Utopianism has, rightly, acquired an unsavory reputation. Since my preoccupations on this blog concern the creation of a place of refuge from Babylon, as well as the opening of a crack in the system where another world is born, I thought it prudent to shine a light on it. If only so I avoid falling into that abyss.

Utopianism is underlain, as I understand it, by the hankering for social perfection and the lure of ideal worlds. It typically involves four aspects:
* privileging of ideals over messy human realities, of future over the present, of pure geometries over wabi sabi, of ideas over nature
* imposition of top-down design
* refusal of responsibility and of paying close attention to untoward consequences; “ends justify means”
* social pressure or propaganda to induce people to “like” the results

Most of the people who’ve brought ruin to the modern world have been utopians, from Lenin to Mussolini to Pol Pot, from communists to neo-liberals, from early modern architects to Brutalists to more recent ego-excesses of the various Frank Gehrys. (I am not counting among them the literary creation of new worlds. Dreamers need to safely bat ideas around, and fantasy and sci-fi novels make that possible.)

Utopians delight in arm-chair design. They fall in love with their creations. When they try to implement them and other humans balk, things get ugly.

Utopian memes have misled people into thinking that top-down design of ideal societies is the right strategy for creating a better world. Even permaculture has been infected, imposing top-down landscaping designs upon the land with predictably disappointing results. I have called the opposite of top-down design “unplanning.” Unplanning imitates nature, envisioning and applying human processes that are rooted in adaptive, feedback-responsive steps.

I think in terms of “better.” A whole lot better than THIS. And while optimal is hard and ideal is impossible, better is often very doable. And when “better” seeds new “attractors” (vortices of energy) into being, a sudden phase shift into something quite different becomes possible.

The world I am dreaming into existence cannot come into being via utopian schemes. It evolves from small beginnings. It arises through a myriad of adaptations made by millions of people. There is a vision, but the vision itself co-evolves with each step each human takes. We make the path as we walk. Following in the footsteps of Candide, we cultivate our gardens. And invite others to join us there.


Frank Gehry: ruining the world, one building at a time