Utopian Dreams, by Tobias Jones, is part travelogue, part philosophy. Tired of the frustrations and empty promises of consumer culture, he sets off on a search for something more meaningful, living with his family in a series of communities in the UK and Italy.
“The promise of happiness has created an epidemic of depression” he says. “It’s us who are consumed, not the objects.” The world promises so much, but never delivers. In fact, says Jones, “we can’t even remember what the promise was, because any promise relies upon patience and a degree of permanence and they, in this wierd world, are outlawed.”
So, Jones takes off to the new-age paradise of Damanhur, the catholic orphanage of Nomadelfia, the Rowntree Trust’s ideal Quaker retirement village, an Italian anti-mafia cooperative, and finally a rural community in Dorset. His journey forces him to re-evaluate his priorities, as he mixes with priests and peasants, hippies, ex-cons, drug addicts. He discovers freedom as a life goal, rather than the absence of boundaries. He finds purpose and expression in manual labour. He has to re-think his view of the religion he grew up with and now questions, as it emerges that every time he goes looking for “the old or orphans or addicts or whatever, there was always some form of Christianity there.”
Utopian Dreams is a great exploration of the whole idea of community, and of those who choose to model an alternative to our consumer culture. Speaking honestly and humbly about his own search for a good life, Tobias Jones proves a useful observer of the idealists, dreamers, frauds and prophets behind these bold social experiments. It ends back at home, where Jones has discovered a community at the end of his street. Fittingly, it is here that he commits himself, with all the counter-cultural patience and permanence it requires.
- Read the Guardian’s review