What’s Breaking Through

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

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

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