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February 1st, 2007


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12:50 pm - On Pastoralism
One definition of pastoralism is romanticizing rural (and more recently wild) environments. This feeling is quite old in western culture, the first instance I know of were in ancient Rome, where wealthy urbanites wrote at length about the beauty of farms and rural areas and the fact that people raised in these lifestyles were inherently more virtuous than jaded and decadent urbanites. This attitude endured through the middle ages, and is still very much with us. Today, the distinction between rural and wild areas is far less clear in the minds of most people than it was in harsher eras, and so now pastoralism includes a longing for wild areas and is now closely related to the the (to me) foolish obsession with things that are "natural".

As few days ago, I saw this ludicrous piece on what the author refers to as "nature deficit disorder" I'm utterly dismissive of the entire idea. It implies that children growing up in cities are innately screwed-up and "natural" environments are in some way superior to human-made ones, which from my (highly urban-centered and generally somewhat nature-phobic) POV is pastoralist nonsense written by suburbanites.

I agree that the author of this article is noticing a real problem - parents in all areas are now far less likely now to let their kids run around outside. I don't think the nature of the outside world (regardless of whether it's city streets, suburban housing tracts with vast lawns and small nearby woods, or vast and ancient forests) matters nearly as much as being able to run around, being both physically active and unsupervised. Of course, pastoralism is the cause of much of this problem, with terrified parents keeping children inside in urban and even suburban areas due to mythic and groundless fears of predators and abductors waiting behind every hedge, when in reality both child abuse and child kidnapping are of course almost exclusively things that happen within families and so the risk from strangers is negligible.

Both the above article and the problem it is really discussing foregrounds how strong the association of virtue, safety and both spiritual and mental health is in the US – I'm far less certain about the rest of the first world, but I'm guessing it is less strong in both the EU and Japan, which are considerably more urban. Interestingly, these association span the political spectrum, with reactionary bible-beating fundys, crazed gun-toting libertarians, and progressive nature-loving hippies all expressing almost identical feelings about the physical and moral dangers of urban areas and the blessings of rural or wild places. However, I think this attitude does have a political dimension, that is expressed in how much money is funneled from urban areas to farms and small towns and (especially) in both Senate and presidential elections the votes of people in rural areas count several times more than the votes of urbanites – a gross unfairness that I would love to see abolished.

As most of you know, I find both rural and wild areas alien and somewhat intimidating and most suburbs both distasteful and inconvenient and so my reaction to pastoralist ideas is rather strong - I much prefer urban streets filled with shops to dreary suburban housing tracts, rolling fields filled with crops and devoid of cafes, or inhospitable forests or prairies. However, my problem with pastoralism goes well beyond personal taste, since it is also an attitude (at least in the US) that is inherently rigid and narrow, since the racial and ethnic diversity of the US is largely expressed in urban areas, and almost exclusively the "honest rural values" mentioned by both progressives and reactionaries are WASP values. Just as problematic is the fact that pastoralism is in large part responsible for the continuing suburban sprawl found over most of the US, However, it is also far more pervasive. People with the money to do so continue to move to the far suburbs in search of some faux taste of "rural" life and escape the supposed troubles of urban life, and this produces the very urban decay they fear, while simultaneously destroying both farmland and wildlife habitat, thus causing a new wave of people to seek to get even closer to the supposedly blessed wild and rural areas by expanding out further and transforming more farms and wildlife habitat to suburban cul-de-sacs. One of the reasons I love living in Portland so much is that this city has strict laws limiting suburban sprawl, in the form of the urban growth boundary, which is a law I would love to see spread throughout the nation.

As a side-note, one of the observations Ronald Hutton makes in his brilliant work The Triumph of the Moon (by far the best history of both Wicca and the entire neopagan movement I've seen) is that the origins of what was later to become Wicca came from early to mid 19th century pastoralist attitudes by members of the British middle class, which is yet another reason for the various problems I had with Wicca.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

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[User Picture]
From:rialian
Date:February 1st, 2007 09:12 pm (UTC)
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===There are some rather good arguments saying that the urbanization of folks has negatively affected various forms of intelligence. You might find this one interesting:
The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:February 1st, 2007 09:46 pm (UTC)
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Interesting. However, it's also true that almost all advances in science and technology have all come from people urban environments. Of course, I also don't necessarily see being estranged from nature as a bad thing. I'm very interested in preserving the diversity of the natural world, but as something that exists apart from most of humanity.
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From:alobar
Date:February 1st, 2007 11:57 pm (UTC)
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> I'm very interested in preserving the diversity of the natural world,
> but as something that exists apart from most of humanity.

There are ways in which we agree strongly, and ways in which we disagree strongly. I feel this post and your comment above shed much light on why we disagree so stongly in some areas.

> I much prefer urban streets filled with shops
> to dreary suburban housing tracts,
> rolling fields filled with crops and
> devoid of cafes, or inhospitable forests or prairies.

I can agree with you about dreary suburban housing tracts. But not the rest. I started life as a city kid. My parents moved when I finished 8th grade. I talked my parents into buying an old farmstead. I spent my teenage years wanding fields and woodland. I had my own horse. My dog was never on a leash and could roam free. I came to depend upon walks in wild country for my sanity. Luckily, when I went to Cornell university, there were swaths of parkland which I habituated regularly. After college, I was a city guy again for a decade until I bought an old farmstead, 20 minutes from Ithaca. To me, I am part of nature. To me, natural balance is key to instigating any change. The ecology is not an interesting intellectual concept to me, but a reality. I certainly enjoy interesting shops and hang-out places, but I do not need them. I do not see myself primarily a consumer of goods and services. Oh, I sure consume -- but I am fed greatly thru personal interactions with plants and animals I connect with daily, whether I am dwelling in a city, or I am out in wilder areas. And I feel that shapes my worldview as your predilictions and life experiences shape yours.

For instance, I have a visceral connection to the video below, even though I have never been to the Amazon.



I am by no means wanting humans to give up city living, but most everyone I know who has spent quality time away from distractions of city life has been better for it.

Yes, rural folk can be insular and ingrown. Seems to me that those who shift modes back and forth are more balanced than either city or rural folk.
[User Picture]
From:kitten_goddess
Date:February 1st, 2007 09:35 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for explaining why Wicca has this weird faux emphasis on agriculture, the seasons, the harvest, yadda yadda yadda, when most of the practitioners have probably never plowed a field in their lives! I haven't either, but I don't get excited about farming. All that dirt under my nails, the insects, the dead-stupid labor...yuck!

I've lived in the suburbs, a small rural town turning into a suburb, and the city. I like the city the best. The suburb I grew up in is now an overpriced, cheesy, piece of faux Main Street, and the small town has all the problems of both rural life and suburbia with none of the advantages of either. I live in the best part of the city, where it has a real neighboorhood, small little shops that are NOT StarfucksGapStarfucksWorstBuyMcDonaldsStarfucks, but real little shops with character, parks to walk in, public transportation two minutes' walk from your door, and cheap rent.
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From:lyssabard
Date:February 1st, 2007 10:00 pm (UTC)
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I gotta be a geek here and mention that the major rise of pastoralism came from Wordsworth and the other Romantic poets of the day--but Wordsworth is generally considered the primary. Which makes sense, given the whole backlash against industrialism that was on the rise, culminating in the Victorian period. But so many false ideas came out of that time who's notions find a resurgence, it seems, in much of the pagan community. The idea of nature as somehow "pure" and "Edenic" (my biggest peeve), or more natural than the urban environment, not to mention the shitty science used to back a lot of conjecture for going back to nature. (Never mind that cities use energy for the population more effectively, mortality rates for newborns are lower in cities due to access to health care, access to education is better, etc. Read Steven Johnson's The Ghost Map for a lot of this.)

/end lit geek moment.
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From:heron61
Date:February 1st, 2007 10:23 pm (UTC)
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I gotta be a geek here and mention that the major rise of pastoralism came from Wordsworth and the other Romantic poets of the day--but Wordsworth is generally considered the primary. Which makes sense, given the whole backlash against industrialism that was on the rise, culminating in the Victorian period.

Most definitely. Ronald Hutton argues quite convincingly that the various romantic poets were largely the inspiration for Wicca and the rise of neopaganism in late 19th century Britain. If you want to understand more about the personal and ideological origins of paganism, I can't recommend The Triumph of the Moon enough.

Read Steven Johnson's The Ghost Map for a lot of this.)

It looks quite nifty, I've placed it on hold at the library. Other people also have it on hold, so it will be a while, but I'll likely be reading it in a month or so. Speaking of books, has Dark of the Moon arrived yet?
[User Picture]
From:lyssabard
Date:February 1st, 2007 11:46 pm (UTC)
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YES, the book has arrived, and I am going to be reading it after I finish the Wraeththu Chronicles. Did I mention that I love the cover art on these books? It just appeals to me.

I have Hutton's book, and have been meaning to read the whole thing for a while. I bought it ages ago and I have to confess, I never got around to reading more than the first chapter or so, due to different things happening at the time, but I'll add it to the academic texts on my list. (The other being The Bathhouse at Midnight).

I am behind.


.
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From:fire_fly
Date:February 2nd, 2007 03:19 am (UTC)
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While you make some decent points, your use of the term "pastoralism" seems erroneous. Pastoralism refers to animal husbandry, and the care and maintenance of livestock. Does Hutton use the term to describe the Romantic idealisation/reification of nature? I've never heard it used to describe a pro-rural "return to roots" ideology before.
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From:geek_dragon
Date:February 2nd, 2007 07:59 am (UTC)
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I need my nature. I need great fields, trees, dirt, rain, sun, mountains and oceans. Otherwise I get depressed and batty. That's why I love where I live. Big rain forest park next door :)

I know that cities are more efficient, but i think they should have lots of parks and community gardens. Technology can lessen the impact of the cities, and nature can be preserved.
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From:andrewducker
Date:February 2nd, 2007 09:26 am (UTC)
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I agree - Efficiency != beauty.

I love all the things that modern urban life have brought, but I also love the huge scenery you get from nature. And I definitely find it has a huge calming effect on me.
[User Picture]
From:onyxrising
Date:February 2nd, 2007 02:24 pm (UTC)

Unrelated:

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Shall we plan something for Saturday, February tenth? I suggest this date, because I will have homebrew to bring. I will have tested it with Kiara the night before, so if it's not up to par, I have time to go get a bottle of wine. So far, however, it promises to be good, if high alcohol content. But none of us are driving.

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