IS THERE A WAY OUT?
Margaret Smith and David Crossley
We discussed at length writing a long introduction but decided against it. The book is rich in individual people's critiques and visions and for us to try to synthesise these contributions would be a difficult and probably impossible task. There is no common style running through all the articles. Their great diversity merely reflects the enormously wide range of critiques, visions and solutions which have been generated by the present perilous state of the western world.
The main feeling expressed in the book is that there are radical alternatives available to people. Feelings of alienation, disillusionment, oppression and imprisonment are commonplace today in western society, among people of all ages, colours and classes; but there are ways out of this situation. The trouble is that to strive for improvement and change is a path of struggle and determination.
Some of the contributors are academics, researchers and students, in such fields as Political Science, Sociology, Education, Architecture and Environmental Studies. Others are people with no real individual power: ordinary workers, farm dwellers, itinerant workers, left-wing agitators, and people following various spiritual paths.
Their articles argue out a coherent, yet extremely diverse, philosophy of practical alternatives to improve our present-day society. Only a short time ago such ideas seemed utopian and unrealistic. Now they are becoming a reality and the world is forced to look closely at solar and methane energy, domes for school buildings and rapid housing, and healthier diets to prevent heart disease and the host of other degenerative diseases attacking the western man and woman. Meditation, relaxation therapy, encounter groups and co-counseling are just some of the possible outlets to strengthen and deepen our internal consciousness, so that we can become more whole and active human beings working for a liberated, egalitarian and saner world. Cooperative communities are offering for some people a means to strengthen, diversify and improve the quality of interpersonal relationships within the home environment. Some people find 'self-employment' in cooperative ventures which locate 'work' on a more integrated human level.
In Australia, even government bodies are becoming aware of the need for radical alternatives. For example, cluster housing rather than the great Australian dream of the home on a quarter-acre block, is being planned for some Canberra suburbs by the National Capital Development Commission (N.C.D.C.). The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (C.S.I.R.0.) is research in g into practical applications for solar energy. The Department of Urban and Regional Development (D.U.R.D.) is investigating various ways in which the physical environment of human society can be organised—and is considering plans for more communal organisation as an alternative for one of Australia's new cities.
Many of the under-thirty age group, who are part of this movement for radical cultural change, came out of a grouping which has been termed the 'counter culture', the 'alternative society', or just plain 'hippiedom'. The terms aren't so prevalent now that there has been a realisation that being an out group doesn't really help you or your society's problems.
To some extent the 'counter culture' and 'alternative society' has been a millennial dream. Young people grouped themselves together in a more or less cohesive force that was not only anti-Vietnam and anti-capitalism, and a reaction to many of the values and actions of mainstream society, but which also offered a different, alternative way of life to its adherents. In a Freudian sense it was very necessary for these people to have to redefine themselves so they would not be living a life of negation and complete alienation.
The movement was not simply a reaction against modern western society; it also sought to be a positive confirmation of a way of life in which the individual was liberated. Self-evolution was the main goal, in contradiction to the self-negation and alienation, which was seen to be the existing norm.
Nimbin and the Aquarius Festival were the watershed of such a feeling. It was believed that this was the real beginning of the Aquarian Age, and 'we were going to make it happen'. But Nimbin's Aquarius Festival only lasted ten days, though the spirit of the festival continues in some places and in some people.
Since then, there has been a mellowing of the movement. The ideals are still there but, through failure and suffering, they are now more realistic than utopian. There is a growing awareness that there has always been an underground struggling against mainstream culture. It is therefore important to come to terms with history, our parents and our culture, to assess the roles of each to our lives, to see where we truly have the answers, where there is agreement, and where 'they' have been able to teach us something.
Some of us have realised that to be fashionably 'alternative' is just as false as being fashionably anything. More honesty and truth is what's really needed for change for the benefit of the whole community and not just for the alternative one. Moving to the country might solve some people's particular hassles, but unless you move somewhere like Nimbin (despite all its problems and faults)where people are trying to communicate with the larger community and the local district, you will be doing very little to change the direction of society, and the oppressive nature of many people's lives. Food cooperatives may have solved for some people the problem of escaping from inflation (and from the packets manufactured by the 'food' companies and corporations) but if the notion of collective socialised consumerism doesn't get out in to the general community then the effect of these cooperatives on the profit motive will be nil.
One of the main tenets of people advocating radical alternatives goes beyond Marxism and the notion that equal distribution will solve most of man kind's problems, to a concern for less materialism for all, more ecological awareness, and more fulfilled creative living. However, a very valid criticism of this argument is that its advocates are mainly educated, young, middle-class people to whom the idea of giving up materialism is part of their rejection of middle-class values. To those people who have never had many material possessions, or lived physically comfortable lives, this whole anti-materialistic ethic seems designed to cheat them out of their rights.
Some members of the black community feel this very strongly. They regard the anti-materialists as being self-indulgent in their search for alternatives, the real problems in society are those of the oppressed and under-privileged groups in the community, who don't even have the option of rejecting the life style which is forced upon them.
The desperate reality of the life style of these oppressed groups cannot be denied and they need all the help they can get. But as Terry Widders says in his article about alternatives for the black community, essentially only blacks can determine the priorities for action to alleviate the plight of the black community and this is so for all the other oppressed minorities as well. Such groups deserve the energy and support of all those who are willing to give it, but non-members of the groups cannot determine what should be done, simply because they cannot fully appreciate all the ramifications of the situation in which these people find themselves.
Alternative minded, white, middle-class people find themselves in a similar situation, they have been trained, schooled and socialised to fulfill a role in society, with which they fundamentally disagree. So both the under-privileged groups and the conventionally 'better off' people really have a common cause. Only the nature of the oppression is different, and because of this, some of the means to overcome the oppression are also different.
Though some of the spokesmen of the alternative movement may have come out of the young, middle-class, educated elite (simply because such people are the most articulate, owing to their training) the movement contains people from many more diverse backgrounds than this. Today it is composed of people of all types everyone who feels himself to be oppressed in some way and is actively working to overcome this oppression is a member of the radical alternatives movement.
So for all participants it is a desperate search and one that will continue for a lifetime. For contributors like Tom Zubrycki it is a search for a de-schooled society, where grass roots political action is the key; for Peter Cock, it is the attainment of a communal life style which encourages the individual's and the group's creative and humanitarian potential; for Vera Figner, it is the activities of the women's movement, towards freeing women and all people from the constraints and alienating conditions of today's society; for Col James, it is recyclable housing and people's cooperative planning for a better, more ecological, and more humanely harmonious environment; for Derek Harper it is the power of meditation to alter and strengthen people's lives and allow them to be more whole and integrated human beings, working for a better society. The search for alternatives contains all these philosophies, and many more.
What is important, is that we must consider all these alternatives so that their sum total will produce in us more aware and active human beings, working towards social change. There is a way out, but it will be a long hard struggle.