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Not an Obit, an Epistle
May 6, 2012 4:07 PM   Subscribe

Ernest Callenbach, author of the classic environmental novel Ecotopia among other works, died of cancer at 83 on April 16th, leaving behind this document on his computer.
posted by oneswellfoop (37 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
(Recycled Period)
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:13 PM on May 6, 2012


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Funny thing, I checked Ecotopia out from the library last week. I had just decided to put it down, because it wasn't human enough. (For one thing, you cannot tell me that the young people of Ecotopia would not run a black market on blue jeans, Cokes, and rock music like a bunch of East German kids, and cause the thing to come crashing down in about a generation.) Still, I would rather see a thousand utopias bloom than anything else. I'll check out his prequel, just out of respect.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:24 PM on May 6, 2012


I have a copy of Ecotopia that I must have bought in the eighties. I enjoyed it, and I'm sure it influenced my thinking.

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posted by Turtles all the way down at 4:26 PM on May 6, 2012


Thanks so much for posting this. I read Ecotopia back in the day -- time to re-read it.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 4:26 PM on May 6, 2012


Quite a lot to digest in this. Callanbach is right, we need to stop subsidizing entrepreneurship.
posted by parmanparman at 4:34 PM on May 6, 2012


Second year of college, silly class at Hunter called "Utopian Society", ridiculous Eastern European teacher with black turtleneck obsession (years before Jobs), lots of hot girls in the class, and "Ecotopia" was one of the books on the reading list, along with "Looking Backward", "Brave New World" and a few others. The teacher was offended when I suggested we include "Childhood's End", due to his distaste for the sci-fi element. I still disagree with that assessment.

RIP, Callenbach.

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posted by dbiedny at 4:35 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Read Ecotopia in high school, loved it, even though it was part of a critique of utopian literature (along with Atlas Shrugged, etc.). RIP.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:46 PM on May 6, 2012


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posted by sonascope at 4:47 PM on May 6, 2012


Add an item to the bucket list. Had heard of Ecotopia but never read it.

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posted by localroger at 4:48 PM on May 6, 2012


The looter class, I like that.

Thanks for this post. I'd never heard of Ecotopia, but Mr. Callenbach's epistle makes me want to read it immediately.

It's weird and sad to me that even ten years ago I would maybe have read this kind of thing and been like "Well, maybe..." and now it just seems like he's talking about what is obviously our near future. I wish we had listened to him when there was still time to turn things around.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 4:54 PM on May 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


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There was a time when I would have read the piece in the OP's second link as -- satire's not quite the right word -- hyperbole for the sake of illustrating a point; but now? Now, to me it sounds like a dispassionate and sober diagnosis.

How can we get back from where we are now, when the belief ideology mass psychosis that profit maximization and capital accumulation trump all other goods and values, is in the ascendant? Or are we just well and truly screwed?

I suddenly have the urge to go learn some basic carpentry as Callenbach suggests.
posted by a small part of the world at 4:55 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


D'oh -- what thehmsbeagle said.
posted by a small part of the world at 4:56 PM on May 6, 2012


“Chick” -- as he was known, thanks, it turns out, to the chickens his father raised

Gives a whole new meaning to "Chick Tract".

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posted by hippybear at 4:58 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow. Rarely do I see something that lays out so well what I am unable to put into words, what I believe it means to be a liberal. Hope despite pessimism. The need to let go of the desire to manage. Organize. Learn. Do. Thanks so much for posting this, I will look for Ecotopia and its sequel.
posted by waraw at 5:04 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Quite a lot to digest in this. Callanbach is right, we need to stop subsidizing entrepreneurship.--parmanparman

Not entrepreneurship. He talks about subsidizing financiers--a kickback reward from Congress, along with deregulation, as part of a money manipulation scheme to "turn the financial system into a giant casino."
posted by eye of newt at 5:18 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I doubt I would really want to live in his Ecotopia, but it is a wonderful and thought-provoking book. I was sorry to read that he had died.
posted by Forktine at 5:18 PM on May 6, 2012


Linked on the sidebar was an essay by Rebecca Solnit (who has been the subject of a couple FPPs here, I believe) that is very much in conversation with Callenbach:
The rest of us, the 99%, need to remember that, when it comes to public education, the crisis has everything to do with slashed tax rates -- to the wealthy and corporations in particular -- over the last 30 years. We went into bondage so that they might be free. Getting an education to make your way out of poverty and maybe expand your mind is becoming another way of being trapped forever in poverty.
posted by Forktine at 5:23 PM on May 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


I was introduced to a wonderful phrase, wabi-sabi. The concept isn't new to me, but what a great expression. Never even heard of him or his book. Sounds like something I'd like reading.

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Thanks for this post!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:23 PM on May 6, 2012


Thanks...I sent this on to a number of people....

I kept picturing Zinn as I read that document.
posted by HuronBob at 5:24 PM on May 6, 2012


I remember reading Ecotopia back in the 1980's, but I've forgotten much of the book. Sad to see him go.

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posted by rmd1023 at 5:42 PM on May 6, 2012


There was a time when I would have read the piece in the OP's second link as -- satire's not quite the right word -- hyperbole for the sake of illustrating a point; but now? Now, to me it sounds like a dispassionate and sober diagnosis.

I know exactly what you mean. I think you expressed it better by far than I did, because I imagine that even 3-5 years ago I would have read that and thought something mildly annoyed about slightly hysterical hippies, even if I didn't think they were wrong about everything. And now I'm just like "This guy is totally right on. Time to start an agricultural commune with all my cousins."

Which either means that I am myself now a hysterical hippie, or that reality has caught up to the rest of us.

The rest of us, the 99%, need to remember that, when it comes to public education, the crisis has everything to do with slashed tax rates -- to the wealthy and corporations in particular -- over the last 30 years. We went into bondage so that they might be free. Getting an education to make your way out of poverty and maybe expand your mind is becoming another way of being trapped forever in poverty.

Thanks for spotting that, Forktine.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 5:49 PM on May 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


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posted by cupcakeninja at 6:00 PM on May 6, 2012


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posted by BYiro at 6:02 PM on May 6, 2012


This is exactly how I have been feeling for months (years?) and it takes a person I have never heard of to die and inform me of my feelings.

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posted by mrgroweler at 6:43 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ecotopia is flawed like any utopian book, but my god, it shaped so many of my liberal principles. Being raised conservative, I had never encountered any ideas about what a true egalitarian society could look like, what "sustainable" meant, what could be possible in how we lived and treated each other and our surroundings. I had never even dreamed such things, but the minute I encountered them in his book, they took hold of my imagination.

He was not a great writer of fiction, but his dreams were exactly what I needed at a critical time.

Thanks, Mr. Callenbach.

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posted by emjaybee at 6:53 PM on May 6, 2012


Our era has become one of spectacular polarization, with folly multiplying on every hand. That is the way empires crumble: they are taken over by looter elites, who sooner or later cause collapse. But then new games become possible, and with luck Ecotopia might be among them.

Hope springs eternal, but we have trying times ahead.

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posted by arcticseal at 7:32 PM on May 6, 2012


Ecotopia was one of the worst books I've ever loved. There were times I would physically cringe reading it, but it has influenced my thinking profoundly despite its flaws. I don't actually own a copy, but mentally I keep it on my "short shelf" of special books that shaped me.

RIP, Mr. Callenbach. Thanks for the gift of your weird and wonderful books - I'm certain the world is a greener place because of the people you inspired.
posted by richyoung at 9:46 PM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Damn. I'm going to have to take another gander at the book, it's been years. RIP.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 10:17 PM on May 6, 2012


I read Ecotopia many years ago while staying at a cabin on Mount Hood in Oregon, and it made sense. A week later, I was back in the city, and I couldn't remember most of it. But I do remember the part where there aren't any commercials on TV, but instead the general community sits down for an hour or two to review televised product announcements, and then they discuss the relative utility and value of the various products.

Sometimes I do wish the world was really like that.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:46 PM on May 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ecotopia is one of those books better read about than read; its heart in the right place, but as with so many utopian works, the world it describes is not one you'd really want to live in.

True, there's all the treehugging (literally), free love and dope smoking you want, but you have to take both racial and gender segregation with it.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:39 PM on May 6, 2012


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posted by St. Sorryass at 11:48 PM on May 6, 2012


I probably would have some problems with a reread of Ecotopia now, but as a NorCal hippy raised kid, I had this book shelved next to 1984 and A Brave New World, as some sort of optimistic antidote, or talisman.

I dont think it was any sort of really well thought out political science. It was probably not even decent science fiction, but it got across, maybe better then anything else I ever read, the ideals and the hopes of my parents generation.

Not just in terms of age and politics, but those 60s kids from wherever who ended up in the Bay Area, and then just went a little further north.
The New Homesteaders. The dope growers. The people that pioneered, or tried to, microbrew and solar power, and probably also some bullshit about a pyramid. The men, now old, angry and generally unpleasant still funneling their drug money towards biofuels, and watershed preservation, and probably Ron Paul, or some bullshit of that kind.

I like all those old guys, and it is good to see that view that they used to have. Back when we might actually win, or if not win at least have that little chuck of the world to ourselves. Before Reagan, and before cable news, and before AIDS (I do remember quite a lot of free for all fucking, reading that book at 14.) and just before my general generational pessimistic, or realistic understanding of the world.

It was a book about how they had not beaten us yet, about how we could still win at least a little.
It helped.
posted by St. Sorryass at 12:28 AM on May 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I recently picked up Ecotopia for the first time. I came across it while browsing the sci fi section of the library. It's interesting to see what elements of Callenbach's utopia have become more commonplace now, like recycling, or the awareness of organic produce, or alternate energy. And he had some other fantastic ideas that I'd love to see gain traction, like the modular systems for cars or televisions. The book feels dated, sure, but it's definitely an interesting read.

I suddenly have the urge to go learn some basic carpentry as Callenbach suggests.


It's my opinion that everyone should learn the rudiments of carpentry, plumbing, electrical work, cooking, and other practical skills. Not only so you can do things for yourself - though that's certainly part of it - but so that you can better appreciate the human effort that's gone into creating things.
posted by dubold at 1:49 AM on May 7, 2012 [3 favorites]



Not entrepreneurship. He talks about subsidizing financiers--a kickback reward from Congress, along with deregulation, as part of a money manipulation scheme to "turn the financial system into a giant casino." - eye of newt

good point
posted by parmanparman at 5:51 AM on May 7, 2012


I needed to hear this voice right now, reminding me to feel hopeful in the midst of despair. I've just put a copy of Ecotopia on hold at the library. Thank you for posting this.
posted by spacewaitress at 9:18 AM on May 7, 2012


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posted by mkim at 1:01 PM on May 7, 2012


Here is some concept art from an unmade 1978 Ecotopia movie adaptation.
posted by gamera at 1:36 PM on May 7, 2012


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