If you find the following Utopia is not really a rounded story, you're damn right: I got stuck at some point, didn't have time bladiblah, and it just didn't roll after that, ahem, hiatus. You will have to make do with this, sorry.
This Utopia is based on a real project by Wolf Hilbertz, engineer, as described in Mare magazine, vol. 34, oct./nov. 2002, and on several websites.
by Volker Schmidt
The surf was up. Waves crashed against the coral walls. White foam splashed across the window. Minuscule fluorescent creatures, washed up with the breakers, glowed in the dark. Thus was the soundtrack, thus was the illumination when I first read the constitution of my new home. I had flown in from Europe just that day. It had been a long, exhausting journey. I was tired as a log washed to a barren beach after seven thousand sea miles of floating. All I wanted was to sink into soft pillows. But I thought I had the duty to find out more about this dream I had bought into by breaking the bridges. I had given up my job in times of shaky economics, plundered my bank account to buy the tickets and signed a contract for half a year on the island. So far, I knew what I was in for at Saya de Malha from magazine articles, from websites and from the Autopia prospectus. I wanted to know all. So I took a shower to revive myself, lounged naked on the bed and read the first of several dozens of pages - thinner a tome than I had expected (or feared); after all, this artificial island was home for 380 people, scheduled to become more as the Biorock grew.
We, the creators of Autopia, have, after lengthy and sometimes heated
discussions, come to the conclusion that we can not do without some sort
of Rules of the House for the community we are founding. What brought
us to this unanimous opinion was the fact that we were not unanimous,
even among the few of us. So there has to be a Code of Conduct that helps
Autopians in achieving consensus and in agreeing to disagree alike. Among
us were sociologists, historians, engineers and generalizing nutters;
our backgrounds ranged from More to Marx, from Buddha to Bakunin, from
Leary to Lemhöfer. Even Pelakovniks and Robbinsists had something
to say. The following is the result of our attempts.
B) It is strictly forbidden to play canned birdsong in shopping arcades, elevators or in fact any other public place.
Oh well, I thought, maybe half a year won't be that long. How could this bunch of wackos have created any place worth living in? Marx I knew, Buddha I'd heard of, but Robbins? Lemhöfer? Never heard of them. And Leary? Hardly a theorist I'd try to build a new society on. McLuhan, yes, Neill, OK. But these? And what was that birdsong-bit supposed to be about? Oh God, what had I done in coming here!
in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for some people to
dissolve the political bands which have connected them with other people,
and to found among the powers of the earth a separate, yet connected habitat,
common sense requires that they should agree upon and declare the basis
on which the build their community.
hold these Truths to be self-evident:
Human beings are free. They are born free, they live in freedom, and if they choose not to do so, they do so by their own free will.
I had read enough Asian philosophy and Richard Bach and stuff to know what this was about. My freedom is only in danger if I let someone endanger it. In theory, I agreed. In practice, I doubted this was a valid base for everyday politics. There was economics, political power, education, all that. Well, this was just the foreword, we'd see.
From Mare No. 35
Every human being is free, among other things, to live unharmed in body and spirit and to pursue happiness as far as it does not infringe other human beings' pursuit of happiness. To secure this freedom, we have written down the following rules, hoping that they contribute to the abolition of the cause that necessitates their very existence, viz., human stupidity. The dozen or so of us founder-fathers, -mothers and -refusing-to-be-parents is of the opinion that we have only written down what, in a better world, should be common sense anyway, and we hope that Autopia will indeed be a better world. We have reason to hope so, since our little world has one great advantage compared with the counttries of the world: no-one is born into it involuntarily. Everybody knows in advance what he or she is in for.
sort of, I thought, shifting uneasily on the bed that slightly quivered
under the onslaught of the storm. Strangely, I did not feel threatened
by the turmoil without: naked as I was, I felt sheltered by the Biorock,
felt cozy and warm in the room that was well-heated by solar-collectors
and hot deep-sea sources. The turmoil within was worse, I felt naked and
unprotected against the raw wind of a political system that apparently
left me to my own devices, held me responsible, didn't allow me to blame
"those in power".
is what we base our society on: Everybody is free, no-one is equal, but
all are to be treated with equal respect. And everybody came here knowing
that he or she would be asked to contribute their utmost to secure that
freedom - not just their own, but the freedom of all Autopians.
That was all that went for a constitution. Nothing about justice, about property, about free speech or the right to bear arms. Just freedom. I had liked the thought when I had decided to come, but it sounded harsh with the prospect of actually living in a world where I had to guard my freedom myself - and the freedom of my neighbour, whatever that meant.
From Mare No. 35
There was a knock on the door. I hastily grabbed a dressing gown and opened. It was Jeff, my next-door neighbour. He was a tall, sturdily built hippie, complete with tie-dye T-shirt, long hair, beard, beads and bidi. He said "hi", and "may I smoke?" I said yes, I didn't mind, and would he spare me a cigarette since I hadn't brought my own, fearing that it wouldn't be politically correct to go about ruining one's own health in a commune intent on building a better world. He said I could have one, but warned me they didn't exactly contain tobacco. As if he had known I could do with some biochemically enhanced relaxing. He sat in the rocking chair I had brought along as the favourite piece of furniture one was allowed to bring. He asked about my background - writer, in my thirties, single - and told me about his - engineer, in his late twenties, married with two kids. From his two wifes. 'Scuse me?, I said. He laughed, said something about me being new in Autopia, and explained.
Apparently, there was no such thIng as a "legal" marriage. Not even a "legal" parenthood. This society just didn't consider it its business who shared a bed with whom and what came from it. Jeff had chosen to live with Jane, and they had celebrated their "marriage" in a little ceremony in their Quarter. The Quartereldest had given a little speech, an artisan from another floor had contributed coral wedding rings. Some months later, Jeff had met Julia. He claimed he had fallen in love with her, without his love for Jane diminishing. So Jeff and Jane had married Julia. Both women had become pregnant at about the same time.
Jeff made a point about the fact that this was just one of the many forms of cohabitation of the sexes on the artifcial atoll. Some lived in bigger groups, with shared responsibility for eventual children. Some lived in monogamy. Some lived in harems without a pasha; others lived in harems that consisted of nothing but pashas. Jeff told me about a complicated pentangle where a heterosexual man had "married" two women, one of which was bisexual and brought her "wife" into the household, while the other woman had a second husband Confusing. The only times that the Community got involved was when it was necessary to find new rooms for people who wanted to live together, and when a "marriage" braking up resulted in quarrels that had to be solved by some sort of court. Jeff claimed it was rarely the case: people knew they weren't expected to live together 'til death doth them part, so paradoxically, they often managed to do so. And they knew they were expected to deal with their emotional issues and their results by themselves. After Jeff's explanations, it seemed absurd that there was a world where grown men and women turned to lawyers and courts to settle their quarrels.
When Jeff had left, I felt better about having come here. He made everything sound natural, uncomplicated even, and what was more: he had guessed that a newcomer might need someone to talk to and had, without someone appointing him to do so, without official mission, decided to spared some minutes. And some grass, which made my head dizzy. I decided to read on the next morning - I didn't have much to do, since newcomers were given a week to settle in before they had to decide about a job.
The following seemed obvious even to our quarrelling bunch: the bigger a group is, the more difficult it is for its members to form a common opinion. It is a mathematically, psychologically and sociologically logical fact. It also is common sense. That sufficed, in our humble founder-dozen opinion, to make it the basis for communal life in Autopia.
It had been a long, quiet, yet interesting day. I had walked along the corridors, balconies and across the decks of the Biorock structure that was the topography of Autopia. Its basic form was that of a spiral, but since Hilbertz had first sinked his wiring into the sea to almost magically attract the creatures that built Autopia, many additions had grown out of its perimeter and into the lagoon that lay shelterd inside. There were piers and pipelines, platforms and pontons. Several ships lay tied in the sort-of-natural harbour hidden inside the spiral. Connected to the original spiral by a thin yet stable chalk bridge, a second spiral had started to grow. For now, it was used as an industrial area (which in Autopia meant mainly arts and crafts) and for storage. Solar collectors covered much of the upper parts of the first spiral, wind generators and communciations antennae stuck out of it. The southward walls consisted mainly of glass, and behind ceiling-to-floor, wall-to-wall windows was the central restaurant where I had eaten lunch. Autopia cuisine relied on home-grown food as much as possible: hothouse fruit and vegetables, soy products and rice, fish, mussels and other seafood. Algae tasted better than I had thought. There were plans for more gardens on a new coral platform, but they hadn't been decided on yet since they meant bringing in soil from outside and, until a natural cycle could be established, fertilizer, they meant using much more sweetwater than now, and they would be hard to keep without the wild animals normally taking care of weed, transporting seed, loosening the soil. The Caretaker had decided to wait until the scientists working on the matter had found solutions to several of these crucial problems, and the Assembly hadn't even seen the need to discuss the matter.
The main principle of consensus-finding on Autopia is to decide a matter among those who are concerned - only them, but all of them. We have thought of several units on several levels that we think apt for that task, but we are sure the ones supposed to live by these here guidelines will find more and better units. All rules of living together are subject to change, and that is even more the case in this matter, as we hope will become clear in the following paragraphs.
The basic unit of decision is The Neighbours. It consists of the people living together in one unit of housing. In the original design of the spiral, such units are clearly seperated: there are, for reasons of safety against fire and flood, doors in the corridors. Between two of them, we have planned from three up to twelve "flats", consisting of one up to four rooms. If future Autopians decide to have different setups, they can easily change the layout by removing the seperating walls.
I lived in a two room flat, Jeff had a four-roomer with Jane and the kids, and Julia had an adjacent one-room-flat to retire to when she felt the need. They had their own kitchen, I shared one with the other two flats, which were two-roomers. All the flats were seperated from each other by walls made from Biofoam, a substance invented by one of the biologists in the team that founded Autopia. It was based on some sort of blubber that several species of algae created as a means of reproduction. The blubber was dried and pressed; the result was a bit like styrofoam but better: it swallowed every sound and made great thermal isolation. Who thinks of such stuff? Walls made from seafood sperm!
Neighbours feel the need to formulate rules for their Neighbourhood, they
may do so. If not, that's as well. It makes no difference: if there are
written rules, the council will have to meet if they are broken or if
someone wants them changed; if there aren't, the council will have to
meet when someone feels that someone else's behaviour violates his or
her own freedom or causes damage to the community - in other words, if
(unspoken) rules have been broken or someone wants them changed.
living in a Neighbourhood can call a meeting. Let us make this one explicit:
everyone, that includes newcomers and veterans alike, children as well
as seemingly senile seniors. We rely on the logic that one who understands
what a council is has enough intellctual ability to participate in it.
person calling the council has to be heard out, and so does a person whose
behaviour has been a reason for the council to be called, if such is the
case. Let us make this one explicit, too: no matter how wrong, weird or
irrelevant their issue seems to be at first glance, they have a right
to present their case for as long as they need to, but maximally until
they have to go to the toilet.
laughed out loud when I read this. What a simple way to measure talking
time! If someone wanted to make a hell of a point by making a devil's
share of words about it, he or she had to refrain from drink and food
for some days before the meeting.
The Neighbourhood council tries to come to a common decision. The person who called it has as much a say as anybody else, and so does a person whose behaviour has been a reason for the council to be called, if such is the case. If a consensus is not found, the Triple Neighbourhood is called into session.
The Triple Neighbourhood consists in the Neighbourhood in which the issue discussed arose plus the two adjacent Neighbourhoods. Since the Neighbourhoods at the two ends of corridors have only one adjacent Neighbourhood each in the spiral, the spiral is to be regarded as a circle (if you don't get it, make a sketch). The reasoning behind this second level of dicussion is to bring in additional disputants, concerned with the issue but more detached than the original Neighbourhood. If the inability to reach consensus in the Neighbourhood was created by psycho-social conflict within the group, bringing in additional opinions should help.
Triple Neighbourhood works like the Neighbourhood in all regards except
the following: if there is a consensus excluding only the person who called
the original council or ecluding only the person whose behaviour has been
a reason for the original council to be called, if such is the case, this
majority decision has to be accepted by the singly voter against it. If
person A brings up a case against person B, and all Neighbours except
A and/or B reach consensus, A and/or B have to accept the decision.
this fair? I could see the logic behind it: if someone didn't manage to
convince just a single one of at least eight Neighbours, chances were
his or her issue wasn't really one. Always keeping in mind the Autopian
mindset: because people knew they were creating their own legal environment,
they were careful with their decisions. It was not some sort of mudfight
to impress some supreme judge or government, but it was making one's own
rules. And the A-and-B-bit was to allow for compromise, which, after all,
can be defined as a decision that leaves neither party satisfied.
consensus is not reached, the Quarter is called into session. Since our
self-made island forms almost a circle, it can be devided into quarters.
Every Quarter consists of the nine adjacent Neighbourhoods on one floor.
Again, the Quarter works like the other councils. To be heard out completely
is, apart from the person originally calling a council and, should such
be the case, the alleged perpetrator, a representative of every faction
of opinion in the Triple Neighbourhood. In principle, of course, everybody
can have a say, but it seems practical to in practice limit this to the
factions. A decision is to be reached by the same consensual principles
as in the Triple Neighbourhood. If it is not reached, The Floor is called
Floor, obviosly, consists of four Quarters. We assume that issues reaching
this level of discussions are relatively complicated. We thus limit the
participation to persons aged twelve or above, except in such cases where
the person originally calling a council and, should such be the case,
the alleged perpetrator, are themselves younger than that. In this case,
their age is the limit for councellors.
The Floor tries to reach consensus by the same principles and applying the same rights of speech as the Triple Neighbourhood. Should it fail on first attempt, it calls a second session at least a week after the first one. In that second session, consensus is qualified: counsellors can agree with the decision, they can utter objections but agree, they can agree to disagree (i. e. stand aside), or they can, if their objections are that strong, veto the decision. In that case, the issue reaches The Assembly.
The Assembly meets once a month and consists of all inhabitants of Autopia. Those above the age of twelve are to vote, the younger ones only have a right to speak. The Assembly tries to reach consensus first. If it fails, it tries to reach qualified consensus. If it fails and if the issue on hand is not an urgent one, voting is postponed until the next meeting. Then another attempt is made at reaching qualified consensus. If that fails, a majority of two thirds is considered sufficient to reach a solution. In urgent cases, the two-third-vote is chosen immediately.
Be reminded: we assume that the assemblies on all levels are boards dedicated to find solutions to problems. They are not theatres for playing political roles in, to satisfy one's ego. We hope that the structure we present here is the basis for an atmosphere in which egomaniacs are discouraged from abusing the boards. We are therefore optimistic about the possibilities of reaching consensus or at least a two-third-majority. If the issue proves to be such a debated one that no such majority is possible, Autopia has reached a hurdle in its path that we cannot now foresee. Nor can we predict a possibility of overcoming that obstacle. Such a disagreement shows an underlying disharmony about basic values which have to be seriously discussed and which might lead to changes in the direction of Autopia that not all are willing to participate in.
That obstacle had arisen already. In the afternoon, I had browsed an Autopian history book - hardly thicker than a glossy magazine, and with as many photos. I had been able to take in most of Autopian lore in about two hours. The Great Schism, as it was called, figured prominently. To understand what it was about, I had had to read some work on Autopian economy first. Thankfully, it was written in a light style.
If property is theft, what is a thief? Don't even bother to think about the solution, there is none I know of. I just thought the sentence was good for getting your attention. Now that I have it, let me explain how Autopian economy works. It's easy: everybody gets what they need, in exchange for whatever they can contribute. Every grown-up is expected to do a certain amount of work. How much work that is depends on their own choice. But since doing nothing at all is a rather boring pastime, it turns out that a good deal of works gets done - without the duty, it's fun. When Autopia started, there were jobs everybody wanted to do, and others no one liked. So the councils had to arrange schedules to get the dishes washed. Once it had been organized, some people kept their aversity to dirty dishwater, others found they actually liked that occupation. If too many people show up to clean the dishes one day, some will go away to find a different task. Some of the really unpleasant tasks have been automated to a degree that makes them less unpleasant.
Many things are regarded as working for the common good: taking care of children, writing books, playing music, even plain thinking. Most Autopians like to do several things: they work in the fields in the morning, help cooking the food around noon and do some writing in the afternoon, for example. Some skilled labourers like to specialize in their job because they feel they need all the time to be good at what they do. Still, some of the engineers and architects play in a band (called "The Biorockers"), and some others play theatre.
What work does Autopia need? Food, maintenance, building are the basics. There is not much administration, there are no banks, no insurances, no lawyers, no advertising agencies. If someone feels there should be a newspaper, he or she publishes one - like I do right now. If someone feels the food is boring, he or she reads some cooking books and goes to work in the kitchen. If someone thinks he or she can cut other people's hair better than someone else, he or she gets some scissors and voilà, there's a barber shop (some others will do the singing). Work becomes play. Every work has some appeal, to some. And if it really really hasn't, one can still find delight in doing something that's necessary.
Haircuts, newspapers, food, furniture, books and all other everyday goods are obtained without paying. Restaurants and shops give them out for free. The underlying assumption of course is that you bridle your greed. If someone shops wihout sense, accumulating possessions in an obscene way, his or her neighbours will notice and if they see a problem, will bring it before the concil. But since goods are easily available, they don't bring status in our little world - so what reason would there be to possess things one doesn't need?You only need so many chairs for your room, there's a limit to how much you can eat, and you can listen to only so many CDs or read so many books.
And yet, it had been about CDs that the Great Schism arose. The problem were what was called "worldly goods", as opposed to goods that were produced inside Autopia. CDs and books, for example, had to be brought in from the outside world. Autopia had to pay for them. Autopia therefore produced goods and services for export. There was a webhosting unit on the atoll which sold much asked-for ".aa" domains. Books about the Commune were printed in and sold to the outside world. There was even an Autopian Cooking Book on the market, translated in several languages by Autopians. The nature of Autopian life and the mixed origin of ist inhabitants encouraged certain products and services: the creative atmosphere and the communal education of children made for great ideas in the fields of pedagogics, toys and games; the multilingual daily life furthered thought about language and work with translations; communal living stimulated thought about social issues, psychology, spirituality. Some Autopians regularly travelled to the outside world, teaching Autopian ideas. Organic food production and -processing was another field in which Autopians had become experts, and right now there was discussion if it was in tune with Autopian principles to have franchise producers and shops in the outside world. A similar discussion about organic cosmetics had brought the decision that the shallow waters of "beauty" care was to difficult a terrain for Autopists to put their toes in. Body Shop shareholders had been relieved.
But it was always difficult to balance Autopian production with the need for imported goods. Though there were great computer technicians on the artificial island, the procution of microchips asked for facilities that could not be installed in Autopia. So, expensive high-tech gear had to be brought in from the outside. A lot of food could be produced in the climate of Autopia, but much had to be brought in, which was expensive, too. And there were many small-scale things: pens and pencils and paper. Everything made from wood - there were no trees on the atoll. Some articles of clothing - there was a taylor, but he couldn't sew all the clothes for all Autopians. Books. And the damn CDs.
Hugo collected CDs. He insisted on ordering the latest recordings of works by all baroque, classical, romantic and modern composers. On average, he ordered two or three CDs a day. His neighbours objected, and the Triple Neighbourhood ruled that he was asking too much. Hugo didn't share that opinion, obviously, but he was overruled, since he was the one whose behaviour caused the council to deal with the matter. Anyway, he could understand their reaction, though arguing that music was as important for him as food. Since the council was aware of the importance of the decision, it decided to bring the cause before the Assembly.
Any council can decide by consensus that the matter on hand is of greater importance and should therefore be discussed by more people, even though the council has reached consensus (qualified or otherwise) about that matter. Matters obviously relevant to a bigger unit can be put on the relevant council's agenda directly; relevance is regarded as given if ten percent of the inhabitants of the unit in question support the matter being put on the agenda. For the originally planned size of Autopia of 365 inhabitants, that means that an issue to be put on the Assembly's agenda directly needs 36 supporters. We consider this a sensible, but not unfair obstacle against the occasional politico only seeking the limelight, or the odd useless idea (if there is such a thing as useless ideas).
Something strange happened then: the issue became a matter of Principle. With a capital P. No-one really understood why anyone should need to possess all those CDs, more CDs than one could sensibly listen to, even if one wanted to hear each of them only once. But a faction formed that thought it wasn't fair to deny someone his professed needs without some legal basis. They wanted to write a list of allowed goods. So-and-so-many CDs a week, maximum. So many newspaper subscriptions. So many chairs a year. A planned economy, in a way. Others held the opinion that this was against what was by now called the Spirit of the Constitution: freedom and diversity. They saw no problem with deciding every case anew. They thought that Autopians were responsible enough not to deny others their rights without good cause. They were the majority, but they weren't two thirds of the Assembly. It was a standoff. Egos became stiff, discussion became tense, compromise was impossible. The most ardent arguers for planned economy moved out. Most of their followers finally agreed to disagree, and the decision was made: Hugo was to order less CDs, download music from the internet instead, if possible - but there was no general ban on what one could legally consume.
Talking about legal consumption: Jeff had come in again. We lounged in the armchairs, looking out the window of my room on a glorious sundown, puffing a joint. "How come", I asked my next-door neighbour, "there is no law against any substance use 'round here?" "Why should there be?", Jeff asked. "There is no law against anything which endangers only the perpetrator." He went on a sermon about how, in his native USofA, there were laws on wearing a helmet when driving a motorcycle - while the only person in danger from not wearing a helmet was the driver him- or herself. It was his or her own business, wasn't it?
Justice: A Complete Compendium of Autopian Law, or: a comprehensive guide
what is allowed and what is not, this pompous git of a title being just
slightly longer than the content.
O dear, I thought. With a stray wave crashing dramatically against the wall, foam droplets sprinkling the window, my original doubts reared their numerous heads. A criminal justice based on words from a satanist. Alistair Crowley as Supreme Judge.
Jeff explained: every behaviour that someone thought of as harmful was discussed in a council. The rulings were written down as a sort of case law, but only to help with future discussions, not as a set codex. For what one neighbourhood thought was OK with them might not be OK with others. That was, I discovered, why Jeff came over to my place to smoke pot: he didn't want to do it around children, since they were too impressable. Likewise, neighbourhoods with children living in them seemed to be more strict on points like public consumption of drugs (including alcohol and nicotine, of course), nudity (my neighbourhood didn't mind), and anything else that could scare kids. Grown ups were considered as responsible for their own fears. Once there had been a case where a woman had obliged against a neighbour doing the dishes in the communal kitchen without any clothes on. She had said she felt threatened by his nakedness. Get over it, the council had ruled.
While we were still sitting in my room, birds flying past the window and becoming more and more colourful every time the joint changed hands, the Floor Eldest came for a visit.
we realize that there should be persons to focus everyday issues on, persons
one can turn to when there is a problem that asks for immediate attention,
we want to prevent that function from becoming an institution. We therefore
suggest that functionaries stay in a function for a year only. Since they
collect valuable experience, they may become functionaries again, but
to prevent them from becoming nerds in their profession, they have to
take intervals doing other work.
We hope that not many functionaries will be needed. We trust that Neighbourhoods can organize the washing of dishes and sweeping of floors without a superior authority to help them. Experience with flatmates teaches that this is not easy, but possible. We also trust that Neighbourhood and Triple Neighbourhood are able to choose someone from their ranks every time they meet to keep protocol and to keep track of the issues discussed until the next session. So, the first level a functionary is needed on, as we think, is The Floor.
The Floor Eldest can be the youngest as well as the actual eldest. It's just a name. He or she volunteers. If there is more than one volunteer, the Floor decides whom they want. If there is no volunteer, they have to think again or do without one - this is not kindergarten. The Floor Eldest is responsible for the welfare of all inhabitants living on his or her corridor. He or she takes care of getting things repaired, soothing conflicts if possible, keeping an eye and an ear on what is going on in that unit.
That was why the Floor Eldest, a petite brunette lady in her thirties, visited me that night. I was new here, and she wanted to see if I was comfortable. She hadn't come the evening before, she said, to give me some time to settle in. Well, she was definitely unsettling me now - she was one of those beautifully natural women you get in communes like that one. The common term, I believe, is Hippie Chick. She wore an Indian gown, something like a sari, which flowed around her form gracefully. When she sat, lots of leg showed. And she was really flirtatious. Alas, she flirted with Jeff.
Similar tasks are performed by the Quarter Eldest. They try to reconcile the sometimes contrasting interests of people living in their Quarter - like, allocating appropriate housing for everyone (if necessary, in a different Quarter). Like the Floor Eldest, they also keep track of proceedings of their unit's council. On the top level of Autopian society, The Caretaker takes care (hence, as you may have imagined, the name) of everyday buisnesses, as long as they don't need a communal decision. Every single Autopian can challenge every single act The Caretaker performs in his duties and call The Assembly to decide about it. So, if The Caretaker feels no decision is necessary for ordering a certain brand of cable to wire a newly-built part of Autopia, but someone thinks a different brand of cable should be chosen, The Assembly will have to decide. We sincerely hope that this example is a far-fetched one, since Autopians hopefully will develop a sense for the importance of matters.
Floor and Quarter Eldest as well as The Caretaker are focusses for organisational matters, not decision makers - decisions, keep that in mind, are to be made by the community.
Cute Hippie Chick Floor Eldest Susana gave me a taste of what that meant, "a focus for organisational matters". She said, "you'll want to find some task to do, once you've settled in. Take your time. So that you can think adequately about what to do, I'll tell you some areas in which we don't have enough workers at the moment. The kitchens for example are always rather crowded, apparently many Autopians like cooking. I'm in constant contact with the Guilds - " The Guilds?, I asked.
In addition to the levels of finding consensus that are based on housing, we can imagine several other, overlapping units of decision-finding. Depending on the nature of the issue discussed, it should always be brought before the most appropriate council. We suggest, for instance, that there are units organising production and services. We call them, in a bout of nostalgia, Guilds. When Autopia starts to function, there will be a Farmers' Guild, a Technicians' Guild, a Food Services Guild, an Artists' Guild and a Social Interest Guild. Numerous others can be imagined. Their number and their size are constricted by terms of practicability. If an issue clearly concerns a field of work - like, should food be grown organically or organo-dynamically, with or without natural fertilizers etc. -, the Farmer's Guild decides. If it comes, for example, to deciding what food should be grown, it may become necessary for Guilds to contact each other or to call The Assembly. For organisational reasons, Guilds choose a voluntary Guild Eldest.
"- and the Guilds are telling me that someone with your background as a writer could do some good in the PR department." There is a PR department?, I asked. "Yep. We call it Office of Desinformation, but that's just a frivolous in-joke." Laughter. "Seriously, but just as a suggestion, if you do want to use the skills you learned, that would be an opportunity. The Artists also can do with some poetic input. Of course, if you want to do something completely different, like manual labour, no prob." Susana showed some teeth, some thigh and even, if I wasn't mistaken, some crimson underwear. Nice sunset out there, I thought, and looked away. I was rather uptight about making too close social contacts too quickly. She left with Jeff, and I slept a restless sleep, punctuated by pot-induced bouts of thirst.
I visited the farms in the morning. The complete top floor with its exposure to the sun consisted of hothouses. The food was grown using complicated methods that took in account the fact that this was no natural island. It was hard to create funtioning eco-systems here. There were no animals, the only meat that was served in Autopia was fish and other seafood. Farmers, councelled by nutrition experts, tried to secure a balanced diet for everybody. Apparently, that included the production of psychoactive plants - a comparably big space was given to fungi, marihuana and other holy herbs. The Assembly had decided to grow them, even if it meant that there was less space for potatoes and rice. Soy was important, and boxes of herbs like cress growing on cotton wads lined the hothouse-windows up till under the roof. Farmers cultivated species that were almost extinct outside utopia, like wild growing varieties of banana, tomato and salad. They experimented with their unique attributes, trying to figure out which grew best under Autopian circumstances and always maintaining a certain mixture. Had some illness befallen a monoculture in the closed conditions of Autopia, a complete harvest would've been worthless. Pesticides were a no-no - for obvious reasons: apart from the residue seeping into human food, chemical and even biological weapons would have seriously disturbed any semblance of an eco-system that started to grow. Besides: Autopia tried to be as self-sufficient as possible, but it wasn't self-satisfied. Autopians did consider themselves as a kind of test-tube for experiments in sociology, technology, agriculture and, generally speaking, a better living.
I learned more about that in the afternoon when I followed Susan's advice and checked out the Department Of Desinformation, "Dpt. O'Des" for short. Before, however, I took my time to talk to farm workers and the trio of scientists that supervised them. They laboured hard, but took many breaks. They sweated in the hothouse, but smiled. They gasped for air, but managed to sing songs. Since pesticides weren't used, weeds had to be plucked out manually. Square inch for square inch, the fields were scrutinized and with expert knowledge of what plant was what, the ones that humans didn't have any use for were ripped out. It could have been frustrating work, but I didn't hear a single curse. Of course, I thought: everybody knew they wanted to do what they were doing, they could have dropped their hoe any second and left. I watched a couple do so - they disappeared behind some shrubbery and came back with relaxed smiles on their faces some time later. It was a scene that a socialist realist painter could have dreamed of: smiling faces, strong muscles playing under sun-tanned skin, healthy bodies that were obvioulsy more used to manual labour than I was. There were two main differences to the failed socialist attempt on paradise, however: these people were not working for some abstract plan, they ate the fruit of their labour every day. And they wore less clothes than a socialist realist painter would have had to paint on his kolchos workers: the sun burning on the special glass hothouse windows heated the air to a degree that made clothing optional. Upper torsi were usually naked, women and men alike had sweat trickling down into the trousers which most, but not all of them were wearing for reasons of security. Some of those who didn't have to fear the blade of a spade wore nothing.
Many Autopians were what the outside world liked to describe as freaks. Tattoos seemed to be almost mandatory, and so were piercings of parts I wouldn't have dreamed of putting a pointed steel thing into in my worst nightmares. But there were also sober-seeming, decently dressed folks. The dreadlocked head-count was higher than in Kingston, Jamaica, but so was the number of shaved Krshna-skulls. I met a man who wore a skirt and high-heels, a guy in a loincloth with puzzle-pieces tattooed all over his body, and several people of both sexes with nothing on at all. Some people smoked ganja, but nobody smoked cigarettes: Autopian policy was that drugs without any relevant effect on the brain made no sense and were, therefore, discouraged. For ardent smokers, there was a little getto in a corner of the sun-deck. The use of alcohol in public was seen as potentially dangerous to minors, former alcoholics and other susceptible people, but apparently Autopians managed to deal sensibly with that drug. Some had wine or beer with their lunch, but I had not seen a single drunkard yet. If you lived in Autopia, you didn't need to escape to some illusory Utopia.
In the afternoon, I visited the PR-offices. Just two rooms on the ground floor, by the hall that served as a kind of foyer or lobby. The PR-team was also there to welcome and guide visitors. When I came to say hello, they were in a flurry about a boat of Japanese journalists who were to arrive shortly. So I could watch their style: a warm welcome, but no slime. No cheesy flower-wreaths, no hula-dancers - this was not a tourist paradise. Just an attempt to make the newcomers feel at home immediately. I marveled at the communication skills of Gary who worked as a guide in that case.
The following is just a suggestion: science, ancient and modern, western and eastern alike, has produced many fine findings on how humans work. In societies outside Autopia, little of that knowledge is used to improve living conditions. We all know that illnesses have their roots to a great degree in pschosomatic causes, but doctors prescribe aspirin or antibiotics or painkillers. We all know that many conflicts have their roots in psychosocial disorders or sick structures, but they are dealt with by police and administration. Autopians, we hope, are people who are a lot more conscious of themselves than inhabitants of Ye Aulde Worlde. But it is our suggestion that certain structures are put in place to encourage dealing with internal and external conflicts in a sensible way. We don't want any semblance of a state religion, but organized meditations with experienced spiritual guides could help a lot in creating a peaceful society, be them yoga for yellybellies or t'ai chi for teatotallers. Just like labour skills are to be taught by experienced workers to newbies, it would make heaps of sense to have communication skills amplified by experienced people getting together, sharing their knowledge among themselves and with necomers willing to become Communicators. We suggest to appoint, within every unit were it is possible, people who have proven a certain skill in guiding others, in mediation and meditation, in analysing and solving tension within others or among several others. We imagine that every Quarter will have one Spiritual Guide - we'd like to call him a Guru, but we are afraid some could misunderstand some of the connotations - and one Communicator, so that people in need of such a person know where to turn.
Gary was a Communicator. He seemed to almost instinctively feel it when some unease, some tension arose in the person he was talking to. And he knew exactly what to do to ease the tension. Not like a talk-show host or some holiday club animator, with cheap jokes and empty smiles - but by addressing the reason for the tension, not dircectly, though, but on a tangent. For example, the Japanese guests seemed almost afraid of going for lunch in the central Mensa. Maybe they had been told we were vegetarians and ate only milk products like cheese and curd, with which many Japanese people have a problem in terms of digestion as well as in terms of culture. Gary sensed that something was wrong - and seemingly from nowhere produced a printed menu that he handed out.
It was a pleasure
to watch Gary guide the guests to interesting places, explain some of
the finer points of Autopian life - spread the word, in a way. Because
this was the major flaw in Autopia: it worked only because it was a limited
world. It wouldn't easily function as a concept for running communities
of bigger dimensions - like, countries, the European Union, or the world.
Not yet. The basic idea was that the Autopian example would serve as that
proverbial mustard seed from which grass roots grow - or something to
that effect. Long way to go, I thought. My sigh was drowned by the crash
of a wave.