All posts by Philip Kubiak

Phil’s Quotes

Here’s a quote from the introduction to the 1972 Viking Press edition of Yevgeney Zamyatin’s We by translator Mirra Ginsburg. We is one of those works in which understanding the era and location in which it was written is crucial to noticing some of the underlying themes presented by the author, as well as his intentions in writing the story. Zamyatin’s vision of an awesome totalitarian state is a response to the great political and social unrest he witnessed during the Russian Revolution and as a writer who had his works banned by the communist Soviet Party in the early twentieth century. This excerpt is a very powerful description of just how difficult it was for these artists, whom history has immortalized as the great Russian authors of the revolutionary period, to practice their craft. They had little little outside support and their government tried to punish them for their work, but they persevered in order to keep their country’s culture alive.

In Russia, Zamyatin (no longer a Bolshevik) threw himself with tremendous energy into the great cultural and artistic upsurge that followed the revolution. This was a period of fantastic contradictions. Russia lay in ruins after years of war, revolution, and continuing civil strife. Her economic life had all but wholly broken down. Transportation, communication, the food supply, the contact between city and village were in total disarray. Yet in the midst of hunger and cold, a band of dedicated spirits took it upon themselves not only to save the country’s culture but also to present to the hitherto deprived masses the cultural heritage of the entire world… Studios were organized where young writers were taught the elements of their craft by such writers, poets, and translators as Zamyatin, Gumilyov, Lozinsky, Chukovsky, and others. Both teachers and students often had to cross the frozen city on foot and sit, chilled and hungry, in unheated rooms, dressed in old coats, sweaters, mufflers, but  totally absorbed in the brilliant discussions of literature.

The next one is from the entertaining satirist Aristophanes’ Ecclesiazusae. I had previously read his comedy Lysistrata and loved its vulgar humor; it may have been the modern day translation, but I did not expect a Greek playwright to be so crude. The excerpt of Ecclasiazusae in our Utopia Reader is interesting because it’s a commentary on men who speak of their imaginative grand utopias in which everybody may live together happily and all societal issues will be somehow solved. In the text, Praxagora casually and ambiguously shoots down all of Blepyrus’ inquires into how exactly this dream utopia may work and properly function, stubbornly clinging to the notion that his simplistic ideas have the unfailing power to benefit greater society.

Blepyrus. Our clothes, what of them?

Praxagora. You have plenty in store, when these are worn out, we will weave you some more.

BL. Just one other thing. If an action they bring, what funds will be mine for discharging the fine? You won’t pay it out of the stores, I opine.

PR. A fine to be paid when such an action they bring! Why bless you, our people won’t know such a thing as an action.

BL. No actions! I feel a misgiving. Pray, what are “our people” to do for a living?

Chremes. You are right: there are many will rue it.

PR. No doubt. But what can one then bring as an action about?

BL. There are reasons in plenty; I’ll just mention one. If a debtor won’t pay you, pray what’s to be done?

PR. If a debtor won’t pay! Nay, but tell me, my friend, how the creditor came by the money to lend? All money, I thought, to the stores had been brought. I’ve got a suspicion, I say it with grief, your creditor’s surely a bit of a thief.

CHR. Now that is an answer acute and befitting.

BL. But what if a man should be fined for committing some common assault, when elated with wine; pray what are his means for discharging the fine? I have posed you, I think.

PR. Why, his victuals and drink will be stopped by command for awhile; and I guess that he will not again in a hurry transgress, when he pays with his stomach.

BL. Will thieves be unknown?

PR. Why, how should they steal what is partly their own?

BL. No chance then to meet at night in the street some highwayman coming our cloaks to abstract?

PR. No, not if you’re sleeping at home; nor, in fact, though you choose to go out. That trade, why pursue it? There’s plenty for all; but suppose him do it, Don’t fight and resist him; what need of a pother? You can go into the stores, and they’ll give you another.

BL. Shall we gambling forsake?

PR. Why, what could you stake?

BL. But what is the style of our living to be?

PR. One common to all, independent and free, all bars and partitions forever undone, all private establishments fused into one.

In Brave New World, Bernard Marx’s inability to assimilate to emotion-distancing social norms, the Savage’s horror at the coldness of modern day society, and Helmholtz’ intelligence and constant hunger for knowledge all culminate in a meeting with the Controller Mustapha Mond himself. The powerful leader patiently explains to them all how the rules of their society have come about out of what he claims to be strict necessity and decades of careful social reform. This excerpt from their discussion is somewhat a contradiction, as Mustapha Mond speaks of stability and the complete removal of any form of social instability, but the society actually owes it’s very existence to an artificial distancing of men and women of differing classes.

“… our world is not the same as Othello’s world. You can’t make flivvers without steel–and you can’t make tragedies without social instability. The world’s stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get. They’re well off; they’re safe; they’re never ill; they’re not afraid of death; they’re blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they’re plagued with no mothers or father; they’ve got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they’re so conditioned that they practically can’t help behaving as they ought to behave. And if anything should go wrong, there’s soma…”

The Savage was silent for a little. “All the same,” he insisted obstinately, “Othello’s good, Othello’s better than those feelies.”

“Of course it is,” the Controller agreed. “But that’s the price we have to pay for stability. You’ve got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art. We’ve sacrificed the high art. We have the feelies and the scent organ instead.”

Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece, Blade Runner

Are humans the only beings who can learn emotion, and is this the fundamental idea that comes to define and separate us from other beings? Director Ridley Scott explores these and other ethical issues in his 1982 film Blade Runner, a masterpiece of American science fiction. Based on novelist Philip K. Dick’s 1968 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Blade Runner has been immortalized as one of the greatest works of late twentieth century cinematography thanks to its standard-setting cyberpunk set design, eclectic soundtrack, and thought provoking questions about the extent of human rights.

            The year is 2017, and, as we would expect, the streets of Los Angeles are crowded with masses of people. However, in this era, rickety, crude spacecrafts, tremendous, towering black obelisk buildings, and animated billboards hundreds of stories tall add to the already chaotic setting. The city is under a constant state of torrential downpour and fog, with a seemingly endless amount of dirty neon signs peering through the gloomy musk. Muted colors, constant smokiness, and a score of synthesizers and futuristic sound effects all inspire the film’s finely executed gritty urban dystopia setting.

In the film’s universe, science has developed to the point where the creation of “Replicants,” genetically engineered beings who can be designed to be mentally and physically equivalent or superior to humans, is possible, and they are widely produced in the aim of slave labor by the Tyrell Corporation. They are given no rights under law, and are banned from existence on Earth. The title of the film refers to a sect of the police force who hunts down escaped Replicants and destroys them. Rick Deckard, himself a Blade Runner, is tasked with finding a group of advanced models of Replicants who are hiding themselves somewhere in Los Angeles in an effort to find a way to extend their genetically coded four year lifespans. As he searches for and finally confronts the renegades, he finds that the minds of these Replicants have tremendously developed beyond their initial design, and must consider the grey area between an intelligence that’s natural and one that’s artificial.

Replicants are created by humans with the sole purpose of servitude. One of the female Replicants is described as being a “… basic pleasure model…” and the others, thanks to their above-human strength, are used for hard labor. They are more than simple robots; they are designed to look, act, and think like we do, or often at a superior level than us. Thus, the central question posed by the film: what separates us from these beings we have created in our image? When the Replicants begin to behave in ways that were not originally intended and their behavior even further resembles that of humans, is it correct to strip them of the same rights we give ourselves, ban their presence from the Earth, and give orders to shoot them on sight?

The film’s commentary on the extent of human rights is similar to some of the themes raised in Aldous Huxley’s 1931 novel Brave New World, albeit in a different context. In this world, a person’s place in society is decided at birth, and they are chemically manipulated to their benefit or detriment as appropriate to their class. It is said and accepted that everybody shares equal rights, but we as readers know this is not true because some people’s basic abilities to think and reason for themselves are forcefully taken away from them. In both Brave New World and Blade Runner, members of society are born to varying levels of physical and mental prowess. The practice is widely accepted by the people of both societies without issue. However, as viewers looking in on the worlds depicted by Huxley and Scott from our time, their works raise several questions of equality in human rights and ponder the possibility of an intellectual being that is described by the mighty Tyrell Corporation as “more human than human.”


Opening introduction:


Diplomacy, Served Up OGS Style

I can’t say that I was absolutely thrilled when I learned of my most recent assignment. Nonetheless, as one of the few ambassadors of Bristonia responsible for developing diplomatic relations, I must take each facet of my job very seriously. My name’s Colin Starks, and I’m a servant to the people of the timeless republic that is Bristonia. My role entitles me to meet with various leaders around the world to negotiate everything from trade agreements to peace treaties, and I was made to understand that this next mission was of paramount importance. A positive relationship with OGS was crucial to our Bristonia enjoying her economic prosperity; I learned of this straight from the horse’s mouth during my briefing with our prime minister. My being sent to meet with some of the leaders of the nation was to be interpreted as a gesture of good faith, one of those publicity stunts so crucial to the game of politics. In the process, I was also expected to learn a few things about the political and economic structure of the republic, as of these things we knew very little. Yes, OGS has been very secretive and secluded throughout the decades. The only thing we’re absolutely sure of is their ability to manufacture products of excellent quality. The OGS standard is synonymous with the finest attention to detail and uncompromising durability, and the most well-off Bristonians are willing to pay small fortunes for the social status that comes with owning a piece of OGS craftsmanship. There are rumors that all citizens of OGS lead a life of extreme luxury due to both the exceptional nature of their goods and the economic prosperity they enjoy as a result of the high demand of their exports.

I speak of rumors because our lack of knowledge about OGS forces some rumors to morph over time into widely accepted fact. We have never had a diplomatic mission with the country in the past, and OGS is always conspicuously absent from all the various nationwide assemblies held throughout the year. Yet here I am speeding across vast, empty valleys below in a private jet, flying in the direction of the unknown with ice clinking quietly in the glass clutched by my right hand. My colleagues warned me to stay diligent during my visit with OGS; they explained some of the unapologetically unnerving stories about the society that were well known among Bristonians. My wife also had a few cautionary words for me, mostly that although OGS was also an English-speaking country, the people undoubtedly led different lives than what we would consider to be normal and traditional. It’s true that life in capitalist Bristonia hasn’t changed much over our country’s long history, which is more than can be said for the relatively new state of OGS and their recent wars and volatile independences. I admit all of these discussions did have an effect on me, but a swig from my glass did more than enough to calm my nerves.

Upon landing I was greeted by a representative of OGS’s minister of economy and taken to meet with the minister himself. Walking through the elegant airport, I was surprised to see that it was somehow deserted during this normally busy hour, as the aid and I were the only souls within sight. I was brought towards a black car, out of which stepped a tall, well-dressed man with a dark skin complexion and a smile that seemed to reach from ear to ear. I approached him and held out my hand to meet his.

“Mr. Starks, allow me to be the first to formally welcome you to Our Great Society! We have nothing but deep admiration for you Bristonians, and are very pleased that we may host you so you may observe our country and understand what we are so proud of. I am Donald DeFaro; I’m honored with the title of minister of economy. Please, come inside the car with me, so we may discuss today’s plan of events.” He spoke with an interesting accent, and a voice that threw itself far and wide; it was the voice of a leader. I followed his instruction and sat down in the comfortable and pleasantly decorated convoy.

“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. DeFaro. I must say I’m looking forward to learning everything I can about your fine nation with a very eager interest. OGS enjoys an amicable reputation amongst citizens in Bristonia. There is, however, still a certain aura of mystery surrounding your country, and people have taken it upon themselves to construe fantastic fairy tales about what goes on within your borders.” As I peered through the window to take in my first views of the streets of OGS, I realized just how naïve all these tall-tales really were. The city I was brought to examine had no streets of sparkling gold. Rather, what I saw outside was a very well organized industrial hub. All around me where the smoky outlines of large factory complexes, with steam billowing out of a plethora of chimneys and shadows of quick movements just visible through foggy windows, and tall, brick towers with grids of hundreds of windows along their walls, framing what I assumed were tiny apartment spaces.

“As you can see by the various manufacturing facilities around us, Mr. Starks, our nation is built around the hard-working spirit of the people of OGS. Here, everybody is a part of the modern proletariat, and everybody must work. These are the principles that have given us success and a healthy economy. You will notice this when we visit one of our factory centers, where we produce some of the goods that are so sought after all around the world. After this, we will travel to the seat of government, housed in a different district, where a feast shall be ready for us. There you shall meet and parlay with some of my colleagues: the leaders of OGS.”

I could see that the minister meticulously organized this schedule as to impress me, so I may bring back good word of OGS to my superiors. The mention of a grand feast and a socializing hour were no different. I wasn’t going to let myself be swayed easily, however. I already had some prying questions about what I was seeing. Just as I had noticed a lack of people at the airport, looking out onto the streets I saw no pedestrians on the sidewalk, no cars on the roads. I raised this point to my guide.

“Ah yes, there is a simple explanation to this. You see the clock just struck 1600 hours, and all across OGS the hours between 800 and 1800 are designated for work. You have seen no people on the streets nor in the airports because every citizen is presently busy with his or her assigned role in one of these numerous manufacturing centers you see outside. After work hours conclude, everybody is free to enjoy any diversions they wish in their own respective districts. We are currently in District Adrenaline, so named because of the citizens…” Defaro suddenly hesitated. “… fondness… of activities that get their blood rushing.”

I thought this was a strange comment, and a strange name for a neighborhood, but nonetheless I smiled and nodded in the minister’s direction. We soon arrived at our destination, and I was brought on a tour of a manufacturing facility that was responsible for the production of luxurious home furniture. The sheer level of commotion, of movement and of hustle and bustle inside, was overwhelming at first. However, the more I observed the workers by the production line, those preparing raw material, and those boxing up finished products, the more I realized that this was an organized chaos. The amount of time each group of workers spent on a single piece of furniture was unnerving. I could plainly see how each product is indeed manufactured to the highest detail and quality. The goods exported by this nation deserved their upscale reputation. However, I didn’t understand how they could afford the time to be so meticulous in their manufacturing process, and still maintain a steady level of production. Certainly, this must require a huge number of employees to be working around the clock at this factory. I remembered what I saw outside the window on the drive over here; there were factory buildings as far as I could see. How large did OGS’s population have to be to allow for this?

All of my questions went unanswered as minister Defaro pushed me into the employee cafeteria, claiming that having an end-of-work-day dinner here would make my experience more authentic, and yelling that he would return promptly to resume our planned schedule. Before I even could think of protesting, he was gone, and I was left alone in this enormous mess hall. All around me, workers were sitting down at their tables in front of plates where meat, potatoes, and vegetables were piled massively high. As I was admittedly feeling hungry at this time, I stood in line to receive my serving. When I helped myself to what I believed was a healthy portion of some kind of mystery meat I could not identify, I noticed several people glaring at me inquisitively as they piled their plates high with absurd amounts of food. I would have to ask the minister as to whether he was aware of people following such extreme diets.

Suddenly, I could hear a bell ringing loudly, and all the people around me started to get up and walk towards a single direction. Men approached me, shouting, “Come on then, work is over. You know how all this works! Let’s go, up you go, time to leave, come then.” I was being lifted off my seat, forcefully pushed towards a set of doors. I tried to explain myself and tell them who I am, but the horror of the whole situation caused my words to get caught in my throat. Through these doors lay the darkness of the nighttime, the uncertainty of the street, and the mystery of OGS.

Once I was outside, I was finally able to see people walking along the sidewalks, but I was alone without my guide. The doors to the building I had left were locked shut behind me and I couldn’t find the car that had brought me here. I decided it was best if I stay close to this area, as somebody simply will have to come get me from here eventually. Part of me longed for the safety of the minister’s company and the comfort of the feast, but at the same time I knew this was my opportunity to see what happens here after work hours have concluded. There was much activity happening around: some people milling about the sidewalks, some coming in and out of the brick apartment complexes, some driving cars. I noticed the cars were being driven at speeds that no Bristonian would have dared attempt lest he be penalized with a costly speeding ticket. OGS must have a more relaxed stance on road speed limits in major cities, I reasoned. As a man whose job is to visit different countries and investigate their cultures, I often found myself drawn to observing such little differences in organization. I started to wander aimlessly to look for more of such discrepancies so I can have much to talk about when I return to Bristonia and am inevitably met with prying questions from my colleagues.

However, my attention was constantly drawn back to the automobiles on the street. They were moving at speeds well beyond any I’ve ever seen, or any reasonable human being would be comfortable with. The drivers were slicing through traffic, driving the wrong way, and hugging the curves tightly as if emulating scenes from an action-driven B-movie. All around me I heard the screeching of tires against asphalt, the rumble of engines being pushed to their limits, and the shriek of metal scraping against metal, which was apparently coming from accidents happening on adjacent streets. I stopped dead in my tracks to try to take this all in, and just then a four door sedan plowed head on into the wall right in front of me at a spectacular speed, the momentum of which catapulted the driver through his windshield. His body slid off the wall and lay in a crumpled heap in front of me, the eyes lifeless and bloodied.

At this moment I turned and ran as fast as my legs would take me in the opposite direction. I had already lost my sense of direction and the building that I had originally intended on staying close to, but I could not stay in one place with this madness happening around me. Turning the next corner, I found a band of motorcyclists plowing towards me on the sidewalk at an absurd speed. I clung to the wall as they passed me, performing perilous wheelies and handstands. One of these riders lost his balance and skidded on the ground while simultaneously being crushed by his bike. He was not wearing a helmet nor any protective gear, which should have been an obvious necessity considering the danger of his stunt. The injuries he sustained were surely fatal. I could not bring myself to look on much longer and kept running along.

I was witnessing the same events on every street that I ran past. There was a total disregard for safety and moderate, rational thought. All citizens were exposing themselves to extreme danger, and it seemed nobody around was sane enough to realize the hazard behind their actions. It was as if there had been a complete suspension of rational regard for one’s health in the pursuit of daredevilry.

My leg muscles were sending distress signals to my brain, begging me to stop my running when I noticed DeFaro’s car pulling up beside me. The door closest to me opened; I didn’t need to be told to get in. The minister was sitting inside, and I lay panting next to him. “Do you have an explanation for the hell that is going on out there? In your own illustrious nation?” I demanded of him.

Defaro sat looking pensively outside the window. I could tell he was frustrated by the restrained tone of his voice that was so booming earlier and the fact that he didn’t look at me when he spoke. “You weren’t supposed to see this. Why did you leave the factory, Mr. Starks?”

“Were you intending on showing all of this to me, or was I supposed to conveniently leave this anarchy out of my report to the president?”

“Oh, no, this is no anarchy. Believe me, this is all permissible by the Constitution of Our Great Society. Actually, it’s something that’s required of all citizens. What you saw was the good people of District Adrenaline willingly participating in their own government mandated acts of extremity. Everybody here loves their intense lifestyles and is very happily accustomed to the extreme actions they must take as citizens of District Adrenaline, Knowledge, Sin, or Sadism. And we public servants, residing in District Authority, forfeit our right to such a glorious way of life so we may govern our people.”

We came to a stop. Defaro silently left the car and entered into a building similar to that of the factory complex I had visited before. I was sure that this wasn’t the feast I was promised, but I had no choice to follow him inside.

“But what about the lives of your people?” I asked, as I struggled to keep up with his pace through the inside of the building. He was leading me through several series of doors, but it was too dark to see what lay around me. “I saw countless amounts of meaningless deaths while I was out there. How can you govern people if you aren’t interested in their well-being?”

“Every citizen is a vital cog in the well oiled machine that is Our Great Society. And what is a cog but a simple device with a function, and another cog pushing it to aid in that function’s execution? In our society, a citizen serves his country by working in a manufacturing plant, directly contributing to the health of our economy. But the quality of the excellent goods we produce requires several hours of work in an unrewarding environment. So the trick is to manipulate this cog, to make it love its function without noticing the pain of its execution. Thus, to keep our citizens’ minds from splitting under the weight of the physical and mental duress of factory life, we give them their pursuit of extremism to busy themselves with. They are content at work, as they are looking forward to satisfying their constant hunger for thrill-seeking, for hedonism, for knowledge…”

“But this is monstrous!” I protested, uncomfortably aware of the increasing hostility of our conversation, but nonetheless determined to speak against the treachery I am hearing. “How can you pretend to serve the interests of your people when you are the very ones who are forcefully deciding those interests for them? You have no respect for them and their rights as human beings!”

“Mr. Starks, I understand that at this point you know well more about the rules of our nation than we have intended on sharing with you. You of course understand that we do have a reputation to uphold with the countries that we trade with, including your own fine nation. Thus we will have to resolve this issue somehow, but for now, know this: each one of our tens of millions of citizens—“

“Tens of millions?” I had to interrupt him here, as this far surpassed any estimate Bristonia held of the population of OGS.

“Yes, indeed, tens of millions. How else would our production level be so great while maintaining the high quality of our products? We owe this population to a miracle of modern technology, and allow me to present to you now another scientific innovation that allows our society to thrive. As I was saying before, each one of our tens of millions of citizens is of the upmost utility to the rest of society as a whole, in life…” He paused; suddenly his ear-to-ear smile crept over his lips. It was the smile of a malevolent despot. “… and in death.”

The room around us was thrust into light. My eyes struggled to adjust to the sudden brightness, but when they finally did, I would have preferred to stay blind forever than witness the sight I was about to behold. We were in a production facility with conveyer belts, containers, and furnaces not unlike the furniture mill I had visited before. But in this room, the raw material was no longer wood and iron. It was the corpses of men and women, stripped of their clothing and cut up into pieces. They were being fed into some grisly machine in which human remains entered on one side and bright red raw hunks of meat emerged on the other. My brain initially refused to process what my eyes were seeing, but soon I cracked and fell over onto the floor as I heard the monster continue to speak.

“I trust you enjoyed your meal at the factory cafeteria earlier today? You Bristonians are said to fatten your game up before you send it to the chopping block, but we’ve found that years of hard labor are what really make the meat most tender and delicious!”

I understood all of this. An involuntary gag reflex took over my whole body and shook me to my core as I purged out every evil thing I had taken into my body in my time in this horrendous nation of cannibals. I began to crawl away from the man who seemed to enjoy my suffering, and used a nearby ledge to hoist myself up. I was in a daze, in no state to make any substantial movements, but I knew I needed to formulate some kind of escape plan. I leaned over this ledge to regain my balance, and realized it was overlooking a deep precipice. I could just make out shadows of heads, feet, arms, and other organic components of the human body that were thrown together haphazardly into a pile below. Then I felt a soft push behind me, gentle, almost guiding me over the edge. I fell forward, fall toward the darkness, fell forever.

Utopian Societies in the 1960s

During the 1960s, many small intentional communities were formed with the purpose of following the ideas of free love, social protest, and drug use that have come to define the decade. Further study of three communities established during this time period offer a perspective on the aspirations of the stereotypical hippie who turns away from greater society to live amongst a small group of people with no laws or judgement. The loosely formed communities of Tolstoy Farm, the Perry Lane Cabins, and Drop City were constructed as havens for free expression and life away from subjective social norms, where participants could find their own personal utopias during a time of great sociopolitical strife.

Many intentional societies are formed around the teachings of certain philosophers, both old and new. One such example is the Tolstoy Farm commune that was formed in the rural town of Davenport, Washington in 1963. Leo Tolstoy was a novelist and great thinker who was active in the mid to late 19th century, during which he wrote his most famous works War and Peace and Anna Karenina. The themes present in his writings inspired a group of activists to follow him, who called themselves Tolstoyans. Tolstoyans follow the values Tolstoy modeled after Jesus Christ’s “sermon on the mount” from the New Testament. Specifically, Tolstoyans followed the following tenets:

  1. Love your enemies.
  2. Do not be angry.
  3. Do not fight evil with evil, but return evil with good.
  4. Do not lust.
  5. Do not take oaths.

The original Tolstoy farm was founded in South Africa in 1910 by Mohandas Ghandi. This is where he first began to teach the ideas of pacifism and non-violence, keeping strictly faithful to these five tenets. Over fifty years later, when Hue Williams founded the second Tolstoy Farm, it was with the intention of providing a base for organized government protests, which were hugely popular during the decade. Although he did create his society based on the ideas of Ghandi and Tolstoy that he admired, his adaptation of the Tolstoyan Farm was more of an attempt to live free of the influence of government, and try to disrupt that influence on others in the form of social protest. In the 120 acre community, which at its height was comprised of close to 50 individuals, consumption of drugs and promiscuity were promoted. Monogamous relations were actually heavily discouraged. This lead to severe rifts in the originally tightly-knit community, and would eventually contribute to its demise. During the five years the community was active, its inhabitants lead lives of very few comforts. Williams’ rules prohibited members from holding traditional jobs outside of the society. Instead, they relied on cultivating their own sources of food and pleading for donations. One of Tolstoy Farm’s few sources of income came from the sale of illegal drugs, specifically marijuana that was grown on site. There was little significant infrastructure in the community, as one reporter described described:

Dotted with shacks and makeshift abodes, it’s reminiscent of Hoovervilles of the 1930’s.

Hoovervilles were makeshift shacks built in the outskirts of major cities during the Great Depression, named after then-president Herbert Hoover.

The individuals who congregated together on the Tolstoy Farm did not have many skills to maintain their community. They were primarily interested in social protest and a laid back way of life away from society that they believed was stifling them. In 1968, the Farm was faced with the culmination of several major problems that had plagued the community since its inception. The society was under heavy police scrutiny due to their sale of illegal drugs, and members were leaving the community, largely fed up with the pressure to refrain from traditional relationships. Later that year, a fire destroyed most of the constructions on the site, and this was the final nail in the Tolstoy Farm’s coffin. The plot of land was abandoned, and later reclaimed and built into a farming collective, which it remains to this day.

Many of the social experiments organized during this decade were small groups of people that congregated together with the intention of consuming psychedelic drugs. LSD is a drug widely associated with the 60s, and its use was allowed in the United States until 1966. Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey were two popular figures who wrote and spoke extensively in support of the drug for its medicinal and spiritual benefits, and they were both participants in a short-lived society which resided in several wood cabins on Perry Lane, Menlo Park, California. Timothy Leary was a Harvard professor who was dismissed form the university after conducting studies of the effects of psychedelic drugs on the human mind. He continued to lecture about the benefits of psilocybin and LSD around the country, and remained active in his support of psychedelics until his death in 1996. Ken Kesey, author of the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, was a participant in the CIA-financed MK-Ultra experiments which looked to develop psychedelics as a form of mind control. After this, he organized the Perry Lane cabins settlement and traveled around the country with his “band of merry pranksters” to promote psychedelic drug use, as detailed in Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Tests.

Timothy Leary
Ken Kesey

The Perry Lane cabins were organized with the specific intention of bringing people together to discover their own utopias through companionship and psychedelic drug use. Participants engaged in “acid tests,” which were parties in which the drugs were taken and experiences were shared and discussed. The events inspired the title of Wolfe’s book, who wrote of the unity of the members in this society:

There were many puzzled souls looking in, but we were all captivated… Perry Lane was too good to be true. It was Walden Pond, only without any Thoreau misanthropes around. Instead, a community of intelligent, very open, out-front people who cared deeply about one another and shared… and embarked on some kind of adventure in living.

Perhaps the most well known and accomplished utopian society during the decade was the artist’s commune formed in Trinidad, Colorado in 1965 known as Drop City. After meeting at the at the University of Kansas, where they all studied painting, Jo Ann and Gene Bernofsky along with Clark Richert decided to buy 6 acres of land so they may live together cheaply and focus on making great works of art. They recruited a few local artists and built small shacks on the property out of any material they could get their hands on (most often the metal roofs of discarded automobiles) in the shape of geodesic domes, a sphere-like conglomeration of various shapes designed by the American inventor Buckminster Fuller to be completely structurally efficient. These large metal domes laid out with various colors became the recognizable symbol of Drop City.

The society would accept anyone who was willing to create, accept a simple life, and share in some of the beliefs of Drop City’s original founders. They did not believe in work for pay in the traditional sense, and it was important to them that everyone in the community be equal in their poverty, as Jo Ann Bernofsky described:

It’s important to be employed; work is important, but we felt that to be gainfully employed was a sucking of the soul and that a part of one of the purposes of the new civilization was to be employed, but not to be gainfully employed, so that each individual would be their own master and we idealistically believed that if we were true to that principle, that if we did nongainful work that the cosmic forces would take note of this and would supply us with the necessities of survival.

The necessities of survival that she speaks of were mostly  gained through scavenging and donations (some from Buckminster Fuller himself). For some time, the community enjoyed its reclusion and occupants were happy to be able to produce art. Soon enough, Drop City found celebrity thanks to being profiled in Time magazine in 1967 and rumored visits of famous musicians such as Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison. Several citizens began to sell their artworks to be displayed in galleries. This went against the intentions of the original founders, who left in 1968. Drop City grew to the size of about forty people who continued to work on art together, their most well-known piece being The Ultimate Painting.


The Ultimate Painting

Excitement about the renegade community died out quickly, however, and life in Drop City was exceedingly difficult due to the same lack of resources that contributed to the downfall of the Tolstoy Farm. Abandoned by its founders and with no attempt to better the grounds on which it stood, Drop City disbanded at the end of 1970. The following article reports on conditions towards the end of the society’s existence:

The kitchen was filthy, and there was no soap because money was short. Hepatitis had recently swept through the commune… Sleeping quarters were seriously overcrowded. The outhouse was filled to overflowing, and there was no lime to sterilize it. In 1970, Drop City had become a laboratory dedicated to a totally minimal existence.

A large reason as to why these societies were short lived is the lack of proper infrastructure
 . The people who organize these societies seem to have lacked the skills or simply did not attend to the design of plumbing, food sources, and other necessities to allow their communes the ability to flourish. All of these experimental societies of the 1960s were formed by just a few individuals with the desire to turn away from greater society and their own ideas of what it takes to make a utopia. 

Stanisław Lem’s Futurological Congress

Decades Old, Yet Relevant Questions in Stanisław Lem’s Futurological Congress

Futurology analyzes the successes and failures of present technologies in order to predict new scientific innovations that may arise at any point in the future. In Stanisław Lem’s novel The Futurological Congress: From the Memoirs of Ijon Tichy, a large group of hilariously incompetent individuals who call themselves futurologists are gathered to solve the sociopolitical issues that have plagued mankind for as long as it has existed. In their solutions, the most difficulty is encountered in their obligation to respect the basic rights entitled to all citizens. Thus, they decide to look past such a minor formality in order to put in action all the spectacular ideas that have been conceived. One of these men will be unwillingly sent forward in time to observe the ripple effects of the policies that result from this congress. Through satirical yet astute criticism of a dystopian alternate society and its obliviously governed inhabitants, Lem’s novel forces us to ponder the extent of authority in our own lives, our use of perception-altering drugs, and other topics of controversy that have only become more relevant since the book was first published in 1971.

We are introduced to our protagonist, a Mr. Ijon Tichy, as he travels to Costa Rica to participate in the eighth world futurological congress. Tichy is a space traveler who is invited to participate by futurologist Professor Tarantoga, who is a recurring character throughout the book. Things are not well in Lem’s caricature of our world: the population is rising at a tremendous rate, terrorism is omnipresent to the point where Tichy’s hotel room comes with a guarantee of being bomb-free, and the members of the congress are desperate to come up with answers. After several futurologists present their own absurd solutions, the meeting becomes the target of a government-administered attack of euphoria inducing “benignimizers,” which are dissolved into the water supply and sprayed into the air. Tichy and Tarantoga escape to the sewers underground, but Tichy suffers from a series of intense hallucinations, in which he sees sewer rats standing upright playing bridge in one moment and is flying around with an imaginary jetpack in the next. Finally, Tichy, believing everything around him to be his hallucinations, is shot by an escaped criminal whose bullet Tichy is sure is just another invention of his own imagination. Our protagonist wakes to learn that he has been preserved for decades in an effort to cure him of his psychological and physical ailments, and now must live in a world where the issues futurologists were tasked with solving are masked from the populace by an abundance of complex drugs suited for any purpose.

This sudden revival in the year 2039 marks a dramatic change in setting as well as style of storytelling. Here, Lem explicitly explains that several of the absurd scenes Tichy witnessed in the past world have been hallucinations. In the later part of the narrative, it is left to the reader to judge the validity of the obviously delusional protagonist’s observations. In both halves of the novel, Lem presents far-fetched, overreaching resolutions to social issues that are exaggerated in the traditional black humor approach to sociopolitical criticism, known well amongst satirists such as Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller. Lem’s opinions on such issues manifest themselves in his explanation of the ridiculous policies that allow society to function at a debatable degree of success.

In the first world presented to the reader, Lem demonstrates the absurdity of the congress from which the novel takes its name. The incompetence of Lem’s futurologists and the superfluous fanfare surrounding the whole event is essentially Lem’s criticism of the luxuries enjoyed by powerful men. While they enjoy performances “in which an all-girl orchestra played Bach while performing a cleverly choreographed striptease” (Lem, 6), the world seems to be on its last hinges around them, with the frequent mentions of kidnapped diplomats, assassination attempts, and dwindling resources. When they finally come around to discussing the plights of their society, it is hilariously inefficient:

Each speaker was given four minutes to present his paper, as there were so many scheduled—198 from 64 different countries. To help expedite the proceedings, all reports had to be distributed and studied beforehand, while the lecturer would speak only in numerals… emphatically repeating: 4, 6, 11, and therefore 22; 5,9, hence 22; 3, 7, 2, 11, from which it followed that 22 and only 22! Someone jumped up saying yes but 5, and what about 6, 18, or 4 for that matter; [futurologist] Hazelton countered this objection with the crushing retort that, either way, 22. (20)

The reader may already be scoffing and realizing Lem’s point in criticizing the seemingly organized discussions that are political debates. By the time the next line is read, the reader is likely giggling and shaking his head at the absurdity of the congress as a whole: “I turned to the number key… and discovered that 22 meant the end of the world.”(20)

In the events leading up to our protagonist’s hibernation, we observe the government experimenting with the administration of calming chemical agents upon its citizens. “Benignimizers” are unknowingly consumed; “Love Thy Neighbor” bombs are dropped from planes. Tichy describes his thinking under the influence of such compounds as docile and accepting: “Every analytical reflex was as if submerged in thick syrup, wrapped and smothered in a porridge of self-satisfaction, all dripping with the honey of idiotic optimism…”(16)

The world of the future is where most of Tichy’s narrative takes place, and it is the setting in which the government’s ambitions to control the populace culminates in a final and tremendous abuse of power. Society is manipulated by the administration of various chemicals; meticulously developed variants of the original “benignimizers” of Tichy’s time. Citizens are either coerced into taking these drugs or unknowingly consume them, and are under their influence during every waking moment of their lives. Pills are commercialized for every possible derivative of basic human necessity. For anybody who is lonely, “… you can take a drug called duetine which doubles your consciousness in such a way, that you can hold discussions with yourself on any topic (determined by a separate drug).”(81) For the overly ambitious, there’s “… authentium. Creates synthetic recollections of things that never happened. A few grams… and a man goes around with the deep conviction that he has written The Divine Comedy.”(81) There are apparently even chemicals to alter physical appearance, as Tichy speaks of a group of black men who have effectively changed their ethnicity with the help of a drug called caucasium (97).

As Tichy becomes increasingly familiar with his new environment, he realizes that the societal struggles he was tasked with solving as a futurologist are not only still present, but also have considerably worsened. There are 29.5 billion living people on the planet (67), but somehow Tichy is made to believe that all the strife that defined his previous life had disappeared. It is still not apparent how these drugs managed to inspire such extreme widespread benevolence until we once again meet Professor Tarantoga, this time in the future world. He explains to Tichy that present society is functional due to a heavy dependence on chemicals known as “mascons,” which simultaneously induce sensory, visual, and auditory hallucinations to “falsify the world.”(113) Unbeknownst to Tichy and the entire population, they are administered these mascons with every meal they eat, every glass of water they drink, and every breath they take. The drug is simply everywhere. Over dinner at a luxurious restaurant, Professor Tarantoga offers Tichy a separate, illegal drug that will block the effects of these mascons, and only under its influence does Tichy understand that everything before him is a façade:

The magnificent hall, covered with carpets, filled with palms… the orchestra in the back that played exquisite chamber music while we all dine, all this had vanished. We were sitting in a concrete bunker, at a rough wooden table… The music was still there, but I saw now that it came from a loudspeaker hung on a rusted wire… the silver dish with steaming pheasant had turned into a chipped earthenware plate containing the most unappetizing gray-brown gruel…(114)

Professor Tarantoga brings the point home with a blunt affirmation of an inevitable truth: “Ours is simply a world in which more than twenty billion people live… In such a world, where are you going to find Chablis, pheasants…? The last pheasant died a quarter of a century ago.”(117)

It can be assumed that in some consecutive meeting of futurologists, held while Tichy was nothing but a frozen block of ice awaiting revitalization, this was suggested as a final solution to exponential growth of the population, opposition to authority, free will, and other pitfalls of humanity’s existence: mind-controlling drugs, to be administered forcefully or under the illusion of choice. Over years of chemical experimentation, starting with the benignimizers and Love Your Neighbor bombs of Tichy’s time, it has been found that a mind whose judgment is clouded by a veil of meticulously designed artificial satisfaction is open to complete manipulation. It’s eerie how relevant Lem’s observations remain forty years after Futurological Congress’s publication. In today’s prescription drug culture, chemical imbalances are quickly diagnosed and pills are prescribed to stimulate the brain, relax it, or anything in between. Lem’s fictional authority, so indifferent in its control, also parallels recent reports suggesting an authorized total invasion of our online privacy. Tichy’s memoirs leave us questioning our own relation to our leaders and the psychoactive chemicals we allow ourselves to consume, and Lem’s tongue-in-cheek approach to observing and criticizing these same issues is how he skillfully balances his work between social commentary and science fiction.

“Brazil” by Terry Gilliam


It is unclear when the term “bureaucracy” first began moving from its definition of a well-organized governance system of competent individuals to take on the negative connotations for which it is mostly used for today, but the clumsiness of the over-reaching ministry depicted in the 1985 film Brazil certainly does not bring the term any redemption. Throughout director Terry Gilliam’s socio-political satire, his authoritarian party mistakenly captures innocent citizens, sloppily covers up any erroneous incident, and constantly sends its employees running around to seek out individuals to sign stacks of paperwork that will inevitably be returned for lack of the proper amount of official stamps.

One such government employee is our own protagonist, Sam Lowry. A wiry, balding, day dreaming type, Sam’s work consists of collecting and organizing the paperwork which his ministry seems hopelessly reliant on. When he falls in love with one of the several citizens his government falsely accuses of being a terrorist, he joins a group of dissenters who are the only sane characters Gilliam presents to us. The crux of the film centers around Sam using what little power he has to protect his lover and advance the fight against the ministry while keeping his rebellious actions hidden from his rulers. As the plot progresses, we see our protagonist develop from a nervous and dissatisfied do-gooder to a spontaneous and motivated activist.

The ruling body remains unnamed throughout the film, but displays power through ambiguous and rather ridiculously named branches, such as the crude but somehow separately distinct ministries of “Information Retrieval” and “Information Distribution.” The party has become adept at pulling a hood over the eyes of its citizens, masking all of its vast inefficiencies by blaming them on missing paperwork or the actions of an undefined sect of extremists curtly dismissed as terrorists. Such elaborate ruses are what prevent society from noticing they seem to be governed by a haphazardly organized group of unelected imbeciles. The design of Gilliam’s governing authority is likely in some level influenced by the Orwellian totalitarian regime. Although there is a conspicuous lack of telescreens or any form of “thought police”, the technologies of Brazil are equally as ambitious yet extremely unreliable. There are paperwork processing machines that commit errors ultimately costing human lives, computer terminals that flicker and malfunction when displaying citizen information, and even breakfast machines that spill coffee over burnt toast. Throughout the film we observe the action amidst muted, grey set designs that are overwhelmingly bleak and instill a feeling of hopelessness and submittal. Gilliam is cleverly ironic when he names the overcrowded, run-down apartment building in which Sam makes his residence the “Shangri-La Towers.”

Another criticism Gilliam sneaks into several scenes throughout his film is that of society’s obsession of image and the way they present themselves. Sam’s own mother and her group of friends are the victims of grossly superfluous plastic surgery. One of these women is forced to wear bandages over most of her face after a botched procedure, and as her state worsens she tells Sam in a pleasant tone that it’s “just a minor complication, the doctor told me I’ll be beautiful soon,” until one of the last scenes of the film is the woman’s funeral. However, Sam’s mother’s surgery is such a success that she refuses to speak to her own son in order to preserve her youthful appearance. Background advertisements are ubiquitous throughout the film, often for ridiculously useless products that fit such an absurd society, such as fashionable air duct vents. A notable scene is when Sam is driving down a highway whose walls are completely made up of various billboards; the camera then zooms out to show that these multi-colored walls hide a barren, smoky wasteland through which the roads intersect.

Slogans hung about ministry buildings declaring “The Truth Shall Set You Free” or “Suspicion Breeds Confidence” offer a perspective into the insecurities that lie behind Gilliam’s paranoid governing powers. The political criticisms of Brazil offer the viewer a satirical look into a lackluster bureaucracy that’s scrambling to maintain their shaky control over a blissfully unaware populace.



“There is no danger of a man’s asking for more than he need”: From Thomas More’s Utopia

“…every father goes and takes whatever he or his family stand in need of, without either paying for it, or leaving anything in exchange. There is no reason for giving a denial to any person, since there is such plenty of everything amongst them; and there is no danger of a man’s asking for more than he need; they have no inducements to do this, since they are sure that they shall always be supplied. It is the fear of want that makes any of the whole race of animals either greedy or ravenous; but besides fear, there is in man a pride that makes him fancy it a particular glory to excel others in pomp and excess. But by the laws of the Utopia, there is no room for this.” -Excerpt from More’s Utopia, pp 82 in “The Utopia Reader”

When reading about the governance of any utopia, we are almost always presented with rules that enforce the society’s perfection. A few pages earlier, More explains that in an effort to contain communities and counter any over-crowding, families must be held to a strict limit of members. Laws like these are necessary to maintaining a utopia. We can observe similar  regulations in the controversial one-child policy demanded by the Chinese government. However, here we are told that men are simply trusted to act in accordance with what is deemed best for society in terms of commerce and trade. Why should we blindly accept the fact that in More’s utopia, men will follow the ideas set forth by the rulers of this society without any fear of punishment? In other words, what is there to stop a man from taking more than just what he needs to survive?

I recall that our country’s founding fathers had explicit reasoning behind their intricate design of checks and balances in our government: all of this is necessary for people to prosper and order to be kept due to the inevitable fact that “men are no angels,” as BLANK once declared. This is true in our society, and in every society on this earth; thus why should this truth be ignored in More’s society? Why must the line between the fantastic and the realistic be crossed when discussing men in his utopia?

“April 29th 1992” by Sublime

On April 29, 1992, four Los Angeles Police Department officers were acquitted of their use of excessive force on Rodney King, a black man whose life-threatening assault at the hands of the mostly white officers was videotaped and shown on news stations all over the country. That same day, protestors in Los Angeles turned to looting, arson, and extreme violence, targeting people based on their ethnicity. Over the course of several days, 53 people were killed and thousands were injured, until the involvement of the National Guard and curfew hours allowed police to regain control of the city. 

Inspired by these events and his own frustration with them, Bradley Nowell, singer and songwriter for the group Sublime, wrote “April 29, 1992” in 1996. His lyrics describe a society with complete lawlessness, where there is no fear of punishment. He tells us about the crimes he and others are committing with a certain pride: “You were sitting home watching your T.V. / While I was participating in some anarchy /… Next stop we hitted was the music shop / It only took one brick to make that window drop…”

He goes on to tell us about the various stores he’s robbed with ease, but his tone quickly turns to that of frustration when he explains the reason for all the chaos “Cuz’ everybody in the ‘hood has had it up to here / It’s getting harder and harder each and every year /… It’s about comin’ up   / And staying on top…” Further lyrics suggest that in his society, he sees people of all different races coming together and uniting under a common cause: to continue rioting and focus their violence towards the police.

The song finishes by urging other cities all over America start their own acts of anarchy, calling “Let it burn / Let it burn… Riots on the streets of Chicago / On the streets of Long Beach / And San Francisco…”

-Philip Kubiak