By John Taylor; 2010 April 29, Jamal 01, 167 BE
Here is the fourth draft of the first essay in the first section of People Without Borders, which is about infrastructure.
Engineering Lifestyles First
"Not I, but the city, teaches." -- attributed to Socrates
The following proposals have a single, simple aim: to take civilization forward by first taking one step backwards. We all have basic needs which have evolved over tens and hundreds of thousands of years that are being denied, suppressed and perverted by our economy, infrastructure and built environment. For example, human nature is such that we are used to living in extended family groups and communities that offer on a daily basis a wide variety of contacts with a variety of humans, young and old, similar and different. When humans do not get such a wealth of relationships, they are inclined to ever narrower thinking, imitation, stereotypes and bigotry. At the very least, we are liable unhappiness and depression.
At the same time, we all need meaningful contact with nature. In a natural environment we feel recreated and uplifted. We all feel a visceral fulfilment when we walk through fields and forests, through paths where mineral, plant and animal mix together in an ecological balance, often harmonious, sometimes not, that no human organization can imitate. When humans are deprived of this, they feel out of place. Even when we do not consciously recognize it, we feel wrong in our skin. If this continues too long, we feel inclined to act out our anomie in unjust, violent ways.
Everything from a cruel word to crime and murder can usually be traced back to some imbalanced caused by a long-term lack of variety in the human or natural lifestyle of the perpetrator. This is not to deny personal responsibility, it is only to assert that we should be exercising this responsibility socially as well as personally, we should start earlier and further back, back when we actually plan and design our homes, neighbourhoods and cities.
Every individual needs to take his or her own responsibilities in their own educational, devotional, civic, financial and professional life into account as often as possible, preferably daily and weekly. Once this personal planning is regularized by means of open, standardized software, then local planning will naturally begin to evolve.
The present system shirks the responsibility to engineer lifestyles before they are embedded in pavement, concrete and stone because of the human inclination to concentrate power into as few hands as possible, preferably in a central location. This is why world government has been rejected out of hand for so long. By its very act of formation, a world authority designed along the lines envisioned by John Amos Comenius, would rectify whatever is universal to the human condition. It would pacify conflict at the center through planetary stewardship and planning. This would shift more rather than less responsibility onto the shoulders of the individual. One result, paradoxical as it may seem at first, would be to actually decentralize power and planning. Responsibility would devolve back down to the levels of the village, neighbourhood, block and family household, and ultimately to that of the individual.
Female leadership, when allowed to express itself, has traditionally acted as a centripetal force that counteracts the centrifugal force of hierarchies. The 31st Chapter of the Book of Proverbs describes how motherly power works. Reading this encomium to womanly responsibility gives one a sense of why most traditions personify wisdom as a woman. Without this factor being fully exercised, it is difficult to imagine the human race reaching its full potential.
The independent, enterprising female householder in this chapter of Proverbs works her beneficent influence first on the next generation. She turns her sons and daughters away from the lure of promiscuity, destroyer of families, and from what are now called mind-altering substances. Her honour as householder is priceless.
"Who can find a worthy woman? For her price is far above rubies."
This praise is not empty. A mother's example is known to be the first and greatest influence on a child's progress later in life. Nor has this advice for mothers to steer their charges away from controlled substances lost its currency. Smoking and alcohol are, according the World Health Organization, the number one and two deadliest threats to human health and longevity. The existence of a world government would turn the attention of the world to empowering mothers so that they can steer their sons away from dangers such as this. We can expect that empowering women will be the factor that finally breaks the culture of alcohol and tobacco that the most starry-eyed dreamer lost hope of changing long ago.
In view of the strategic position of female householders, it is no coincidence that some of the greatest pioneers of citizens as local planners have been women. Let us look at two, Jane Jacobs and Flora Tristan.
One of the great geniuses of citizens as guardians of their own neighbourhoods was Jane Jacobs. She opposed excessively centrally planned architectural movements like the one started by Le Corbusier, who assumed that residents in their buildings and developments do not plan their own lives. People are reduced by our present structures and infrastructure to sims and automatons, divorced from nature and the larger social bonds that give life its meaning and rewards. Jacob's motto was "eyes on the street," a system that arises on its own in a well-designed neighbourhood. Living in these connected communities, city dwellers gain a sense of social reciprocity. Their care for what happens in their neighbourhood then becomes a first line of defence against crime and injustice. Nine of ten wrongs and crimes can be either prevented or nipped in the bud by amateurs before professional law enforcers need to be called in.
Another genius of decentralizing reform was Flora Tristan. Her early proposal for workers' palaces heavily influenced the neighbourhood restructuring program discussed throughout this section of People Without Borders. Next time we will expand a little on Flora Tristan's ideas.