Sex! Spoons! Sex! The Tale Of The Oneida Utopian Community

Posted by Matt on January 25th, 2010

skitched-20100125-140115.jpgSeeing as how you’re on the Internet, I can only imagine that much of your time is spent pissing and moaning about all manner of meaningless cultural apocrypha. Eventually, all the minor complaints gather and accresce into a swollen negativity cloud that represents everything that’s wrong with society. You’re not alone. Throughout history, numerous cantankerous idealists have blown gaskets over family values this and sexual politics that. And their friends all rolled their eyes and said, “I’d like to see you make a better society!” That shut most of them down, leaving their tired eyes to peer gloomily through half-empty bottles, quietly thinking, “so that’s what a stripper would look like if she were in my beer.” But those aren’t the folks I wanna talk about… I wanna discuss the ones that went straight out to an ideological field, stretched their legs and ran, shoulder first, into the nearest paradigm, tipping its entire ungainly mass into the philosophical mud. In other words, attempted utopias – the houses that crazy built.

I can’t think of a better place to start than Oneida, New York, where, in 1848, a man named John Humphrey Noyes founded a communalistic sex cult that would shape the very history of flatware. Noyes and his constituents were certain that, way back in the year 70, Jesus Christ had already returned, which somehow meant they could form a sin-free, heavenly clubhouse right here on Earth. Over the next 30 years, the Oneida community’s population would grow to 300 people, all of them subsisting off the money they earned selling homemade canned fruit, silk thread, animal traps and silverware – the raw material from which dreams are made.

I know, I know… get to the sex stuff.

So, Noyes was worried that relationships between men and women had been tainted by a modern society that pushed selfishness, unspoken social castes, bigotry and insularity. A functioning community, he reasoned, ought to function communally (“…and why am I wearing the watermelon on my feet?”). For starters, men and women were valued as equals, and encouraged (read: forced) to dress in simple shirts and trousers. Everyone was married to everyone else, and they were enthusiastically encouraged to discard any notions of monogamy and romance in exchange for community-foste

ring spiritual oneness (i.e. slutting around). It was not, however, the sweaty, unfettered Kubrickian orgy that you’re currently picturing… but here’s a little more sentence so you can enjoy one more fleeting moment of boundlessly vivid perversity.

skitched-20100125-140229.jpgThe Oneidans developed a sexual hierarchy – referred to as “ascending fellowship” – based around the arbitrarily assessed spiritual and moral purity of the individual (the group even held regular meetings during which members were encouraged to individually harp on other members’ moral transgressions, spiritual shortcomings and, uh, annoying tendencies toward verbal pauses). Older folk were deemed purer than younger folk and men were deemed purer than women. So, how does one level up, so to speak? By sleeping with someone purer than themselves (the purer, the better). If you’re playing at home, that means the most impure folks were young women and the purest were older men. I know… nutty, but by cult standards, predictable. But wait… in 1869, Noyse introduced Stripiculture, a good old fashioned eugenics scheme

that found baby-crazy Oneidans going before an evaluation panel that assessed their spiritual and moral Blue Book value and then assigned them an optimal mate. The resulting offspring were taken away from their assigned biological parents and whisked off to the newly constructed Children’s Wing, where kids were communally raised by chosen Oneidan nurse maids.

Man… can you believe that this perfect society unraveled?

In the end, no one could agree on the minimum age at which the Oneidan children should be sexually inducted into the order (Do I hear 14? Going once…). Eventually, Noyse fled to Canada in the wake of statutory rape charges, and his atheist son – the heir apparent – abandoned the commune, exchanging rape victimhood for worm foodom. Stripiculture was halted, the pubescent sexual rituals stopped and women said “kill whitey” to their mandatory dungarees. The only thing that never ended? The production of Oneida flatware, which can still be purchased today. So next time you’re out a restaurant, and someone dares you to start your own ideal society, look down at your sex fork or your sex spoon and just keep on with the idle, actionless bitching.

Wednesday: Ferrer – colonized anarchy

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