So here’s a book I should have read years ago, obviously. I went through one of my first phases of reading utopias in the 70s, another in the late 80s, then I read serious books on utopian communities in the 90s, and now I’m reading utopias again.
This one, which I found at Grailville’s bookstore at Earth Spirit Rising, is a novel called Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach, published in January, 1975. I’m amazed I missed it. He evidently also wrote a follow-up / sequel sometime later. I’ll need to find that as well.
It’s got a clever hook on which to hang its author’s beliefs – seems that 20 years ago, the Pacific Northwest – northern California, Oregon and Washington State – seceded from America and set up their own country, based on environmental principles. They stopped an American invasion by stating that they had nuclear weapons buried in major American cities. The newspaper Times-Post is now sending its top reporter, William Weston, for a 6 week visit, the first American to visit Ecotopia since travel and communications were cut off. This was arranged at the highest diplomatic levels.
It’s a good story, a good read, done as a series of newspaper columns and personal journal entries. It explores the personal, the social, the cultural, the environmental. There are a few instances where time has overtaken the story – for instance, in the author’s trust in the supremacy of newspapers as the ongoing communication medium. But in general he gets it right, and is pretty prescient on environmental issues – we are just now trying some of the successful innovations in Ecotopia, like mini-cities, multiple forms of communication, living among forests.
Callendar / Ecotopia invents Ritual War Games as a device to manage male testosterone and aggression – I found that regrettable. And Callendar struggles with imagining the equal and open relationships between men and women that he clearly would like to see. I like his risk-taking in even tackling these difficult issues. We are all more embedded in our own times than we believe, and even when we’re thinking outside the box, we’re often not questioning our most basic assumptions.
If you’re a cultural observer, and like to think about the various dysfunctions that are so evident in our own culture, this will be a fun book for you. Well worth reading for its ideas – and it’s very entertaining, to boot.