We’ve had a stream of documentaries coming out or being worked on about Soleri and they probably all help to give different and possibly valuable insights about Soleri and his lifework.
Most recently an Italian-American magazine called The American in Italia presented the story of Lisa Scafuro who has been devoting much of her life to another video about Soleri titled The Vision of Paolo Soleri: the Prophet in the Desert.
I’m not sure how this movie portrayed Soleri or Arcosanti but I suspect its another Soleri-centric documentary. I’m still hankering for a true to life documentary and not a PR piece that just shows us the best of Soleri – as many of the documentaries I’ve seen seem to gravitate towards. I’d also like to see more efforts at documenting the many incredible stories of the people that lived at and made Arcosanti Arizona. This leads me to consider some of the deeper issues that may have prevented Arcosanti from being a place where many great minds could have come together to create Arcosanti Critical Mass much sooner than now seems possible.
Soleri fiercely confronted the twin demons of the American Dream – sprawl and overconsumption. He relished the conflict with the establishment mainstream in a way that seemed to play out in a historical dialectic between him and his mentor Frank Wright. He said it was not enough to promote reformism and that we must fundamentally reformulate society from the ground up.
However if we are serious about doing this reformulation, we need to address the myths that drive our society at their core. This is not just about materialism, but includes the one man and his castle notion of “rugged individualism” that moves us in the direction of equating freedom more with our rights to guns, property and money (as well as the importance of corporate personhood for the rich who control the corporations), than in considering the responsibilities and obligations that living in a free society involves.
The case of Steve Jobs is just one example of the problem with people with big ideas who don’t know how to give credit to others and share in the process of that idea’s evolution into globally transformational product or innovation. While no doubt Jobs deserves credit for making Apple a true leader and innovator in technology development, it also clear that the way he treated people was in many cases not only disrespecful, but may have been unethical.
Many in the mainstream society believe this is how the world works and they are OK with that. In fact they believe that our nation’s ability to capitalize on that kind of Rugged Individualism is what makes America great. They also believe the continuation of these kinds of mentalities and approaches to leadership will ensure the USA continued success as a nation. However there is one thing advocates of such leadership models overlook – its undemocratic and objectifies human beings as if they were commodities to be traded on Chicago Board of Trade. If our core basic institutions are run this way, why would we expect genuine democracy to exist in such a society? Well with recent reports of income inequality reaching historical highs we can see that trend paralleling the demise of our democratic process and the rise of corporate power/personhood not just nationally but globally.
A core division attribute between conservatives and progressives relates to this idea of rugged individualism. If you look at the main issues that truly define the divide and resulting polarization of politics in the USA, its about a concern that our rights to have or accumulate as much as we want and spent it however we want are being undermined by the government. Indeed suspicions about global multilaterialism.
Indeed for the NeoCons it makes perfect sense for them to see the USA as exceptional in relation to the rest of the world, because of the “Complexified” (as in Soleri’s description of Complexification) matrix of systems that have been installed and evolved into a modern nation state capitalist society. What it really has to do with at the core level though is rugged individualism and this idea of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.” This is how we define the haves and have nots. If you pull yourself up and amass great wealth you have extended citizenship rights, if you don’t too bad, you just don’t deserve the same rights that the exceptional ones have. Thus US governments sanctioning of Extra judicial killings through the use of drones has little to do with a real sense that All US citizens are better than the rest of the world. Rather its that the exceptionality of the US experiment as defined by Rand’s Supermen and women of the capitalist society and their continued freedom to operate as they do which defines our extended and bloated sense of self globally as Americans. Again the Supreme Courts notion of freedom that focuses on corporations over individuals is not about corporations, so much as the elevation of the entrepreneur and capitalist deal maker as the true citizen of the corporate democracy – one who knows how to get things done (and make a lot of money) shall be rewarded with the real power of society being within their grasp.
So its no surprise that Hollywood and the rest of the corporate media echos this dominant form of storytelling in America that centers on one great leader who “saves us all.” They are in fact part of the Corporate Media that is owned by this very group termed by the Occupy movement as the “1 percent.”
Yet what I am getting at is this embrace of the “one man leader theory of history” at Arcosanti by Soleri is what created a contradiction within that “collective Noosesphere of Arcology Visioning” that we were a part of… What if this reality actually held us back from our natural tendency and true potential to come together as empowered beings and co-create something incredible as a group like manifesting Arcosanti Critical Mass?
In order to create an alternative school of thought in the mainstream, we first have to figure out how to create a thriving democratic governance system at Arcosanti and within the supporting networks. We have to reframe the way we work together as well as tell stories about these efforts. The “one man theory of history” and how things get done won’t work any more, because it denies the reality that it takes a community of people co-creating together to manifest something truly remarkable and inspirational that moves humanity towards greater consciousness and awareness.
Let us hope for a movie or documentary that truly represents what I see as the only real possibility for Arcosanti success and revitalization: the empowerment of the community of people who always wanted to co-create Arcosanti Critical Mass with Soleri, but for some strange reason were never allowed to. Possibly or dare I say it has to do with ego?
What if Soleri became his own worst enemy through his difficulty in truly creating a space at Arcosanti to encourage and develop an alternative sense of ownership? To see that ownership is not just about having a consumer trinket, but its about the sharing of power in a social system with others so that the I becomes the WE. Consider that this embrace of the “one man leader theory of history” created a contradiction within that “collective Noosesphere of Arcology Visioning” that we were a part of. One explanation was that it was his philosophy and management style that actually held us back from our natural tendency and true potential to come together as empowered beings and co-create something incredible as a group – like manifesting Arcosanti Critical Mass and securing Paolo Soleri’s legacy in history as the great visionary mind that he is.