Saturday, March 01, 2008

Utopian Dreams


What is the ideal Society? That question brings forth a wide range of opinions, philosophies, proposals, values, and biased suggestions that are often in conflict with each other. My Utopian world may be your dystopian nightmare, just as one man's hell is anothers heaven. These considerations shouldn't stop like minded individuals from trying to create their own enlightened community, but where does a Utopia end and a Cult begin?

In terms of creating a Utopian city there is always the danger of such cities becoming isolated and out of sync with mainstream culture as it exists within a larger nation. This view might describe Arcosanti - envisioned as an ecologically friendly "desert utopia". It was constructed an hour North of Phoenix in the Seventies by Italian architect Paolo Soleri. It's now home to fewer than a hundred people, and despite ongoing efforts to sustain the site it's in danger of becoming a stalled or failed Utopian dream, bereft of finances, and catering to Eco-tourists and Artists as a means of staying afloat. Perhaps it's the Artists keeping this Utopian vision alive.

In this digital age how can we discuss any Utopian concepts without including the rise of Virtual reality or Virtual societies accessible via the Internet such as Second Life? The ability to create alter egos or personal Avatars that can thrive and interact within a virtual world might be considered a Utopian pursuit by those residents. In Second Life you can create your own appearance, earn a living, design a living space, and participate in many activities that emulate the real world. All of this happens within a virtual economy based on a currency called the Linden that has an actual exchange rate with the U.S. dollar. Perhaps this is a Utopia by proxy - individuals who consider their real lives to be unfulfilled and boring can pursue glamorous new hopes and dreams with a new identity in a parallel metaverse simply by logging in to their world of choice.

Perhaps seeking a Utopia in the outer world by attempting to create a new society or participating in a virtual one without self awareness are ultimately futile pursuits, and we would be better served by searching for an inner harmony or wisdom that can nourish and enlighten us even in harsh environments. The enduring success of any Utopian vision may ultimately depend on the enlightenment and inner consciousness of its citizens, and not the social principles or technology that define it.

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