F or a century, the United States has led the world in growth, industrialization, finance, development, tall cities and expansive suburbs. Now the world imitates us. For better or worse, China, India, Russia and others have adopted our free enterprise model. But along with prosperity, we have also created a hungry monster. Growth and debt are the cure for everything, but they cannot expand endlessly. We are reaching the limits now.
Here is where a new progressive movement could make a contribution to calm America down, help us go to the next level. We can lead again, but this time we need to spread the good life beyond the narrow confines of what mass culture deems "successful" and replace greed with generosity as the dominant value in order to go to the next level of democracy.
We can't get there by violating people's rights, so a revolution of values (a frequent refrain of Martin Luther King Jr.) is called for. Words without action are nearly useless, but an action that demonstrates all of the progressive values is found in the intentional communities movement.
The Aquarian Dawn of the 1960s introduced a pantheon of ideas, but the culture of overindulgence sidetracked its beginnings. This time around, let's get it right by adding to the choices that the young imagine by creating viable, friendly, enterprising communities of a great variety, where millions of people can live and work and create without each becoming personally wealthy. Then we can reduce government bureaucracy. Then we can reduce the power of the health-insurance industry, which is wrecking our medical system. Then we can contemplate the end of ceaselessly expanding the cities. Then we can stop building more prisons. Then we can face the fact that there is not now, and won't be later, a high-paying full-time job for every potential worker.
To have an influence on the culture takes a very dramatic effort. If the drama is nonviolent, then the people part of the equation has to be large and impressive. Small groups living together, sharing property and responsibilities, providing basics for many, makes a brilliant initial statement, accomplishing a reaffirmation of faith in the goodness of humanity, a reduction in the investment needed for further military preparation of every kind and finding more people living closer to the land rather than paving it over.
Anger won't achieve it, blaming some group won't bring it. Cooperation, dedication, vision, joy, investment in the group—this will do it. Who will do it? Most of us create personal little worlds that include only the immediate family. But some of us work for extended family values. Join the Federation of Intentional Communities; subscribe to Communities magazine. Find some friends and like-minded folk, and make a success of this movement.
Attend local community events like the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, Ocean Song, Green Valley Village, the Harmony Festival. Create the most friendly, productive, inviting, shire-like, eco-village farm. Think grand, because the problems are immense.
Be the one to take on the most difficult human challenge of fostering cooperation, substitute consideration for people over ever greater profit, show the cynics that greed is not the end all of human evolution. Enhance love of the pristine natural world, and leave some resources for the future.
The organization Plenty, based at the fabled Farm in Tennessee, joined with some churches in New Orleans to bring aid. Even with such disparate backgrounds, they found common ground. All of us can do that if we remain positive about America's role in the world, embrace free enterprise and believe in self-reliance. Here is a new movement that finds unity, preaches peaceful action and prepares for difficult times. This is the Aquarian Morning, or whatever you want to call it. It is not more of the same: get mine and get buried in debt. Here is romance, service, health, companionship and freedom. What will it take for this movement to grow, to balloon and become the exciting, the transformative force so lacking today?
Art Kopecky is the author of 'New Buffalo: Journals from a Taos Commune' and 'Leaving New Buffalo,' UNM Press. He lives in Sebastopol with his family and works as a contractor and finish carpenter.