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Living in Utopia - Grin with cat attached — LiveJournal
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Living in Utopia Feb. 1st, 1999 09:36 pm
"She is everywhere and nowhere, a church not made by man"
- The Waterboys, "In a Pagan Place"

Utopia, is nowhere, an impossibility, perfection. But there's nothing like a challenge. We're already used to the idea of living nowhere, those of us who have lived this net awhile. And perfection is far too static for our liking; simple improvement gives us a chance to acheive far more. And how can you be sure something's impossible until you've tried it?

So in a sudden burst of linguistic hackery, utopia is cast down, broken. If it's broken it needs fixing, but how? Well it seems we've already started; the hacker's utopia is already under construction, and all are welcome.

There is, to the best of my knowledge, no "Open Utopia Project"; nothing so planned would be our style. Instead we're creating this culture as a side effect, a little light social hackery spinning off from the counterculture. Our unwritten rules of giving free and of assumed respect lay the foundations; we're too busy judging people by their words and actions to worry about what they look like or how they speak, and we're too fascinated by the new to set much store by the old dogmas.

In a very real sense ours is a gift culture. Through the expansion of the internet the cost of giving has sunk almost to that of the time spent giving, and the satisfaction from that serves many well as a salary. This, as ESR has observed, is no communist altruism, but rather a chance to explore our skills, to see our work multiplied by those who work invisibly alongside us, and - since we're still very human - a chance to show off. What do we get out of this? An excellent operating system with a vast number of applications, and all for free. Of course that's only the software-geek contribution; we're increasingly seeing free music, free magazines, created by like minds and transmitted free of corporate control to all who want them. They can be tricky to find, but there's a certain community feeling in the return to "word of mouth" that this entails.

So we have open source, open music, open minds... But to be realistic, lest I be accused of lving in fantasy.. Is this a world without crime or aggresion? Well you can't steal free software or free music, at least in the traditional way. But you can still claim it as your own and try to seal it off. This likelihood is rarely considered as it's seen as just too far beyond the pale. And it's fairly impractical as there are generally vast numbers to oppose it. Any company trying to lock public domain methods in corporate patents will quickly find themselves frozen out and cirumvented.. Open Laws if you will...

But there are many crimes within these countercultures, from those who can't grasp the ethic. Datacrimes, cracking, chatroom takeovers... online vandalism that gains the perpetrators nothing but misled smugness and widespread contempt. More personal 'crimes' - drug abuse by those locked out by society's absolutism. Stalkings, by those whose insecurities spill over into obessive behaviour. Ours is a small culture compared to that of society; it can take a long time to find a potential partner and our need for support can make this seem yet more extreme. In sinking into this we damage ourselves, cast ourselves further out... but where to turn for support? Perhaps now we *have* reached the density at which we can support each other.

We can, and must, acknowledge our problems. But we should also recognise our potential. Besides the capacity for global mutual support, we're at a time of incredible potential. Linux is rapidly approaching the mainstream and Microsoft has just taken a body blow. The Millennium, besides being a blasted numeric nuisance, is also triggering forward thought, reconsideration. Now is the time to grab mindshare, not just for our wares but for our "whos". It's time to cast off the dogmas and homogeneity, allow our differences, our socially and sexually permissive subcultures.

We can do this with ease internally, but it's on the interface with society that difficulties arise. Society has many problems of its own, stemming mainly from its lust for homogeneity and it rigid capitalist structure. Seeing itself as the only way, it is compelled, as if by religious dogma, to try and "correct" those of us who have cast off these constraints, and are capable of enjoying ourselves without feeling guilty for it. But is that the cost of living in the real world? Am I just sitting here in my supposed Utopia with no grasp on reality?

Of course not! We each of us live in the real world; the difference is that the world of the counter-cultures covers both the real and the unreal; and it's the combination of the two that give us our strength. In many ways, having a place to retreat makes us better able to face reality full-on, and on our own terms. Are we any more deluded than the xenophobes that fear us? In acknowledging and enjoying our dark sides, are we the less consistent than those who would be saints? As we see, and fight, environmental and social decay, are we truly less than the capitalist industry and media who see such destruction as the way to a quick buck in the short term?

Phrased in this way, we cannot be. We are, if we chose to recognise it, a power. And now more than ever we have the chance to use that power in the best of ways.