Utopia, Metopia, All God’s Chillun’ Gottopia!
I keep saying that it’s time we talk more about what might be distant visions of a more perfect society…I think that’s the ongoing American dream. So I’m giving the mic to a good friend and guest blogger Paul Luczak, who takes a pragmatic view in describing the closest we’re likely to get now and in the immediate future. We don’t completely agree, which is all the more reason why I want to feature him here. Check him out and reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to continue the conversation with him, or reach me at email@example.com.
Here’s Paul’s take:
I suspect even a few of us starry-eyed types seek utopia. People can’t help but dream of a Shangri-La, an earthly paradise. A utopia typically describes an imaginary community or society that possesses highly desirable qualities for its members. The term was coined by Sir Thomas More in his 1516 book Utopia describing a fictional island society in the new world. Some consider utopia to be far-fetched and deluded.
Utopias are based on ideology. There have been socialist, capitalist, left wing, right wing, religious, and nudist (beware of sun burn) utopian communities, most of them short lived. People buy into a common ideal, but the dual nature of man often spoils the ideal. Greed, the thirst for power and exploitation often shatter the dreams of equality and harmony as people continue to dream of an “earthly paradise” where we are free of constraints.
In 1762 Rosseau, the Enlightenment Philosopher, laid the groundwork for the ideals that framed democracy by suggesting that power lies with the people. Thomas Hobbes talked of the “state of nature” where might makes right and the strongest and meanest folks could just take from others at will. Hobbes states that man exchanges some freedoms for the protections of laws .Hobbes wisely states that without the social contract life would be “…solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
In 1977 I went to Hawaii alone. A friend backed out, yet I was undeterred. That was the second time that my stubbornness motivated me to go it alone. I had reluctantly travelled alone before and ended up having the time of my life.
I flew to Maui first and then Kauai with my guitar and backpack. I was 27 and in good shape physically from summers spent backpacking. Being solo and having a guitar proved to be a ticket to getting rides and social invitations. On Kauai I passed through Hanalei. For this midwestern born lad who had lived through his first rain-drenched Washington winter, I found a potential utopia in a “land called Hanalei.”
Camped in the county park, I settled into playing guitar and drinking Primo beers at a local restaurant. I was invited to help out on a catamaran that took tourists on sunset cruises.
Adventure called and I left the easy life behind, for I longed to hike the Kalalau Trail. Storing my guitar with my new friends, I set out on the up and down trail which is rated as one of the top ten most dangerous trails in America. I hiked the 11 mile Kalalau trail in one long, sweaty, twisting, puffing, slippery all-day shot.
I arrived, thirsty and exhausted after navigating the often narrow path over slippery slopes that crosses three streams and winds up and down hundreds of feet over the Pacific on the Na Pali cliffs. Curiously, the beach, waterfall and pool were strangely deserted. Eager to set up a campsite, I turned into a secluded bamboo grove and saw a beer keg and group of partiers. I quickly did a 180 and saw that a muscular fellow and two junior high aged boys blocked my exit.
The muscle man asked me, “How would you like a nice Hawaiian punch?” I recognized the line from a 1961 Hawaiian Punch™ commercial but decided not to chastise him for his lack of originality. I began to verbally attempt to negotiate a more pleasant outcome, but his fist was clenched and ready to strike me and the 35-pound backpack, still attached to my back. After some back and forth, he menacingly asked the boys, “Should I waste him?” I appealed to the lads, “Where I come from, dudes your age consider me a good guy.” They mercifully decided to let me go.
Instead, the leader made me chug warm draft beer from a half gallon wine bottle. “Drink like a man he insisted. I want to see it running down your chin and chest.” I complied, draining the half gallon bottle, pausing only for burps and breaths. The deal was consummated by him slapping me hard across the face. If you have heard the expression “There are no atheists in foxholes,” you will understand why I instantly thought, “Dear God, if this slap in the face is all I get out of this, I will be so thankful.”
The stinging on my cheek subsided as I set up camp away from the group in the trees and bushes and watched as Captain Zodiac came in two rubber dinghies and picked up the partiers. I watched the now spent partiers stagger into the boats, with their empty keg and camping gear, I saw that they had a different view of paradise than mine. Joni Mitchell’s wise judgment rang in my ear from my new favorite album Hejira that played on my Walkman.™ “Where some have found their paradise others come to harm.”
As I worked my way down the path to the waterfall and pools half-drunk, the sting on my face was forgotten as I rejoiced in the beauty of the ocean, the boiling surf and smell of salt and tropical sea. As the buzz of the partier’s outboards receded into the distance, a dozen or so fellow campers wandered down from their hiding spots to the pool. They laughed at my story as they shared their own tales of terror. They had been threatened, punched and sexually harassed during the siege.
I spent the rest of the time body surfing, snorkeling, looking to the plentiful stars in the clear night sky, sunburning my backside on the nude beach and bonding with the little community who had been freed from tyranny.
I also met the community of squatters who were drawn to the plentiful fruits, warm temperatures and promise of their own Shangri-La. Hiding from the ranger who carried a sidearm, they set up permanent camps, left piles of trash and made homes of tarps. The squatters were seeking something that is unattainable…a life free of rules.
The Kalalau State Park Rangers have their hands full with more than checking permits. People have fallen off cliffs, even been pushed off, drowned on beaches and streams and gotten more than a slap in the face from other folks who seek a far different paradise than my own.
Governments have created laws, courts, police, regulations, judges, lawyers, taxes and yes, folks, homeowners’ associations. We have given up some freedoms but we have gained the rule of law, safety and security. While I sometimes question why I can’t have a darker color stain on my fence than what the rules call for, I am also relieved that my neighbor can’t construct a 30 foot high replica of the Eiffel Tower in his front yard, raise rattlesnakes, or build a working guillotine (Please check your homeowners association to see if these activities are prohibited in your community).
My community of Tehaleh isn’t an earthly paradise, but it’s as close as I have come. It’s almost heaven. People are friendly. They mostly follow safe Covid 19 practices. It is quiet. Folks wave to one another and stop and chat. People mostly drive the speed limit. Most people pick up their dog crap. Residents respect one another and follow the rules. People contribute to making it better. In Trilogy, folks get each other’s mail, loan things to folks, help each other with jobs that require it and join clubs that provide for hobbies and better the community.
As the American author Henry Kuttner said, “When I die, I want to die in a utopia that I helped build.” So, lend a hand, smile at folks on our lovely trail system and thank our lucky stars that we live in almost heaven. And if anyone asks you if you would like a nice Hawaiian punch, I suggest that you politely decline.
 Puff the Magic Dragon, Peter, Paul & Mary, 1962.