Thoughts On Robert Owen And New Harmony

by thoughtsonthedead

  • Oh, Robert Owen? He was pretty obscure; you probably haven’t heard of him.
  • You can read about him in the award-winning Paradise Now: The Story of American Utopianism by the award-winning Chris Jennings.
  • Don’t worry about “what award;” eyes on your own paper.
  • Chris tells the story better than I do, and his isn’t going to be mostly conjecture and deliberate lies.
  • I’ll give you the short version, though:
  • It’s amazing how far hard work and a giant bank account will take you in this world.
  • You can get up to some utterly ludicrous bullshit.
  • Robert Owen wanted to build himself a town, and didn’t let the fact that he didn’t know how stop him.
  • I’m getting ahead of myself: I took notes, but will not reopen the book to check anything, so everything is [sic].
  • Those are the rules, I guess.
  • Owen was from Manchester, England, and owned a mill (whatever the hell that is) during the first awakenings of the Industrial Revolution; this factory did something hazardous, and was powered by the River Clyde.
  • The River Clyde is a sexy river, baby.
  • Manchester was, at the time, the worst place on earth: a brick asshole smeared with strangers’ shit.
  • The place isn’t especially cheery now, but as I remind you so often: the past was worse.
  • Everything that isn’t good about the present day?
  • The past was worse.
  • Our future utopiatic Owens became quickly known as a progressive and forward-thinking man for–and I will quote here–“put[ting] an end to the practice of employing orphans leased to the mill by parish poorhouses.”
  • In the past, you could lease orphans.
  • Like a Hyundai.
  • Also, a priest was selling them to you.
  • Like I said: the past was worse.
  • Owen was a decent man, truly, if a bit dim and given to punctuating his written opinions with BARRAGES OF CAPITAL LETTERS.
  • In 2016 or 1816, using capital letters makes you come off like a crank.
  • Plus, he was a bit of a self-promoter.
  • Pamphlets, lectures, Instagram: the whole shebang.
  • Other stuff happened.
  • In the 1820’s, Robert Owen made his way to America; he hung out with the Shakers; saw the Mets play.
  • Then he bought a town and maybe just a little bit lost his mind.
  • Or just didn’t realize how dumb he was.
  • Or got his pocket picked clean by a long line of Yankees.
  • Maybe all three.
  • Owen dreamed of a new society, where education and equality ruled the day.
  • In this new communist world, men and women would own nothing equally.
  • Black people couldn’t come to the new world, obviously.
  • They even wrote it into their charter, and pretty high up on the page.
  • The past was worse.
  • Owen was a hit in D.C.: he spoke in front of Congress, and President Monroe.
  • Many consider Monroe to be among our more doctrinaire presidents.
  • The politicians liked the drawings he brought, as well: they were of the Parallelogram, which was Owen’s right-angled baby.
  • It looked like this:
  • owen parallelogram
  • Which looks like something a fifteen-year-old into heavy metal would draw during Bio.
  • “Gonna call it Slayersville and it’s gonna rock; my father isn’t gonna be there. There’ll be chicks. Hot ones.”
  • Plus, it looks like a little Sacred Geometry might have gotten involved.
  • Sacred Geometry always gets involved with this sort of bullshit sooner or later.
  • The picture doesn’t reveal the intended scale, either: Owen would build his Parallelogram along the Wabash River with walls one thousand feet a side; the walls would be three stories high; 20,000 people would live and work t
  • Put aside, if you can, the fact that a medieval fortress is unnecessary in Indiana.
  • The figures don’t quite work: the population density would be around that of the Walled City of Kowloon.
  • Nothing about this plan makes any sense, and I find it sad that everyone humored this doofus simply because he was paying them to humor him
  • “Boss, this Parallelogram drawing makes no sense.”
  • “Pish-tosh, Jenkins! The drawing is a THING OF BEAUTY that shall FREE MAN FROM HIS BONDS.”
  • “Okay, Mister Owen, but do the walls have to be quite so high? Shouldn’t they be more, you know: symbolic-like?”
  • “SYMBOLISM IS FOR CYMBALENES. We march to the future! THIRTY-FOOT WALLS, JENKINS.”
  • “Yes, sir.”
  • “With GUARD TOWERS.”
  • “Sir?”
  • “And DRUNKEN SNIPERS.”
  • “I have to put my foot down on that one, sir.”
  • And so on.
  • Obviously, the Parallelogram never got built, but the town Owen bought–New Harmony–staggered to its feet in 1824 (I think).
  • Making one in a series of tactical errors, Owen decided to concentrate his efforts in recruiting citizens for his new society among intellectuals.
  • Instead of, you know, plumbers.
  • And other people who actually do things.
  • In fact, Owen assembled some of the top minds in the country and put them on a Boatload of Knowledge.
  • It was an actual boat.
  • The thing was the Boatload of Knowledge: dude packed a river cruiser full of professors and floated the thing from Pittsburgh to New Harmony.
  • The boat almost immediately got imprisoned in the winter ice for a month.
  • Seriously: don’t ever go to the past; it’s terrible there.
  • The smart guys eventually got to Indiana and the grand experiment began!
  • Kinda.
  • Owen figured the best way to get everyone on the same page of the political pamphlet, communistically speaking, was to ease the whole town into it.
  • This did not work.
  • At all.
  • Nothing ever worked, but this was the first thing that didn’t work.
  • A Communist Utopia is like a cold pool; you have to jump in.
  • People were confused about the rules–there were three different Constitutions in the short time New Harmony existed–and they were also people, so there was friction.
  • This led to factions.
  • These became fractious.
  • A rigorous freedom of speech was enforced, which led to rabble-rousers and malcontents proclaiming Owen to be the devil regularly and loudly.
  • There was also complete freedom of religion as long as you were Christian (except if you were Catholic).
  • New Harmony was also the target of several Wendigo attacks the first winter, and this hurt morale badly.
  • The experiment ended in acrimony and lawsuits; people lived in town for a while, or wandered off to other cults and backyards.
  • The book captures the end of New Harmony wonderfully, with the phrase “cabbages of ambiguous ownership.”
  • Nothing good can come from a cabbage not knowing his its proper ownership.
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