possible. We will need to work together, and those who object will need to be ousted some how. Education is the key, and having enough people to empower us to do what we want. We'll need to find a country where they'll allow us to do this. And eventually they'll envy our perfection and the whole world will try to model themselves like our Utopia :0)