by Tamra Spivey and Ronnie Pontiac.
Perhaps some among my readers a few may have seen a group of old buildings of Mayan inspired architecture surrounding a small but elegant old library in the neighborhood of Los Feliz, California, not far from Griffith Park. I say few because the precious books on those shelves were not for the many. In that library you couldn’t find best selling thrillers, popular biographies, or books about current economic or political issues. This library was not meant to amuse the masses. In those days the wooden cabinets and walk-in vault housed the most notable collection, by an enthusiast on the American west coast, of books on alchemy, cabala, astrology, Rosicrucianism but also Buddhism, Taoism and Hindu philosophy. The owner had lavished a fortune in the purchase of these incomprehensible yet unassailable treasures.
Whatever the country of origin, every book and work of art in the library could be described as a study of utopia. From laws of secret societies to diagrams of astral bodies all these extraordinary creations devoted to regenerating individuals and communities comprised a diary of dreams dreamed by different dreamers in distant centuries on every continent. These distilled imaginings of perfection waited on dusty shelves to be rescued by, and to rescue, the curious.
In that library, in a locked bin filled with memorabilia was found an old leather portfolio. Inside were found nine pages of handwritten notes from sources centuries apart. The subject they all shared was utopia.
PAGE 1: Date of origin unknown.
On the first page one scholar wrote his only contribution: a single sentence written in pencil on handmade rag paper of unknown origin:
Utopia is a personal ideal.
PAGE 2: c. 1970s
On the second page someone using pens of many colors drew intensely elaborate drawings then presented a series of disconnected but important guidelines. The text begins by describing proper motivation:
A constant flux of elevation where every member takes pleasure in the success of others, in helping to beautify and improve: a joy in sharing skills, and increasing the delight of life.
Completely self-sufficient and independent but willing to share skills and other productions with the outside world. Barter and trade within the community but money can be bartered or traded for use outside the community.
Bamboo grove with tiny houses on stilts.
There the caretakers of the bird sanctuary live.
Animal sanctuary but also restoring
natural habitat and wildlife wherever possible.
Don’t kill creatures of nature unless you must. Put coins in a can and shake to scare off wildlife. Put pennies in a clear plastic bag of water: the reflections keep away flies.
Meat eaters must raise, slaughter and prepare their own meat.
Hemp for rope, bricks, clothes, and for air purification.
Moringa Trees between every yard for nutrition and healing, and for water purification.
Hens in coops for eggs where desired.
Beekeepers experiment with various flower sources to find honey with medicinal benefits.
Biodynamic organic farming, including vineyards and orchards.
Aquaponics: fish dirtied water fed to plants then returned clean to fish. Cows tethered by fruit trees near but not too near streams so water, and fertilizer, are convenient.
Sunny comfy library of important books with shady oak trees outside for reading under.
A clearing for summer campfires under stars and pines.
Everything that can be is recyclable and renewable.
Waterwheels and solar for power.
Electric batteries for vehicles and home energy storage.
The final statement is a motto of sorts:
Overpopulation is the death of civilization.
PAGE 3: c. 1950s
The third page is a contribution from the mid 20th century written on yellow grid paper. This scholar included a schematic for the new transistor radio recently invented by Texas Instruments. Mandating that all dwellings in utopia must be equipped with such radios, it did not occur to this scholar that receiving without broadcasting enforces hierarchy. The reason for this scholar’s interest in utopia is mentioned: the newly published novel Lord of the Flies and The Red Scare seemed to herald an era of fascism in America. Here is the simple yet poignant list of examples:
The quaint cottages and garden paths adjacent to hiking and riding trails of San Ysidro Ranch.
Tolkein’s grass-covered hobbit houses of the Shire.
Buddhist temple communities.
He offers this distillation to crystallize his intent:
All members of the community commit to mutual cooperation with an enthusiasm for the good that would result from demonstrating its consistent superiority over competition.
PAGE 4: c. 1930s
The next page, a document written during the Great Depression contains a list of what could be described as rules for utopian community:
Everyone admitted to the community must have a skill that contributes to the maintenance and betterment of all.
Romantic and sexual relationships are nobody’s business as long as no one is harmed or coerced.
Marriages and divorces are not official actions sanctioned by the community; individuals decide these milestones for themselves. Non-traditional configurations of commitment are equally acceptable.
No religious institutions. No conversion or missionary activity.
Everyone is taught self-defense and self-sufficiency, wilderness and household skills.
No stacking of people. No one lives over anyone or adjacently. Each individual dwelling keeps a respectful distance between homes, space for privacy, for gardens or natural habitat.
Prospective members must demonstrate their skills and meet each member of the community individually for a thorough screening, after which the community will vote.
Criminals can be sponsored for rehab for re-admittance to the community.
Everything voted on by everyone after presentations pro and con. White bean = yes, black bean = no like Pythagoras.
The community may vote to remove a member; if necessary the removal may be forced by the school of martial arts.
PAGE 5: c. 1920s
Page 5 is written on stationary from the Hotel Sherman in Chicago. A note accompanies this page indicating a rumor that it had been written by William Walker Atkinson, better known as Yogi Ramacharaka.
The Hotel Sherman was a jazz landmark in the 20s. The rumor claims that the list was composed in 1924 after a drunken bender during which Atkinson encountered the music of jazz legend Louis Armstrong. The list was left in the hotel room and could not be retrieved because Atkinson suddenly left Chicago for Los Angeles. But historians have no evidence that Atkinson was given to such behavior. The list is scrawled in seemingly intoxicated script.
The seven deadly dangers that threaten utopias:
Factions, farms of silence, they leave broken communities in their wake. Encourage factions to start new communities that demonstrate their innovations. Utopias understand the need for continual evolution.
Alcohol and drug abuse, destroyers of days, they leave broken minds and bodies in their wake. For that reason access is restricted to festival and ritual use except for limited amounts of mild substances appropriate for relaxation, creative work and pleasure.
Predatory greed, uncontrollable fire, leaves wasteland in its wake. When we accumulate more than we need we give it to those in need. Taking advantage of fellow citizens, harming them for profit, is grounds for dismissal from the community.
On the spectrum of work neither sloth nor excess zeal are welcome. To find the rhythm of relaxation and acceleration is part of each citizen’s daily work.
Violence unless in self-defense is grounds for immediate expulsion from the community.
Utopia renounces violence.
Lying, endless river of suffering, is welcome only in art and humor. One lie uncovered leads to a warning, two to dismissal.
Self-aggrandizing pride that wants everything done its way, that is how peace most quickly turns to war. Such people are encouraged to begin their own communities along with any who care to follow them.
Tragically, the three greatest dangers facing any utopia have no cure. Envy, demiurge of all the other dangers, undermines cooperation leaving in its wake wounds that won’t heal. Envy can’t be detected; it can’t be controlled. Predatory lust can’t be detected until it destroys lives. The most dangerous of all are oracles, which for mysterious reasons are known to send men on contrary paths unsanctioned by the community.
PAGE 6: Late 19th Century
The next page is difficult to date. From the age of the ink and the quaint handwriting style today’s scholars have hazarded a guess: 1870s. It begins with a motto:
Life and death is life on earth, to understand that is utopia.
What follows, we are told, are quotes from a missing utopia originally written by a disciple of Dante based on a conversation he had with the genius who wrote the Divine Comedy. Secret societies and private individuals passed the notes down to Giordano Bruno who gave them to the Rosicrucians, perhaps inspiring their own utopian tendencies. Here they are in a simple modern translation:
At the center of the community a circle of common area surrounds a natural freshwater spring pouring out from among rocks. Here anyone can meet everyone, here the community gathers. From the center one road after another spirals out. Along these roads communities of skills gather. One road is agriculture: on either side crops and farms. Another road for vineyards. Another for herbs. Another for carpenters. Another for cooks and chefs. Another for weavers and tailors. The road of healing offering many different methods. The road of games and game makers. Historians and philosophers road. The road of oracles. Baker’s Road. The road of artists. The road of musicians. The road of weapon makers and warriors.
A council made up of three representatives of each road handles administrative tasks, investigates crimes and otherwise seeks to support the integrity of the community.
The shape of the spiral accommodates distance and need for space. On each road as it nears the center the space between habitations grows smaller. Those who wish to live apart go a little further down the road because as the spiral unfolds the space between its roads becomes greater, providing space for farms, ranches, orchards, or simply privacy.
At the end of each spiral road where it reaches the outside world a colorful flag flies depicting the road’s theme.
Each road has a festival, throughout the seasons celebrations occur where each community of contributors show off their best work of the year.
The old year ends and the new begins at the spring at the center of the spiral. Art is made and performed to celebrate the fact that without the water there could be no community.
The spiral is an educational system. Children learn by experiencing the skills of each road of the spiral until they find their callings. The spirals are meant to accommodate all the skills required for human life, all performed by people who love their work.
You can work on different roads even after your learning period is over.
No more than two living children for each couple. Couples may elect not to have children in which case they can nominate two new members of the community. Alternately, the community can vote for a temporary suspension of the limit so that a generation of larger families can launch another entirely new spiral community.
An alternate form of the experiment involves three cooperative spiral communities. The first spiral devoted to the young and unwed, the second to families raising children, and a third to elders. As couples graduate from first spiral to second, children from spiral two graduate into spiral one, as their parents retire to spiral three.
Another alternate form of the experiment involves replacing the roads with freshwater canals.
PAGE 7: Early 19th Century
The next page contains a scholarly note written probably in the 1820s judging from the paper and handwriting. It begins with a statement of origin:
From a mysterious paragraph of archaic Arabic scribbled onto a scrap of vellum in what may be blood, found in the British Museum. The passage describes the fish hatchery of utopia.
Mosquito fish prevent the infectious insects from breeding in stagnant water. Various freshwater and saltwater species provide food. The fish most prized are decorative goldfish capable of growing to great age and size, reserved exclusively for the elite, who highly prize them. The writer suggests that during famines the other fish would be fed to the goldfish. If utopia faced starvation would the elite practice cannibalism?
An early Christian scholar who encountered this fragment speculated that historical events inspired it, that in fact utopia would preserve itself even at the cost of cannibalism. However the linguistics of the fragment indicate an origin among hashish smoking fourth century A.D. Syrian poets notorious for perpetrating historical hoaxes.
PAGE 8: Late 18th Century.
In a rare manuscript dated 1773 preserved in the collection of the alchemist and ship’s doctor Bagstrom is found this odd formula which the mad scholar Yrsaviki claimed to be of Tibetan origin:
The Four Disharmonies that every incarnate being must face are Acacia, the fragility of bodies and minds composed of temporarily combined elements; Brude, named for his many children, chiefly Anger, Fear, Doubt and Grief; D’Eez, giver of idle pleasures and comforts, who sucks time like a vampire sucks blood; and The Ender, the inevitable disperser of all forms, who takes away our journey.
The Four Disharmonies are said to be the children of the two Seeds of Discontent: False Hope and Wrong Doubt. These two dangerous enemies are the children of Over Shadow, creator of all the world’s fear, injury and pain. His power makes us cling to a self instead of the self.
Without this understanding how could there ever be utopia?
PAGE 9: 1960s
The last page is the only page that is out of chronological order. It seems to be a poetic comment upon the others. Dated autumn 1969 it may have been a reaction to Altamont and the Manson murders. Note that the word revelation in the eighth stanza replaces the crossed out word revolution.
The Icarus Fall
Utopia and dystopia like yin and yang
can’t exist without each other.
In the northern corner of the park
a wounded man bleeds out in the gutter.
Not far from the freeway overpass
hidden lovers in the grass reenact Eden.
Butter colored butterflies
in the silence of July sunshine
sip nectar from still yellow flowers.
A neglected parking lot crumbles
where an oak grove once sheltered
villages of indigenous species.
Utopias and dystopias don’t last long.
Isolation makes them atrophy.
Popularity takes away their purity.
Dystopia benefits from the elaborate plans
of the people who profit from it.
Utopia breaks out unexpectedly
in whispers of revelation.
Striving to preserve utopia or dystopia
at any cost they are lost.
They exist only on the vanishing edge of the present,
in the myths of the past, and in the prophetic
but forgotten dreams of reformers.