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A Work In Progress...Aren't We All?...

Like the title, this article is incomplete at the moment. That is because it requires your assistance in writing it and testing out the ideas. It explores the concept of "utopia", where it comes from and some practical tools that could possibly faciliate its creation. Many links are included, for two reasons:

1. as references, to make it easy to look up any topics that may be unfamiliar
2. as resources, to have a lot of potentially useful material to explore

While the information builds upon itself, feel free to skip ahead to whichever aspects interest you the most, and then come back later to anything that might not make sense right away. It is a bit repetitive.


Glossing Over Some History
Intentional Communities & Ecovillages
Important Considerations About Safety
Grand Synthesis
Starting At Home

Glossing Over Some History

Some people have seriously attempted to create a "utopia", an idealized social system wherein everyone gets along in harmony and has their needs met sustainably. The term "utopia" has its origin in a book written by Thomas More, an English statesman, that was published in 1516. It is about a fictional island nation named "Utopia", which is derived from the Greek (οὔ "not" + τόπος "place" = "not a place", "nowhere"). We might liken it to the stories of mythical places from a long forgotten "Golden Age" (e.g.: Plato's "Atlantis" or James Hilton's "Shangri-La"). The modern equivalent would be the genre of "Solarpunk" [Many thanks to JR's StoryTime for creating this last page!].

One might disagree with the contents of Utopia, or disregard the idea of a "utopia" in general as only wishful thinking, but the topic is worthy of careful study. Almost all of humanity's religious / political history can be traced back to ideas like this.

Whether we are referring to the survival skills of nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes, or to the homesteading knowledge of peoples who have settled down in one place, the schemes that lie at the root of "civilization" should ultimately be geared towards nourishing All life. Much of this information is timeless as the fundamental needs of human beings do not really change all that much. For example, everyone needs clean air and water, healthy food, and a safe environment, no matter what society itself is like! There are also many resources for obtaining these bits of knowledge and skill, such as:

Allaby, Michael. The Survival Handbook: Self-sufficiency for Everyone. Pan Books, 1977.
Gregory, Mark. Good Earth Almanac. Grosset & Dunlap, 1973.
Hunt, Walter Ben. How To Build and Furnish a Log Cabin. Macmillan, 1974.
Mack, Norman, editor. Back to Basics. The Reader's Digest Association, 1981.
Seymour, John. The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency. Faber, 1976.
...and so on.

We have tried to share articles on similar subjects before (e.g.: Plants As Food & Medicine, Abundance Through Food Preservation & Economy, etc.).

What is perhaps less well known, are the social systems that are associated with groups that have attempted to create a "utopia"-like condition. Almost all of them revolve around an economic concept of freely giving (what we might call a "Gift Economy") and freely sharing (what we might call "Communism", "Communalism", or "Communitarianism", depending upon how one defines those terms). A. Allen Butcher has done an expansive survey of these kinds of societies all across time and place, carefully cataloging how they operate. He is the author of the book The Intentioneer's Bible: Interwoven Stories of the Parallel Cultures of Plenty and Scarcity, the blog on, and the wonderful material on the Culture Magic website.

A wide variety of different ideologies overlap and intertwine throughout the history of these groups. For example:

These concepts reach far back into pre-history (e.g.: the "Philosophical Anarchism" of the ancient Taoists). This is because many places all over the world had no separation between "church" and "state". Monarchs were said to have a "divine right to rule". Imperial cults would often build up around those people, by design and/or out of ignorance. Only someone who is exceedingly arrogant would desire to be worshiped, and such arrogance often turns into tyranny. It does not matter whether we refer to them as "kings" and "queens","emperors" and "empresses", "pharaohs", or some other title.

Quite a few of the Protestant Christians that broke away from the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church of England (such as the Puritans and the Quakers throughout the 1700s) had a tradition of forming their own communities. This was done to protest the corruption within those institutions, and to avoid persecution by living independently of them. Anabaptist groups (like the Mennonites, Hutterites, and Amish, as well as their more modern decendents like the Bruderhof Communities) still exist to this day. All the while, "Egalitarianism" and "Libertarianism", "Individualist" and "Collectivist Anarchism", and other related philosophies were steadily developing in the United States, throughout Europe, and within other parts of the world (e.g.: the works of Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin in Russia).

In the United States specifically, the 1800s were a particularly fruitful time for "utopian experiments" and the formation of "communes" (i.e.: groups of people focused on "communal living", living and working together in a tight-knit community). Many grew out of the Transcendentalist and Unitarian movements, such as Fruitlands and Brook Farm. These were often inspired by works like Henry David Thoreau's Walden and Ralph Waldo Emerson's Self-Reliance. Meanwhile, "Utopian Socialism" was also becoming popular through the work of people like Charles Fourier, Robert Owen, Laurence Gronlund, and Edward Bellamy.

A sense of self-sufficiency paired with communal living has always been carried on through those who survive by "subsistence" (i.e.: fulfilling basic needs by interacting with Nature and people directly instead of through money). This includes anyone who "lives off of the land" (such as some indigenous peoples and conservationists), as well as those who have managed to live "moneyless" for long periods of time through practices like salvaging and bartering (e.g.: Heidemarie Schwermer, Daniel Suelo, Tomi Astikainen, Mark Boyle, and others).

It is not always an easy lifestyle, so why would someone choose to live like this? It comes down to trying to live out one's constructive beliefs. I think most people can identify with the feeling of wanting to leave "the rat race" (i.e.: the pressure to conform to societal expectations that are actually destructive). Many of those problems are the result of trying to exploit one another and the Natural environment. We have attempted to point out some ways that behavior occurs on an individual level, a collective level, and nearly everywhere in between.

But most importantly, we humbly wish to share information that is self-empowering and that can help everyone to work together in ways that are mutually beneficial, transforming society into a real "utopia" which serves us all...

Intentional Communities & Ecovillages

An "intentional community" is any group of persons who voluntarily choose to come together for some particular purpose. This might include ideas like "co-housing" (which is to make neighborhoods that have shared resources) or "cooperatives" (which are businesses that are collectively owned). There are many different ways that these types of communities can be structured or operate, but it doesn't have to be overly complicated to get a general idea of what they are and how to start one.

Inspired partly by the "counterculture" of the 1960s (particularly the back-to-the-land movement of the "hippies"), many scientists throughout the 1970s and 1980s tried to design ecological forms of shelter and apply scientific methods towards the building of sustainable communities in general.

In a pre-Internet age, the majority of this type of information was distributed through self-published pamphlets and magazines. For example, The CoEvolution Quarterly of the 1970's grew out of the famous Whole Earth Catalog of the late 1960's, flourishing alongside other publications filled with practical know-how, like The RAIN Journal.

This kind of research eventually lead to the related term "ecovillage". Robert Gilman, an astrophysicist, gave a wonderful definition of the term "ecovillage" in his 1991 article, The Eco-village Challenge [from issue #29 of In Context magazine]:
...we will define an eco-village as a human-scale full-featured settlement in which human activities are harmlessly integrated into the natural world in a way that is supportive of healthy human development and can be successfully continued into the indefinite future.
While some of the oldest communities still exist, most are not "ecovillages" in the sense of being fully sustainable. Many are also supplemented by donations and/or have some sort of business attached to them in order to fund their operation. For example, Arcosanti forges bells, East Wind manufactures nut butters, and Twin Oaks weaves hammocks that they sell to make money.

One person who has throughly explored intentional communities and ecovillages throughout the world is Diana Leafe Christian. She was the editor of Communities magazine for 14 years and has lived at Earthhaven Ecovillage since 2001. She has given many informative lectures and has written two books:

Creating a Life Together, which covers how to create intentional communities "from the ground up"
Finding Community, which covers how to assess and to join an intentional community that already exists

We won't go through all of her work here, but we would like to highlight a helpful model that she often mentions...

Generally, there are three aspects that every intentional community should have:

1. Effective Project Management

This is about forming a common goal or purpose (like a "mission statement"), and having clear agreements (e.g.: about what "membership", "ownership", "obligations", "standards of conduct", "laws", "regulations", and other topics mean in relation to it). In order for there to be transparency, these agreements should be in writing and readily available to anyone and everyone. Why?

Each person has to know how they are contributing for strategic plans to come to fruition. Transparency is also important for the sake of fairness. Fairness means equal access to "power" and "resources", which includes access to information. [Thank you to Asterales for this last link!]

2. "Community Glue"

This is a sense of "us"/"we" brought about by shared activities that are enjoyable (such as regularly playing cooperative games together). These types of activities produce a chemical in the brain called "oxytocin", which leads to feelings of empathy, trust, bonding, and gratitude.

3. Good Process & Communication Skills

These are all of the methods used to create and sustain dialogue. There are potentially many systems that could work (e.g.: ZEGG Forum, Deep Dialogue, etc.).

One tool that is quite useful is Marshall Rosenberg's Non-Violent Communication (or NVC). For conflict resolution within larger groups, a helpful framework is Dominic Barter's Restorative Circles, which grew out of his studies of NVC and his work with communities in Brazil since the early 1990s.

Central Circle: Governance

This is the overarching structure that tells us which groups of people are doing which tasks. Therefore, it is usually related to the concepts of "time", "money", and "labor". It is represented by the central circle whose circumference is a dotted line because it connects all three of the above aspects together as one whole. One system that seems to be cohesive enough to accomplish this within a community setting is Sociocracy. [The researchers Ted J. Rau and Jerry-Koch Gonzalez give some wonderful summaries of what Sociocracy is and how to implement it on their website Sociocracy For All. John Buck and Sharon Villines' Sociocratic Democracy website is also a wonderful resource.]

While the term might seem obscure, there is a rich history behind Sociocracy. To give a quick gloss:

Sociology is the study of human behavior in the context of interpersonal relationships. Many of the founders / early researchers of this science (e.g.: Auguste Comte, Lester Frank Ward, Mary Parker Follet, et al.) hoped that their work would have a constructive impact on how groups of people get along with one another. Inspired by the Community Meetings of the Quakers, Kees Boeke and Beatrice Cadbury created the term "Sociocracy" to describe a form of government that is founded upon collaborative decision-making by everyone within a community instead of only a few representatives. They opened a school named "The Children's Community Workshop" that operated on these principles. A former student of that school, Gerard Endenburg, formulated the Sociocratic Circle-Organization Method (also sometimes known as Dynamic Governance, a way of structuring an organization where voting is optional). In parallel, a similar idea was developed by Edwin John called Neighborhood Community Networks.

It is important to keep in mind that decision-making methods, like consensus, are only one aspect of Governance. Sometimes, aiming for "unanimity" (i.e.: everyone in complete agreement) is impossible. This requires procedures that can help to uncover where that disagreement lies and determine if it is resolvable (e.g.: The N-Street Method). Disagreement isn't always "bad", but sometimes people are afraid of voicing their concerns within a group setting. This can happen for many reasons (as pointed out by Ron Hustedde, Kathryn Deiss, Richard M. Biery, and others).

Application of Model

People often underestimate the amount of effort it takes to form these types of communities, especially ones that can realistically serve everyone (both inside and outside of it simultaneously). A huge number of them fail for that reason. Many begin as wonderful dreams, but end up neglecting the realities of living with other people. For example:

• Trying to be inclusive and giving others "the benefit of the doubt" is part of expressing kindness, but how do we determine if it is literally safe to be around a person? We cannot assume that others believe the same as we do. Many communities, including some of the most alturistic, have a process for vetting / screening any potential residents (e.g.: interviews, background checks, trial periods, etc.). How do we filter out people who want to join a project simply to undermine it or to hurt the people within it?

• Aiming for mutual respect and shared resources is important, but what can we do when people do not willingly fulfill the agreements that they have made? This doesn't have to be handled through punishment/reward, but having clear consequences for behavior (or the lack of it) can prevent imbalances when it comes to things like equitable distribution of labor. A community might have a kind of "three strikes, you're out" system, giving several chances before someone is exiled. Everyone's time and effort are valuable. How do we schedule it and keep track of it? How do we handle negotiation?

• Ignoring "zoning laws", "building codes", "income taxes" and other types of rules can open up a community to harassment by local governments and law enforcement, whether or not one thinks they are just, or is even aware of them. How do we do proper bookkeeping / accounting? How do we handle disputes about ownership? Protracted legal battles can lead to all of the work that was invested in building up a community "going down the drain".

• How do we protect the systems that the community has in place from theft, vandalism, or corruption? If the equipment that is used for agriculture gets stolen or fails, it could literally mean starvation and death for some communities. Are there alternatives available? Does everyone have the knowledge necessary for operating that machinery, making repairs, or building it from scratch? Is there a reliable plan to handle any disasters that could happen?


Whether we are creating or joining a community, the above model can help us to keep these sorts of issues in mind. All of the aspects mutually reinforce one another. #2 is often the first thing to appear within a community and naturally leads to the implementation of #3 when it is sincere. However, #1 is probably the most important for long-term viability. #1 can lead to #2 and #3 because people are usually at peace and get along with those around them when they are not struggling to survive. Some communities will provide members with a handbook that gives an overview of #1 and #3. You might be expected to read it and understand it before showing up.

Important Considerations About Safety

If one is trying to leave a destructive circumstance and/or transform the aspects of society which are destructive, it doesn't make much sense to simply exchange one set of problems for another. Therefore, it is important to understand the exact nature of any groups that one might be interested in joining before actually doing so. Again, no matter what name they go by, communities can vary drastically in their structure and function. While some may be like spas or retreat centers, others can be almost no different from homelessness. Are you prepared to survive under those conditions? There are also many different behaviors that one could be exposed to within those environments. To give a couple of examples:

• Some people drop out of society because they are trying to escape abuse. They may have unprocessed trauma and suffer from drug addiction or alcoholism. They might be argumentative and violent at times as a result, or resort to theft in order to fund their habits.

• Some people have an interpretation of "free love" that leads to promiscuous behavior, and thus an increased risk for sexually transmitted diseases, unexpected pregnancies, and heartache.

This is not a judgment upon anyone's personal decisions, but it is necessary to clearly and plainly point out the dangers that one could potentially encounter. They can change the dynamic of a group dramatically as well, so it is important to account for them. Not all communities have systems in place for handling these types of situations.

Inversely, some communities are literally designed in such a way (whether intentionally or unintentionally) to increase the likelihood of abuse occuring. We might refer to them as "cults". Some might interpret the word "cult" as synonymous with religious or political ideas. However, religions and political philosophies are not necessarily destructive in and of themselves. It mostly comes down to how they are practiced. Any organization (including ones that claim to be completely irreligious or apolitical in nature) can be or become "cult"-like. How do we determine this? Rather than point out specific examples of cults (which can vary depending upon who is talking about them and why), we will describe some common patterns that they follow.

Steven Hassan's BITE Model of Authoritarian Control can be of assistance in this regard. "BITE" is an acronym meaning Behaviors, Information, Thoughts, and Emotions. Manipulative actions usually attempt to control these four things in ways that are harmful and self-serving. [The previous link has a table that gives some examples of what that might entail.]

The BITE Model is partially based off of Robert Jay Lifton's work on "thought reform" or "brainwashing". In his book, Thought Reform and The Psychology of Totalism, he specifies "eight criteria for thought reform". To give a very brief summary:

Criterion General Meaning
1. Milieu Control Control of all communication within the group environment
2. Mystical Manipulation Claims of a transcendent purpose that is exclusive to the group
3. The Demand For Purity Requiring complete allegiance to the group; demonizing those outside of the group
4. Confession Using personal information as a means to manipulate; conditioning destructive self-talk
5. Sacred Science Holding a doctrine that cannot be questioned and which is assumed to be perfect
6. Loading The Language The use of "thought-terminating clichés", statements that keep dialogue from occuring
7. Doctrine Over Person Conditioning self-doubt ("gaslighting") and a destructive self-image
8. Dispensing of Existence Isolating, separating from others through fear

The "domination system" concept of Walter Wink is similar. There are generally four things that a "domination system" requires:

1. Suppression of Self
2. Moralistic Judgments
3. Language That Denies Choice
4. The Concept of "Deserving" Punishment or Reward

One can see how prevalent such ideas are within society in general, and not just in organizations that are considered "cults". Whether we are consciously aware of using them or not, there are quite a few ways that people try to persuade others. [Another relevant educational resource is the YouTube channel TheraminTrees, which describes itself as, quote: " adult-oriented channel that explores issues around abuse, manipulation, dogma and systems of undue influence." (Extra link added by me.)]

"Authoritarianism" is a system where power is strongly centralized, while "Totalitarianism" describes a system that attempts to control all aspects of life. Such systems may tend to develop around a charismatic leader and their followers (i.e.: a cult of personality), or around an entire group of people who are considered "elite" (e.g.: "Meritocracy"). It doesn't matter if it ruled by one person ("Autocracy") or a class of people ("Oligarchy"), despotism is harmful for everyone. Why is it so rampant though?

People often have a tendency to divide things into strict either/or categories (e.g.: False Dichotomy, Black-and-White Thinking), and might even become frustrated when considering seemingly contradictory pieces of information (i.e.: Cognitive Dissonance). It can degrade into a type of "cliquishness", seeing things in terms of "us" versus "them". It could also apply to any personal characteristic or preference, such as one's religious or political persuasions. It is where most prejudices come from. In turn, prejudices may become the seeds for "extremism", extreme views which can distort one's perception of reality.

There are many reasons why someone might be personally driven to join an organization that openly professes extreme views and resorts to destructive means to attain their ends (like a "hate group" or a "gang"). But it often comes down to a strong desire for a sense of identity and community, of individual and collective purpose. The story of Christian Picciolini is a good example. He also uses a wonderful analogy that can help us to understand this process more thoroughly...

The circumstances that make a person vulnerable to that kind of conditioning are akin to "potholes" that can nudge us off our path in life, such as: trauma, abuse, unemployment, neglect, untreated mental illness, loss of privilege or resources, etc. It is important that we find ways to heal and to adapt, because when enough of these accumulate, people sometimes go down "a dark path". They may lose a sense of empathy and compassion, while uncritically adopting views that condone hatred and violence. One stays stuck within that state by gradually convincing themselves that it is "true" and refusing to be open to other possibilities. It is not necessarily due to a lack of education either, as very intelligent people are fooled sometimes.

In other words, the logic may be distorted, but it is not without "reason". Understanding this does not necessarily mean acceptance or agreement, but may in fact be the only hope that we have of permanently transforming it in order to create a peaceful life for everyone. Another good example is the story of Daryl Davis. I think his work is interesting, especially how he speaks with others. While not everyone may adopt his approach, it highlights some points worth considering in my opinion:

Aggression and condemnation do not usually change hearts and minds. Patient listening and thoroughly challenging the validity of destructive viewpoints without using insults or becoming overwhelmed by emotion sometimes does though. We can be responsible for our behavior while simultaneously holding people accountable for their own. The catch is that it takes a huge amount of self-awareness and self-control to overcome one's visceral reactions and to stay operating from a place of integrity when encountering things that might make us uncomfortable. Incredible levels of discernment and care are needed to see past the surface and labels, to find the human being underneath the animalistic fears of survival. One must also distinguish between when there is a genuine possibility for dialogue, and when one is merely putting themselves in danger by engaging someone who cannot be reasoned with and who will actively try to harm them should they come into contact with them.

...Life can be quite complex sometimes.

Grand Synthesis

There are many aspects that must come together for an ecovillage to be functional. The Sustainability Circle (also known as The 4-Dimensional Model) by Gaia Education captures this well:

Photo Credit: Gaia Trust

Their homepage offers a free textbook (i.e.: The Ecovillage Design Education Curriculum) and a free video course (i.e.: The Sustainability Design Panorama). They also used to freely share a series of publications referred to as the 4Keys which explore all four aspects or "dimensions" of this model in-depth [Right-Click, "Save As..."]:

The Worldview Key - The Song of the Earth: The Emerging Synthesis of the Scientific and Spiritual Worldviews [Download]
The Ecological Key - Designing Ecological Habitats: Creating a Sense of Place [Download]
The Social Key - Beyond You and Me: Inspiration and Wisdom for Building Community [Read Online; Download]
The Economics Key - Gaian Economics: Living well within planetary limits [Read Online; Download]

[You might have noticed that several of the above links come from the Sustainable Solutions and Regenerative Lifestyles Library at Upward Spirals. If you are interested in this type of material, another fantastic resource is InTeGrate: Interdisciplinary Teaching about Earth for a Sustainable Future by the Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College or SERC.]

We have spent some time developing a similar strategy before, explaining why and how one would implement it, as well as providing some tools to help people to do so. [It might be helpful to read that article first!] Here, we would like to show how much of the material that we have described can be knit together into one continguous whole in a manner similar to the above models...

Scientific & Spiritual Foundations

We are a living being embedded within a living environment, where everything is interconnected in some way. One can give in-depth scientific evidence for why this is the case, but even more "traditional models" do not favor the idea of selfishness. Life itself can only exist through cooperation. However, humanity seems to be stuck within a kind of "Social Darwinism", an outlook that is mainly founded upon two ideas that tend to reinforce one another...

Idea #1

Nature is inherently violent (e.g.: animals are "red in tooth a claw" because many carnivorous animals regularly kill one another in order to survive)

Idea #2

Competition is "necessary" or "desirable" because resources are limited (e.g.: "The Malthusian Premise" of economist Thomas Malthus, which posits that food sources do not grow as quickly as populations, and therefore, cannot reliably sustain everyone)

Let's take each of these in turn...

A Different Look At Idea #1

There is a lot of scientific evidence for "mutualism" (in the sense of "mutal aid"). In other words, all sorts of creatures help each other in ways that allow both to survive and thrive. None of this necessarily goes against the concepts of "Evolutionary Theory" that Social Darwinism is said to be based upon either. Even Charles Darwin, one of the founders of "Evolutionary Theory" and the namesake behind the term "Darwinism", noted the vast importance of empathy and how it appears within human physiology. Likewise, nearly all religions have a system of ethics with a principle of reciprocity at their core (e.g.: "The Golden Rule", and its complementary inverse, "The Silver Rule").

Therefore, whether one is a strict "fundamentalist" or a miltant "atheist", hopefully one can recognize the value of a "humanist" ethics where actions have consequences. To put it another way, we can treat others with kindness and respect because we choose to be motivated by a sense of compassion and support, rather than attempting to place one person above another by classifying them as being "more deserving" of punishment or reward. Let's try to make constructive decisions, one's that benefit everyone, as much as possible. This leads us to...

A Different Look At Idea #2

Balancing population growth with food sources can be thought of as an engineering problem that is only limited by one's skill and creativity. For example:

• In many places there is a regular surplus of food that is continually wasted, whether that be the forgotten leftovers in the back of the fridge, unbought food thrown into the dumpster behind the store, or a crop allowed to rot next to the field because it is not "pretty enough" for shipment (i.e.: it has "cosmetic defects"). How can we effectively distribute this to people without excess pollution?

• When handled properly, human waste can be safely directed towards the production of a rich soil instead of poisoning our own water supply in flush toilets. "Greywater" can be used for irrigation, or the land can be managed in such a way as to retain much of the rainwater that falls on it. Some "weeds" have medicinal and nutritional value. In combination, this means that nearly every place has the resources necessary to grow at least some food.

• Can the amount of "arable land" (i.e.: that which is good for agriculture) be increased without destroying forests and other natural habitats? There are a lot of lawns and fields that are regularly tended to that contain grasses that are only decorative. How much food could be grown there instead? The field of "Agroforestry" shows how to manage land so that it is dual purpose (i.e.: simultaneously a habitat for animals and a source of food for humans). Through a careful selection of plants, and by integrating it into a community that will properly care for it, the harshest of environments can be made hospitable to life once more.

• There is a lot of information on removing pollutants from Natural habitats ("Environmental Remediation"), and repairing any damage that has been caused to them ("Restoration Ecology"). Can the knowledge of "terraforming" be applied in a similar way, in addition to trying to figure out how to make "space settlements"? While it might not seem like it, quite a few people have focused in on the subject (e.g.: the work of Martyn Fogg, Robert Zubrin, The Millennial Project 2.0 inspired by Marshall Savage's book of the same name, the research on life support systems done by NASA and various academic institutions, etc.).

...and on and on.

So, does "birth rate" decline with "affluence" (i.e.: do people tend to have fewer babies the "wealthier" they are), or do people choose to have children only when they think they can afford it? Whatever the case may be, we should be trying to give everyone the highest standard of living possible, and we have more than enough practical knowledge to be able to do so, no matter how much "money" there is in circulation or whatever activities it might be put towards.

Psychological Foundations

If basic necessities are tied to money, life can seem miserable without it. However, our "Quality of Life" is not measurable in terms of money, but in whether our core needs are being met. A person can be quite "wealthy", yet still manage to be miserable. Inversely, one may have very little, and be filled with gratitude and contentment.

Other than the needs directly related to physical survival (e.g.: air, water, food), Self-Determination Theory puts forth the idea that human beings have three which are essential. [We have given a transcript of a video which covers this model in much more detail, but we will give a quick gloss here.] These three essential needs are:

1. Autonomy - A person needs a sense of agency, that they are in control of their own lives, that their choices are personally meaningful.
2. Competence - A person needs a sense of effectiveness, a belief in their ability to learn and the means to educate themselves.
3. Relatedness - A person needs a sense of belonging, of camaraderie, joyfully working with others towards mutually beneficial goals.

These needs are thoroughly undermined by systems that have a rigid hierarchy that one must conform to in order to function. As we have already noted, much of society embodies that dynamic, but it is possible to structure communities to fulfill these needs more reliably. This is why one might be determined to form a "utopia".

Instead of rebelling or appealing to broken systems for basic human rights, we can peacefully create anew ("direct action"). By using what we have learned from careful observation of what has gone "wrong" before, we can form systems together that genuinely help each other. However, one must be cautious that it doesn't degrade into Authoritarianism and Totalitarianism along the way. Meaningful choices are completely voluntary, based in careful and well-informed consideration.

A "utopia" that one is forced to be a part of is not a utopia at all. It is a "dystopia".

Foundations For Integrating Technology & Ecology

It takes some level of technical understanding and skill to put together the systems necessary for survival. While the motivations for building "utopia" are important, there is only so far one can go without the application of practical knowledge. We've mentioned some methods that can be helpful before, such as:

Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science (CADS) as a way to design any tools that one needs to accomplish the tasks required for living

Energy Systems Language, Living Systems Theory (LST), and System Dynamics for interfacing those tasks with the Natural environment and checking when things are not working

Much of this process revolves around turning human outputs (e.g.: wastes) into resources that contribute to human inputs (e.g.: food) through sound ecological practices (i.e.: ones that are safe for all living organisms).

Some are under the impression that invention of ever more efficient technology is all that is needed in order to build an "ideal" society, a form of "technological utopianism". However, the usefulness of technology will always be limited by our capacity for virtuous action, by those designing it and those using it. What is the intention behind it and how is it applied?

Automation (in the sense of "robotics" and "machine learning") is only useful to the extent that it leads to freedom from toil without harm to the Earth. Further, its operation must be understood by all (for sake of transparency and the ability to carry out maintenance and repair). Again, it should NOT be used to enslave people and/or to destroy the environment.

While it might be hard to imagine life without money, it cannot be emphasized enough that money itself is not important. The things that we trade it for (such as food, clothes, and shelter) are what are important. All of these are derived from natural resources, and the proper managment of natural resources can make these available to everyone without harming the environment or each other. Further, by automating these processes and powering them with a source of energy that is self-sustaining, no one has to work anymore! Once it is set up, all that we have to do is maintain it a little bit to make sure that it keeps running smoothly.

Real freedom is based in self-sufficiency, a system that empowers people rather than keeps them wholly dependent upon it. And the only way to design and implement such a system is through Love and Wisdom, a sincere caring about everyone and everything in ways that lead to deeper understanding.

Foundations For Organizational Persistence & Social Cohesion

First, two definitions:

Definition #1

By "social cohesion" we mean a sense of connectedness. It can affect a person's health (mental-emotional and physical). It can also determine whether or not people get along with one another.

Definition #2

By "organizational persistence" we mean the ability for a group of people to keep cohesion despite changing circumstances. Human history has been highly variable, but some organizations have existed for long stretches of that time without falling apart. What is it that they are doing "right"?

Viable System Model (VSM) and The System of Cosmic Order outline the essential properties that an organization must have in order for it to persist through time. However, trouble arises when social cohesion and sound ecological practices are sacrified for organizational persistence. The "success" of a person or group cannot come at the expense of other people or the environment.

There are environmental limits to "control". For example, while all areas should have transparent communication channels for the bidirectional exchange of useful knowledge, the ability to "control" or "direct" machinery should not extend across all boundaries. For example, two areas can be sufficiently different from one another for specific agricultural methods to fail, thus leading to mass starvation. Be careful! These are the dangers of centralized planning and "benevolent dictatorships".

Should we have many small, interconnected communities where everyone is neighborly? Such structures are sometimes referred to as "Community Pods", and the psychology behind it is described by Dunbar's Number. [Thanks to JamesO2 for this last link!]

In Summary, A Synthesis

Viable System Model and The System of Cosmic Order show the structure that an organization must have to be self-sustaining. Sociocracy gives a framework for tasks within an organization to follow in order for power to be distributed, while Self-Determination Theory gives the motivations as to why we would would want such a non-hierarchical structure. Non-Violent Communication and other methods give the tools necessary for people to resolve their conflicts when attempting to do those tasks, while Energy Systems Language, Living Systems Theory, and System Dynamics give the means to connect them to the Natural environment in a way that is sustainable.

Starting At Home

As cities grow (a process known as "urbanization"), they seem to follow a particular pattern. We will give a simplified description of this process, how it becomes destructive, and make a few suggestions about what can be done about it for everyone's benefit...

Stage 1: People usually create settlements near Natural resources, such as rivers and forests. All things that are necessary to human survival are derived from Natural resources. We will herein refer to a small settlement as a "town".

Stage 2: These settlements have a tendency to become larger and larger (becoming what we might call a "city" or "metropolitan area"). This is accompanied by more "industrialization" (i.e.: an increase in manufacturing). The Natural resources of the surrounding environment (i.e.: the "countryside") may be destroyed if that industrialization is not carefully checked.

Stage 3: As city size and population density increases, people often become progressively more alienated from one another. Pollution (e.g.: noise, smog, litter, etc.), as well as anti-social behaviors (as symbolized by the "crime rate"), tend to increase as a result. Many attempt to retreat from the city center (or "inner city") by moving out towards the "countryside". These areas are sometimes known as "suburbs" and the resulting expansion as "urban sprawl".

How do we repair the damage and make the operation of cities more stable? One method is by turning those suburbs on the outer boundary of the city into ecovillages, and then sharing the surplus of useful resources (like food and information) with the inner city as the entire metropolitan area is reconfigured to operate like one giant ecovillage!

It is important that we find as many ways as possible on every level of scale for fulfilling the U.N's Sustainable Development Goals in ways that truly are sustainable. However, pushing for changes without having workable plans in place just causes more problems for everyone. By turning cities into things like "Transition Towns", we can safely and gradually deurbanize and deindustrialize in ways where no one suffers through sudden loss of infrastructure.

Socially, a useful "goal" would be progressively higher degrees of self-sufficiency for everyone (with a corresponding decrease in dependence on an "economic" system or a "state" system by which it is enforced). It does not matter if it has some kind of technology behind it, a sense of interdependence should arise voluntarily, without the use of coercion.

I believe that humanity is evolving towards the combination of individual self-empowerment and collective harmony on a worldwide scale. However, there are many aspects that can make this transition process a lot more difficult than it has to be, such as a status quo that profits off of severe inequality. What good is "wealth" if other people are suffering?

A "Real-World" Case Study

Let's take a look at the issue of "homelessness" for a moment.

It is often the case that welfare programs are a temporary relief because they can only remove a person from a crisis when other interventions are implemented simultaneously. Here are a couple of examples of different programs...

Example #1 (Aimed At Internal Factors on an Individual Level)

Some places provide drug rehabilitation and mental health services (not necessarily "mental hospitals") to try to help people who are "homeless" stay out of prisons and off of the streets in the long-term.

Example #2 (Aimed At External Factors on an Individual Level)

Some places provide temporary housing, financial assistance, and job placement services in an attempt to assist people who are "homeless" until they can afford to pay rent in the short-term.

It is likely that the second approach would fail if drug addiction and/or mental illness were the factors keeping a person "homeless". And inversely, the first approach wouldn't help much if food and shelter were critical (e.g.: a person is on the brink starvation or temperature-induced injury, like hypothermia or heatstroke).

In other words, sometimes remedial steps must be done in a particular sequence to create any kind of lasting effect. Will a combination of programs work when pre-existing plans for providing aid are not comprehensive enough?

That question is not always "easy" to answer or resolve. Some "crimes" arise out of desperation and how different social systems operate can contribute to that dynamic. To give a few examples:

• Is someone stealing food, toiletries, and clothes because they are trapped within a cycle of poverty and trying to survive? What contributes to that cycle?

• Is someone taking drugs "illegally" because they are suffering from chronic pain and attempting to self-medicate? How is the situation handled, if at all?

• Are vital resources and infrastructure (like food banks and free clinics) missing or inaccessible for some reason?

• If you had to rely only upon walking or "public transportation", could you reach every place that you might need to get to? Would you be harmed in some way if you were late or couldn't make it due to severe weather?

"Homelessness" is not simply a "housing crisis". There are many aspects, and some of the problems are "systemic" (i.e.: built into the structure of our existing social systems). To give a couple more examples:

• One of the reasons why some people do not stay at homeless shelters is because they may follow a rigid set of "rules" that make it harder to have a life independently of their operation (e.g.: they may have a curfew or require reservations during hours that conflict with job schedules). The existence of a service does not necessarily mean that it is usable.

• "Abandoned" buildings can be turned into housing instead of becoming dilapidated, while homes can also be manufactured with automation and minimal human labor. Some are even willing to build and give away "tiny homes" to "homeless" people, but are blocked by "red tape"! Who is served by such policies?

We could connect the building of houses for people who are "homeless" to the process of turning suburbs into ecovillages that was described above. But no matter what we choose to do, there is one inescapable conclusion:

We can only address the circumstances on a more permanent basis to the extent that we each acknowledge our common humanity and treat each other with dignity.

On the one hand, people are sometimes cruel to others for no other reason than the fact that they are "homeless" (e.g.: tainted food, harassment, "anti-homeless" measures, etc.). On the other hand, living with each other requires a certain level of personal accountability. When any portion of a population is comprised of people who are drug addicted and/or mentally ill, it can make an area unsafe to be in (e.g.: human waste and drug paraphernalia being discarded in public spaces, violent confrontations over "property", etc.).

It doesn't matter the amount of "wealth" that a society has. If our neighborhoods are filled with destructive behavior, it is a sign that something needs attention. No one should be "invisible" no matter how desensitized the people around them are to the situation.

There are a lot of myths built up around "homelessness" that contribute to the problems. For example, some people assume that those who are "homeless" are "lazy" and do not want to contribute anything to society, so their presence is unwanted. But why should anyone, "rich" or "poor", have to do anything to justify their own existence? We don't need "more jobs" or "money". Let's choose to collaborate in interfacing with Nature in ways that generate abundance for everyone with harm to none.

We can create "Heaven on Earth", a "heaven" where All are welcome because we built it together out of genuine Love for one another.


We need an expansive and creative vision to work towards, yet at the same time, we cannot make assumptions that will lock us into thinking that blinds us from reality. Therefore, the idea of a "utopia" is only useful if we can realistically explain how to create it, sharing step-by-step procedures and tools that lead us towards actions that make those visions manifest. We hope the above article can contribute to that.

Thank you so much for reading! ♥