The world lies in ruin. Everywhere buildings have crumbled. The sea boils with toxic spills. Nuclear fallout discolors the sky. The dregs of humanity war among themselves for survival. As a culture, we are no longer shocked by these images. These scenes have become cliché in our movies, books, and television shows. We expect it.
When I taught middle school, I asked my students to pick one issue that they were passionate about and write a poem about what that issue might look like in the future. They had the option of creating a utopian future (where the issue was solved) or a dystopian future (where the issue gets as bad as possible). Almost every student created a dystopia and they were frighteningly good at it. These twelve and thirteen year olds imagined the details of a horrific, bleak future that would have given Ray Bradbury and George Orwell chills. After all, these kids have grown up on the idea that they will be the generation to destroy the world. The only question seems to be how it will all go down.
While the goal of postmodern literature was originally to jolt society into a realization of where our actions would take us if left unchecked, our media flood now seems to have the opposite effect. As a society, we are skeptical of utopia and accepting of dystopia. At the same time, we have begun to accept the idea that visualization can help people reach there individual goals. I've seen countless articles on vision boards, manifestation, and name-it-to-claim-it slogans. If our thoughts create action on an individual level, what does that mean for our collective consciousness?
This month, I sat on my mat on the Santa Monica Pier and listened to Seane Corn speak on yoga and politics for The Worldwide Yoga Aid Challenge. As she talked about standing right, both in a pose and in our convictions in the world, I thought of my former students who couldn't imagine a bright future. It hit me then that I had a very vague notion of what a good future for this planet might actually look like. I have numerous aspirations for myself and my own personal future. I've read books on goal setting and I've written them in pie charts representing all areas of my life. I've practiced visualizations where I try to imagine all the sensory details of making it to my desired moment of success. Yet, I rarely do this for the world at large. I paused and tried to figure out why. Am I so self-centered? Do I feel overwhelmed by the world's issues? Or do I just need to shift my thinking?
It occurred to me that our society is like a binge eater. We've already eaten half the bag of chips so why not continue the damage and eat all the way down to those last grease fragments. We look around at the destruction we have created and think “we might as well go out with a bang.” Like an obese person sitting on the couch, we feel the pain of our situation but we don't believe we can change so we don't try. What is one more cookie or one more plastic bag or one more tank of gas or one more burger in the scheme of things? As yogis and health nuts, we don't accept this think as truth in individuals and we should not accept in our culture either.
Many people consider their resignation to the apocalypse a religious value or just plain common sense. I think resigning yourself to a cultural self-sabotaging spiral is lazy. Throwing your hands in the air and saying we're screwed is just a way to get off the hook. It is a very juvenile, self-important attitude to believe we will be the last ones to walk the earth. Like a teenager who doesn't realize that his parents knew rebellion before him, we turn a blind eye to all the ways past generations believed they had finally done the worst. Yet, even in the darkest times, visionaries made the impossible into the everyday. They had a picture in their heads of how the world could be different even though it sounded like nonsense to everyone else. As the late great Dr. Stephen Covey taught us, we must “begin with the end in mind” or we will never arrive at your destination. And as the Native American saying goes, “we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
So, here are the rules of The Utopian Project: