Monday, 29 November 2010

Purchasing Utopia

Tonight I learnt about Fordlandia.

Fordlandia was an experiment by Henry Ford (in 1928) to create a pre-fabricated town in the middle of the Amazonian Rainforest. He wanted to harvest rubber while engaging in a social experiment to replicate American living conditions for the workers. Unfortunately the local workers did not enjoy being forced into live in hot concrete houses, to eat horrible hamburgers and to work to a mechanised western timetable. They rebelled. In their first act they destroyed the clocks that had oppressed them and then chased their managers into the jungle.

(I read an interesting article about time recently by Felipe Fernández-Armesto. He talks about how we have lost track of the natural cycles of seasons and how we are now socialised into mechanism.)

But I digress. I was talking of Utopia.

Many Utopian towns and societies exist around the world including corporate sponsored versions such as The Celebration Community in Florida (originally commissioned by the Walt Disney Corporation) and Bournville (fashioned by Cadbury and the Quakers). They all seem to have in common the desire to create an enclave within consensus reality -a place where social and physical gates exclude the anomalous and abhorrent; a place where identity is defined by collectivity rather than self.

This makes me wonder whether, through the purchase of a house in a certain area, a certain kind of car and certain kind of job are we not all, to some extent, attempting to purchase utopia.

Fords’ workers rebelled. In some ways they had an easy target to rebel against – they were forced to submit to an alien reality that caused them great suffering. But how many of us rebel against the utopian reality that is prescribed for us via corporations selling us products; via governments selling us stable society; via religions or spiritual movements selling us enlightenment.

Our suffering is less obvious but is present. It is present when we struggle to pay our debt; when we wake up and wonder what we have done with our lives; when we go to sleep lonely and empty - devoid of passion but filled with a craving for material security.

It seems to me it is hard to create a revolution against an oppressor that is nameless and all encompassing.

A list of top 20 essential works of Utopian Fiction was sent to me a fellow blog author this week (Tim Handorf). That together with the information about Fordlandia (supplied by Luc Peters this evening) makes me wonder if I am getting a message to pay more attention to my own utopian imaginings. I wonder what I believe to be my perfect world and how much have I sacrificed already to achieve it.

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