25 Years and Dreaming

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image by Chris Lyons / lindgrensmith.com

Twenty-five years ago I introduced the first issue of Utne Reader with an editor’s note in which I confessed that I’d designed the magazine not so much for the “public good,” but “to make some profitable use … of my magazines,” to which I was “irredeemably addicted.” Benjamin Franklin had made a similar confession 250 years earlier in the premier issue of his Poor Richard’s Almanack, admitting that he was launching his publication because his wife had “threatened more than once to burn all my Books … if I do not make some profitable use of them for the good of my family … I have thus begun to comply with my Dame’s desire.”

The magazine has chronicled and advo­cated many causes in the past 25 years. Here are a few positive changes that Utne Reader helped advance:

  • The divide between the new left and the new age has mostly dissolved. It used to be that readers of the Nation, Mother Jones, In These Times, and the Progressive turned up their noses at magazines like New Age, CoEvolution Quarterly, and Yoga Journal. Now, union organizers practice mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques, inner-city youth and ex-cons plant organic gardens and retrofit homes with solar panels, and there’s no irony meant by anyone who wears buttons with the images of Malcolm X and the Dalai Lama at the same time.
  • Alternative medical practices like acupuncture, homeopathy, and chiropractic, now called “integrative medicine,” are widely accepted, taught in most medical schools, and available in communities throughout North America. Twenty-five years ago they were considered by many to be mere quackery.
  • Meditation, yoga, and other contemplative practices, dismissed as a fad back then, are now taught in mainstream churches, public schools, and all five branches of the military.
  • Organic and biodynamic foods have moved from the bulk bins of natural foods co-ops to the shelves of mainstream grocery stores, as much of America moves from corporate agriculture and fast-food dining to eating more locally, slowly, and seasonally.
  • The preeminence of rational thinking and high IQs is being complemented by an appreciation of EQ, or emotional quotient. Heart skills such as social and emotional intelligence are now taught in public schools, in nursing programs, and on the factory floor.

Now it’s time to look ahead to the next 25 years. I predict:

  • Americans will put the brakes on the growing tendency to “amuse ourselves to death” with constant electronic entertainment (laptops, TV, video games, iPhones, etc.). Instead, we’ll grow increasingly interested in the Other–people who are truly different from ourselves, not just those on the opposite side of the globe but the people living next door and across the street as well. We’ll use social networking software not to find people like us (creating what I call ghettos of like-minded people), but to find people who are unlike us. And we’ll invest the time getting to know them until we realize how similar and connected we are after all.
  • A revitalized Supreme Court and Congress will join the Obama administration to thwart efforts by special interests to revive the defunct nuclear power and “clean” coal industries with taxpayers’ money, and to undermine the Clean Air and Clean Water acts and other environmental protections. Corporations will no longer enjoy legal protections without commensurate legal responsibilities, they will shift their orientation from the short term to the long term, and serve all their stakeholders instead of just their stockholders. The heretofore-sacrosanct right of private property holders will be counterbalanced by the rights of community, nature, and future generations.
  • We will see through the tyranny of counting and measuring and evidence-based requirements, developing an appreciation for intuition, complexity, and whole systems thinking.

If my predictions come true, we, and the rest of the so-called civilized world, might be around for another 25 years. May it be so.

Eric Utne, the founder of Utne Reader, is a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing, where he is coauthoring a series of courses called Whole Systems Healing that explore the social and environmental dimensions of health and well-being.

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