While the idea of overhauling society as a whole can be daunting, utopian thought does not have to be applied on a global scale to be of value. In fact, it often serves as the impetus for small experiments, which serve as models. These models can and sometimes do become the triggers for the adoption of ideas which, except for the models, would never have been adopted wholesale.
Given this, the importance of utopian thought in the present situation seems obvious. We’re faced with massive ecological destruction (so massive that the survival of the human species might well be in doubt), overpopulation, a seemingly never-ending arms build-up, new, inadequately tested, and sometimes incredibly dangerous technologies, and murderous religious fanatics and amoral corporations utilizing many of these technologies. A way out is clearly needed, and utopian thought can point the way.
Simply considering the questions presented in this pamphlet can help us to understand that the present social, political, and economic systems are human inventions, and that we, collectively, have the power to change them. Beyond helping to produce this understanding, the purpose of this pamphlet is to help those using it to clarify their own ideas, values, desires, and relationship to others. Awareness precedes action, and the higher our level of awareness, the higher our chances of achieving a humanistic reorganization of society.
NOTES: This questionnaire was designed to be of use to both those interested in small, intentional communities and those interested in broad, global transformation. A few of the questions below are specific to small communities, while a few others are specific to global utopias; the large majority of questions are applicable to both. Use your common sense in deciding which questions are applicable to your vision.
To avoid fatigue, we suggest that you only answer the questions in one or two sections at a time. We’d also suggest that if you’re answering this questionnaire as an individual activity, you write out your answers rather than give them verbally or mentally in order to attain greater clarity. In a group-activity format it would probably be more useful to answer questions verbally.
As a final note, we should acknowledge that the inspiration for this pamphlet came from a utopia-design questionnaire written in the 1970s by Peyton Richter and Walter Fogg. We should further note that the questions in Richter’s and Fogg’s work bear very little resemblance to those in the present questionnaire.
Design Your Own Utopia
I. Scope 1. Would your utopia be a global utopia? A. If not, would it be a nation state? A bioregion? A city? An eco-village or other type of intentional community? If none of the above, what?
These questions are not intended to be definitive; obviously, a list such as this can never be complete. If you’d have any suggestions for additional questions or other improvements, we’d appreciate hearing from you via e-mail.
We want to put our ideas into practice, and to that end we’re including a summary of our utopian vision below. Because providing answers to all of the above questions would take up considerably more space than the questions themselves, we’ve included only a summary here; still, this does give a reasonable view of our goals, desires, and beliefs. We’d love to hear from those of you who have similar visions, so please contact us if you'd want to discuss any of the ideas presented in this pamphlet.
A Small-Scale Utopia
In the community we envision, we would want to work with only those who share our fundamental goals, values, and commitments. To attempt to be more “inclusive” would lead to loss of focus. So, finding the right people would be our first goal.
In regard to the physical site, we would want to avoid social stratification through having either common ownership, renting, or a land trust, with all those living there contributing to the costs. We do not want a stratified community with owners and renters.
As for children, we like the ZEGG model, in which children live collectively with a few adult caretakers in a “children’s house.” Their parents interact with them as much or as little as is mutually agreeable, which we believe is healthier than inescapable, nuclear family interaction. As to education, we would prefer a “free school” environment, such as those pioneered by Francisco Ferrer and Paolo Freire, rather than forcing children to endure captivity in “public” (government) indoctrination centers, where they’d learn skills and attitudes designed to turn them into interchangeable parts.
The decision-making/political structure we envision is what was once commonly called “participatory democracy.” In a community setting, this means that there would be no government (or individual rulers), but rather that the entire community would make major decisions at open forums, and that there would be attempts to reach consensus before resorting to voting. It also means that there would be considerable delegation of decision making on minor matters to work groups, with their decisions subject to revocation by the community as a whole if controversy arose.
The easiest way for an intentional community to operate economically is to have everyone pay an equal amount for the community’s upkeep (food, rent, utilities, etc.). Due to the economies of scale, this usually works out to a substantial savings over the amount one spends in what-passes-for-normal society. Ideally, we would want a community featuring income and wealth sharing, but it’s a mistake to rush into such things. So, at least to start, we would want a community based only on expense sharing.
We do, however, foresee a community with cooperative and individual businesses; but we would not want to make economic activity the focus of the community. Due to the low living expenses and the economies of communitarian living, we’d expect that those involved would work less than people in consumerist society, and would thus have a considerable amount of time to devote to political work, creative activities, relationships, etc.—in sum, setting up and participating in a counter-institution.
One of the primary focuses of the community we envision would be healing the rift between the sexes and building a society based on partnership rather than domination. This has several implications. First, it would mean that there would be no rigid gender roles, and that men and women would have equal rights and responsibilities. Second, sexual freedom would be encouraged, and men and women would be equally free. Third, experimentation in relationships would also be encouraged, with there being no one “right” kind of relationship (as, in consumerist society, with the nuclear family), as long as relationships were between consenting adults. Another focus would be freeing individuals (especially women) from the burdens of child care, through collective child rearing. Finally, problems of sexual jealousy and possessiveness would be, when necessary, publicly (and compassionately) processed rather than, as at present, in both “straight” society and most intentional communities, ignored.
Science would not be a major focus of our community, but it would not be anti-science, anti-rational, or anti-technology; in fact, it would be pro-science and scientifically aware. The primary reason for this is that intentional communities have limited resources, so scientific/technological efforts would necessarily be focused on inexpensive, low-tech approaches, especially in the ecological/environmental area, which is probably the most critical area of research at the present time. This means things such as sewage disposal/recycling, passive and active solar designs, “green” archi-tecture, and organic agriculture projects.
Our community would not have any formal religion. Instead, it would be united through common dedication to the values, goals, and ideals listed above. Our guiding philosophy (“religion,” if you will) would be the desire to transform the world into a free and loving place, coupled with the belief that everything is intimately connected (the personal, political, economics, the arts, sexuality, nature, etc.) and that a holistic approach is needed for transformation. It would emphasize the personal as political, and especially sexuality, emotions, and love, which we consider key areas.
The arts would be a central part of daily life, with all members encouraged to pursue their interests and develop them to their full potential. This would mean that time would be set aside specifically for artistic pursuits and that a high priority would be placed on giving artists (musicians, dancers, writers, etc.) the physical means necessary to pursue their visions.
Another priority would be communications media, because we see our envisioned community as not only being a model, but as actively promoting that model and its ideals. This would mean active participation in any branch of the media members desired, and an emphasis on providing the means and training for community members who wished to work in the media.
Physically, we envision an urban eco-village. This means that environmentally friendly designs and practices would be followed wherever feasible. This would manifest itself in such things as organic gardening, the use of earth-friendly building methods (such as straw bale construction), incorporation of solar heating and cooling features into all buildings, and a pedestrian/ bicycle-friendly design. While economics might dictate acquiring and retrofitting (an) existing building(s) (such as an old hotel, motel, or warehouse) we’d want to make such buildings as ecologically friendly as possible.
Food choice would also be guided by ecological principles, and, at least in common kitchens, would be restricted to vegetarian food. This has the advantages of being cheaper, simpler, and healthier than omnivorous diets. And, most importantly, it’s kinder to animals.
The use of drugs and alcohol would not be a central part of our community, and we’d hope that community members would forego use of the worst drugs, such as tobacco. Because of possible legal (and health and social) problems, we’d want there to be no use of illegal drugs, and we’d want the use of the legal drugs, alcohol and tobacco, to be limited. In the case of tobacco, use would be confined to an area set aside for tobacco smoking, well away from living and common areas.
When anti-social behavior arose, we feel that the best way to deal with it would be openly in public processes. If these failed to resolve the problem, the community would have the right to ask disruptive individuals to leave. To avoid abuse of this process, a super-majority vote (consensus minus two or three) of the full community would be necessary before individuals could be expelled.
Finally, one of the primary goals of the community would be to end violence. This goal would manifest itself in the day-to-day life of the community, and we’d hope it would, through emulation, eventually become a wider social reality.
A Global Utopia
All of this means that individuals would have far greater power over their own lives (both at home and at work) than they do at present, and that work of all kinds would be cooperatively organized and coordinated. This would be diametrically opposite to what now exists in both the capitalist and the “communist” countries, where small elites in fixed positions of power order around everyone else at the figurative, and sometimes literal, point of a gun.
We see education as an essential component of this utopia. In it, competition for grades and position would be eliminated. Instead, children would be encouraged to follow their own interests and to develop their critical thinking abilities. Again, this is the exact opposite of what now exists, where children are forced into a type of Pavlovian conditioning featuring bells, whistles, and domination/ submission rituals, and in which they are taught skills useful to others (government, corporations) rather than to follow their own interests.
As for political institutions, we believe that people are capable of organizing along voluntary, cooperative lines to manage the essential institutions of society. This means an end to coercive, hierarchical organization (government, corporations) and an economy managed by those who produce and distribute goods and services. This is not a pipe dream. It came near to fruition during the Spanish Revolution (1936–1939), and likely would have were it not for the intervention of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and the Soviet Union. A good description of how such a democratic, egalitarian system would function is found in Michael Albert’s book, Looking Forward.
One of the essential features in our utopia would be equality between the sexes. We’d want a world in which no one was discriminated against because of race, appearance, or sexual orientation.
In regard to individual behavior, we would want tolerance for any and all behavior up to the point where it becomes directly harmful to others or obnoxiously intrusive.
Science and technology would be important features of our utopia. We’d want a world in which basic scientific research was encouraged, and in which development of appropriate technology was a priority. We would, however, want careful study of the likely ecological and social impacts of technologies before they were developed. (This contrasts greatly with the present, in which the focus is almost solely on potential profitability.) We would also want to abandon nuclear power and weapons technologies. And we’d want to re-evaluate a number of technologies which have obvious dangers, such as the automobile, cloning, and genetic engineering. One area in which we’d want technological development to continue, and in fact accelerate, would be space exploration/colonization. A related desire would be use of technology to expand the range of areas in which humans can live (thus reducing pressure on environmentally sensitive areas).
Religion as we know it—institutions, hoary rituals, and “sacred” texts—would fade away. We’d hope that a way of life based on ecological awareness, social consciousness, and a loving concern for our fellow humans and other creatures would replace what up until now has passed for “religion.” As social misery abates, we’d expect a concomitant decline in traditional religions.
The arts and the media would be important in our utopia, but their roles would be very different from what they are now. Instead of being the province of corporations and the “gifted few,” they would be open to participation by all. In fact, everyone would be encouraged to participate in them—the exact opposite of the present situation in which few people participate in the arts (and even fewer are rewarded for doing so), and in which small elites control the communications media, with almost everyone else reduced to being spectators. We want to reverse this situation; we want to eliminate the communications conglomerates and allow everyone with the desire to have an equal opportunity to participate actively in the arts and media.
Physically, our cities would be very different from those at present. Ultimately, we envision high-density living and working spaces surrounded by parks, agricultural areas, and wilderness, along the lines of Paolo Soleri’s “arcologies” (car-free, high-density, ecological cities). As a bridge, there is much that could be done now to create more livable cities (and to eliminate the ongoing destruction of wilderness and farm lands). First, resources should be shifted away from the private automobile and its supporting mechanisms. Instead, resources should be allocated to alternative forms of transportation such as light railed vehicles, trains, buses, and bicycle paths. Cities should also be made much more pedestrian friendly, with parts of them becoming automobile-free zones. As well, any new develop-ment should come within already-developed areas, not in outlying farming or wilderness areas. All of this would eliminate sprawl, reduce pollution (from automobiles), reduce the amount of time spent commuting, and facilitate social interaction.
Agriculture and the treatment of animals would also be very different from the present. Chemical-based corporate factory farming, and especially the mass production of animals for food, would have to go. Factory farming is in the process of destroying our best agricultural lands (and has already done so in many areas, such as parts of California’s central valley), and must be replaced by sustainable, smaller-scale, organic cooperative farming, which among other things would not systematically poison agricultural workers.
The meat industry as we know it would cease to exist. It’s simply too cruel to continue. For example, chickens today are routinely crowded together in tiny cages with their beaks burned off so that they won’t peck each other to death out of frustration. As well, factory-farm production of meat produces vastly degraded lands (via overgrazing), disease-resistant microbes (via misuse of antibiotics), and vast amounts of pollution, especially from hog farms with lagoons filled with millions upon million of gallons of pig excrement. A simpler approach based on local organic agricultural would be healthier for both people and the environment.
Medical care would be a universal right and would be geared toward preventative medicine, through creating a mentally and physically healthy society. Today, in contrast, most people’s lives are so unsatisfying that there are epidemics of preventable health problems such as obesity, addiction to tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs, and simple inactivity due to depression, car dependency, etc. In a healthier society, we would expect obesity, addictions, and depression to gradually disappear as the reasons for them disappear.
One of the great problems in making the transition from our present society to a healthier one is the matter of dealing with anti-social individuals. This is a serious problem, and one for which there is no obvious, completely adequate solution. Our present society produces severely antisocial, dangerous people, and has obviously not found an effective way of dealing with these people, who it produces in droves. We’d also note that the present means of dealing with criminal behavior (police, courts, prisons) is not only cruel (especially in the case of those arrested for victimless “crimes”), but it actually produces more criminal behavior than it prevents, as many sociological studies have shown. We would also point out that exclusive reliance on the police/prison system discourages social cohesion/citizen social involvement, which is the best means of discouraging and dealing with antisocial behavior.
In a transitional society, one would expect a variety of means of dealing with the criminals left over from authoritarian, corporate society. One would hope that most disputes could be resolved through mediation; but one would also expect that victims would sometimes retaliate against those who harmed them. Although in some cases this would be undesirable, at least in the absence of the current legal system victims who retaliate would not, as at present, be victimized a second time by the criminal injustice system (while their victimizers often walk free). In extreme cases, one would expect there to be a mechanism for banishment. While this is far from a perfect solution, it is undoubtedly better than the present nightmare of cops, judges, courts, and prisons—a system which has always been a source of atrocious injustice and victimization of the innocent.
In the long run, one would expect that the number of antisocial individuals would decline, because the social conditions that produce them (poverty, artificial scarcity, racism, sexism, sexual repression [and consequent perversion], etc.) would have vanished. Even in the best of circumstances, this will take decades, and in the meantime the problem of antisocial individuals will continue. There is no perfect solution to the problem of antisocial behavior, but this is hardly a reason to perpetuate the society that is producing this problem.
In regard to war, we envision a global utopia bound together not by military force, but by economic, social, and cultural ties. In the absence of nation states, and in the presence of a multitude of ties between different societies and peoples—and in the absence of the profit motive and its stepchild, economic imperialism—it seems certain that war would vanish. This—a nonviolent, free, egalitarian world—would be the end result of moving from a corporate/government-controlled society rooted in fear, to one based on voluntary cooperation, mutual aid, and love.