As Tom Engelhardt says, Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia is a brilliant book, a visionary
… novel 25 publishers rejected before [he] published it himself in 1975. Over the years, it has sold close to a million copies. It was way ahead of its time.
After all, his novel, about how Washington, Oregon, and Northern California seceded from the union in 1979 in the midst of a terrible economic crisis, creating an environmentally sound, stable-state, eco-sustainable country, hasn’t stumbled at all. It’s we who have stumbled. His vision of a land that banned the internal combustion engine and the car culture that went with it, turned in oil for solar power (and other inventive forms of alternative energy), recycled everything, grew its food locally and cleanly, and in the process created clean skies, rivers, and forests (as well as a host of new relationships, political, social, and sexual) remains amazingly lively, and somehow almost imaginable—an approximation, that is, of the country we don’t have but should or even could have.
It was no stylistic tour de force. Callenbach himself called it a “melodramatic tract.” But, as Bob Egelko wrote, “[T]he book inspired advocates of a small-is-beautiful philosophy and low-impact lifestyle, became required reading in many college courses, and was a founding document of the Green Party in Germany and elsewhere.”
After a 10-month bout with cancer, Callenbach died April 16, at age 83. His long-time agent found a message on his computer. Here is an excerpt from Epistle to the Ecotopians:
But let us begin with last things first, for a change. The analysis will come later, for those who wish it.Ernest Callenbach (1929-2012)
Hope. Children exude hope, even under the most terrible conditions, and that must inspire us as our conditions get worse. Hopeful patients recover better. Hopeful test candidates score better. Hopeful builders construct better buildings. Hopeful parents produce secure and resilient children. In groups, an atmosphere of hope is essential to shared successful effort: “Yes, we can!” is not an empty slogan, but a mantra for people who intend to do something together — whether it is rescuing victims of hurricanes, rebuilding flood-damaged buildings on higher ground, helping wounded people through first aid, or inventing new social structures (perhaps one in which only people are “persons,” not corporations). We cannot know what threats we will face. But ingenuity against adversity is one of our species’ built-in resources. We cope, and faith in our coping capacity is perhaps our biggest resource of all.
Mutual support. The people who do best at basic survival tasks (we know this experimentally, as well as intuitively) are cooperative, good at teamwork, often altruistic, mindful of the common good. In drastic emergencies like hurricanes or earthquakes, people surprise us by their sacrifices — of food, of shelter, even sometimes of life itself. Those who survive social or economic collapse, or wars, or pandemics, or starvation, will be those who manage scarce resources fairly; hoarders and dominators win only in the short run, and end up dead, exiled, or friendless. So, in every way we can we need to help each other, and our children, learn to be cooperative rather than competitive; to be helpful rather than hurtful; to look out for the communities of which we are a part, and on which we ultimately depend.
Practical skills. With the movement into cities of the U.S. population, and much of the rest of the world’s people, we have had a massive de-skilling in how to do practical tasks. When I was a boy in the country, all of us knew how to build a tree house, or construct a small hut, or raise chickens, or grow beans, or screw pipes together to deliver water. It was a sexist world, of course, so when some of my chums in eighth grade said we wanted to learn girls’ “home ec” skills like making bread or boiling eggs, the teachers were shocked, but we got to do it. There was widespread competence in fixing things — impossible with most modern contrivances, of course, but still reasonable for the basic tools of survival: pots and pans, bicycles, quilts, tents, storage boxes.
We all need to learn, or relearn, how we would keep the rudiments of life going if there were no paid specialists around, or means to pay them. Every child should learn elementary carpentry, from layout and sawing to driving nails. Everybody should know how to chop wood safely, and build a fire. Everybody should know what to do if dangers appear from fire, flood, electric wires down, and the like. Taking care of each other is one practical step at a time, most of them requiring help from at least one other person; survival is a team sport.
Organize. Much of the American ideology, our shared and usually unspoken assumptions, is hyper-individualistic. We like to imagine that heroes are solitary, have super powers, and glory in violence, and that if our work lives and business lives seem tamer, underneath they are still struggles red in blood and claw. We have sought solitude on the prairies, as cowboys on the range, in our dependence on media (rather than real people), and even in our cars, armored cabins of solitude. We have an uneasy and doubting attitude about government, as if we all reserve the right to be outlaws. But of course human society, like ecological webs, is a complex dance of mutual support and restraint, and if we are lucky it operates by laws openly arrived at and approved by the populace.
If the teetering structure of corporate domination, with its monetary control of Congress and our other institutions, should collapse of its own greed, and the government be unable to rescue it, we will have to reorganize a government that suits the people. [...]
Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2008:
Georgia Congressman Paul Broun, a Marine veteran and medical doctor, has launched a new crusade on behalf of our fine military men and women. Surveying the dangerous situation abroad, the progress (or lack thereof) in Iraq, and the ever-increasing number of American casualties, Broun has, after careful consideration, decided that the problem is pornography.
“As a Marine, I am deeply concerned for the welfare of our troops and their mission,” said Broun. “Allowing the sale of pornography on military bases has harmed military men and women by: escalating the number of violent, sexual crimes; feeding a base addiction; eroding the family as the primary building block of society; and denigrating the moral standing of our troops both here and abroad.”
Oh, so THAT’S what’s harming our troops. Porn. Of course!
Seriously, it’s just one step from there to blaming the Iraq debacle on…our permissive attitude towards sex as a nation! If it wasn’t for those stupid liberals and their low moral fiber…