Utopian Follies – WIF Idealistic Travel

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Experimental Towns

and Communes

The notion of a utopia—a perfect, egalitarian, and harmonious paradise on Earth—has been a recurring theme in literature and storytelling for hundreds of years. It all started with the philosopher Plato’s book Republic, and it’s since been expressed in other books including Thomas More’s Utopia and Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, as well as in films like Lost Horizon and Things to Come. All this discussion of an ideal and peaceful society has encouraged many people to try and bring these ideas into reality through spiritual communes and new forms of community organization. Whether or not any of the following ten examples actually succeeded is definitely up for debate, but there’s no denying that they work as some interesting experiments in formulating new ways of living.

10. Arcosanti

View of Arcosanti from the southeast, showing buildings from Crafts III on the far left to the guestrooms in the right foreground

View of Arcosanti from the southeast, showing buildings from Crafts III on the far left to the guestrooms in the right foreground

In the desert 70 miles north of Phoenix lies Arcosanti, an experimental town built in 1970 that claims to be an attempt to discover the perfect fusion of architecture and ecology. As imagined by architectural mastermind Paolo Soleri, all the buildings within the city are designed so that they and the people who live in them can work in harmony with their environment. With this in mind, many buildings at the site are multi-use, and all make use of solar power for heating, cooling, and electricity. Arcosanti itself is less of a community than it is a school. Workshops are held throughout the year in order to teach people how to build in Soleri’s unique style, and it is these students—along with the 50 or so teachers who make up the town’s permanent population—who have constructed most of the buildings on the 25-acre site. image: http://www.chromasomatic.com

Community Philosophy:

At the heart of Arcosanti’s philosophy is a strong belief in teaching people to live smarter. The community is meant to serve as an example of how urban centers could run more cheaply and efficiently with just a few design adjustments. For example, many of the buildings at the site are made to reflect the changing seasons, so that a maximum amount of sunlight is allowed in during the winter and a minimum amount during the summer. Meanwhile, the planning of the city itself avoided a typical grid layout in favor of a more courtyard-oriented style, which the residents say encourages community interaction.

9. Auroville

Image result for Auroville

One of the hallmarks of these experimental communities is an emphasis on love and peace, usually as filtered through a heavy dose of new age philosophy. Auroville, a multicultural city in southern India, is a perfect example. Since its inception, the town has worked to realize what its website calls “human unity” and the “transformation of consciousness.” The colony was started in the late sixties by Sri Aurobindo and Mirra Richard, and its central philosophy is a belief that society will learn to progress forward only after people of many nations and cultures have learned to live together in harmony. The community works to act as a miniature experiment in world peace. Its over 2,000 residents hail from more than 40 different nations, and they all live and work together with a mind toward finding new and unique ways to achieve balance and harmony among people of different races, religions, and political backgrounds.

Community Philosophy:

Residents of Auroville are expected to build their own house and make donations to the community fund, but beyond this all necessities—including public school, utilities, and health care—are covered by the community, which is itself partially financed by the Indian government. There is no form of hard currency within the commune; rather, all residents use an account system that connects to a central bank. The city is designed in the shape of a circle, around which are areas containing gardens, farmland, an educational and cultural center, and a so-called “peace area” where silence is enforced at all times.

8. Findhorn Ecovillage

Scotland’s Findhorn Ecovillage is perhaps the most notable example of a community founded on principles of environmental sustainability and renewable energy. The commune was started in the 1960s, but it didn’t take on its current form until 1982, when residents made a concerted effort to show that an environmentally unobtrusive community could flourish both socially and economically. The village still exists today, and has been noted as having the smallest environmental footprint of any town in the modern world. This is thanks to an ecologically friendly building code that encourages the use of found materials—several houses are built from recycled whiskey barrels— along with wind turbines and a water treatment apparatus called the “Living Machine,” which makes use of algae, snails, and plant life to purify the community’s water supply.

Community Philosophy:

Part of Findhorn’s intended commitment to sustainability is an emphasis on autonomy. The village’s 350 residents have their own school, arts center, and businesses, which include everything from printmaking to pottery. There is even an independent currency, called the Eko, which is accepted at all community businesses. Beyond its ecological goals, the village has also gained a reputation—to some controversy—for espousing a new age philosophy of spiritualism and holistic health. Findhorn offers retreats that claim to assist in achieving sound mental health, and the organization has even put out a therapeutic board game that it claims can be “a substantial way of understanding and transforming key issues in your life.”

7. Pullman, Illinois

Greenstone Church and the Arcade park in Pullman, Chicago.

Greenstone Church and the Arcade park in Pullman, Chicago.

Though these communities are always started with the very best of intentions, sometimes the line between utopia and dystopia can get a little blurry. Such was the case with Pullman, Illinois, a company town that started as its own workers’ paradise and gradually degraded into an outright dictatorship. The town was conceived by George Pullman, a powerful industrialist who’d made his fortune building ornate and expensive sleeping cars for passenger trains. In 1880, Pullman purchased several thousand acres of land on the outskirts of Chicago with a mind toward building a new factory. Thinking that he could also satisfy his workers by giving them a nice, safe place to live, Pullman had his architect design a miniature town around the factory. The town featured elaborate Victorian architecture and included its own school, shopping centers, theatre, library, church, and even a man-made lake.

Community Philosophy:

For the first few years, the town of Pullman seemed to be a remarkable success. It was used as an exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair, and it regularly won awards for being one of the best places to live in the country. But beneath its quaint exterior, Pullman was hiding a dark secret. Most troubling of all was that George Pullman ran the town like a despot. He banned certain business (like saloons) from opening nearby, forbade the town from starting an independent newspaper, and regularly had inspectors search through employees’ homes for signs of damage or lack of cleanliness. Employees often protested his baron-like behavior, but they had no recourse, since the town and all its 1400 structures were entirely owned by the company. When he lowered wages in 1894, things quickly turned violent, and a large-scale strike in Pullman had to broken up by the military. In the wake of this incident, the government looked into the legality of the town of Pullman and deemed it “un-American.” It was then broken up and later annexed by the city of Chicago.

6. The Harmony Society Communities

Religious Utopian communities were all the rage in the 1800s, and the communes started by the Harmony Society are some of the most famous examples. The society formed in Germany in the late 1700s, but their mystical take on Christianity soon drew the ire of the Lutheran Church.  A group led by Johann Georg Rapp immigrated to the Pennsylvania in 1803, and it was there that they decided to establish the first of what would eventually be three independent communes. Their Pennsylvania settlement, called Harmony, proved incredibly successful, and it eventually boasted a population of over 800 followers. The residents sold the land for a profit after ten years and started a new commune in Indiana, but they returned to Pennsylvania in 1824 and formed a third commune, which they called Economy.

Community Philosophy:

The Harmony Society’s theosophist religious convictions meant that they had very strict behavioral codes. Chief among them were strong beliefs in temperance, celibacy, and equality. Members rejected worldly possessions, eschewed sexual relationships—including marriage, to a certain extent—and practiced nonviolence. Rapp acted as the community’s resident prophet, and made several predictions about the imminent return of Jesus to the Earth. When his predictions didn’t come true, many members abandoned the community, but it managed to survive well until after Rapp’s death in 1847. Economy, PA finally dissolved in the early 1900s, both because of an ever mounting debt and because the residents’ celibacy guaranteed that there was no new generation left to take over.

5. The Federation of Damanhur

Named after an ancient Egyptian city, the Federation of Damanhur is a Utopian commune located outside of Turin, Italy. It was started in the ‘70s by Oberto Airaudi and a small group of followers, and today it counts as many as 800 citizens among its ranks. There are even offshoot centers for the group located as far away as the U.S. and Japan. The community refers to itself as a “collective dream” where “spiritual, artistic, and social research” takes place. The group prizes environmental sustainability, artistic expression, and optimism above all else, and meditation and self-knowledge are considered fundamental to personal growth.  But while this philosophy might not seem extraordinary, the way it is expressed certainly is. This was most apparent in 1992, when the group revealed a series of striking underground temples—supposedly a monument to peace and the power of human collaboration—that they had been constructing since the late ‘70s.

Community Philosophy:

Damanhur, though not sovereign from Italy, operates as though it were its own independent nation. There is a constitution, a currency called “credito,” and an independent infrastructure, and at this point there are even grown children who were born in the community and have lived there all their life. Perhaps most interesting is the community’s style of marriage, which works on a contract system. Prior to their wedding, couples decide on a period of time that the marriage will last. Once that period has elapsed, the two can either go their separate ways or agree to renew the marriage for a new span of time.

4. The Farm

Communal living experienced a renaissance with the rise of the hippie movement, when thousands of young people dropped out of society and attempted to form independent, utopian communities. The biggest and most notable of them all is certainly a town in Summerton, Tennessee known only as “The Farm.” The town was the brainchild of Stephen Gaskin, a creative writing teacher from San Francisco who led a caravan of cars and busses across the country to Tennessee, where they bought a 1,000-acre tract of land on a former cattle ranch. The Farm soon became legendary in underground culture, and as new members journeyed to Tennessee from around the country, the community soon grew into a miniature metropolis of tents and log cabins. By 1980, there were over 1,000 people living at the Farm.

Community Philosophy:

In the early days, residents of The Farm took a “vow of poverty” and swore off tobacco, alcohol, and all animal products. All possessions were communal, and residents regularly engaged in group marriages. These restrictions have since loosened, but the community still maintains a steadfast devotion to vegetarianism and environmentally friendly living, and today it works as an ecovillage where all power is generated through solar panels and biofuels. It also has an acclaimed school of midwifery, a book publishing company, and a grade school. Residents have even spearheaded a number of different charitable endeavors around the world. The community went through some tough time in the 80s, and many of the original members abandoned it, but it’s still around today, and as many as 175 people live and work there year round.

3. Israeli Kibbutzim

The term “kibbutz” doesn’t refer to one specific community, but rather to a form of experimental living that became popular in Israel in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The term itself can be translated as “gathering,” and it’s used to describe the numerous cooperative communes that were founded by Jewish immigrants in Palestine prior to the creation of Israel. Many came to the Middle East from Russia to be pioneer farmers, and they chose to live collectively because it allowed for greater safety and a more efficient way of growing crops. Most kibbutzim had about 200 members, and by 1950 there were as many as 60,000 people living in the communes all across Israel. The communities were originally started purely as Jewish farming ventures, but by the ‘30s many had taken on a socialist philosophy, and some of the kibbutzim with more Utopian goals began to allow people of all religions to join.

Community Philosophy:

A key philosophy of these kibbutzim was a devotion to equality. All major decisions were made communally in group meetings. Women were seen as equals to men, and were even required to serve as armed guards at times. There were no personal possessions—not even clothing—and even children were considered to belong to the community at large. Most grew up living with one another in their own communal house, and they spent little time with their parents outside of community activities. After the formation of Israel and the rise of capitalism, many of these values began to be replaced by more modern, individualistic tendencies. Today, most kibbutzim have become private enterprises, and farming has largely been abandoned. Despite this decline, there are still as many as 125,000 people—about 3% of the total population—currently living in kibbutz-style communes all over Israel.

2. Oneida Colony

Image result for Oneida Colony

New York’s Oneida Colony community was started in 1848 by John Humphrey Noyes, a practitioner of a sect of Christianity he called Perfectionism, which stated that Christ had already returned and it was the people who had to build paradise on Earth. The community started as a small group of about 80 people, but this number had doubled within a few years, and by 1880 there were as many as 350 people of all ages living at Oneida. The group had a small plot of land, but its primary base of operations was a 92,000 square foot mansion house, where all the members lived and worked communally.

Community Philosophy:

Oneida worked under a pseudo-socialist style wherein each member would work to the degree that they were able. Women were afforded more freedom than was common at the time, and all possessions were communal. Noyes instituted a strange program of character improvement where each member of the group was regularly brought before a committee and told their personal flaws, which they were expected to fix. As a rule, monogamy was forbidden within Oneida. Instead, the community engaged in a “complex marriage” system where each member was effectively “married” to everyone else. Strong attachments to a single person were discouraged, and members of the commune would regularly trade out sexual partners throughout the course of the week. This included young people, who were supposedly “initiated” into the program by an elder member of the opposite sex. These practices proved to be Oneida’s undoing, as Noyes was forced to flee the country in 1879 in order to escape charges of statutory rape. Without his more-than-questionable guidance, the community soon broke apart.

1. Brook Farm

Image result for Brook Farm George and Sophia Ripley

Massachusetts’s Brook Farm community only lasted for five years, and was a conclusive failure in nearly every way. But it remains one of the most notable experimental communities of the 1800s, if only because of the many famous people who were associated with it.  The town was started by George and Sophia Ripley in 1841. The couple subscribed to the transcendental philosophy espoused by poets and thinkers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, and they based their community on these ideals. The basic idea was that by pooling their labor efforts, a society could eliminate the drudgery of work and have time engage in intellectual pursuits and leisure activities. The Ripleys raised money through a joint stock company that counted Nathaniel Hawthorne among its investors, and after buying several acres of farmland outside of Boston, put their experiment into action.

Community Philosophy:

In the beginning, Brook Farm worked around a policy of personal freedom and equality. Members were allowed to choose what kind of work they wanted to do, and special time was set aside for leisure and intellectual study. Women enjoyed much greater equality than was common at that time. Not only were they paid the same as the men, but they were considered autonomous from their husbands and were allowed to be shareholders in the community at large. The commune tried to self-sustain by farming, opening a school, and selling goods like clothing, but they were never able to fully get out of debt. These financial troubles, along with Ripley’s inability to get luminaries like Emerson or Thoreau (who visited many times) to become permanent members, eventually led to the adoption of a more rigid, socialistic philosophy. Against the wishes of many of the members, the community had soon adopted more rules and social guidelines. When a massive communal house caught fire and burned halfway through construction, Brook Farm fell into even more debt, and in 1846 it dissolved for good.


Utopian Follies

– WIF Idealistic Travel

The NULL Solution = Episode 98

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The NULL Solution = Episode 98

…“Harmonia sounds like it could be a utopia, as in Valhalla or Camelot. Are you suggesting that literature is the key?” The Classics was not Roy Crippen’s favorite class in school…

HORIZONS MURAL by Robert McCall

Gus McKinney cannot keep quiet.

He, his two closest friends and a supercomputer named Watson III have been pouring over the Martian riddle, the mathematical conundrum wrapped in a quiz, for months and months on end.

“I am sick and tired of racking my brain over this thing. Theodor Geisel must be behind this!”

“The Chinese think we are the culprits and you are guessing Dr. Seuss’ ghost? How about you Fitch, what’s your theory?” Roy posits.

“I believe it is simpler than just bad math, but that’s as far I’ve gotten. The overriding issue is who is behind it and why. Does the word/term “harmonia” ring a bell to either of you?”

“Why do you ask Fitch?”

“I have programmed Watson III to solve the riddle every single day at Midnight.”

“It hasn’t solved it though, so what’s your point?”

“Well, seven times in 7 different languages, the term “harmonia” has been Watson’s final conclusion.”

“There is ammonia present in Mars’ refreshed atmosphere; we’ve known that for years.”

“Not a-m-m-o–n-i-a, Gus. Yes, you can’t have life without it, but Watson’s English spelling is h-a-r-m-o-n-i-a. I needed a universal translator for most of his other answers.”

“Harmonia sounds like it could be a utopia, as in Valhalla or Camelot. Are you suggesting that literature is the key?” The Classics was not Roy’s favorite in school. He got a weak C in the class.

“Utopia is more of a concept than a place, Dad. Maybe that is the key that lets us down to the surface. How about I give it a whirl?”

“A whirl to you means another ride in SEx. You know that certain people are attempting to monitor when and where you go off to in that thing? You cannot treat it like it’s the family car.”

“We just went over it with a fine tooth comb last week, right Fitch?”

“The SOL drive is as amazing as ever Gus!”

Roy is aware that they absolutely lucked out with the speed-of-light upgrade, thanks to Celeste M. and her covert friends. “A night flight couldn’t do any harm I suppose. It has been a while since we knocked on Mars’ door. Make sure you get some sleep before then.”


The NULL Solution =

Episode 98


page 99

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 264

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 264

…“Yes Fortän, I am afraid the times are tilting back to our uneasy past.” He speaks to the female Eridanian of greatest familiarity…

The dust still uneasy on hurried graves-3 by Nilima Sheikh,

Founder Shrine

Founders Shrine

As well-liked and welcomed as the Earthlings have become, their overall impact on the average Eridanian is profound and growing. This very subject has prompted the Supreme Elder of the High Counsel to gather the other members, at the Founder Shrine, the point where the first settlers set foot on this Utopian and enchanted world.

The Shrine is like no other structure on Eridanus, the only such brick & mortar allowed to use the architectural look of the Mother Planet. Its opulence and grandeur stands as a haunting reminder of their sorted past. For the “average” Eridanian, special permission is needed to visit it.

Ekcello comes here most often, gliding through the hall of this edifice, to hear the echoes of a long forgotten civilization. In keeping with time-honored tradition, only the Olde Language isused here and so it will be during this special session of the High Counsel.

In this very hall, speaking the Olde Language, another of the elders is in search of his/her roots: “It is refreshing to speak aloud Ekcello,” chimes the other, in rusty tones and pitches.

“Yes Fortän, I am afraid the times are tilting back to our uneasy past.” He speaks to the female Eridanian of greatest familiarity to him. She is his mate, the mother of Cerella, and just so happens to Elder a distant towered city.

“Did you bring our daughter with you?” Her tone chills as she utters mention of her offspring.

“She is too close to this matter Fortän. Her involvement with the humans is affecting her objectivity.” He is similar in pragmatic tone.

“You have convened the High Counsel concerning the Earth people, have you not?”

“It weighs heavily on my mind, as all can sense. There is a need for a consensus assessment of the growing emotional influence of these earthlings on our world.”


THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 264


page 307

Contents TRT

World Wide Words Issue 921 – WIF Style

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WIF Grammar 101-001

World Wide Words

from Michael Quinion of the U.K.

Contents WWW

1. Feedback, Notes and Comments.

2. Satisficer.

3. From my reading.

4. Beside oneself.

5. Sic!

6. Archives (click on)

1. letter-to-editor

New elements Referencing my piece last time, Peter Jacobs told me there’s a petition to honour the late Ian (Lemmy) Kilmister of Motörhead by naming one of the recently discovered heavy metal elements after him as lemmium. And Barton Bresnik similarly noted another petition to do the same for Sir Terry Pratchett by naming a element octarine.

To fit the standard suffix -ium for chemical elements the latter might need to be recast as octarinium, though copyeditor Peter Morris points out that the name would work for element 117; this is in the same group as fluorine, chlorine, bromine and iodine, which by the rules of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry have names ending in-ine. A similar exception to the rule would apply to element 118, which belongs with neon, argon, krypton and xenon; it has been suggested that it should be called newton, after Sir Isaac.

Fifteen elements are named for people, including Albert Einstein, Dmitri Mendeleev, Lise Meitner and Nicolaus Copernicus. Most commemorate famous scientists and all but two are for synthesised elements beyond uranium. An exception is samarium, indirectly commemorating a little-known Russian mining engineer named Vasili Samarsky-Bykhovets.

The chance of either petition being successful is extremely small.

Lucius Beebe & Charles Clegg

Ferroequinologist

My snippet on this word for a lover of trains led to an email from Bob Crowley: “The term originated from the writer Lucius Beebe. Beebe was a wealthy bon vivant, ne’er-do-well, hard drinker, newspaper columnist, railfan [railway enthusiast] and railway private car owner. Beebe had a passion for form and formality, and decided his hobby of railroading needed a formal Latin term to describe it, so he invented one meaning ‘one who studies the iron horse’ orferroequinologist.”

I had assumed that my earliest finding of the word in print wasn’t actually the first, but lack of time prevented me from following the trail further back. Mr Crowley’s mention of Beebe led me to Andrew Dow’s Dictionary of Railway Quotations, which has a substantial entry for the word. Dow cites a letter to Trains Magazine in April 1947 (which I’ve not yet been able to unearth) as its earliest use in print and its adoption as the title of the magazine of the old Central Coast Railway Club in 1952. Dow argues that Beebe picked up the term only later.

An item in the journal American Speech of December 1950 gave some additional background: “The comic spirit which produced such Latinisms as anti-fogmatic (an alcoholic drink that counteracts the effects of fog) and infracaninophile (a lover of the underdog) presided over the birth offerroequinologist. On February 5, 1950, a group of iron-horse lovers from Richmond, Virginia, who are fond of railroad lore, made a sentimental journey over the fourteen-mile-long Albemarle and Nelson Railway when it ran its last passenger train. These enthusiasts are members of the Old Dominion Railway Club; they enjoy using the nicknameferroequinologists of themselves.”

I can’t find the word in any of Lucius Beebe’s many publications that I’ve been able to access. But then, he was a writer of a generation and style that would have rejected the idea of coining words, especially mock Latinisms. We may never be able to link the word’s origin nearer than to some unsung railway enthusiast knowledgeable in Latin, perhaps sometime in the 1940s.

Words-001

 

Sconce Michael Keating and Andrew Shilcock tell me the college sense of a fine was in use during their studies at Cambridge University, respectively at Sidney Sussex and Downing. As I never came across it in my own college, Peterhouse, it would seem to have been restricted in its usage.

James Taylor commented, “At my Oxford college (Worcester), sconcing was a relatively formal and well-established process. At any formal dinner, guests could ask the Provost (or senior fellow present) to sconce a fellow guest for some alleged transgression, but the request had to be made in writing, in Latin (or perhaps Greek; either way it meant the universe of potential sconcers was pretty small). If the request was successful, a tankard full of beer would be brought in from the kitchen, which the transgressor was supposed to down in one. If the request was not successful, the sconcer could technically be sconced — but more usually the Provost would reward them with a bottle of wine.”

David Willbe added, “When I was at Oxford (1998-2001) the various sports teams did operate systems of punitive actions for (real and imagined) infractions but they were referred to as fines, penalties or forfeits. The only sense in which ‘sconce’ was used was for a specific punishment, usually reserved for serious ‘offences’, of having to down a large drink. I’d imagine it’s that practice to which the Cherwell andTelegraph articles refer. The folk etymology of sconce that prevailed at the time was that the word referred to an archaic drinking vessel, something like a stein, which had fallen into disuse other than for this punishment — hence the name had transferred to the punishment.”

Terry Walsh noted that the source Latin term was absconsa lanterna, notlaterna, and added that the term has been used in Roman Catholic countries “for the small light which was used to read scripture during nocturnal mass and other religious services.”

Thank your mother for the rabbits Janet Alton followed up my piece of two issues ago and comments last time: “I was thinking how people adopt little catchphrases and trot them out habitually. When I was very small in Rotherham in the 1950s, we used to visit an elderly relative who always gently admonished children who might be tempted to start tearing about: ‘Mind how you step over those mince pies!’ Much later, as an adult, I knew an elderly Sheffield man who, if he called at your house, would always say ‘I’ve come to tell you I’m not coming!’”

Ms Alton’s second one reminds me of a catchphrase of the late British comedian Max Bygraves from the 1950s: “I’ve arrived, and to prove it I’m here!” I’d guess Ms Alton’s pair come from similar, albeit forgotten, sources.

Words of the Year A late entrant to my collection of prize-winning words of 2015 was provided by Ursula Roth, who tells us, “In Germany, the Academy for German Language has chosen Smombie as word of the year 2015. It combines smartphone and zombie for those who stare at their smartphones without perceiving their surroundings.” A smart zombie: how curiously oxymoronic.

2. Satisficer

Image result for paradox

The idea here is the paradox of choice.

The classic story is the one about the donkey which was placed exactly halfway between two bales of hay. Unable to decide which one of the two bales was the more enticing, the poor animal starved to death. The modern equivalent is supermarket shelves laden with two dozen varieties of tomato sauce or twenty sorts of bread or shops with dozens of styles of trainers or jeans. The burden of having to decide among myriad options has been shown to leave people dissatisfied, stressed and miserable about the choice they finally make — perhaps one of the others was better?

A satisficer, on the other hand, is content with the idea that good is good enough. If the pair of jeans fits and wears well or the tomato sauce tastes pretty good then that’s fine. Another choice might have been better but almost certainly not so much better that the hassle of testing all the possibilities was worth the time and trouble.

Though the word is often applied to the consumerist lifestyle in developed countries, the American economist and Nobel laureate Herbert Simon coined it more than half a century ago in more general terms. His original creation was satisfice, a conflation of satisfy and suffice, which appeared first in an article in 1956. He extended his ideas the following year in his books Administrative Behavior and Models of Man.

His discussion was directed at all forms of decision making, in which he argued that people showed what he called bounded rationality. Contrary to the conventional view of economists, people don’t seek to maximise the benefit they get from some course of action because in most cases they don’t have all the facts or too much information would overwhelm them.

The best situation may not be, as might be thought, to have no choice at all (which brings problems of its own), but to have a relatively limited range of choices that makes it feasible to select the most appropriate.

3.

Read with me

Read with me

• An article on skincare introduced me to non-comedogenic. Ripping this into its constituent pieces suggests that it refers to something which prevents comedos. Next question. The Oxford English Dictionary’s entry written a century ago gives a long and rather disgusting-sounding definition for comedo, which turns out to have nothing to do with comedy but refers to what we commonly call a blackhead. The OED helpfully adds that it’s from Latin, derives from the verb comedĕre, to eat up, and was originally a name given to worms which devour the body. Briefly, non-comedogenic refers to a product that doesn’t block the pores and so doesn’t risk the appearance of blackheads. Other works say that the more usual medical term these days is comedone, which the OED hasn’t yet got around to noticing.

• The long-standing children’s television series Pingu, about a family of penguins living in an igloo in Antarctica, is especially notable for using an expressive made-up language. It’s sometimes called penguinese but one of the voiceover artists on its remake, David Sant, called it grammelot. Invented speech has a long history in the theatre, going back to the Commedia dell’Arte 600 years ago. Actors took the sounds and intonations of the languages of their audiences and created expressive nonsense from them. The descriptions of it often call it grammelot and imply that this word is as old as the technique. The American etymologist Mark Liberman showed ten years ago that this certainly isn’t so and is most probably modern. Its first recorded appearances are in connection with Dario Fo’s use of the technique in his 1969 play Mistero Buffo, though it has been asserted that he didn’t invent it but borrowed it from slightly earlier French sources. Whatever its origin, grammelot seems certain to be a nonsense word itself.

• The word utopia is widely recognised and understood — in many other languages than just English — as shorthand for a perfect social, legal and political society in which everyone is happy. Its creator, Sir Thomas More, is less well known, though the 1966 Robert Bolt film, A Man for All Seasons, brought him vividly to life as Henry VIII’s lord chancellor who refused to support the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. He also featured in the recent BBC series Wolf Hall about his rival Thomas Cromwell. Commemorative events are being held this year to mark the quincentenary of Utopia, his book that brought the word into being. Though More wrote his work in Latin, he took his title from classical Greek ou, not, and topos, place. By derivation, therefore, utopia doesn’t exist. At times the word has been written Eutopia, using the Greek prefix eu-, meaning good, to emphasise the positive aspects of such an imagined society.

4. Beside oneself

Q From Marcus Wisbech: “Why is it that when a person is angry about something, we might say ‘He’s beside himself with rage?’ How can one be beside oneself?”

A It puzzles us today because language has changed but the idiom hasn’t.

The phrase appears first in the language a long time ago. In 1490, William Caxton, who established the first English printing press in Westminster, published a book with the title Eneydos. We know it better as The Aeneidby Virgil.

Caxton records its linguistic travels in its title: “translated oute of latyne in to frenshe, and oute of frenshe reduced in to Englysshe by me Wyllm Caxton”. This is the relevant passage, describing the grief of Dido at the departure of Aeneas. I’ll leave its rendering into modern English as an exercise for the reader:

She sawe the saylles, wyth the flote of the shippes that made good waye. Thenne byganne she, for grete distresse, to bete & smyte thre or four tymes wyth her fyste strongly ayenst her brest & to pulle her fayr heres from her hed, as mad & beside herself.”

Caxton was translating the French phrase hors de soi, outside oneself. He used beside because for him the word could mean outside of or away from. The idea was that powerful emotion had led Dido’s mind to escape her control. Her mind had got away from her and she wasn’t herself.

We use the phrase rather less now than we used to. When it appears, it is most often related to rage but it can also refer to delight, grief, amazement, excitement, horror, or any other powerful emotion.

5. SIC

• A reviewer on Amazon wrote of author John Grisham’s lawyer hero Sebastian Rudd that he has an “ongoing custardy battle for his son”.

• Marc Picard and John Pearson saw that on 28 January the BBC site reported, briefly, that a man arrested in Paris “co-manages a brassiere”.

• Larry Israel and Howard Sinberg spotted a headline error that turns up on US newspaper sites so often that it has become a perennial joke, Let’s give it one last moment in the sun because this time it appeared (on 26 January) on the website of the prestigious New York Times: “Police Officer Shoots Man With Knife in Lower Manhattan”. The NYT rapidly changed it.

• Robert Waterhouse came across a comment in The Guardian’s sports pages of 5 February about prospects for the Six Nations rugby tournament: “If England’s new captain can solidify their scums …”.


Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Created: 6 Feb 2016


 

World Wide Words Issue 921

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Shangri-La’s & Utopias

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Shangri-La’s & Utopias

 

Lost Horizon is a 1933 novel by English writer James Hilton. The book was turned into a movie, also called Lost Horizon, in 1937 by director Frank Capra. It is best remembered as the origin of Shangri-La, a fictional utopian lamasery high in the mountains of Tibet.

The Plot…

Hugh Conway, a veteran member of the British diplomatic service, finds inner peace, love, and a sense of purpose in Shangri-La, whose inhabitants enjoy unheard-oflongevity. Among the book’s themes is an allusion to the possibility of another cataclysmic world war brewing. It is said to have been inspired at least in part by accounts of travels in Tibetan borderlands, published in National Geographic by the explorer and botanist Joseph Rock. The remote communities he visited, such as Muli, show many similarities to the fictional Shangri-La. One such town, Zhongdian, has now officially renamed itself Shangri La (Chinese: Xianggelila) because of its claim to be the inspiration for the novel.

The book explicitly notes that, having made war on the ground, man would now fill the skies with death, and all precious things were in danger of being lost, like the lost histories of Rome (“Lost books of Livy”). It was hoped that, overlooked by the violent, Shangri-la would preserve them and reveal them later to a receptive world exhausted by war. That was the real purpose of the lamasery; study, inner peace, and long life were merely a side benefit to living there.

Conway is a veteran of the trench warfare of WWI, with the emotional state frequently cited after that war—a sense of emotional exhaustion or accelerated emotional aging. This harmonises with the existing residents of the lamasery and he is strongly attracted to life at Shangri-La.

 

 

Utopia (Libellus vere aureus, nec minus salutaris quam festivus, de optimo rei publicae statu deque nova insula Utopia) is a work of fiction and political philosophy by Thomas More (1478–1535) published in 1516 in Latin. The book is a frame narrative primarily depicting a fictional island society and its religious, social and political customs.

Utopia Conceived…

“Utopia” is derived from the Greek words ou (οὐ), “not”, and topos (τόπος), “place”, with the suffix -iā (-ία) that is typical of toponyms; hence Outopía (Οὐτοπία; Latinized asUtopia, with stress on the second syllable), meaning “no-place-land”. In early modern English, Utopia was spelled “Utopie”, which is today rendered Utopy in some editions.

In English, Utopia is pronounced exactly as Eutopia (the latter word, in Greek Εὐτοπία[Eutopiā], meaning “good place,” contains the prefix εὐ- [eu-], “good”, with which the οὐof Utopia has come to be confused in the French and English pronunciation).[1] This is something that More himself addresses in an addendum to his book Wherfore not Utopie, but rather rightely my name is Eutopie, a place of felicitie.[2]

One interpretation holds that this suggests that while Utopia might be some sort of perfected society, it is ultimately unreachable (see below).

The Plot…

Woodcut by Ambrosius Holbein for a 1518 edition of Utopia. The lower left-hand corner shows the traveller Raphael Hythlodaeus describing the island.

The work begins with written correspondence between Thomas More and several people he had met on the continent: Peter Gilles, town clerk of Antwerp, and Jerome de Busleyden, counselor to Charles V. More chose these letters, which are communications between actual people, to further the plausibility of his fictional land. In the same spirit, these letters also include a specimen of theUtopian alphabet and its poetry. The letters also explain the lack of widespread travel to Utopia; during the first mention of the land, someone had coughed during announcement of the exact longitude and latitude. The first book tells of the traveller Raphael Hythloday, to whom More is introduced in Antwerp, and it also explores the subject of how best to counsel a prince, a popular topic at the time.

Shangri-La’s & Utopias

 

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