The auroville dome, which Suzanne Moore visited, under construction. Photo: Serge Duchemin
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In India, the next stage of evolution involves special socks and a substantial donation

There is no “money” in Auroville, yet the Indian boys at the café were soon bringing me patisserie for bribes. In the form of money.

Arriving in Chennai at 4am was grim. All I wanted was a cold beer. “Not possible. It’s the elections, madam. You may riot.”

I was at a hotel, waiting to be met by an inhabitant of a town I had become fascinated with. It exists to connect to a higher consciousness, and is described as “a site of material and spiritual search for a living embodiment of achieving Actual Human Unity”. Who would not want to go there?

Auroville was founded in 1968 by Sri Aurobindo and his spiritual companion Mirra Alfassa, “The Mother”. Aurobindo was remarkable. The first nationalist to insist on full independence for India, he was jailed for treason and kept in solitary confinement, where he had a number of spiritual experiences. He decided he must help develop transitional beings to become a Supermind. So the Mother created, first, an ashram and then, by 1969, Auroville, a township attempting to live a new form of collective life.

This is how I found myself in what basically looked like a bit of Charles de Gaulle Airport in the middle of a jungle in south India, trying to get a coffee.

There is no “money” in Auroville, yet the Indian boys at the café were soon bringing me patisserie – everything is pretty French – for bribes. In the form of money. I was shown to my room in a Zen house and told, “This is where the Dalai Lama stays.” They then served horrible porridge for breakfast, though I never managed to work out how to pay for it without money. So they seemed very annoyed.

It’s a huge place. One day I trekked miles to meet an old Aurovilian, with wild dogs running around me in the jungle. It was to talk about the philosophy of the place. He had a long, grey ponytail and spoke about repairing the hard drives of laptops for two hours, and then said he was too busy to say more, as he was having a dinner party. It was like something out of Lost. There were, everyone told me, “no drink or drugs” in Auroville. This was not the truth.

Some people there live in the most fantastic designer homes, others in shacks, but all the real work I saw was being done by Tamils. And no one else speaks Tamil, not even the people who have been there 40 years. Everything depends on complex rules, as all “communal” living must.

I was told off for talking near a banyan tree.

Eventually we were allowed into the Matrimandir, a giant golden globe that looks like a James Bond villain’s palace. We had to wear special socks to go in one of the “petal rooms”. It was purple and Star Trekky. We suppressed giggles and pretended to meditate.

A very annoyed Frenchwoman then explained to me that although everything was “shared” in Auroville, “You need to make a donation. How you say? A substantial amount.” The next stage of evolution costs. 

Suzanne Moore is a writer for the Guardian and the New Statesman. She writes the weekly “Telling Tales” column in the NS.

This article first appeared in the 11 June 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Who owns the future?

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US election 2016: Trump threatens to deny democracy

When asked if he would accept the result of the election, the reality TV star said that he would have to “keep you in suspense.”

During this insane bad-acid-trip of an election campaign I have overused the phrase “let that sink in.”

There have been at least two dozen moments in the last 18 months which I have felt warranted a moment of horrified contemplation, a moment to sit and internalise the insanity of what is happening. That time a candidate for president brought up his penis size in a primary election debate, for one.

But there was a debate last night, and one of the protagonists threatened to undermine democracy in the United States of America, which throws the rest of this bizarre campaign into stark relief.

It was the third and final clash between an experienced if arguably politically problematic former senator and secretary of state – Hillary Clinton –  and a reality TV star accused of a growing number of sexual assaults – Donald Trump – but the tone and content of the debate mattered less than what the latter said at one key, illuminating moment.

That statement was this: asked if he would accept the result of the election, Donald Trump said that he was going to “look at it at the time,” and that he would have to “keep you in suspense.”

If your jaw just hit the floor, you have responded correctly. The candidate for the party of Lincoln, the party of Reagan, the party of Teddy Roosevelt, declined to uphold the most fundamental keystone of American democracy, which is to say, the peaceful transition of power.

Let that sink in. Let it sit; let it brew like hot, stewed tea.

This election has been historic in a vast number of ways, most important of which is that it will be, if current polling is to be believed, the election which will bring America's first female president to the White House, almost a century after women's suffrage was enabled by the 19th amendment to the constitution in August 1920.

If the last near-century for women in America has been a journey inexorably towards this moment, slowly chipping away at glass ceiling after glass ceiling, like the progression of some hellish video game, then Donald Trump is as fitting a final boss as it could be possible to imagine.

For Trump, this third and final debate in Las Vegas was do-or-die. His challenge was near-insurmountable for even a person with a first-class intellect, which Trump does not appear to possess, to face. First, he needed to speak in such a way as to defend his indefensible outbursts about women, not to mention the increasing number of allegations of actual sexual assault, claims backstopped by his own on-tape boasting of theoretical sexual assault released last month.

This, he failed to do, alleging instead that the growing number of sexual assault allegations against him are being fabricated and orchestrated by Clinton's campaign, which he called “sleazy”, at one point to actual laughs from the debate audience.

But he also needed to reach out to moderates, voters outside his base, voters who are not electrified by dog-whistle racism and lumbering misogyny. He tried to do this, using the Wikileaks dump of emails between Democratic party operators as a weapon. But that weapon is fatally limited, because ultimately not much is in the Wikileaks email dumps, really, except some slightly bitchy snark of the kind anyone on earth's emails would have and one hell of a recipe for risotto.

In the debate, moderator Chris Wallace admirably held the candidates to a largely more substantive, policy-driven debate than the two previous offerings – a fact made all the more notable considering that he was the only moderator of the three debates to come from Fox News – and predictably Trump floundered in the area of policy, choosing instead to fall back on old favourites like his lean-into-the-mic trick, which he used at one point to mutter “nasty woman” at Clinton like she'd just cut him off in traffic.

Trump was more subdued than the bombastic lummox to which the American media-consuming public have become accustomed, as if his new campaign manager Kellyanne Conway had dropped a couple of Xanax into his glass of water before he went on stage. He even successfully managed to grasp at some actual Republican talking-points – abortion, most notably – like a puppy who has been semi-successfully trained not to make a mess on the carpet.

He also hit his own favourite campaign notes, especially his opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) - but ultimately his intrinsic Donald Trumpiness couldn't stop itself from blazing through.

Remember the Republican primary debate when Trump refused to say that he would accept the party's nominee if it wasn't him? Well, he did it again: except this time, the pledge he refused to take wasn't an internal party matter; it was two centuries of American democratic tradition chucked out of the window like a spent cigarette. A pledge to potentially ignore the result of an election, given teeth by weeks of paranoiac ramblings about voter fraud and rigged election systems, setting America up for civil unrest and catastrophe, driving wedges into the cracks of a national discourse already strained with unprecedented polarisation and spite.

Let it, for what is hopefully just one final time, sink in.

Nicky Woolf is a writer for the Guardian based in the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.