Ernest Callenbach


American Writer, Author of Ectopia: The Notebooks and Reports of William Weston

Author Quotes

They divided the country into five metropolitan and four rural regions. Within these they also greatly extended many powers of governments of the local communities.

A dog was with the hunters: A large hunting dog padded along with them – first pet I’ve seen in Ecotopia, where animals are evidently left as wild as possible, and people seem to feel no need of them as company.

What was at stake, informed Ecotopians insist, was nothing less than the revision of the Protestant work ethic upon which American had been built. Â… But the profoundest implications of the decreased work week [to 20 hours] were philosophical and ecological: mankind, the Ecotopians assumed, was not meant for production, as the 19th and early 20th centuries had believed. Instead, humans were meant to take their modest place in a seamless, stable-state web of living organisms, disturbing that web as little as possible. Â… People were to be happy not to the extent they dominated their fellow creatures on the earth, but to the extent they lived in balance with them.

A meeting has no formal agenda; instead, it opens with a voicing of ‘concerns’ by many participants. As these are discussed (often amid friendly laughter, as well as a few angry outbursts) general issues begin to take shape. But there are no Roberts’ Rules of Order, no motions, no votes – instead, a gradual ventilation of feelings, some personal antagonisms worked through, and a gradual consensual focusing on what needs to be done. Once this consensus is achieved, people take pains to assuage the feelings of those members who have had to give ground in order to achieve the consensus. Only after this healing process takes place is there formal ratification of the decisions taken …

Certainly Ecotopians regard trees as being alive in almost a human sense Â… And equally certainly, lumber in Ecotopia is cheap and plentiful Â… Wood therefore takes the place that aluminum, bituminous facings, and many other modern materials occupy with us.

Curiously, despite the importance Ecotopians attach to agriculture and other rural affairs, the Ecotopian constitution is city-based where ours, inherited from an agricultural era, is rural-based. With us, the states have broad powers over cities (including the right to give them legal existence and set their boundaries). The Ecotopian main cities, however, dominate their regions through a strict application of one-person-one-vote principles. Furthermore, the county level of government is omitted entirely.

Decentralization affected every aspect of life. Medical services were dispersed; the claim is that instead of massive hospitals in the city centers, besieged by huge lines of waiting patients, there were small hospitals and clinics everywhere, and a neighborhood-oriented system of medical aides. Schools were broken up and organized on a novel teacher-controlled basis. Agricultural, fishery, and forestry enterprised were also reorganized and decentralized. Large factory-farms were broken up through a strict enforcement of irrigation acreage regulations which had been ignored before Independence, and commune and extended-family farms were encouraged.

DonÂ’t you have any sense of privacy? I blurted out. She got furious at me for this. What are you talking about? These people live with me and love me. Naturally they want to know what is happening with me! So I tell them. They give me reactions, advice, they look at me, I see myself through them as well as through myself.

Ecotopians … had always regarded anthropology as a field with great practical importance. After Independence they had begun to experiment in adapting anthropological hypotheses to real life. It was only over a great deal of resistance that a radical idea such as ritual warfare had become legally practicable … But its advocates had persisted, convinced … that it was essential to develop some kind of open civic expression for the physical competitiveness that seemed to be inherent in man’s biological programming – and otherwise came out in perverse forms, like war.

Ecotopians claim to have sifted through modern technology and rejected huge tracts of it, because of its ecological harmfulness. However, despite this general technological austerity, they employ video devices even more extensively than we do. Feeling that they should transport their bodies only when it’s a pleasure, they seldom travel ‘on business’ in our manner.

I have the impression that despite the undeniable Ecotopian scientific achievements in plastics, the future may well belong to the purists. For in this as in many areas of life, there is still a strong trend in Ecotopia to abandon the fruits of all modern technology, however innocuous they may be made, in favor of a poetic but costly return to what the extremists see as ‘nature.’

Maybe they have gone back to the stone age. Hunters used fancy bows and arrows to kill a deer.

Mysteriously, the Ecotopians do not feel ‘separate’ from their technology. They evidently feel a little as the Indians must have felt: that the horse and the teepee and the bowand arrow all sprang, like the human being, from the womb of nature, organically. Of course the Ecotopians work on natural materials far more extensively and complexly than the Indians worked stone into arrowpoint, or hide into teepee. But they treat materials in the same spirit of respect, comradeship. The other day I stopped to watch some carpenters working on a building. They marked and sawed the wood lovingly (using their own muscle power, not our saws). Their nail patterns, I noticed, were beautifully placed and their rhythm of hammering seemed patient, almost placid. When they raised wood pieces into place, they held them carefully, fitted them (they make many joints by notching as well as nailing). They seemed almost to be collaborating with the wood rather than forcing it into the shape of a building.

New minicities, like the sleepy village of Alviso: Around the factory, where we would have a huge parking lot, Alviso has a cluttered collection of buildings, with trees everywhere. There are restaurants, a library, bakeries, a ‘core store’ selling groceries and clothes, small shops, even factories and workshops – all jumbled amid apartment buildings. These are generally of three or four stories, arranged around a central courtyard … They are built almost entirely of wood, which has become the predominant building material in Ecotopia, due to the reforestation program. … The apartments themselves are very large by our standards – with 10 or 15 rooms, to accommodate their communal living groups.

Our point of view is that if something’s worth doing, it ought to be done in a way that’s enjoyable – otherwise it can’t really be worth doing.

People really were ready for change. They were literally sick of bad air, chemicalized foods, lunatic advertising. They turned to politics because it was finally the only route to self-preservation.

So the youngsters have a high level of physical activity throughout their school years. School groups often go on expeditions: itÂ’s common to see six-year-olds, with heavy backpacks, trudging along with older kids on hikes which Â… may last four or five days, and in quite forbidding country. As they move on into higher levels of school Â… much of the childrenÂ’s time is allotted to training in fishing and hunting and survival skills, at the expense of basic educational skills. They are forced to learn not only the basic techniques but also how to improvise ecologically acceptable equipment in the wild: hooks, snares, bows, arrows, and so on. Â… The experiences of the children are closely tied in with studies of plants, animals, and landscape.

Ecological awareness, at its deepest level, is spiritual awareness.

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American Writer, Author of Ectopia: The Notebooks and Reports of William Weston