I think about this whenever I remember to notice the 24 video cameras on the highways between my house in Portland and the State Capital. For Bellamy this is just necessary and proper use of techno-logy. I should feel heartened knowing that officials are watching my every move so that the instant my 12 year old car breaks down during rush hour traffic, a courteous ODOT worker will appear shortly handing me an almond mocha latté, double tall, topped with shaved Mexican chocolate before volunteering to look under my hood, free of charge. You know, the Golden Rule, and all.
Bellamy also thought the government’s system of “credit cards” was a great improvement over currency. Not only could benevolent overseers monitor all of your purchases for the purpose of replenishing inventories, but you could see how much of each item you were allotted to buy.
Alas, we have moved to Bellamy’s model, but what is wrong with this picture? For instance, once I made a purchase using a supermarket loyalty discount card. After getting all of 23¢ off a bottle of micro-brew, I received a coupon in the mail four days later for $1 off an overpriced can of salted nuts. The coupons arrived in an envelope with my full name on it including the incorrect middle initial I had deliberately entered on the application form to track the items I would be “allotted to buy.” What’s next? A bar code tattooed on our foreheads?
Numbingly Complete In order to make sure that everyone had access to the finest musicians without the expense of building grandiose auditoriums or travel to and from concerts, music was distributed via the telephone. As were the sermons of the greatest minister alive, who didn’t even have a physical church. I thought the image of everyone sitting in the privacy of their own rooms listening to music, hearing the great plays performed, and making all their contact with friends by phone, a lonely one. Especially, when compared with my life of weekly rock concerts, street theater protests, and joyous communal dinners in the parks. Going dancing and hanging out with other flower children was as important as the music itself. But Bellamy’s vision wasn’t half as bad as people today who get their music, go shopping, and only stay in touch with friends by email over the Internet. Where the surveillance is total, the deposits and debits instantaneous, and the isolation numbingly complete.
I don’t want to be seen as just another one of Bellamy’s detractors spewing forth the worn-out criticisms directed at any reformer who shakes the status quo. The value of Bellamy is not that he got it right but that he had the courage to envision a better future that included everyone. He took an unbearable mess and dreamed a solution of prosperity being universally shared. His biggest mistake was underestimating the moral corruption of entrenched interests and the degree to which they would go to distort the message of the Golden Rule to read “He who has the Gold, Rules.”
Without discounting the widespread brutality and duplicity of the nineteenth century, I believe Bellamy would be utterly appalled by the degree of insensitivity, control, subterfuge, and fantasy that reigns at the turn of this millennium. The rot is so pervasive, it can’t be confronted directly. Try doing so and it will swallow you whole. So what’s to be done? The first step is to avoid being overwhelmed. Do this by whatever means necessary. Then watch out for the trap of cynicism. It will only denigrate your own integrity and that of those striving to get free. Skip the paralysis of demanding perfection in your self and others. Resist running away. Resist having the methods of transformation chosen for you. And don’t postpone the vibrancy of your living until after the revolution. This is the Revolution! So have fun. Just look around. In the realm of Zero, Zero, it’s all hilarious. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
The Last Millennium In the last one thousand years, West-European civilization, where we get our myopic view of history, fell into Dark Ages. After a half dozen centuries the Merchants slit the ties that Kings claimed bound them to the Almighty. Tried a bit of democracy. Had second thoughts. Brought Royalty out of retirement to encourage Nationalism. Tapped Science to equip a horde of well-armed armies. Colonized the rest of the world to pay for it. A group of colonies, high on stealing a continent from the locals, wigged out and declared as the greatest good the pursuit of happiness. Dealt a blow to the vestiges of Monarchy. Made Corporations the new Kings. Unionists rose up and won meager concessions. Formed an alliance with captains of industry. Produced enough arms to take war global. Europeans started killing each other. Revolutions overthrew Empires. Americans got rich selling to all sides. At the last moment went Over There. Took credit. Discovered reconstruction after war was good for Business. The Rich got richer. Everyone invested in Stocks. The Bubble Burst. The Richer got even richer. Germany tried again. GIs won the War for Democracy. Returned victorious. US Military/Industrial coup d’état. Nobody noticed. Used TV to slit the ties that Citizens claimed bound them to Liberty. Fought the Cold War. Won. Fostered Illusion of being the only Super Power left tied to the Almighty and duty bound to remake all Nations in its own image.
The NEXT Against this Dreadful Worldview you and I are called to envision an entirely different means of transformation. If we just try to use the old method of forcing our wonderful solution on others, it will appear as abusive as the one forced upon us. As Henry Miller once said, If there is anything God-like about God it is that he dared to imagine everything. We are only called to imagine the Next Millennium. Beyond history. Beyond dogma. Beyond idiot compassion. Beyond the need for senseless revenge. And based on Zero, Zero—the Nothing that offers unbounded possibilities. For Free. May we not be late with our Vision.
William P. Benz is an Artist, Writer, and Poet living in North Portland. He Specializes in the Design of Information Filters, the Surfacing of Mental Models, and the Creative Reintegration of Defective WorldViews. For more info, visit his NEW WEB Space at http://www.aracnet.com/~wpbenz. Or send email.