Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ponderings on utopias

When I grew up I remember seeing the movie Shangri-La on TV one Sunday afternoon, and I loved it.  A hidden valley, far away in the Himalayas, a paradise away from everything else, isolated and self-sufficient. Last night PP showed me an old movie by Lewis Mumford called 'The City", which shows another kind of utopia - a village where workers live in nice houses without industrialization's horrors and pollution. It is worth watching, and you can find it here, in the Prelinger Archives of ephemeral films.

What struck me after seeing this movie is that there aren't any utopias anymore.  We can't realistically dream about paradise islands where you can live away from the rest of the world.  Everything is connected, affected, even if you want to be isolated.  Every hidden valley, little town, or tropical island is affected by the global climate change, atmospheric pollution, radiation, and trash and toxins thrown into the sea, groundwater, or rivers. Over you satellites are watching you or give you connectivity to anywhere else in the world.  All economies are linked, and what happens at Wall Street or in Asia's stock markets affect a country and village across the world.

So, the idea of Utopia has changed.  Now we wish for small Utopian things, like affordable health care for all, toys without lead, and cleaner streets, while in the past you could dare to think big and dream away... I think this creates a kind of hopelessness and apathy in the new generations - it is much harder to change anything, the problems are big, global, and enormous.  Even if you plan a small better village locally, you run into global and national problems and forces, since so much is controlled at a higher level, not locally anymore.  Here in New Jersey, there used to be several local villages (like Roosevelt) built and based on Utopian ideas of fairness, sharing, and ethics.  Now they are all just regular places like any other (with a few exceptions, like Free Acres).

Who even wishes for World Peace anymore?  I do, but who really works for it?  No big masses of people...  I think the whole world view has changed since the hopeful 1960s, and gone downhill since then.  The only way to change global things is for all of us to work together in all countries, and that seems pretty much impossible, sometimes even within just one country (US for example). Sad and depressing, unfortunately.  Now the only real Utopias are new planets somewhere out there in the universe.

Maybe Utopia is just an impossibility, because humans are too selfish and competitive, and that all goes back to evolution and competition over scarce resources for survival?  Still, I like the thought of better places for all...

Links for more information (to avoid the breaking up of your reading* I put these at the end)
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch: Where does the stuff go?
Prelinger Archives: Lewis Mumford: "The City"
Free Acres, New Jersey : Roosevelt, NJ

* Researchers have showed that reading online text with a lot of links in it breaks up the thought process and you get distracted and don't learn and think so much.  At each hyperlink in the text your brain thinks "should I click on this or not", and you loose your thought and memories of what you just read.  So even if you don't click on the link, you are affected, without knowing it. So, links at the end on this post.  (Link to more about this here and here.)


PP said...

Here is another interesting place in NJ:

LS said...

Interesting history of the Edgewater Colony - and there are only 5 lots left to buy, ever...