Utopian Communities: Then and Now Yours truly at Oneida Community Mansion House, August 2010
Pure Imagination! • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZ-uV72pQKI
The Rise of Utopian Communities • Utopian communities have existed for thousands of years, but during the 1800s over 100 communities were tried out in America. • European immigrants, as well as native-born Americans, tried to set up model societies that they hoped would inspire the rest of America, as well as the world. • These individuals were inspired to change several things that they saw wrong with American society: 1) inequalities among gender, nationality, and color of skin; 2) the ownership of private property; 3) slavery ; 4) marriage and family structure; 5) war ; 6) greed ; 7) the evils of industrial society ; 8) lack of “good will” between neighbors, etc. • The history of these attempts to build utopian communities had few successes and many failures. Many vanished within a few months of their founding, but the ideas that went into them shape us today in our hopes of making a better world.
The Man with the Plan: Charles Fourier • Charles Fourier was a French socialist who believed that the world would enter “The Age of Harmony” for 35,000 years and that during this time the world would be organized into units known as phalanxes. • In these phalanxes, almost 2,000 people would live together and work together in an environment that would make them happy and productive. • Traditional one man/one woman relationships would be expanded. • The sea would even turn to lemonade! • Fourier would never live to see his theories put into practice, but a man who followed many of his ideas, Englishman Robert Owen, would carry these ideas to America in order to create utopian communities. • Both men believed in the inner goodness of mankind and that mankind needed to escape the evil environment around him.
A sketch for a phalanx Charles Fourier Robert Owen
The Shakers! • The Shakers were an offshoot of the Quaker religion. They got their name because at their religious meetings they shook and trembled, whirled around, danced, sang, and cried out in strange tongues from the spirit world. • Their figurehead was Mother Anne Lee. Mother Anne believed that sex was the ultimate sin in the world. She and her followers believed in living a celibate life, one without sexual relations. Because of their beliefs, they were forced to leave England for America. • Mother Anne would die soon after arriving in America, but others followed her example. • The Shakers believed in the “bisexuality of God”—all of the angels and spirits were filled with a male and a female element. • They did not believe in giving any pleasure to the earthly body. • They lived in buildings referred to as “families,” called each other “brother” and “sister,” yet made sure that the sexes ate, worked, worshipped, and walked apart. • They were known for simple living and simple home furnishings and had a mostly agricultural life. • They relied on converts to their religion in order to maintain membership numbers.
Famous Shaker dance. “Shake the sin out!” “Typical” Shaker room. Looks cozy!
The Oneida Community • Formed by a former student of religion, John Humphrey Noyes in the mid-1800s. • Noyes believed one of the biggest problems facing America was traditional marriage. At the Oneida Community, members were open to love whomever they wanted, as long as there was a spiritual connection as well. • In order to have a sexual encounter, you had to be interviewed by a senior member of the community before the “booty call” was to happen. • Men were trained to practice “male continence,” or sex without having an orgasm. This practice was followed so that sex was more meaningful and less for selfish reasons. • Both men and women were involved in hard, but rewarding labor. • Property and material possessions were held in common. • To solve any disputes in the community, the leading members of the community would usually call a member in and give him or her a fair and balanced “criticism” of the problematic parts of their personality.
John Humphrey Noyes a.k.a “The Love Machine” The Mansion House. Check it out some time!
Fruitlands! • Founded by reformer Bronson Alcott in the Spring of 1843. It last until the Fall of that year. • The people who lived at Fruitlands would not use or consume anything that caused suffering or harm to any living creature. • A typical day at Fruitlands: Rise at dawn A cold plunge in a nearby river A music lesson A breakfast of grains, fruits, nuts, and herbs Some kind of work that you felt like doing Vegetarian dinner Interesting and deep conversations Bedtime at sunset • The community failed because Alcott’s spiritual beliefs could never work out in the real world.
Bronson Alcott a.k.a. “Mr. Muttonchops” Fruitlands farmhouse Harvard, Massachusetts
Utopian Communities TodayThe Acorn Community • Located in Virginia. Founded in 1993. • A self-professed non-religious, equal community. • Committed to income-sharing, sustainable living, and creating a vibrant, eclectic culture. • Has a thriving seed business. • Their community encourages personal responsibility, supports queer and alternative lifestyles, and strives to create a stimulating social, political, feminist and intellectual environment.
Utopian Communities of the Future:Victory City • Victory City is still in the planning stages. • It is to be an entire city all under one roof, to be built and operated by private business alone. There will not be just one, but many such cities throughout the entire world. • It will boast no crime, no pollution, and no over-crowding,