In 2013 I published my first book of fiction, Entropia: Life Beyond Industrial Civilisation. This book has just been published in French, with a foreword by Serge Latouche, so to mark this occasion I’m publishing the introduction to Entropia below (in English). If you know any French speakers, please share this link with them. To purchase your ebook copy of ‘Entropia: Life Beyond Industrial Civilisation” click here.
The story I am to tell you in this book is a story about a community that became isolated on a small island in the wake of industrial civilisation’s collapse, during the third decade of the twenty-first century. Those who grew up on the Isle, as I did, sometimes liked to jest that we were the descendents of Plato’s banished poets, but the reality is that our humble story is considerably less romantic, with more grit and tears than any fairy tale could ever allow.
Still, without false modesty, it can be said that there are certain similarities between our story and the story of Plato’s poets, and it is those similarities that have prompted me, seven decades after the Great Disruption, to put our unfinished story into words. Admittedly, it may seem presumptuous of me to tell this tale, for I cannot claim to have any special insight into our way of life, other than the insight gained from being an ordinary member of my community. But perhaps that very ordinariness is what makes me a suitable guide. Whatever the case, the following account is motivated only by my desire to describe the nature of our way of life openly and accurately, as it has taken form in this final year of the twenty-first century. While I am convinced that this tale deserves to be told – if only to give account of an unusual and remarkable form of life – readers who are not curious to know more need read no further, bearing in mind only that for them this book was not written.
The story begins, somewhat unexpectedly no doubt, with a Texan oil magnate named Mortimer Flynn. The only child of a successful coal industrialist in Wales, Flynn sailed to the Americas in 1913 in search of wealth and adventure, hoping that the skills from his Oxford studies in economics and mechanical engineering would be in high demand in those regions where oil production was fast expanding. As things turned out, his hopes were not disappointed. Before long he had made a name for himself in the industry, and the business acumen that he developed left him eager to exploit his keen eye for investment. When his parents died in a train accident in 1919, leaving Mortimer a considerable inheritance, he found himself with the capital he needed for what eventually became the largest oil production company in Texas – Flynn and Co. A result of hard work, a small amount of luck, and an untroubled proclivity toward under-handed business practices, by the time Mortimer Flynn was forty he had become one of the richest and most powerful men in America.
By any conventional standard, Flynn was living a supremely successful life of the highest distinction. His oil empire proudly cast long shadows across the continent, and vast though it was, his empire continued to expand without any sign of letting up, driven onward by Flynn’s ravenous ambition. His friends admired him, his enemies feared him, and his name became known throughout the world, all of which gave Flynn considerable satisfaction. The enormous wealth that he had accumulated even placed in his hands what seemed like godly power, for he had discovered that there was very little in life that his persuasive chequebook could not either acquire or remove, directly or indirectly, justly or unjustly. Even the politicians were in his pockets, eager to indulge his every whim in the hope of favour or reward. All this allowed Flynn to carry himself with an unaffected confidence that seemed almost majestic. In short, he always looked in control.
Perhaps owing to his power, Flynn’s life also seemed to be characterised by pleasure and what one might even call happiness. Despite being cold and austere in his business practices, Flynn enjoyed a luxurious personal life of un-bridled extravagance, and for this he became even more notorious than he was as a ruthless and astute businessman. His lavish and exclusive soirees were always the talk of the times, as he would invite his guests to one of his mansions, sometimes for days or even weeks on end, and shower them with expensive gifts, the most exotic foods, and the finest entertainment money could buy. In addition to all this fame, luxury, and power, Flynn had a beautiful young wife, with whom he had two healthy children, and in this family life he seemed perfectly happy and content. Without exaggeration it can be said that Mortimer Flynn had achieved everything of which he had ever dreamed, and indeed so much more. He was truly a rare event, a spectacle of worldly success.
But gold does not always glitter – and achieving one’s dreams will not quench the fire in one’s belly if it turns out that those dreams were misconceived. Perhaps Flynn always had doubts about the authenticity of his life’s direction, forever suspect-ing in the depths of his nature that they were really his father’s dreams, or, more accurately, the world’s dreams, which he had unthinkingly adopted as his own out of some cowardly need to conform. But for some years he had repressed that suspicion or dismissed it prematurely as merely the unyielding ache of youth. As his wealth and power began to grow, however, that strange ache intensified and began to crescendo, developing into something clearer and much more frightening. Flynn began questioning the real end towards which all his vital energies were directed, and this inquiry gave rise to an acute anxiety deep in his gut, which began to manifest in his life in the form of frequent outbursts of rage, often prompted by the smallest annoyances or distractions.
During one dark night of the soul, as he meditated on the meaning of his life in a cold sweat, Flynn realised that absolutely nothing – no reason for being – lay at the foundation of his existence. As he looked at himself in the mirror, he was aghast to discover that he could not even answer the question of what his oil empire was for. Who, then, was Mortimer Flynn? This question shattered the mirror into which he stared. He realised all at once that he had been running in the ruts of life with no conscious purpose, with no end to justify all his labours. Now that he had achieved all that he had been aiming for, he saw himself for what he was – a pretentious fool, a hollow man.
His entire value system, in which he had felt so safe and secure, was suddenly turned upside down and inside out, causing Flynn to experience a profound crisis of conscience from which he would never fully recover. His every success now seemed to him empty and pointless, his highest ideals testament only to a chronic failure of imagination. Bed-ridden for several months by what his doctor called a ‘breakdown of the nervous system’, Flynn knew that something much more significant had occurred.
He had woken up to his life of bad faith.
Months passed without any outward sign of improvement in Flynn’s condition, and his doctor had even come to think that there would be no recovery. One morning, however, without any warning or explanation, Flynn’s extended period of isolation in the darkness of his bedroom came to an abrupt end. He rose from his bed, drew his curtains, took a long, hot bath, and after getting into one of his suits, promptly resumed his formal duties at the head of his oil company, as if nothing had changed. Everything had changed, of course, and Flynn was simply adjusting to the bright light of his new reality before deciding on, or acting out, his next move. As if it were a play, the world watched on with bated breath.
In his absence, Flynn and Co had been managed competently though conservatively by its board of directors, which was instructed at once to give Flynn a thorough briefing on all that had happened in the months since his breakdown. The board interpreted this positively, as a sign that the old Flynn had returned to lead the company once again as meticulously and boldly as he had done in the past. After a few short weeks, however, just as Flynn became fully versed in the existing state of his company and of the oil markets more generally, he made a public announcement that would astonish and confuse not just the board of directors, but the entire world. At a press conference in New York, on 3 March 1932, Flynn announced that he had sold every share in his company and was resigning as its managing director, effective immediately. His only further comment was that he was leaving the world of business forever to pursue ‘other interests’ with his family, in some undisclosed location overseas. Without taking any questions from journalists, the iconoclastic Flynn removed his bowler hat, humbly bowed his head to the flashing cameras, and quietly left the building never to be seen or heard of again.
And so it was that Mortimer Flynn, aged forty-three and at the height of his power, exited the world stage. We now know from his diaries that following the infamous press conference, Flynn and his family sailed to Wales under aliases and the cover of disguise, where they lived in complete isolation for almost two years in the humblest of rural cottages, waiting for the newspapers to tire of their story. On the whole this was a peaceful time for the family, free from the burdens of public life and the pressures of big business, but there always remained a deep uncertainty about what the future held in store.
During this time Mortimer remained extremely with-drawn, spending the best part of every day and night in his study, immersing himself in the great works of philosophy and religion, both Eastern and Western. When he was not studying, he would meditate, leaving the family to go about their days almost as if he were not there. Although he spoke occasionally of his inner struggles and the causes of his anxiety, he was unable to express himself beyond a certain point, and his wife, Elizabeth, did not force the issue. She could see that Mortimer did not yet have any answers.
One day, as the children were outside playing in the fields under the morning sun, Mortimer invited Elizabeth into his study where, at long last, something of an explanation was attempted. He began, as he knew he must, with an apology, expressing his great sorrow for all the uncertainty he had caused her and the children, and most of all for not being able to talk in much detail about the reasons for his actions until now. The only point he offered in mitigation was that until now his reasons had been too unclear, although he did not use this as a basis to seek forgiveness. He also acknowledged with the deepest gratitude the love and tolerance she had shown him, which, after all he had done, he knew he did not deserve.
After saying this much, Mortimer hung his head, and a long, deafening silence followed, softened only by the faint sound of children laughing in the distance. Perfectly still, Elizabeth sat before him with deceptive calmness, showing no signs that her entire universe was spinning to the point of nausea. She began to agonise when she realised that her husband was not searching for words but rather trying to build up the courage to speak the words he had already found.
Eventually, as a single tear rolled down his cheek, Mortimer raised his grey eyes to look at his wife, and once again he began to speak. Having quietened whatever demons had been taunting his spirit, his words now flowed easily, as if liquidated by the unqualified honesty that was driving them out. He spoke at length of how intensely disillusioned he had become with his material success in the world, the emptiness of its pleasures, and the shallowness of its glamour. None of his achievements, he maintained, had ever satisfied his craving for meaning; they merely served as a comfortable distraction that kept him busy as he frittered away his life.
In a similar vein he spoke of the confusion of his desires, of how he had been chasing dreams that were not his own, and of how achieving those dreams had come to haunt his soul in ways that, ultimately, he could no longer endure. Less abstractly, he confessed to never liking the people that he invited to his parties – not one of them – and yet he admitted with as much shame as disappointment that all his efforts had been subconsciously motivated by the desire to have these people like him and envy him, as if they were the judges of his worth and therefore the people he must impress. But in dedicating his life to seeking the favour and respect of these upper-class fools, he had come to see that there was no greater fool than he.
Mortimer offered all this as an explanation for his breakdown, which he insisted was not a psychological breakdown but a spiritual one. As he said, it was not his mind that had become sick, but his soul. This was the vague, unclassifiable spiritual condition that had kept him bed-ridden for all those months, and which ultimately led to the rejection of his corporate empire. He suggested it was not so much a breakdown, then, as it was a breakthrough. Having slowly awakened to the inauthenticity of his life’s story, he had realised that he could not in good conscience continue playing the character he had written for himself. It therefore became necessary for him to shed his identity, as a snake sheds its skin, and create someone new. But who he was to become, he explained to his wife, was an internal riddle he had not yet solved.
Elizabeth listened to all this uneasily but also with strange relief, as if she had somehow always known that these words needed to be spoken. Deep down, perhaps, she had always wanted to speak similar words herself, to herself, but had not yet found the courage. She might not have understood her husband’s struggles, or her own, with much clarity, but she had known of them in the depths of her being, at the level of unprocessed sensibility. In other words, she was somehow aware that she and her husband had been living a fake, fragile life, one moulded strictly by the world’s influences, pressures, and expectations, and thus, despite appearances, not a life of their own shaping at all. What she had never expected, however – could never have expected – were the words that would come next from Mortimer’s mouth. She had assumed that her husband’s confession, so to speak – the baring of his soul – was essentially over; that he had already said everything of consequence. But she was mistaken.
Mortimer shifted in his chair and seemed to tense up, the life in his eyes appearing to implode into nothingness. His words no longer flowed so smoothly and for a time they dried up completely, once again engendering a deep anxiety in his wife, who remained as still as stone. But after another painfully long silence, Mortimer was able to finish what he had to say. He knew that there was no easy way to finish his confession, so he just took a deep breath, looked blankly downward at some indistinct object on the floor of his study, and said what he had to say in the clearest terms possible. He did not bother with pleasantries or euphemisms, for he knew that in the circumstances these would have been very out of place, and given that he did not need to censor his language with etiquette or stylistic conventions, this made it easier for the words to find their way out.
In a quiet voice Mortimer explained that for the past year or so – ever since his breakdown – he had been trying to decide whether or not to kill himself. This revelation set off yet another long silence, which was broken only by Elizabeth who quietly repeated the statement back to him, as if checking she had heard correctly, to which Mortimer responded by quietly repeating his difficult words once more: yes, he had been trying to decide whether or not to kill himself. If this blunt admission were not distressing enough, Mortimer then added that after all his recent readings and meditations on the human condition, the most he could say to the question of whether life was worth living was that he was not yet sure. Is it not so, he asked rhetorically, that suffering and horror lie at the core of existence? Were not violence, misery, and injustice rife in every corner of the world? Was not nature red in tooth and claw? If so, he whispered to himself, could existence ever be justified?
Mortimer looked up and assured his wife, who had gone a deathly pale, that given his uncertainty over life’s justification, he was not about to kill himself – at least, not yet. But he did not and, indeed, could not assure her that the question of suicide was off the table. In fact, he felt obliged to make it very clear that the question was still very open. In some sense he felt it was the most important question he could ever ask himself – the most important question humans could ever ask themselves – and yet he lamented the fact that none of his teachers, in any of the prestigious colleges at which he was educated, had ever dared to raise it. Was this because they too were unsure about whether life could be answered in the affirmative? He suspected that this was so.
Having managed to raise the question of suicide for himself, however, and having passionately explored its depths in the darkness and solitude of his bedroom back in Texas, Mortimer explained that he had turned to the great texts of philosophy and religion in search of answers, as soon as he had the freedom and opportunity to do so. This was why he had locked himself up in his study for the past two years, reading voraciously and meditating on the many potent insights he discovered waiting for him in books. But although the time he spent in internal dialogue with the great philosophers, prophets, and theologians had been necessary and of the greatest assistance, he had come to realise that whatever it was that he was seeking, this must be found, if it even exists, not in books, but in the world of lived experience.
Upon these grounds Mortimer explained that in order to continue exploring the question of whether human existence was justifiable, he felt he needed to give up his abstract wanderings in metaphysics and religion, and instead place his faith in the concrete domain of scientific inquiry. Dissatisfied with his armchair perspective, he declared that he could no longer merely ponder life; he felt compelled to experiment with life instead, to test certain hypotheses that he had formulated about the human situation.
At this stage the anxiety that had been consuming Elizabeth transformed into a burning intrigue. She had heard of scientists testing hypotheses about everything from the number of electrons in an atom to the distance between galaxies, but she had never heard of scientists testing the question of whether life itself was justifiable. Furthermore, she had not the faintest idea of how, or even whether, this could be done. What on earth was her husband talking about?
Had he at last gone mad?
Mortimer abruptly stood up and began pacing slowly around the room, stating that if Elizabeth would indulge him for a short while longer, everything would be explained. His words now flowed freely, as if the floodgates had finally opened, and his wife saw that there was a fire burning in his eyes.
Put simply, what he wanted to know – that is to say, what he wanted to test – was whether human beings, under ideal, or near ideal conditions, could live free and flourishing lives in harmony with each other and with nature, without human relations tending towards domination and destruction. This, Mortimer maintained, was a true test of whether life should be affirmed, for he felt that if there were the real possibility of a just and prosperous society of humans arising in the future, this would provide some justification today for humankind continuing the seemingly futile and excruciating struggle for existence. If, however, human beings could not live in peace and prosperity, even under idealised conditions, then arguably humankind’s struggle for existence was without justification. Indeed, Mortimer dispassionately noted that if his honest inquiry into the human condition were to demonstrate that life, at its core, was nothing but a tragic curse, and that love and joy were unable to balance the world’s unfathomable suffering, he would probably consider his own suicide to be logically inescapable – according to his own logic, at least.
But he felt that he was getting ahead of himself here, talking of such gloomy results before he had even discussed his methodology. In order to test the question of whether the struggle for existence was justified, Mortimer explained that he had devised an ambitious experiment in living, which he hoped to begin undertaking as soon as possible. His plan was to use his vast financial resources to purchase an island somewhere – somewhere very isolated, in the hope of being left alone – and on this island establish an intentional community, through which he could test his existential hypotheses. Although he had not yet worked out all the details of this plan, the outline was clear enough: he would find and purchase a suitable island; fund the construction of whatever infrastructure was needed to support a human community; and then initiate an interview process through which he would select a certain number of people – perhaps fifteen hundred or two thousand – to live on the island and participate in his living experiment.
It was absolutely essential, he continued, that this intentional community be based on economically and environmentally sound principles, because if the results of this proposed experiment could not be replicated around the world and endlessly into the future, it seemed to him that it would shed very little light on the human situation. In other words, he had no interest in creating some temporary, artificial utopia that was dependent on his wealth or which could not be sustained over the long term due to its impact on nature. Rather, he wanted to create, or see if he could create, the foundations for a self-sufficient and environ-mentally sound community in which human beings were able to live freely, peacefully, and happily, under some system of self-government. This intentional community would be called ‘Entropia’, Mortimer announced, a term that alluded to the biophysical laws of nature upon which his utopian living experiment would be based.
There was one final point about this experiment that Mortimer wished to emphasise as being of the utmost importance. In all his readings of philosophy, religion, politics, history, and economics, Mortimer explained that there was one feature of the human condition that continued to arise again and again, across all cultures and times, albeit in different forms, and which he insisted was the primary cause of human suffering. The feature to which he referred was the failure of humankind to understand what he called the Principle of Sufficiency. Throughout history, he main-tained, most human suffering was caused either by people not having sufficient material resources to live with dignity, or, by people having an insatiable greed for superfluous material wealth, and thereby never finding contentment in life no matter how wealthy they might become. It would seem to follow, Mortimer argued, that in order to avoid these two great causes of suffering, it was necessary for human beings to find and embrace ‘the Middle Way’ between having too little and wanting too much. Mortimer offered this as a simple way of framing the Principle of Sufficiency.
During his studies he had been struck by the fact that this principle was found, in various forms, not only in all the major religious and spiritual texts of the world, but also in political writings across the political spectrum. It seemed, in fact, that the importance of material sufficiency to a well-lived life was one point, perhaps the only point, on which all the wisdom traditions of humankind had found unanimous agreement. Surely there was something to it! Indeed, Mortimer hypothesised that it provided the secret to human flourishing. He declared with exhilaration that his living experiment would test this hypothesis, by attempting to create a self-sufficient society based on lifestyles of material sufficiency – a society where everyone had enough, and, just as importantly, where everyone knew how much was enough. Could it be done? Could such a society prosper?
That remained to be seen.
Mortimer brought his long oration to a close by stating that it was his intention to live on the island himself as an ordinary member of the community, without disclosing his identity, in order to experience and observe the results of his experiment first hand. He hastened to add that it was his deepest desire that Elizabeth and the children would join him on this journey. After an indeterminate amount of time living in such a community – perhaps a decade or so – Mortimer felt that he would have a reasonably clear insight into whether the human situation could be justified, which he reiterated was the question burning in his eyes.
After slowly moving his way across his study, deep in thought, Mortimer paused by the window and looked across the fields to where his children were playing happily on the edge of the woods. It was a heavenly picture of peace and innocence, and for a moment, as the morning light shone on his face, Mortimer seemed perfectly calm.
Over the next few days Mortimer and his wife were in constant dialogue about all that had been said, filling in the gaps and fleshing out the details. Although Elizabeth respectfully admitted that she found all the talk about suicide unnecessary and a bit misguided, she was quite aware that her husband had plunged deep into some perennial human questions and that his internal struggles were very real. She did sense, however, that Mortimer’s struggles had subsided somewhat, as if merely speaking his words had somehow relieved him of a heavy burden. There was a new lightness to him, one that his wife had not seen in him before, and this brought them closer together.
For the time being he stopped reading entirely, and he meditated only for a short time each morning. The rest of the day he would spend outside tending to the autumn garden with his wife, reconnecting with his children, and wandering in the surrounding woods like a lost poet, entranced by the simple delights of nature. Something had changed in Mortimer, as if he had drawn a line under some of his troubles, somehow containing and controlling them, even if he had not yet solved them.
On the issue of ‘Entropia’, Elizabeth needed no convincing. The world certainly needed a new direction, she said – Western cultures, in particular – and she was the first to agree that nothing would inspire change more than a real-world example of a better way. Accordingly, she considered the idea of creating a small island community that would seek to live within nature’s limits to be a fascinating and potentially important social experiment, one that would receive her unconditional support. Not only did she feel it was an imaginative exploration of alternative ways of living and being, but she knew it would be a far nobler use of their vast financial resources than throwing extravagant soirees for the world’s rich and famous, which she too had tired of long ago. Furthermore, she considered the project to be an exciting path away from their little hideaway cottage in the country, the solitude of which she said was beginning to weigh on her.
The job before them, then, was to turn the bold vision of Entropia into a concrete reality, a task that they both took to with dedication and zeal. Their lives were suddenly aglow with meaning and direction, and time began moving to a new rhythm.
After weeks of searching, with the help of various agents, Mortimer and Elizabeth discovered an island in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean that met their broad requirements. Without too much difficulty they managed to purchase the island from the New Zealand government, in whose jurisdiction it fell, while also keeping their identities hidden, which remained their desire. The island had been kept as a nature reserve, and so it was uninhabited, but given its isolation and relatively small size, the government had decided, in the midst of an economic depression, that ultimately it was an unjustified expense. When an offer that could not be refused was tendered for its purchase, the struggling conservative government did not let the opportunity pass it by, eagerly selling this neglected national treasure to the anonymous bidder.
Spanning some eleven-and-a-half thousand hectares, the roughly crescent-shaped island boasted a lush landscape of rainforests, meadows, and rolling hills, with an abundance of arable land that was carved up in places by rivers and streams flowing from the small mount that lay on the island’s eastern tip. On the northern edge, swamps and wetlands merged gradually with the ocean, expanding and contracting with the tides. Golden-brown sands, coral reefs, and turquoise waters circled the perimeter of the island, and within those borders nature was alive with all kinds of exotic plant and animal life. It was truly a place of natural splendour. When Mortimer and Elizabeth first set eyes on the Isle, they knew that if they could not create paradise here, they could do so nowhere. Its beauty was enough to induce a shudder of awe between the shoulder blades.
Once they had signed off on the purchase, they spent the best part of the next year designing, with the guidance of various expert advisors, the infrastructure needed for their intentional community to function: the houses, the buildings, the energy and utility services, and so forth. As soon as these plans were drawn up, construction and development began, and while that was taking place Mortimer and his wife began the process of finding willing participants to join them in this living experiment. In order to facilitate this process they decided to establish a transdisciplinary university on the Isle, which they were to call the Academy of Walden, and this allowed them to invite a broad range of students and teachers to apply for an indeterminate residency. Before long the applications started flowing in.
It was made very clear from the outset that successful applicants would be establishing an experimental comm-unity, and that university life would be but one aspect of a broader social experience, which would include working in the local economy to help provide for the community’s needs. Prospective students and teachers were advised further that they would be welcome (with their immediate families) to live on the island for as long as they wanted – their whole lives, if they wished – but that if they ever chose to leave, they could never return. This, it was explained, was purely an attempt to encourage members to stay for as long as possible, in order to promote a stable community. By the time the Isle was ready to be inhabited there were approximately seventeen hundred selected individuals from every ethnic, cultural, academic, and artistic background imaginable, all ready and willing to take up residency in Entropia at a moment’s notice.
And thus the experiment began!
Unsurprisingly, the first few months on the island were a festival of chaos and excitement. All manner of systems needed to be established in order to get the community funct-ioning, so formal classes in the Academy were delayed for some time. But eventually, after overcoming administrative problems of various sorts, life on the Isle fell into a certain rhythm. Evening lectures started being organised; the farms on the periphery of the residential blocks started producing food; and a flourishing and inclusive social life developed. Everyone seemed to be aware that they were a part of some-thing extraordinary, something truly unique in the history of humankind, and this realisation gave rise to a spirit of goodwill that seemed capable of solving any problems that arose. If nothing else, this first phase in the experiment was an impressive display of leaderless self-organisation.
During these early months Mortimer managed to integrate himself into the experiment well enough, as an ord-inary member of the community. He taught introductory classes on mechanics and algebra, and attended various classes on subjects ranging from art history to horticulture. He even started taking cello lessons, which secretly had been a lifelong dream of his, and he proved to have a natural flair for the instrument. Having grown a long beard during his time in the cottage, as well as having lost a considerable amount of weight, nobody ever recognised this amateur cellist as the imposing oil magnate he once was: he now went by the name Janus Bifrons, after the two-faced god of beginnings and transitions. Elizabeth’s identity remained similarly undisclosed, assisted by various simple changes to her hair and style of dress. She immediately flourished on the Isle, having been freed from the materialistic and patriarchal culture that for too long had stifled her innate vitality. It was as if their old life had been drawn in the sand but was now washed away by a new tide, never to reappear.
Over the next few years Mortimer was heartened by the progress made in the community, and it can be inferred from his good spirits that he had put the question of suicide to rest, encouraged by his wife’s counsel, no doubt. The Academy was proving to be a great success, evidenced by the fact that the libraries and gardens on the Isle were always full of people exploring and developing their latest intellectual passions. Furthermore, various guilds spontaneously arose, providing expert training in a vast array of practical skills, such as building, sewing, and gardening. Other guilds offered instruction in the fine arts – anything from painting to sculpture to music, as well as everything in between and beyond. Every night there would be live concerts in one of the various halls, or under the stars in the central garden, where musicians, poets, and storytellers would come together and perform their latest compositions, or experiment with new aesthetic styles and combinations. As well as a thriving cultural and social life, the productive foundations of the community had developed considerably, with especially well organised systems of food production and distribution. On the whole, people seemed to be living simply, happily, and cooperatively, and this gave Mortimer a sense that his experiment was meeting with some success.
Nevertheless, it became clear to Mortimer quite early on that his hopes for economic self-sufficiency had been extremely ambitious, and in fact that his expectations in this regard had been quite naive. Although the farms were well developed and provided a significant portion of the community’s food, much food was still imported. All manner of other things also needed to be imported, such as tools, medicines, paper, fabric, glass, and machinery, because the systems needed to produce these things, in the amount required, had not yet been established. A large amount of oil and coal was also imported, and the consumption of these energy sources even seemed to be increasing. Obviously Mortimer was perfectly capable of funding all the necessary imports, which he did, and he had even set up a trust fund to continue funding necessary expenses well into the future. But he recognised, with some unease, that this meant that there was an underlying artificiality to life on the Isle, given how much of the community’s requirements still depended on the imports he funded. Would the community eventually wean itself off the imports and his financial support? Could life as they knew it be sustained if they relied only on the resources provided for them on the island?
These were questions that Mortimer ultimately took to his grave.
It would be of some historical and sociological interest, no doubt, to describe in detail the form of life that developed on the Isle during these early decades of the Entropia experi-ment. After all, the circumstances were extraordinary, to say the least, and readers might well have questions about what life was like on the Isle. However, the fact that the experi-ment remained dependent on Mortimer’s financial support means that Entropia, at least in this early period, can shed very little light on the questions of human existence that had originally motivated Mortimer to create the experiment. In other words, Entropia may well have been as close as humankind ever got to a real-world utopia, but given its financial dependency, it was ultimately little more than an expensive and enjoyable social experiment, one that could never be universalised or self-sustaining, at least in its original form.
But the nature of Entropia changed forever when, a little over seven decades ago, the Great Disruption marked the collapse of industrial civilisation and the global economy upon which it was based. Almost overnight this catastrophic series of events completely cut the Isle off from the supply of imports it had been relying on, leaving the community to fend for itself as best it could. Everyone on the Isle suddenly discovered that they were no longer part of a comfortable living experiment with artificial economic foundations, but were instead facing the very real challenges of sustaining life after the crash.
Admittedly, this community was better placed to deal with these harsh circumstances than perhaps any other on the planet, but that did not mean things were easy. Far from it! This was a prolonged period of significant hardship, in which the fabric of their society was tested to the extreme. Nevertheless, it was also an uplifting period that exemplified the human spirit at its noblest, and the society that was produced is of much greater and more lasting significance to the human story than its antecedent form, prior to the crash. It is this second phase in the history of Entropia that will be the subject of this book, and for reasons that will be explained, this story is perhaps more relevant today than ever before.
It is hoped that this story might serve as something of a lantern in the dark and troubled times that lie ahead.
In closing this introduction, allow me to take a more personal stance. I have had the privilege of spending the first thirty-three years of my life on the Isle, as a member of the third generation since the Great Disruption. This leaves me well placed to describe, from an insider’s perspective, at least, the nature of Entropia’s post-crash era. I am also a part-time lecturer in philosophy and culture at the Academy, as well as an assistant editor of one of our local newspapers, so it is my job to stay informed about the most important current events on the Isle. Additionally, my studies have left me with an intimate understanding of the most significant events in our community’s history.
Presumably, it was for these reasons that my peers invited me to write this book, an invitation I accepted with the utmost humility, knowing that the fullness of life on the Isle could never be captured in words – not even in a shelf of books, let alone in this single volume. In this sense, my very attempt to describe Entropia’s economy, culture, and politics is evidence enough that I have failed in my task. I am aware, furthermore, that the following account of Entropia will be shaped inevitably by my personal experiences on the Isle, so I cannot make any claims to the objectivity of my account. However, I have been assisted greatly in writing this book by the goodwill of my peers, who have entrusted to me their many journals and diaries, which I have studied closely and drawn upon where appropriate in an attempt to expand the limits of my own perspective and broaden my understanding. For that trust, I am immensely grateful.
By the time the Great Disruption hit, the lineage of Mortimer and Elizabeth Flynn had already come to an end, because neither of their two children had children of their own. Nevertheless, the questions that originally inspired Entropia live on, and I offer this book as commentary on the lessons we have learned on the journey so far. Whether readers find this offering worthwhile, I cannot know in advance, but I can say that putting the story of Entropia into words has crystallised much about our way of life that I had previously understood only at the level of raw experience. As an old philosopher once said, life must be lived forwards, but it can only be understood backwards.
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