When I started these meditations I didn’t know where I was going with them. I had some ideas I wanted to play with but no thesis, no clear path of intellectual development. I wanted to try the experiment of presenting thoughts in post-sized chunks to see if they coalesced into anything meaningful.
My own view is that, so far, they have and they haven’t. That is, some strong themes have emerged but nothing that I would be so bold as to call a conclusion. And that’s fine with me: in general the world has too many conclusions and not enough explorations, especially about truly complex subjects.
What I want to do here is to point out some of the themes that have emerged strongly in my own mind, as a way of drawing together what I’ve done so far. I believe there will be more of these meditations, though I think it might be good for me to step away from the topics for a while to think and re-think.
- It is impossible to talk about the idea of the City without invoking its two opposites, the Countryside (where people dwell) and the Wilderness (where they don’t). I have not spoken of Wilderness much in these posts because my focus has been on human lives, human choices, and Wilderness is by definition a place where humans do not live, though they may visit.
- The City needs the Countryside so it may define itself by contrast as dense, fast, complex, and plural.
- The Countryside needs the City so it may define itself by contrast as spacious, slow, simple, and coherent.
- In the City’s narrative the key human virtues are courage (to face the strange and unpredictable) and tolerance (of cultural and moral difference).
- In the Countryside’s narrative the key human virtues are patience, persistence, and stability (“sticking,” as Wendell Berry might put it).
- Each narrative is largely self-praising.
- Each narrative depends on the belief that its own vision of human flourishing is somehow more authentic than the alternatives, though in general proponents of City and proponents of Countryside are united in their dismissal of all forms of human community that aren’t clearly urban or rural.
- There is a mythos of the City — by which I mean the very large city, the metropolis — and a mythos of the Countryside, but nothing of corresponding narrative power for any other variety of human placement.
- Those who live somewhere other than the Countryside or the vast City must content ourselves with stories about our lives that are not fundamentally place-based, that do not derive their contours from the particular configuration of homes and workplaces in which they dwell.
- Such people may feel their lack of place-based mythos as an impoverishment, but it may be a preservative against an idolatry of place that can produce both arrogance (in relation to those who live elsewhere) and weakness (in relation to the imperative of self-formation).
- That is, a person whose flourishing utterly depends on place — one who, for example, falls victim to paralytic boredom when not exposed to the stimuli of the big city — may be deficient in certain necessary human virtues. There is nothing wrong with preferring — even very strongly preferring — one kind of place to another, but it’s not good to be incapacitated by removal from that place.
- That previous point is complicated, and perhaps undermined, when the question of home is brought in. That topic will have to be dealt with another time.
So enough for now. Enough until I’ve had time to process all this and, who knows, maybe repudiate some or most of it.