Utopia (part i)

I’m obsessed with technology, society, art, work, cities, relationships, love and the transition from analog to digital — but I always seem to end up exposing the dystopian. So for this new Theory of Everything mini-series, I am going to look at the same themes as usual, but this time through a pair of utopian tinted glasses!

One of the main components of this new series are site visits to actual utopian communities. Later on, I’ll be taking a trip to some legendary places like Freetown Christiania in Denmark and I also sent ToE producer Andrew Callaway across America to see what’s happening in Utopia today and find a place that we might actually want to move to.

Galt’s Retreat

The first stop on Andrew’s tour is Galt’s Retreat, founded on the principals of anarcho-capitalism. It’s a conservative place (all Trump voters) so they prefer the term intentional community — don’t call it a commune.

Infowars bumper sticker visible in background

Dustin, the founder, decided he had to start his own because he couldn’t find any conservative ecovillages. The name comes from Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. When I heard that the guy who founded this place hadn’t even read the book, that was enough for me.

The Farm

Andrew got his shit together and found a place with more utopian pedigree. The Farm in Summertown, TN is a legendary hippie commune. They were self-sufficient within a few years of starting. They grew their own food, had their own school and birthed their own babies. Over 2,300 people were born on The Farm.

(left) Stephen Gaskin talking to The Farm in the 1970’s. (right) Spiritual Midwifery sold over half a million copies.

From 1971 to 1983, it was a full blown collective commune, but today, like Galt’s Retreat, it is not a commune. An event called The Changeover occured in 1983, when the people of The Farm decided to transform it into a co-op. This also meant shutting down the actual farm part of The Farm. Since people needed to make money to pay rent, nobody had the time to actually do the grow their own food anymore.

A house on The Farm today

This is why people like Laura who live on the farm today have to commute almost two hours a day to work at a coffeehouse chain. She’s one of the few millenials and she’s got some ideas for the future. Her two big goals are to get the food production started back up again (she wants to build a bakery on The Farm) and to attract more young people to the Farm.

The Changeover proved that the way The Farm operates can change and be flexible. A new generation of dreamers and idealists could make this place radical again. There’s not enough people Andrew’s age for him to be able to see himself moving there, but Laura assured him she knows how to bring in Millenials: through AirBnB

Utopia For Realists

Rutger Bregman is a dutch historian and writer and a champion for basic income. a cash stipend that governments provide for its citizens. Its an old school utopian idea — that goes all the way to Thomas Moore, who believed mankind should view the wealth it has as a gift from the past. Rutgers believes that Basic Income is the best chance we have to eradicate poverty.

I first caught wind of just how radical Rutger is when I saw his TED Talk. TED bills itself as the conference for ideas that could change the world and over the past few decades dozens of people have taken the stage waving around a thing they were each certain would end poverty — things like shoes, water bottles, text books, hand cranked computers. Rutger can’t stand this kind of do-gooder — and during his talk he called them out.

When he started this book 4 years ago, Rutger says basic income was a forgotten utopian idea — no-one was talking about it. By the time he finished it a number of governments were doing actual experiments, providing some of its citizens with cash payments. A recent episode of 99% Invisible examines one of these experiments taking place in Finland.

Even the New York Times is covering Basic Income nowadays.

Rutger isn’t afraid of the impending automation of the workforce. He’s sees the loss of jobsas an exciting oppurtunity to redefine what work means. He thinks that an enormous amount of the jobs in workforce today are meaningless and that in a better future we would all be focused on meaningful work and meaningful lives.