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The whole of society and nature.
Society has never taken up the challenge of managing the whole, though I just learned that the Chinese , jing li, for economics came from the Japanese and meant — long ago — managing for the benefit of all. This parallels the Greek economy where the nomos, meant, in early pre Plato Greek, “equal distribution”. This seemingly trivial detail is important because, as the church lands gave way to state or private ownership, it kept the idea of an intact eco, home, and its management, nomo. The idea of economy as a realm within but not equivalent to, society, has its roots here. This requires some deep rethinking as we move toward a different future.
Both the Greeks and the Church asked the question If the well managed estate produces a surplus, what is the purpose of the surplus? For Aristotle, Plato and friends the answer was not to buy more things, but to create leisure for study, conversation and politics. For the church, inheriting that frame, the answer was “the estate is God’s dominion and our task is to manage it for his purposes - to make ethical people through prayer and meditation. We moderns have no grounded conversation about the purpose of our surplus so we turn it mindlessly into investment in growth, and it is killing us. A house is not a home , it is 2400 sq feet of mortgage. For moderns the surplus is to be used for the hyper consumptions of individuals acting on their own, not as apart of society.. Chris Alexander was an architect who struggled with the excesses of our civilization. He Wrote several books about Pattern Language in the 1950’s detailing modules of architecture which produced quality of life. An architectural project should be a collection of such patterns. The books were widley read in the profession but without much impact on practice because neither Chris nor his readers knew how to do it. He, after a few decades, wrote another series of books The Nature of Order: an essay on the art of building and the nature of the Universe. The core theme was that the mechanical/ mathematical dominated mind could not produce beauty. These books resonated with me and remain part of the unfinished project of rethinking western Civilization.
Three sets of interrelated issues describe our current sad state:
Fossil fuel impact on the climate, oceans, health and food
Political erosion of democratic principles and ideals
Culture which prioritizes exploitation before cooperation
People have always added an aesthetic dimension to what they create, even in a simple project like planting a row of lettuce, a pile of books in the livingroom or a pattern of pebbles outside the entrance to a grass hut. Gardenworld is not just work and rest. It is time with friends, dinners, and conversation. We have grown too used to human input from the screen. That output from the screen is not affected by our presence. The circle of two humans in interaction is broken. Our health and development require a return to visceral relationships where what you say affects me and you observe me with your body. Climate breakdown, natural and industry induced, has social implications on the way the environment supports where people live, how they are to eat, their morale, and culture. Climate breakdown will produce migrations and threaten existing relationships.
One major reform will be land use whose owners resists change while they are buying more land world wide, betting on the rise of food prices. Private property in land used to exist along with public spaces such as national parks, local civic centers, sidewalks, and country roads used to lead past fields. No one complained if you walked or picnicked. The cost now of entering a “public” park is a real limitation to the life possibilities of ordinary people. Same with the art museums that in my youth were free and now maybe $25. In Catholic countries the poorest person has the right to enter the cathedrals and experience the high end of the art, sculpture, music and architecture of civilization. Today, in most places, no such access exists.
Rethinking land use is in our future and we should see it as an opportunity. Land use is one of the key issues for the future, driven by new population, climate breakdown, and changing sources of energy trending toward local energy production – which requires land for solar (good) or biofuels (bad). The Democratic and Republican leadership never mention this issue. Even “housing” goes unmentioned in discussions of climate. The hope of those well adapted to the present is that technical and regulatory solutions will emerge – and we will not have to do anything. But the reality is that increased population and climate breakdown will force the need for stronger and uncomfortable action. We face solutions that are likely to feel more like Shumpater’s “creative destruction” than happy expansion into the green economy. The participants are not looking for repetition but for the new innovation that tears apart the old. Creative Destruction is what capitalism, despite the mainstream economists, does.
The immediate future will disrupt how we work, where we live, and, if we are not successful, changes will be imposed on us. If we are successful, huge changes will have been implemented by us.