We Are As Gods
Back to the Land in the 1970s on a Quest for a New America
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in Environmental StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Popular CultureNew Books in Science, Technology, and SocietyNew Books Network May 14, 2017 Valerie Saint-Rossy
Growing up in a geodesic dome is not a claim everyone can make, but author Kate Daloz can. Her book We Are As Gods: Back to the Land in the 1970s on a Quest for a New America (PublicAffairs, 2016) traces the path taken by many children of suburbia in the 1960s across the country who, like her parents, wanted to return to the land. Her subjects are Judy and Larry (her parents), the place they moved to, and the community they helped found.
One of many interesting discoveries in this book is the fact that the back to the land movement took place around the country, within the same demographic, and during the same two-to three-year period in the 1970s.
The causes? One was the growing concern with pollution described in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962). Another, which deserves fuller examination, is the apocalyptic mood stemming from the atomic threat of the 1960s. Baby boomers remember, with no small amount of incredulity, schoolroom bomb practice (“How would going under my desk protect me?”).
The answers that adults had were not reassuring, or they were naive. The younger generation felt imperiled, and adults were responsible. Cities weren’t safe either. By returning to the land, a person could face an uncertain future in a community of like-minded people, in home they had built themselves and that expressed their values.
So move this group did, but not all to become hippies. Some formed communes that rejected middle class baggage (monogamy, capitalism, child rearing). Others had advanced degrees, found professional work, and considered themselves “square.” Live in a rural setting and you adopt rural culture: community barn raising (even if it is a geodesic dome), self-generated work (Christmas trees farms, organic produce), shared resources.
The author shows that the effects of these communities since the 1970s have permeated throughout American culture. A new kind of fresh food market like Whole Foods and community food co-ops got their starts in such settings. So did recycling (a mainstay of farming culture). Whatever the circumstances that brought them into being, the results have reached far beyond their boundaries and continue to expand our lives.
Kate Daloz’s essays have been published in periodicals such as American Scholar. She is an adjunct professor in the MFA program at Manhattanville College and a consultant at the College Writing Center, Baruch College, CUNY.