Thursday, September 24, 2009

Nature Never Wears A Mean Appearance

I’m prepared for autumn. I collect apples and press a riot of leaves between the pages of unread books. Autumn is for Emily Dickinson, whose grave I used to sit on to make diary entries, and Ralph Waldo Emerson and his transcendentalists. Transcendentalism is linked to German romanticism and Buddhism. It believes in the soul’s intuition, inspired, in part, by poetical experience, of nature as the most awe inspiring work of art. “Indeed the river is a perpetual gala, and boasts each month a new ornament”, Emerson writes in his essay Nature, 1836. The transcendentalists experimented with a utopian community called Brook Farm, begun in 1841 by Unitarian minister George Ripley. The mission of the farm was to “insure a more natural union between intellectual and manual labor ... guarantee the highest mental freedom, by providing all with labor...” In other words, everyone, at all levels of society, could share the workload, ideally giving everyone the same opportunity to pursue leisure activities. Brook Farm failed – no one wanted to give up their leisure time to harvest the hay (Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote “Thank God, my soul is not utterly buried under a dung-heap.”) - But still, society experiments with idealist communities.

Burning Man is one such experiment. Founder Larry Harvey explains:

“If technology itself is left to dictate our ends, then I think we can look forward to an increasingly disassociated way of living. Real community can only be attained through the experience of certain primal unities in the physical world....For the past 12 years I have directed Burning Man—a project dedicated to discovering those optimal forms of community which will produce human culture in the conditions of our post-modern mass society. Within a desert wilderness we build a city, a model world composed of people who attend our event from all over the globe. This virtual community is demographically diverse. It is multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and represents a wide range of age groups. It is formed in the image of the great ecumenical world that surrounds us; a teeming population of uprooted individuals. In other words, this intentional community that we create from nothing, and that returns to nothing when we leave, has been 'liberated' from nearly every context of ordinary life.”

Sound familiar?

Autumn is also for Burning Life (beginning October 17th) which is a microcosm of the Second Life experience itself and is modeled on the RL Burning Man event. Run by a slew of volunteer builders, musicians, artists and others, a temporary city and entertainments will be created, a testament to the power of the ephemeral. Write the organizers, “Together, we will build a city, and we voluntarily accept many of the same restrictions that Nature imposes on the real thing. We do this to see how creative we can be with the same palette of materials and to revel in the beauty of simplicity.” The most remarkable thing to see at both events is to watch how a city grows out of a blank canvas, and disappears again. The abbreviated life of anything transient, such as Burning Life, adds to its remarkable allure.

Perhaps the most successful communes are those that are ephemeral. At least in SL, you may choose to avoid being mired in the dung.