Sunday, July 30, 2006

City Knights (2)

"Why do They hate Us?" We asked that earlier to sort out the emphasis, to make clear that "hate" is not the operative concept here but that the division between us and them is essential to our understanding of our current state of ill relation between the Modernist and the primitive. Hatred leading to war is obvious; but who are They and why are they as they are? What propels the primitives to hate us to the point of them committing suicide in their struggle to stop us from living as we do? Who are They and why?; and then we must ask ourselves how we can effectively deal with them as they are.

We can begin our look at Them by seeing our former circumstance, that of peasantry, a state of relations we have mostly left behind in our successful quest for Modernity. We Westerners, most of us formerly peasants in our ancestral lands, are now Revolutionary Modernists. We have been Modernists for so many generations that we mostly do not even know the sense of the word "peasant." To make that definition plain we turn to wikipedia briefly to give a sense of our discussion to come, the division between the Modernist of the City and the peasant of primitive collectivism.

A peasant, from 15th century French païsant meaning one from the pays, the countryside or region, (from Latin pagus, country district) is an agricultural worker with roots in the countryside in which he or she dwells, either working for others or, more specifically, owning or renting and working by his or her own labour a small plot of ground, in England a "cottager". Peasants exist in a world before the modern division of labor: a peasant must be a jack-of-all trades, handy at everything. Peasants depend on the cultivation of their land; without stockpiles of provision they thrive or starve according to the most recent harvest (illustration, above right). Peasants live to agricultural time; the "world-time", in Fernand Braudel's term, of politics and economics does not directly affect the peasant. Peasants typically make up the majority of the agricultural labour force in a Pre-industrial society.

Though a word of not very strict application, once a market economy has taken universal root, it is now frequently used of the traditionalist rural population in countries where the land is chiefly held by smallholders, peasant proprietors. In the great majority of pre-industrial societies, peasants constitute the bulk of the population, the authentic "silent majority". A rural peasant population differs enormously in its values and economic behavior from an urban worker population. Peasants tend to be more conservative than urbanites, and are often very loyal to inherited power structures that define their rights and privileges and protect them from interlopers, despite their generally low status within them. Peasant societies generally have very well developed social support networks. Especially in harder climates, members of the community who have a poor harvest or suffer some form of hardship will be taken care of by the rest of the community. Loyalties and vengeance both run very deep. Peasant communities are extremely tight, and are often difficult to access or understand by outsiders. Peasant societies can often have very stratified social hierarchies within them.

In a barter economy, peasants characteristically have a different attitude to work than peasants— or towndwellers— in a money economy would. Most of them are content to live at a subsistence level and will not expend unnecessary labour raising their standard of living. Traditionally many non-peasants have viewed this as laziness. However, it does make sense from their perspective, since there would rarely be any point in producing more than could be consumed.

Fernand Braudel devoted the first volume of his major work, Civilization and Capitalism 15th–18th Century to the largely silent and invisible world that existed below the market economy, in The Structures of Everyday Life. Since the literate classes who left the most record tended to dismiss the peasants as figures of coarse appetite and rustic comedy, "peasant" may have a pejorative rather than descriptive connotation in historical memory. However, it was not always that way; peasants were once viewed as pious and seen with respect and pride. Life was hard for peasants, but before technology and a money economy created a chasm between rich and poor, life was hard for everyone. Society was theorized as organized in three "estates": those who work, those who pray and those who fight.


About 5,000 years ago there was a revolution in social relations, the Agricultural Revolution, a revolution that began a transformation of human life that continues to this day, against the forces of rigid reaction; and often those forces of reaction today are Modernist themselves, i.e.. our very own friends and neighbours: environmentalists and ecologists and New Age religionists, to aname but a few types. Those who benefit from Modernity are sometimes those who are its most virulent enemies. Some of our own are some of our own worst enemies.

In the past century most people of the West have been transformed from peasants into industrial workers and into current states of Modernity as technological and commercial workers. At the same time we can see a reactionary movement of Romanticism trying often successfully to reclaim peasantry as Ideal.

We then find a resultant philobarbarism in our Modernist population, a manufactured philobarbarism that attempts to elevate the peasant ethos into something supposedly better than what we Modernists live as our lives. The concept of philobarbarism is an exercise in sentimentality, a false vision of nobility of the crude and the starving and the ignorant. Today we see clearly the sentimentalist philobarbarism of the West in expressions of solidarity with the Islamic primitives and the terrorism they direct against us. We see philobarbarism expressed in anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism. We see philobarbarism expressed in anti-Westernism and as post-Communist socialism. In effect, we see a coming round of the circle, the future returning to the past.

At the beginning of the Agricultural Revolution, for the first time in Human history we see the beginning too of the rise of cities, a place of surplus storage, that surplus going to the elites of the people, the warrior classes and the priests who led and protected the peasants as they were then. Cities became granaries and religious sites combined. With time, cities expanded to allow for specialisation of labour, to allow for artisans and craftsmen. Until relatively recently, all cities were by today's standards, small and sparsely populated, few reaching anything like one million people, and those under constant assault by nomads and other cities' warriors. Cities were the ultimate "gated communities." Most people lived either in small villages or on communes of a sort. Most people were effectively slaves to land owners. Landowners were slaves to their labourers. And all were slaves to Nature, a mindless and brutal destroyer of life. Those in cities were spared some of the worst some of the time. And those who survived the worst were over time able to expand their surplus to acquire riches and to improve technologies and to think deeply and critically. The peasant stayed roughly the same as he had always been; and only with the rise of private property and our triune revolutions of the 18th cntury have peasants had the opportunity to leave behind the world of subsistence farming and the idiocy of rural living to join in the march of Human progress en masse. Man moved to cities.

Today we see many megalopoli that are not cities in any real sense,;they are simply collected communes within cramped spaces, sprawling, contiguous garbage heaps of people who are landless peasants forraging without available crops or game. Those peasants of the cities today are the garbage people of Modernity. In the garbage cities the feeble warriors are naked to the elements of Modernity, the peasants' gods are dead, and there is only garbage and people in cities. Therein there is no storage of great wealth. There is no surplus to be had but primitive and frustrated peasants piled upon peasants.

The garbage people of our modern Third World cities live as subsitence level peasants, and they are roughly unhappy. Cities have not arisen to accomodate the need for industrial workers but inorganically as garbage heaps of unneeded peasants with no where else to go to die. And some of our own, looking for a base upon which to build utopian dreams of world perfectin look to them as the fodder on which to feed their phantastic dreams of utopia and the prelapsarian dramas of Eden.

The post-communal neo-feudalists look to the masses of garbage people to act as proxies for them in their frustrated desire to make anew an old world of romanticised and idealised rural life. The Industrial world needed workers in cities. The Third World has no such need of such people. And yet there such people are, doing nothing much of use. The utopian socialists, having lost their Victorian actors to Industrial progress and Modernity now seek a new lot of exotic, befeathered actors to play the part of utopian reactionaries returning to the soil, the sacred soil, and the purity of authentic blood.

We Modernists who are true revolutionaries confront our own reactionary forces within ourselves, and we are torn apart. The ordinary middling man of yester-year is now a middle class success who is a conformist Modernist revolutionary. The tables are all turned askew and the places are confused. But here we can know clearly that it is the Modernist who is revolutionary. The old peasant of the West is now the new Modernist. The old peasant who is not a revolutionary Modernist is a garbage peasant who has no place in the world as it is becoming moreso each day. As the commune recedes into the fog of the ill past, the City arises, either to fill up with the talented and the energetic or to fill up with the useless and the wasted. There is the city, and there is the city. The two are not the same.

We rightly ask: "Why do they hate us?" We ask it more rightly when we de-emphasis the concern with them hating us and emphasis Them and Us.

We can dwell on ourselves and our possible guilt in history as we Modernists have surged ahead of the world of others, sometimes subduing them by force, more often by sheer intelligence, energy, and skill. We can look at the world and see that the majority of the people around us hate us. But we must ask ourselves not why they hate us but what we should do about it, about them, and why they matter-- if at all. We can decide among ourselves that we are guilty of this or that, and that if only we change our approach to them they might not hate us. We can go even stupider and decide that they are something other than what we would see them as-- if we were honest with ourselves: we can claim that our enemies are "a small minority of extremists" tricked into violence against us by manipulative hate-mongers. That is not real in any sense. They hate us simply because we are what we are, and they are the majority. Their hatred is natural. They are no minority, they are nearly everyone. Hate is normal. What is to be done with Them?

The vast majority of Humanity live today as they have done for 5,000 years, that is to say, as farm animals. Today, though, the vast majority of men do not live happily as farm animals in a state of bovine contentment. Man today demands Modernity; and then, only some men: Not Muslims. Nor the men of Modernity's bounty, our own who hate our Modernity and love instead their phantasies of Romance and true despair, those who would rather rule over rubble than live lives of their earned mediocrity in our world's Modern condition.

The vile mnediocre are those whom we face often unarmed and oblivious to the dangers of them. Often we might even find ourselves in ignorant agreement with them, might even at times find ourselves leading their cheers for our own destruction. We would do well to reconsider ourselves. e can grasp eaisly the hatred of the primitive as it is directed toward us; but it is some more difficult effort to grasp the hatred of the evil among our own that is directed toward us. Yes, some of our own truly hate us, and they would kill us. Our worst enemies are our own, they are us, and it is they we must decide what we must do with.

Our own undermine us. They burrow under our foundations. Where we have raised, they would pull down and ruin. We are the city people of Modernity, and since the beginning of the Argicultural Revolution we have been under attack from the barbarians outside our walls. It is a struggle as old as that between Cain and Abel. It is now. We who plant, who grow, who reap and store,we are the enemies of the primitives who have no homes but the barren mindscapes of rote and fear, the huddled herd clutching. Our cities are of our own making, and our making is a power and a glory. Not outcast peasant slaves, we are City Knights.


truepeers said...

What is to be done? Well, unless they can be included in the world of productive work and hence the global economic system, their resentment will indeed be used by people who will one day destroy us. But it is not an entirely hopeless situation. Most every country should be able to specialize in one or two things that it can sell in the global marketplace; this should provide it a basis to develop its domestic economy. People can be kept busy for years doing just basic things like providing themselves with running water and power and hamburgers and coffee shops. All it takes, but this is the obstacle, is the will and desire. Once people have the desire for modernity, they can get into it quickly enough, as the peasants of East Asia have shown. We must destroy those whose religion or ideology resists modernity. Then the peasants will be able to liberate themselves, with a little help to those who want to help themselves along the way. But we have to be realistic: some people are still living within a very primitive world or religious view: it will take a few generations at least in some areas.

dag said...

I look optimistically at the Tennessee Valley during the 1930s when most of the state's population was undernourished -- and had head-lice. With the coming of hydro-electricity, Tennessee being the first state in the Union to have electric lights in a public school, the state was trqansformed from then till now into one of the greatest places on Earth. And that within a matter of a few generations.

One can look at Italy in 1900 to see conditions that would shock the average Egyptian peasant. And today, in spite of what some northerners would have us believe, Southern Italy is fairly prosperous and relatively civilised, al with promise of more good to come.

There are ample examples of progress coming to backward places. It takes, sometimes, force to impose Modernity on the unwilling. Too bad for those who resist. those who benefit, they being the vast majority, would never consider returning to the ill that was the lfe of their parents. It's only the philobarbarists and the hate-filled sentimentalists who argue for past pristine utopias at the point of a gun, constructed by labour from concentration camps and gulags. The rest of us work a day and live. Not bad.