Building a Commune in San Francisco

An energetic group of people called The Purple Submarine is working to build a model utopian community.

| July/August 1974

  • San Francisco
    This utopian community movement began in San Francisco.

  • San Francisco

Out in San Francisco — where alternative lifestyles grow like blackberries — there's an energetic bunch of people who call themselves The Purple Submarine. By their own description, they're "utopian test pilots ... single, intellectual artists united in the creation of a new, universal religion and a model, utopian community".

Heard it before? So have we all, from any number of do-it-yourself world savers. No, that's not a put-down: If we don't do it ourselves, who will? The trouble is, too many of us use good intentions as a substitute for good thinking ... and time is running out. Which is why it's heartening to come upon a systematic, thorough and hard-nosed organization like the Submariners.

The California utopians have been together three years now and regard themselves as the prototype for many such groups, which will share resources and facilities in the future. They're a demonstration project for "a lifestyle which, if adopted globally, could provide everyone on earth with enough, yet not too much, so that human life ... could continue for as long as the sun shines without the depletion of natural resources or over-industrialization".

The Purple Submarine's model utopian superfamily — toward which they're now working — is to be a closed group of twelve men and twelve women who form no exclusive pairings among themselves and have no intimate relationships outside the community. Each female member will have one child and then undergo voluntary sterilization. This policy is called "minus zero population growth." It's a tough doctrine, all right, but think of the alternatives to self-imposed limits on childbearing: government control or, more likely, decimation by famine, warfare and endemic disease.

The youngsters thus produced will be reared cooperatively by the whole group and educated in behaviors which make for psychological health and self-actualization. (The Submariners — methodical utopians that they are — list 38 desirable traits, arranged alphabetically: art, beauty/aesthetics, cooperation, creativity, equality ... ).

Even if that revision of traditional family life isn't to your taste, you'll find it hard to fault The Purple Submarine's ecological rationale for group living. The nuclear household as we know it is, after all, a remarkably wasteful institution. Look at it this way: How many automobiles, stoves, refrigerators, washing machines—-and, of course, houses — would twelve couples need to set up conventional housekeeping (especially when you consider that, at present divorce rates, at least four of those pairs would eventually split up)? On the other hand, how many such items would be required by two dozen adults living in close community?


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