My Journey With Aristotle to the Anarchist Utopia

by Graham Purchase

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                     Chapter 2

                       Spring II

     I walked out of the cave, revelling in the bright
sunlight. The sunbeams intoxicated me, taking over my
entire existence, leaving me conscious only of an intense
redness of light and warmth. Two or three days (who knows
how long?) in that miserable damp and lightless cave had
left me like a waking reptile, motionless and transfixed,
basking in the morning sun. As the increase of warmth and
light gradually achieved a proper balance within me I
began to open my eyes and look about. And what a view! I
found myself high up on a hillside overlooking a large
walled town or city surrounded by numerous trees. My
ears, numbed by the cold in the cave, suddenly came to
life and my mind was filled with the pure pleasures of a
spontaneous self-ordering crescendo of a hundred separate
birdsongs. So taken was I by the free vista before me
that I had forgotten to take stock of my immediate
surroundings and I hastily looked around me in case I
should stumble on the steep hillside or was otherwise in
danger of some sort.
     Not 20 meters away from me was a very, very old man,
sitting contemplatively in a natural chair in the
hillside overlooking the city. He looked surprised but
his welcoming and accommodating gestures indicated that
he had been sitting there for some time and would very
much enjoy my company. I clambered towards him being
careful not to slip on the expanse of loose and jagged
scree which lay between us. He stood up and greeted me,
sensing that I had been through some ordeal and being
anxious for my safety.
     "Hello, Hello, Aristotle is my name. What's yours?"
     "Tom," I replied.
     "Pleased to meet you," he replied.
     Aristotle held out a hand to help me up into the
chair. Despite his great age he was nonetheless strong
and supple and he confidently lifted me on to the
platform. We stood next to each other on the ledge in
silence looking down at the city below.
     "I should say," Aristotle said in a slow and
thoughtful way as if not wishing to break the silence,
"That the ideal size for a city is that it can be taken
in in one single view: that one can see its limits and
its wholeness in a single glance."
     I thought of the huge, lawless and sprawling cities
with which I was familiar and replied:
     "Yes...perhaps that would be about right. Any bigger
and they simply become formless and ugly and a drain upon
the countryside and a danger to its social stability."
     Aristotle nodded in agreement. I continued:
     "Take Mexico City for example?"
     Aristotle looked puzzled. He had obviously never
heard of Mexico City.
     "I've never been there myself," I assured him, "but
I am told that it has twenty or thirty million people and
that it is so large and has so much pollution that the
birds drop dead out of the sky when they try to fly over
     Aristotle looked pained, and said:
     "If there is indeed such a place, and I hope that
there it not, it would surely be a most terrible
existence, less than human, for its citizens could not
easily leave its wall for nature, and social justice and
good citizenry would be impossible amongst what could
only consist of a herdlike agglomeration of total
     Aristotle mused as if stunned by the possibility of
so vast an organism. "Perhaps they have large memories
and can remember the affairs of a million people all at
once whereas we can only concern ourselves with a few
thousand at most?"
     "No," I replied, "I think that no such beings
exist...and that indeed a city of 20 millions would be a
quite awful place. Indeed I doubt whether such a place
could be called a city at all as you suggested."
     Aristotle looked pleased and congratulated me on my
     "Yes, Yes! You are indeed a wise man," and paused.
"Even ancient Athens, whose population at its height
little exceeded 250,000 persons, had a ten year waiting
list for hermits and philosophers who wished to enjoy the
solitude of mountain tops and hill-caves. Its surrounding
country regions became so degraded and denuded by its
numerous farms and the pattering of feet that it could
barely produce enough olive oil to keep its houses lit
for more than a few weeks without continually importing
additional supplies from every corner of the
Mediterranean basin."
     I had heard of ancient Athens, but knew nothing
about it. I simply nodded respectfully as if in agreement
and attempting to disguise the fact that I was somewhat
awed by his gentle, but wise and forthright manner. We
again stood in silence next to one another looking down
upon the city before us. Aristotle again broke the
     "I once knew a great thinker, sadly no longer with
us, called Plato. He cared little for nature and his
ideas concerning it were undoubtedly profoundly mistaken.
According to him all the beings and objects in nature
were but an imperfect copy of a perfect combination of
unchanging and eternal geometrical formulas that existed
he knew not where!" Aristotle halted, and said, "I'm not
boring you am I?"
     "No, No," I replied, "please go on." Aristotle
     "Anyway, following this line of reasoning, my friend
Plato imagined what he considered the perfect form that
an ideal city might take and published his ideas upon the
subject in a famous book called The Republic. Have you
ever heard of this book?"
     "No," I professed, I had not.
     "No matter," he replied, "but did I think that
drawing up plans for the perfect city or society was
sensible or foolish? Was it likely to end with good or
bad results?"
     I thought for a moment.
     "No," I at length replied, "nature and society are
always evolving, changing and modifying themselves in
accordance with new developments and new challenges.
There can be no blue-print or unalterable plan of action
for both nature and society do not possess such rigidity.
Society is a process not an unalterable series of facts.
Such plans will surely, become a dogma and hamper the
creative forces of the people."
     Aristotle looked pleased with my answer. "Ah!" he
exclaimed, "then you know of the ideas of Heraclitus. He
of all the founding fathers of ancient and modern wisdom
perceived that nature was a process and moreover, that
this fact was above all, a positive one that should
always be acted upon. Plato who in his book The Laws,
glorified the ancient Egyptian code which, he claimed,
had remained unchanged for 10 millennia, and condemned
evolution, adaptation and self-creation as merely
obscuring the unceasing and eternal mathematical truths
of which nature was but a dull and insipid copy, from
which no meaningful knowledge could usefully be gained."
     I had become a bit lost, I had no great history for
philosophy or history but I felt comforted by the fact
that this wise old sage should be so pleased with the
answer to his question. Suddenly, above our heads,
SWOOSH!! We both looked up, startled by an eagle,
circling not 30 feet above our heads. Once, twice, thrice
and a half times it slowly revolved around us before
gracefully gliding off a little and then outwards and
upwards in an ever widening encirclement of measured
degrees before drifting into the obscurity of the horizon
and vanishing. Calmed by the serenity of its long
departure Aristotle and I again stood gazing down upon
the city like baby eaglets staring agog with our eyes
wide open at the world below us from the safety of our
eyrie. Noon had long past and the faint shadows of
mid-afternoon began to creep into the cracks and crevices
of our perch:
     "It's time to go," Aristotle said suddenly. "This is
no place to be at night-fall and I can see that you are
a stranger in need of guidance and assistance... let me at least guide you down the
     Having not the least idea of what time or what place
I had arrived at I enthusiastically accepted his offer
and we set of down the rough scree-runs of the high peak.
Our concentration was not broken until we reached the
first vegetation and a semblance of a rough track.
Already the peak seemed distant, but its vista was still
firmly imprinted upon and occupying our minds. We paused
a while.
     "Tell me Aristotle," I said; "Why does the city have
walls like the fortified towns of old? Have you reason to
fear attack?"
     "Oh! No!" Aristotle replied; "quite the contrary.
Since the reintroduction of Wolves, Bears and Lions into
the area it was considered necessary to have a wall in
order to safeguard the citizens. Our Bio-Regional
Wilderness Reclamation Project started nearly a 1000
years ago and has been most successful. Bears are now
frequently to be seen bringing up whole families of cubs
not more than a few miles outside of the city walls. The
walls have Eight main gates," Aristotle pointed to each
one in turn and still pointing, he said, "the wall is
also broken in 13 other places; the 3 main rivers of the
city; there! there! and there! And the 10 wild-life
corridors, which are the green-strips that meet in the
city's central park, which is just there. A large grid
has been placed at the entrance to the wildlife corridors
which lets most animals in excepting that of large and
dangerous land animals. The rivers have proved more
difficult. As you might well know Bears love fish and are
excellent swimmers. But the importance of allowing water
life to travel freely in and out of our city far
outweighs the consequences of the very few times when an
occasional bears has entered the city by this method.
None of these instances has ever resulted in serious
injury. Once out of the City some citizens carry
stun-guns, but generally I prefer simply to be on my
guard. Our city opted to go for 100% self-sufficiency and
although there are still some quite small areas of the
bio-region fenced of for agriculture, the vast majority
has been returned to wilderness. The task was not at
first an easy one, but `from little acorns doth mighty
oaks grow'"  he mused...
     "Next year we are celebrating the 1st millennium of
the Bio-Regional Wilderness Reclamation
Project......Actually," Aristotle concluded, half
jokingly, "there is not much point to it really....the
region's wilderness mostly looks after itself these days.
Apart from trips to gather medicinal herbs for the
hospitals, fishing hunting trips, camping holidays and a
couple of specialized wilderness camps, one for the
handicapped and another for sick children, there is
virtually no organized exploitation of forest products
and very little reason to manage the forest anyway."
     I was quite amazed by what Aristotle had told me. I
had mistaken the 10 green pathways as freeways linking
downtown with its suburban perimeters:
     "Are all cities now built like this?" I asked.
     "Oh! No!" Aristotle replied, "the Social-Ecological
Revolution that destroyed the artificial barriers of the
national-state era meant that the inhabitants of each
ecological region had to decide for themselves how best
to re-integrate their life-styles, towns and cities with
the regional ecology of their area. Some bio-regions,
such as the neighboring one, had opted for minimum
programs. Comparatively small reserves were left to
native wilderness and their major villages and towns were
still heavily dependant upon agricultural produce from
the surrounding countryside. Naturally the agriculture
had been down-scaled to more reasonably sized farms and
areas were divided up by bands of native bush. They had
also made some significant findings and progress with
forest horticulture. Although the neighboring bio-region
was less wild and much more manicured than ours,
ironically the attempt to produce a 100% self-sufficient
city, that took nothing from and gave nothing out to its
surroundings, had led to a biologically sensitive but
overly bio-techno-tronic city environment. The
neighboring region in making use of more traditional
approaches to rural land usages had never taken up the
challenge of environmentally safe bio-technology and had
opted for a low technology solution consisting of a
mixture of a large number of predominantly agricultural
village communities supply produce for themselves and for
the region's cultural and artistic centers. Some regions
had attempted to dissolve cities altogether and return to
loose federation of small communities linked along major
water-ways, whilst at the other extreme attempts had been
made to construct cities within huge domes totally
isolated from the rest of nature. Ours, and our
neighboring region's approach to eco-regional integration
both lay somewhere in the middle of these two extremes."
     "The great diversity of regional experiments
world-wide had led to a flowering of practical
inventiveness. It was not so much how people went about
achieving balance, but rather," Aristotle concluded,
"that everyone in every ecological region had come to
deeply identify with their home-place, and care for that
place, and in so doing the ecological health of the whole
planet had thereby been assured."
     I thought carefully about Aristotle's description of
his world and of my own, with its huge sprawling cancers
which frequently and foolishly covered and entire region
with tarmac, steel and brick. I thought of the stupid
conflicts between warring states whose boundaries crudely
divided, rather than complimented, nature in an attempt
to carve up the world according to an abstract and
entirely human-centered concept of national politics. At
length I spoke:
     "I have strayed further and faster than I at first
thought. I am indeed a stranger, for what you tell me of
your world is not only strange, but also completely new
to me. Please?" I implored him, "take me to your city and
to your neighbors' region and show me whatever you can so
that I may benefit from your wisdom and take this
knowledge back with me when I return. Our planet is in
great ecological trouble," I exclaimed passionately. "Our
peoples have mercilessly and greedily destroyed the soil
and the forests for the short-term benefit of powerful
and corrupt elites who divide our world in the interests
of themselves rather than with those of nature."
     Aristotle thought for a moment as if perplexed, and
     "I am very busy, but if what you say is true then
perhaps it is my duty to assist you. I shall try and find
the time. In the meantime we should get upon our way as
the shadows are drawing closer and we have much ground to
cover before nightfall."
     We set off down the track, slowly and methodically,
tackling each out-crop or rock carefully and
individually. The air had become cooler and we descended
the mountain with a sense of urgency and purpose. Despite
Aristotle's great age, armed with his staff his gait was
nonetheless as sturdy and strong as that of mine. The
click clack of his stout walking stick marking out the
steady and regular progress of our footsteps. After about
an hour the course and entangled shrub gave way to dense
hill forest and the path levelled somewhat. We again
began to relax, confident in the fact that even if we
should be caught out upon the mountainside come nightfall
the most hazardous part of the decent was now behind us.
     "What," I asked, "were the large glass domes that
were scattered everywhere about the city?"
     "Oh they're not glass," Aristotle replied. "They're
made of a thin membrane of clear plant extract, an
organic bubble if you like. They are inflated over the
vegetable garden in each of the city's major suburbs. The
plots are fertilized by general organic wastes and
provide fresh salad vegetables for around 2000 people.
Whilst there is still a danger of frost the bubble
protects the young plants. The bubble is, however,
completely bio-degradable and by late spring, providing
there has been enough rain they will have completely
dissolved away. It has been very dry this year and it is
unusual to see them this late in the year. The membrane
is permeable enough to provide ventilation and let in
some rainwater whilst still able to contain moisture and
warm-air. The membrane is naturally rich in important
trace elements and fertilizers and as the bubble
dissolves it provides a valuable liquid food to the
vegetables at about 2 weeks to 1 month before maturation.
The bubble is strong enough to prevent, say, bird damage
to early strawberries, and biological pest control is
easy, in the sense that a predatory insect or animal once
introduced stays where it is put until the infestation
has been eliminated. Except in very, very warm winters
when fungal diseases may be a problem the bubbles have
been a great success and yields have been substantially
improved. Only about 1 bucket of the particular plant
extract is enough to cover an extremely large area."
     I marvelled at Aristotle's descriptions of his city.
Compared to the listless pessimism of my own age his
confidence in the future was uplifting and inspiring.
Humanity, by developing a positive attitude to nature,
had perhaps again learned to live in harmony, comfort and
security with the Earth.
     We continued walking down the track, the trees were
alive with bird-life and the forest floor carpeted with
all the characteristic flowers of spring: Stitchwort,
Celandine, Wood-Anemones, Blue-bells and Hare bells. The
vibrancy of spring entered us and sharing in its joy we
unconsciously celebrated every new plant that was
thrusting upwards out of the reawakened soil.
     "Is your society predominantly vegetarian?" I asked
     "Certainly" he replied; "there are some people who
will not eat any meat, but the majority of suburbs keep
chickens to scratch-up and fertilize their communal
vegetable gardens and most people are happy to eat them.
We cannot grow enough vegetable to sustain the whole city
and large-scale production of wheat and soya beans is as
destructive of the soil as that of beef. Although the
forest has many types of wild berries, roots, fungi and
other fruits, all of which are routinely collected, it is
also abundant in game, especially deer and pheasant and
the numerous streams and rivers, are a plentiful source
of trout, salmon and carp. The gastronomic economy of the
city is therefore predominantly vegetarian--but
supplemented by fresh meat form the forest."
     "Rather than destroying forest land for cereal and
legume production we have preferred to keep the forest
and not to over-harvest berries and other forest plants,
which are food for all the other animals. We supplement
our diet by culling those food animals that have obtained
unusually large populations. Pheasants and deer have
always been plentiful and constantly reducing their
number leaves space for other, much rarer animals who
share a similar habitat. Wild meat contains little fat
and has a large variety of different proteins and trace
elements. Consequently one is not required to eat a great
deal of it, nor was the eating of a modest quantity seen
as detrimental to the environment or the health."
     "Vegetarianism" I replied; "was becoming more and
more popular in my time and it seemed as if this was the
way things might go. Besides, aren't there ethical
reasons why one should not eat another living thing?"
     Aristotle agreed, but said sadly:
     "Nature does not conform to human ethics. The white
sap of a juicy young lettuce or the red blood of a plump
and lusty pheasant, what are the differences in reality?
In order to live one must consume life. There are
communities, even within Bear City that are strictly
vegetarian and even vegan (and this of course has certain
advantages, like being able to directly compost your own
shit). As you might well know botulism, whose bacteria is
only found in meat products, lives up to four years in
the soil. Although some bio-regions are completely
vegetarian þ and perhaps they have created a more humane
society in consequence þ quite large sections of their
regions have been given over to grain and bean
production, whereas virtually all of our region is
wilderness. Paradoxically, however, our city is almost
completely edible."
     "Edible!" I exclaimed.
     "Oh yes, our region has pioneered the science of
edible chemurgy."
     "Chemurgy?" I enquired.
     "Yes, actually it was first popularized by the 2nd
millennial industrialist, Henry Ford who in 1941 unveiled
his `biological car'. The body was made of soya-beans,
the wheels of Golden Rods, and it was fuelled by Maize.
We have a replica in one of the city's museums. Although
the idea never caught on in his own time and although we
no longer use Maize or Soya-beans we have taken the
science as far as anyone in the world. Our city is not
just crudely bio-degradable but actually edible!"
     "Surely," I said, "it must be eaten away by insects,
rats and mice?"
     "How clever of you to think of such a thing," he
said. "Fortunately it tastes foul and no mammal will
touch it. Also we paint a vegetable lacquer on it every
few years that prevents harmful insects from eating away
at it. Much as you used to do with wood in the olden days
to prevent it from rotting."
     The city was still just in sight as we were still
quite high up. A mosaic of flashing white bright light
intermixed with ares of gentle and natural greenery.
     "So why does the city glisten so?" I asked.
     "Oh you'll see when we get there. If we get there."
He looked worrying up towards the sky. "Just before we
enter the city on this side there is very steep decent
which would be very dangerous to attempt once it is dark.
All your talk has delayed us somewhat. Perhaps we had
better stay at Jack's lodge tonight. It is less than a
mile from here and we'll go down to the city in the
     It was Aristotle who had done most of the talking I
thought. The track branched shortly after and we took the
path to Jack's lodge.
     "You're in for a real treat," Aristotle informed me.
"Around where Jack lives was originally a wildlife
reserve when the rest of what you see around you had been
clear felled. A few of the trees reached 3000 years but
most of the original ones are now dead. The reserve
obviously had not been large enough to sustain even a
semblance of a working climax eco-system, nonetheless it
was an original patch of forest not more than two miles
from Bear City. It was here that the Bio-regional
Wilderness Reclamation Project began, circling outwards
in all directions from its perimeter. Although it was no
longer the literal center of the forest, it was
considered as such and all the young people visited the
place at least once in their lives in recognition of the
momentous changes which had enfolded outwards from it
since our community planted the first trees on the
reserve's edges all those years ago."
     The trees were truly magnificent. Vast logs, huge
lumbering objects, many, many times bigger than whales
covered in emerald green moss lay strewn between gigantic
poles stretching upwards to the heavens. Some were
half-dead, with a single massive branch holding
tenaciously onto life, alongside others growing in their
absolute glory, at the pinnacle of their existence.
Enough light penetrated the canopy for the odd patch of
Spear or Birds nest fern, but these too had reached
massive proportions and were made to look all the more
impressive against their mighty backdrop. Suddenly the
track gave way to especially constructed aerial walkways.
     "Why have these pathways been built in such a
beautiful and unspoilt place?" I asked Aristotle.
     "Because so many people come here that they're
footsteps would compress the soil around the trees and
seriously damage their life prospects. It is Jack's job
to repair them during the winter when few people come out
this way. The first day of the Reclamation Project, 999
years ago was around mid-summer and people naturally want
to celebrate that event by coming up here then."
     As we went round an unusually large trunk upon which
was engraved To Quaama Lodge, a huge circular cabin came
into view. It was nestled upon a hillock in the middle of
a circle of six enormous Oregon Pines. Conscious that we
had reached our destination and in anticipation of rest
I suddenly began to feel how very tired I was. My body
began to ache and for the first time that day it became
painful to keep up with Aristotle's ever-strident pace.