20 Sep 2008, 4:53pm
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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Our ventures into the utopian and dystopian landscapes of Oregon have been both academically and personally stimulating, not to mention challenging on a number of fronts. It is not surprising to for me to be reminded through these interviews just how much our dreams feed into our nightmares, and vice versa; it is equally no surprise, then, to be met with the difficulty of untangling the two, and to try to piece together a story of just how they play into each other. We have visited self-proclaimed intentional communities, cohousing communities, neighborhoods, and rural towns thus far. Each has created its own collective identity, some apparently more tightly knit than others. What is most interesting to me is how the individuals within these identities have found themselves there, and whether that has anything to do with a need to respond to some perception of the larger world. Jim mentioned the saying “think globally, act locally,” and as Jim suggested I’m not so sure that’s the most accurate way of capturing the kind of movement towards focused attention on the small and local. Maybe now “think globally” really means think of all the awful scenarios playing out on the world stage right now, and “act locally” really means finding one’s personal utopia where one is. It doesn’t sounds like such a bad idea.

Living in Portland, I’m privy to a lot of local activities that in some ways seek to be models for other cities and organizations to learn from. From progressive political leadership to a vibrant bicycling community, Portland is a great example of a unique and particular kind of city that draws people of a similar bent. In the same fashion, many of these communities we’ve been visiting have their own niche, their own specialties and culture, that tend to attract more people than other destinations might. You can go to these places and boast of them as excellent models, but another aspect of all that is that you don’t necessarily want to leave them. You have succeeded in blocking out, to some degree, the chaos of the outside world, by finding this little paradise of your own.In some ways that doesn’t sound like such an outlandish idea. And yet there’s something about admitting it that stirs a sense of guilt. I wonder about that guilt, because I’ve certainly felt it too. In the search for our own utopias, can we ever be truly happy when we find them? Is the guilt of our happiness relative to the rest of the world one of the forces that causes us to pick up and keep searching? The stories of the people we are speaking to continue to add new angles to these and other questions, and I’m excited to continue the journey of piecing them together.

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