6.29.2009

Something to Consider

So, I moved onto the campus I work at -- yes, I'm living where I work, because it's free! Imagine: living rent-and-bill free for a year, just for doing a little extra service.

Anyway, I've been enjoying it so much early on that I was hurtled back to an earlier intellectual interest while I was walking across campus today.

Charles Fourier was one of the utopian reformers that followed on the heels of the Industrial revolution. He preceded Marx by a generation, and although (or maybe "because") his socialist thought was not quote-unquote Scientific (cough, cough) like Marx's, I think it's a more interesting alternative.

Fourier imagined that society could be organized and subdivided into what he called Phalanxes. Wikipedia reports some of the details:
He believed that there were twelve common passions which resulted in 810 types of character, so the ideal phalanx would have exactly 1620 people. One day there would be six million of these, loosely ruled by a world "omniarch", or (later) a World Congress of Phalanxes. He had a touching concern for the sexually rejected - jilted suitors would be led away by a corps of "fairies" who would soon cure them of their lovesickness, and visitors could consult the card-index of personality types for suitable partners for casual sex. He also defended homosexuality as a personal preference for some people.
This reminds me a bit of the college campus, and it also sounds a little ideal. Each phalanx would consist of a certain number of teachers, millworkers, blacksmiths, etc. Theoretically, each would be self-supporting and entirely independent.

There are some problems -- Fourier's terms are sketchy ("loosely ruled?"), and he didn't seem to take much account of birth and death rates, etc. Oh, and, people have actually tried this, most famously at Brook Farm, which Hawthorne visited and turned into the setting for The Blithedale Romance. George Ripley and a bunch of other good-hearted, progressive unitarians (including Hawthorne) founded it. Read about it here. If it wouldn't work with those people, it could never work. It didn't work very well.

Still, when I observe contemporary civilization crumbling into cubicles, electronic gadgetry (did anyone but me ever notice the phrase "i pod" is pretty depressing?), and all its alienating symptoms -- and then when I look, in contrast, at the vibrant energy around college campuses -- I am convinced that it might be something worth trying all over again.

Utopian, yes. Possibly disastrous?--of course. Anyway, how great an idea is this?

2 comments:

Monica said...

I think it's an awesome idea, Case...and I can't wait to hear all the updates. And, yes, "i pod" is totally depressing. On another note, did you ever see that Mad TV sketch where they did the i-rack? Oh my gosh...so funny. Look it up on YouTube if you haven't seen it.

Casey said...

"What the I-rack needs is more things!"