I was watching a lecture by an evolutionary biologist in which he was attempting to explain the existence of romantic love in the human species. His hypothesis was that while upgrading in terms of spouse might be rational for the individual doing the upgrading, the offspring would be endangered by the transition; either through neglect or rejection by the “step-parent” or from the diminished ability of the now lone parent to provide for the child’s needs. Modeling this idea could show how the constantly upgrading spouse might have genes which were less likely to be carried on. It’s an interesting idea.
Chuck Marohn wrote a piece at Strong Towns earlier this week entitled “I Don’t Give a (bleep) About Akron!” As I have written before, I would take that one step further: in the United States no one gives a (bleep) about anywhere! It is hyperbole of course. There is someone (one!) who cares for just about everywhere (even Florida), and there are places (the usual suspects: Boston, New York, San Francisco) that everyone seems to love, but the sort of passion for place which is the equivalent of romantic love is sorely lacking here.
How many people do you know who wouldn’t change city or even region for a 20% bump in pay or for a “great business opportunity”?
In talking to my colleagues I hear nearly every one describe how their long term goals involve ditching the place they live for another at some time in the future. It leaves me baffled. Leaving aside the incomprehensible (to me) indifference to the place they may have been born and raised; why spend 30 years LIVING in a place you don’t love so that, in your dying years you can spend 15(?) or 20(?) In a place you do? “I’m going to stay married to f-ing Mildred, God I hate that b—, but when I’m 62 I’ll get with Helga, gosh I love her!”
While I find patriotism unfathomable in many ways, I certainly can’t understand how people who don’t really give a damn about any one place in a country can somehow feel great passion for the whole: “I don’t find Helga’s face, body, personality, talents, intellect, or sense of humor at all enticing…but, grrrr, put ’em all together and…wow!” Jim Kunstler said the working title for his book “The Geography of Nowhere” was “Why is America so Fucking Ugly?” If you don’t care about a person, or people, emotionally then I imagine they just become functionaries; tools for accomplishing particularly desired tasks.
Should it surprise us that having created a “just move” society where places exist for their utility that we have stripped them of their beauty? Making them beautiful requires effort, care, expense; and what we see around us is the result of that non-Benthamite utilitarianism.
In describing what she viewed as the most startling difference between Spain and the United States a professor of mine explained how a family she knew mourned the fact that their daughter had moved away…to the next town over. Spain, where even the ruins of cities are beautiful. Spain, where people make a game of knowing as many demonyms as possible. Did you know that people from San Fernando de Cádiz are called isleños, but residents of Cádiz proper are gaditanos? Jienenses do!
I’m fully confident that Americans will become lovers of place in the future: When they have no choice but to do so. When love matters once again all of the places still worthy of that passion will be rewarded for their stubborn refusal to become merely utilitarian.