What's Breaking Through

Utne celebrates 20 years of emerging trends and bright ideas

| September / October 2004

It's always been our intention at Utne to cover, as founder Eric Utne once said, what's breaking through as opposed to what's breaking down. Since 1984 we've searched high and low to bring you the stories and perspectives -- from new politics to new relationships, from sensual living to livable communities -- you don't find in the mainstream press. Even the modest 16-page premier issue of The Utne Reader featured ideas as far-ranging as the necessity of making peace as personally fulfilling and economically productive as war, the politics of eating, and the cultural consciousness of punk zines.

The first issue also introduced a hopeful voice, something rare in the media. In 'The World in 1984,'an essay originally published in the children's magazine Stone Soup, Ryan Owens, an 8-year-old from Santa Rosa, California, looked into the future. He described how all the buildings started falling down and the city of New York shrank to fit inside a 'crystal pyramid.' The people who lived there were afraid. Huge buildings burst out of the ground. Spaceships broadcast commercials in the sky. The people felt like they were being watched and tried to escape, to no avail. But, Ryan wrote, a new world rose up from the old:

'Suddenly all their TVs and radios turned on and a voice came forth saying, 'You have the power inside to go where you want to go and be what you want to be. You have seen the past, the present, and the future before you.' Suddenly everyone closed their eyes and thought about where they needed to go. They thought about a world of peace. The bombs and guns turned into food and solar industries and geothermal plants and lots of jobs. All the junk was salvaged and recycled. Russians were working with Americans in medicine. Africans were learning computer technology from the Japanese. Arabs and Israelis were building roads together. People saw what they had in common versus their differences. All at once everything they were thinking appeared on their TV screens. Suddenly the pyramid walls fell and the TVs broke and their thoughts became real.'

It seems more than just coincidence that Eric Utne started this magazine -- with its alternate worldview -- in 1984, George Orwell's infamously bleak year of the future. That year, the news was filled with war in El Salvador and Nicaragua, the U.S. farm crisis, the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, and the Bhopal industrial disaster. William Buckley, the CIA station chief in Beirut, was kidnapped by Islamic fundamentalists and later died in captivity. And then there was the presidential election, with incumbent Ronald Reagan gearing up for his second run at office.



On the surface things haven't changed much. Yet there has always been another, more positive world bubbling all around us, and over the past two decades, Utne has been covering it. In 1984 alone The Utne Reader featured stories on the growth of the peace movement, the spread of community-based and green politics, the positive dimensions of aging, the flowering of American Buddhism, and the possibility of living sustainably. On page 56, you'll find a sampling of some of the stories and ideas we've run over the years, along with headlines you just might read in the future.

Seems that Ryan Owen, and his faith in the power of intent to transform the world, planted a seed in the Utne offices. His vision helped shape this magazine. And now, in this issue, our cover story is on the power of intention -- personally, scientifically, and religiously. We tried to find Ryan to thank him for the inspiration. If you run into him, please thank him for us.