Searching through lists of unread texts I have squirreled away in my little library, I came across several unread pieces by an author I once loved greatly but hadn’t read in years and years: Ursula K. Le Guin. I actually discover Le Guin because she was the daughter of the anthropologist Alfred Louis Kroeber of Ishi fame (what, you don’t know all about Ishi, the last of his tribe who single-handedly waged war on the United States and later lived out his life in a San Francisco museum?).
Back in the sixties when Le Guin started being published, there was a youthful movement directed at getting closer to mankind’s roots and living in a more direct relationship with the earth and its bounty. It was a time of Diggers and Hippies and Communes and an emphasis on accepting responsibility for the whole earth. Le Guin’s imaginative fiction reflected these themes and became very popular.
Recently I read Le Guin’s story The New Atlantis (which is available online). Written in 1975 it is an amazingly accurate depiction of a dystopian future in America that matches up well with the current situation and its apparent near future. You can see the results of climate change, the changes to society and government, etc. but I was struck by a complaint that I have been making for years: one that is leading culture and beauty to the dust bin of civilization. Here is a frightening quotation:
She probably got her training as some other doctor’s private pupil, under the counter. Very much as Simon learned mathematics, since the universities don’t teach much but Business Administration and Advertising and Media Skills any more.
No Art? No Literature? No Music? No Interpretive Dance?
But while I was reading I remembered back to Sir Francis Bacon and his vision of the New Atlantis. Bacon’s Atlantis was an island of great prosperity and innovation called Bensalem (later identified as America). It is interesting and humbling to contemplate how the promise of the New World exemplified in Bacon’s utopia grew through the years only to lose its way through greed and selfishness, sliding into a bleak dystopian future that only benefits the rich and powerful.
Now where did I put my copy of Sir Thomas More?