Saturday, May 22, 2010

Agrarian Hillsides Forever

Agriculture as Social Ballast

Hillside Agrarianism

By John Taylor; 2010 May 22, Azamat 05, 167 BE

In imagining hillside housing developments I was influenced by Victor Davis Hanson, a scholar of Greek and small-time farmer. His "The Other Greeks, The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization," (The Free Press, New York, 1995) is one of the most important contributions to classical studies in recent decades.

It has long been recognized that modern ideas of democracy, freedom and equal rights are derived from Greek and Roman civilization. The thesis of "The Other Greeks" is that the greatness of Hellas was in turn a result of their unique form of agrarianism, the first and perhaps most brilliant of its type. Although Hanson's later writings lean toward chauvinism and warmongering, this should not obscure the importance of this apology for the farmer, for conservatism and agrarianism. Hanson cites several ancient sources that I cannot resist repeating here.

He quotes the Roman agronomist Columella, who considered agriculture to be society's Sine Qua Non, "Even if the state should become destitute of its professors, still it would prosper just as in the past. ... yet without its farmers mankind can neither subsist nor be fed." (Hanson, The Other Greeks, pp. 14-15) Hanson also cites (pages 4-5) these other examples of Ancient Greek thought about agriculture:

"When farming goes well, all other arts go well, but when the earth is forced to lie barren, the others almost cease to exist." (Xenophon, Oeconomicus, 5:17)

"The farmers do all the work, no one else." (Aristophanes, Pax 511) (this makes sense when you consider that all our energy comes from our food.)

"The yeomen alone preserve the land." (Euripides, Orestes 920)

"(Agriculture is) the most honest of all the occupations, inasmuch as [their] wealth is not derived from other men (and is a profession that) contributes to the making of manly character." (4th century BCE quasi-Aristotle)

In view of this, it is essential to incorporate farming into the education of every child, and to see to it that almost all citizens are regularly exposed to agricultural land and facilities. The word for this state of affairs is agrarianism. An agrarian society comes about when a large majority of the population is involved, directly or indirectly, in agricultural activity. As Hanson points out, the Greek and Roman civilizations began as agrarian experiments. This experience brought out staid virtues that enabled what we now call democracy and popular government to come about. Agrarianism encouraged a large proportion of the population to value independence and equality and to love freedom. The farmer, and the stirling, conservative qualities of farmers, will surely always be essential elements of a healthy society.

No matter how technically advanced we become, we will still need to involve most if not all members of society in casual gardening, if not full-time farming. One reason for this is that agriculture is as foundational spiritually as it is physically. Office workers today are finding that spending their lunch hours tending a rooftop garden on their office towers reduces stress, banishes depression and brings a fulfilment to their lives that they would not have imagined possible.

The Hillside Housing development, therefore, would incorporate gardening and farming into the design of every household. Every city block, be it rural or urban, has its sun-ward side covered with gardens, greenhouses, vineyards, orchards and crops. This would place agriculture close by and encourage all residents, no matter what their interests, to at least stroll through the garden side as a recreation. The steep slope of the buildings' sunny side incorporates the physical features of the hilly and often mountainous countryside of Greece. By constantly climbing these near-vertical terraces in order to tend vines and other crops grown down the slope of city blocks residents would indulge in rigorous exercise as part of their daily lifestyle.

It is well-established that such an active lifestyle eliminates obesity and discourages sedentary habits that are endemic to modern living. So, even if it becomes possible for robots to do all the work of tending hillside farms, it would be highly desirable not to allow them to do so. Perhaps residents will strike a compromise where humans supervise and do light work while robots do the most unpleasant and repetitive manual labour.


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