“Many perceive the pain of denuded forests and extirpated salmon directly in their bodies: part of their personal identities includes their habitat — their human and nonhuman surroundings. Thus they are not working to save something out there, but responding in defense of their own lives. This is not dissimilar to the protection of one’s family: why does a mother grizzly bear charge a train to protect her cubs, and why does a mother human fiercely fight to defend her own?” — Derrick Jensen, “Endgame”
Our media is so violent. From video games and pornography to movies and books – not to mention our sensationalist 24 hour news cycle – violence is all around us. We don’t want violence in our personal lives, but we gobble up the horrible tales that surround us like circling wolves. It is interesting that we choose such material for “escapism” when in reality it is very similar to the world we now inhabit.
My point here is not to criticize or ask why – I’ll leave that for you to ponder. But my question is this: why is the opposite – peace, cooperation, mutual aid – comparatively rare in our media?
I’m interested in a different way of writing stories, one that doesn’t rely on violence or arguing for creating tension. James White – author of “The Genocidal Healer” – wrote his successful series because, as a pacifist, he was tired of interpersonal violence and sought a new way to create engaging stories. I love destruction and violence as much as the next person, but I too am curious about creating a completely different world, one where competition is replaced with cooperation, and hate with respect.
It really says something about our collective consciousness when writing tips claim that there must be some kind of conflict or violence in order for a story to be interesting.
This just isn’t true. My introduction to utopian fiction was the classic novel Daughters of a Coral Dawn. My favorite parts were when the characters were on their new world, living in peace and harmony. This story engaged me because it had what I will call “interest.” This, I believe, is the component that any good story possesses. Interest is:
- Characters you enjoy reading about: they may be characters you love to hate or that you just love. Either way, they propel the plot and are well-rounded.
- An intriguing plot: “anti-novelists” and their experiments in plotless stories notwithstanding, to create interest, most authors choose to create a plot, even if it is fairly simple.
- A fascinating world: by creating a world with vibrant and evocative images, authors can create a story that readers want to delve into time and again.
- Anything that compels you to read more
It’s easy to make a violent, gory, scary story. Plenty of tips and manuals exist to do just that. What’s challenging is coming up with a realm that is happy, peaceful. It is so removed from experience that perhaps it can be difficult to make such a world seem realistic or relatable.
Everything in our society strives to make us scared and fearful of ourselves [particularly if you are a minority] or each other. But what if we could imagine a society where we had grown beyond such base impulses?
In writing classes, utopias and dystopias are taught to be two sides of the same coin. If you have one, dig a little deeper and the other will reveal itself. There are many examples of these “false utopias” in fiction:
The world of “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin is a utopia of sorts…until you realize how they achieve their perfect realm. Or how about this sentiment:
“Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some.”
― Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
Another example would be the short-lived TV show Terra Nova. The show is set in the future, where humanity’s baser instincts have destroyed the planet. A “fracture in time” has opened up, connecting the present with the Cretaceous, giving a lucky few the chance at a new life in the seemingly paradisiacal colony called Terra Nova. But digging below the surface we find that everything is not as it seems.
Thomas More wrote the book on utopian fiction – literally. He coined the word with his work Utopia, deriving it not from eu-topia “good place” but from ou-topia “nowhere.”
So it is ingrained in us that beautiful utopias could never exist – this is perhaps another reason for their absence in media.
Critics of utopian fiction confuse how their society has taught them to behave with some nebulous ill-defined concept called “human nature.” You hear it all the time, an excuse for why the world is the way it is – world peace will never be achieved because it is “human nature” to be violent, lazy, cruel, greedy, and selfish. With this kind of thinking, no wonder we are as far as ever from world peace – too many think it is impossible. [Religion certainly has a part to play in the negative portrayal of human nature by claiming such absurdities as even unborn fetuses are tainted with sin and so on. But that is beyond the scope of what I am getting at here.]
It is my opinion that human nature is actually extremely flexible and doesn’t just encompass one type of behavior. Yes, humans can be all the negative things listed above. But they can also be thoughtful, compassionate, brave, loving, and industrious. Fiction that portrays thought out, realistic “true utopias” may help change people’s minds about how our world could be.
After all, a utopia is simply the best in humanity allowed to blossom. And we have plenty of terrifying ideas – from 1984 to “The Purge,” we have no shortage of negative ideas of the future.
It is simply a lack of imagination that causes writers and readers to assume that a utopia would be boring.
Here are some ideas to add interest to a utopia:
Remember that utopia doesn’t mean a world without interpersonal conflict or a world without danger and mystery. These are people who are perhaps better equipped than we to handle conflicts, but arguments still happen.
- Of course people will argue and maybe there will even be a few fights. But in a utopia people know how to handle their anger and they know how to talk things out – or at least bargain things out.
- The main characters could gradually uncover truths related to a mysterious past
- This past could be a dystopia where people strove to improve the world, thus creating the utopia
- Aliens and ancient technology
- The element of mystery is a powerful tool in creating an interesting world, utopia or not.
- Humanity versus natural calamity
- Maybe the characters make a dangerous journey to the new utopia
- Utopia is a concept – one that is in the mindset of the characters. Things are “challenges to overcome together” not reasons to betray the group, for example. With that in mind, a lot of new doors for “conflict” ideas open up.
- The element of wonder is one of utopian fiction’s biggest draws. Imagine an adventure where the characters uncover magical relics, fascinating/scary creatures, beautiful realms, fun [which has replaced paid work], dangerous natural formations [such as volcanoes], and new discoveries. Dinotopia is one of my biggest inspirations in this regard.
- Humor: if you are good with humor, it can be an excellent way to add interest to your story.
- Children are mischievous and curious. They can get in trouble or danger without being malicious.
- Defending the utopia from outsiders is a well-worn way to add true interpersonal conflict and violence to utopian fiction.
- A variation on this would be teaching/explaining the utopia to outsiders. Think about how foreign the utopia must seem to the outsiders. Maybe they don’t come from a dystopia but a world similar to ours with trials and tribulations but also good things too. Maybe they are escaping a Krypton-esque destruction of their planet.
- The opposite would also cause quite a bit of shock and tension: a Utopian arrives in a “brave new world” or a realm rather like IRL Earth.
- Creation of the utopia: settlers must learn how to cope in a strange, beautiful new world.
- Fear of society slipping back to “the way things were before”
- Flashbacks could be used to show a less idyllic previous world.
- People in a utopia would have different morals and values than people in real life. This could be an interesting point to explore – particularly when their values seem very alien to ours.
- They may have no problem with a wide variety of sexualities, including polyamory, various kinks, or even zoophilia.
- Ecotopias are common: places with little technology, living in simplistic harmony with the planet. Rarer are places where “green technology” has allowed humanity to overcome evil.
Approximately 62% of Americans have companion animals. These creatures – ranging from dogs and cats to birds, lizards, bunnies, and pot belly pigs – become beloved members of our families. When they die, it can be devastating, and we have all wondered: what happens to animals when they die? Do they have souls that endure after death?
To answer that question, we have to first ask another: just what is a soul? The ancient Norse believed the soul had many different components, each reigning over something different such as luck, genetic memory, or destiny. Reincarnation, the idea that the soul returns to the physical plane after death, is an ancient belief that is still popular today. Animists say that everything – from animals and humans, plants, to non-living matter such as cars – has a soul or an awareness. The ancient Egyptians believed that the souls of evil people were utterly destroyed and then recycled into something else. Many people today seem to understand the soul as the undying essence of what makes an individual unique.
Catholics believe that humans, animals, and even plants have souls because the essence of life is the soul. But these three beings don’t have the same type of soul: humans have what is called a “rational” soul capable of abstract understanding, whereas animals have an “irrational” soul. Only rational souls exist after death.
But this answer is unsatisfactory to those of us who have formed close bonds with animals. In the book “The Souls of Animals,” Unitarian Universalist minister Gary Kowalski describes his opinion on the evidence for animal souls. For him, a soul is the force that endows an individual with the ability to be courageous and creative, to feel emotion, and many other traits.
In this fascinating book, he recounts the story of Koko the gorilla. The video below speaks for itself:
If we open our hearts and minds, it becomes obvious that their inspiring feats of bravery and selflessness are more than just the evolutionary reactions of automatons. For example, the story of Sandy and Salty never ceases to amaze me:
Guide dogs Salty and Roselle were awarded a joint Dickin Medal “For remaining loyally at the side of their blind owners, courageously leading them down more than 70 floors of the World Trade Center and to a place of safety following the terrorist attack on New York on 11 September 2001.”
So, do animals have souls? If you ask me, it is a silly question; we don’t even know if humans have souls, or what a soul is. A better one would be: Are animals that different from us? The answer to that is obvious to anyone who wants to know.
Salty and Roselle, the two guide dogs who led their caretakers down 70 floors in the World Trade Center before the towers collapsed on September 11.
Reality is our God, evidence is our Scripture, integrity is our religion, and contributing toward a healthy future is our mission. – Rev. Michael Dowd on post-theism
I recently ran across an intriguing term: post-theism, the idea that humanity has “evolved” beyond the need for any deity, and, as such, gods are now obsolete. It is considered a variant of atheism, but many post-theists identify as Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Unitarian, pantheist, or any other label. They value symbolic and metaphoric interpretation of religious texts, much like interpreting a dream, says Reverend Michael Dowd. But this doesn’t mean there is no place for spirituality within a post-theist practice:
New Theists are not supernaturalists; we’re naturalists. We are inspired and motivated far more by this world and this life than by promises of a future otherworld or afterlife. This does not, however, mean that we diss uplifting or transcendent experiences, or disvalue mystery. We don’t. But neither do we see the mystical as divorced from the natural.
In post-theism, spirituality is unified with reality, and “God” is seen as a mythic figure that was once necessary for individual growth. But now humans have a deeper, more beautiful understanding of the universe around us and our place in it. Maybe we do not need deities as much as our ancestors did.
One should not pursue goals that are easily achieved. One must develop an instinct for what one can just barely achieve through one’s greatest efforts. —Albert Einstein
We are all capable of much more than we realize. Most of us float through life, following the path of least resistance, never fully understanding our abilities. Part of this is due to how the world treated us: how many intelligent, bright kids were discouraged from following their dreams because of the words of a teacher, parent, or friend? I know this happened to me; throughout high school, I longed for a career in science, but I was repeatedly told that this just wasn’t a practical path for me to follow. Luckily my curiosity and desire to learn overcame the sting of my teachers’ disdain. Others can’t tell us what we are capable of doing – that’s something that we have to find out for ourselves.
But fear also stands in our path to greatness. Fear of success. Fear of failure. Fear of what others will say. Fear of starting. Fear of greatness. Fear sometimes masquerades as laziness.
In the United States, we like to say with a shrug that some people are just “born with the talent” to do something like sports, music, math. But the truth is this: Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. We’ve all seen people squander their talents, and we’ve all seen people defy the odds to accomplish their goals.
As the summer solstice approaches, consider your goals and dreams. Get of the way – give yourself permission to succeed.
Evidence clearly indicates that humanity is sprawling out of control. From global warming, to precipitously declining biodiversity, what will happen when we use up the planet? The ancient Maya intuited that humanity’s glutinous hunger for resources could be our undoing. Melissa Gish recounts this chilling fable in her book “Living Wild: Jaguars.”
And a Man sat alone…
Drenched deep in sadness
And all the animals drew near to him and said:
“We do not like to see you so sad;
Ask us for whatever you wish and you shall have it.”
The Man said: “I want to have good sight.”
The Vulture replied: “You shall have mine.”
The Man said: “I want to be strong.”
The Jaguar said: “You shall be strong like me.”
The Man said: “I long to know the secrets of the earth.”
The Serpent replied: “I will show them to you.”
And so it went with all the animals.
And when the Man had all the gifts they could give, he left.
Then the Owl said to the other animals:
“Now the Man knows much and is able to do many things.
Suddenly I am afraid.”
The Deer said: “The Man has all that he needs.
Now his sadness will stop.”
But the Owl replied: “No. I saw a hole in the Man.
Deep like a hunger he will never fill.
It is what makes him sad and what makes him want.
He will go on taking and taking
Until one day the world will say:
I am no more and I have nothing left to give.”
Why is biodiversity important? (www.globalissues.org)
Meet Saint Expedite, a fascinating and obscure figure who is ready and willing to help those who ask. He is the patron of immediate real-world concerns. According to saintexpedite.org, “He seems to help everyone who asks for it.”
Is money tight around your household? Do you need to pay the rent and utilities? Then you my friend should pray to Saint Expedite. He is known for quick action. When you need help and you need it now, He is the saint you want in your corner.
Recently, my significant other lost xer job. After scrounging through “help wanted” ads, numerous websites, and a few temporary agencies, xe was still jobless. Our situation was growing dire — my hours had been drastically cut at my own job. I decided to ask a saint for help since my SO is a lapsed Catholic. Saint Expedite was the figure who appeared when I searched for help finding a job.
Only 5 days elapsed before my SO was hired at the job he wanted — and this after months of nothing. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Thank you, Saint Expedite!
About the Saint:
As a “folk saint,” Expedite [pronounced "Ex-puh-dee-tee"] has a reputation for being a modern creation. Whether he is new or old is irrelevant — only results matters, and this saint definitely brings the results. But according to Milagro Roots, veneration of Expedite actually extends back to the Middle Ages. Milagro Roots goes on to say,
Though he is not recognized by the Catholic church as an official Church Saint-he was mentioned in Martyrologies dating from the Middle Ages and his iconography has been consistently stylized as a young man dressed as a Roman solider, stepping on a black raven with a banner inscribed with the word “cras”-Latin for “tomorrow”, coming out of its beak while he holds a cross with the word “hodie”-Latin for “today”, inscribed upon it.
This raven-cross symbolism springs from a story in which the Devil appeared to St. Expedite as the Devil, tempting him to put off conversion to Christianity until tomorrow (cras)-in part, one assumes, to avoid martyrdom. Expedite replies by crushing the raven under his foot and holding forth a cross with the word for Today emblazoned upon it-indicating that he will not put off till tomorrow what needs to happen today. While veneration of St. Expedite is quite old, the Catholic Church issued an attach on the Saint and was successful in removing him from the official list of Church Saints in the 1960’s.
Saint Expedite takes on many roles. Among them are:
- Ally for the downtrodden and persecuted: Ancient Rome wasn’t always the safest place for Christian converts — declaring one’s faith could lead to death by torture. Furthermore, Saint Expedite is also associated with aid in court cases and rectifying injustice.
- Dying god: his imagery shows him killing a crow [which symbolizes procrastination], and he is also associated with correcting wrongs through cursing. But “death” in this case isn’t physical: Expedite kills procrastination, hurdles, and obstacles.
- Bringer of luck: Perhaps his strongest association, Saint Expedite is most-often petitioned to bring luck, heal love situations, and fix money crises.
Working with Expedite:
If you choose to work with this saint, here are some correspondences you can use:
- His favorite color is red, but he also likes yellow and green. Consider incorporating these colors into an altar cloth.
- A good day to call upon him is Wednesday, but immediate concerns don’t always fall on a Wednesday; I’ve had success calling on him on other days too.
- Good offerings of thanks include flowers, chocolate, and water. In Hoodoo, there is a strong tradition of giving him poundcake.
- Saint Expedite likes to be praised publicly. If you call on him and he comes through,write a blog post, or tell family and friends. You could also place an ad in the local newspaper, a tradition associated with Saint Jude.
- Novenas and prayers specifically for Saint Expedite exist, but many people have experienced success by using their own sincere and heartfelt prayers.