Thursday, July 29, 2010

A New World Airlock


Pervasive Stoa

By John Taylor; 2010 July 29, Kalimat 16, 167 BE

As we saw last time, in the ancient world the stoa (porch) was a public building, a free standing structure with an "extended roofed colonnade" built facing a street or square. It often was a portico or "market-hall ... consisting of a long straight colonnade with a vertical wall and sometimes rooms at the back and a roof over." Being covered over by a roof and surrounded by stairs and pillars, the stoa offered ample light and fresh air, yet was largely protected from wind and rain.

The stoa offered a nascent civilization a buffer zone among its functions and spaces, similar to the way an airlock in a space ship or submarine permits a slow transition to the outside environment. As public property located in the center of town, it provided neutral ground; it was beautiful, imposing and was a convenient place to congregate. For all these reasons, stoa proved to be fertile locales for public talks, discussions, small classes and convivial conversation. A special breed of citizen was nurtured in the stoa, one not afraid to get his hands dirty in the work of government -- in spite of a prejudice against manual labour that otherwise crippled slave owning societies from technological advance. This is reflected in the word "stoic," for someone who moderates speech, desires and passions, which comes out of a philosophy born in one of the stoa of Athens.

Stoa were used in religion as well. Temples like the Parthenon were held sacred by all. This meant they were unlikely to be robbed, so they doubled as banks and storehouses. These sanctified locations were built surrounded by a stoa, including a walkway, collonades and stairs. This created a transition zone between public and holy spheres where worshippers could reflect and duly prepare themselves when entering or leaving. In later centuries stoa were built into private houses and became known as porches or verandahs; these too served as a transition belt between public and private space.

Today civilization in general has fallen into disrepute, and consequently stoa and verandahs have gone out of fashion. Even banks no longer have the marble pillars and tall ceilings designed to impress visitors with the institutions permanence and stability. This loss of a place and time for crossings surely is one reason why our modern world seems so hurried, busy and frenetic. When nothing stands still, everything seems subject to change. We have fewer sacred spaces where citizens take in an atmosphere of awe and reverence, and few relaxed, neutral places where citizens can engage in serious discussion for its own sake.

All this will change when a world government forms. The cosmopolitan condition will be inaugurated as institutions of governance take on distinct functions with clear phasing between them. The recapitulating ten-year-plan will instantiate this in time as well as space. As mentioned, it has three distinct modes, one sacred (religion), one for enlightenment (science and education) and one for peace (politics). Between each is a distinct zone of transition. The stoa, the outward symbol of this, will surely once again become the most prominent architectural feature of the built world.

A row of pillars, or collonade, is highly symbolic of the most sacred goal of a world order, which is wisdom. Each pillar is held up by solid ground, and each pillar in turn bears an equal portion of the weight holding up its roof. Comenius pointed out that such balanced order requires not only philosophy, the love of wisdom, but also what he called pansophy, universal wisdom.

"For in the final age of the World man must come to the highest stage of all. Therefore philosophy, or the love of wisdom, is not sufficient; wisdom itself must be present, and not its shadow but its body, and its body in whole and not in part; therefore it is not merely wisdom, but Universal Wisdom, that we need." (Panorthosia II, Ch. 10, para 43, p. 170)

Universal wisdom only thrives when the entire society, top to bottom, is wise, when like the erect columns each individual bears upon herself the responsibility for all three aspects of wisdom, religion, science and politics.

Why are tall pillars holding up the roof of a stoa such an powerful symbol of universal wisdom? I think it is because they are a reflection of the form of a forest. In nature tall trees do the same thing, they hold up a high canopy of leaves and greenery, creating a clear space between the roof and floor of the wood.
One of the first environmentalists and forestry experts, Richard St.Barbe Baker, came to religion in a forest of Hampshire. In his autobiography, "My Life, My Trees," he tells how as a child with bated breath he came to a realization of how the natural organization of a forest happily combines all the best features of communism, capitalism and every other "ism" in human governance. Here the whole adds up to more than the sum of its parts.

Similarly, in his work on world government, Immanuel Kant also observed what an astonishing paradigm trees are of ideal organization. He remarked that when trees are left alone in a field to grow they often grow every which way, ugly and crooked. However, in a mature forest the stately trees invariably grow straight and tall. Competition for scarce sunlight forces them to extend their branches as high into the air as possible. Lately, researchers in rain forests have uncovered an entire ecosystem in the high foliage of the forest canopy.

The stoa serves as a constant reminder that citizens can do no better than imitate the organizational brilliance that works itself out in nature on its own. The cosmopolitan condition will be our condition if we plant actual trees everywhere, and in human occupied areas we build long stoa.
This will become even more the case as we banish automobiles and other vehicles from sight in our cities. Long stoa could run down the sides of every street offering shelter to pedestrians, merging with the porches of households, the collonades surrounding public buildings and places of worship. Stoa might also run around the public squares located on street corners -- we shall be calling these common areas "Worker's Palaces, based on a proposal by Flora Tristan. Stoa at street corners may function like pedestrian and bicycle traffic circles guiding traffic in desirable directions.

As street corners and even entire cities are covered by domes, stoa may be built running around their entire outside perimeter. Again, this provides a zone of transition between the stable climate inside the dome and the weather buffeted outside.

We mentioned that the philosophy of stoicism started in a school run by Zeno located in a stoa. This specific building was known as the "painted stoa," which hints that in future pervasive stoa could offer unprecedented encouragement to the arts. Their long walls extending along every street would offer a huge surface area for paintings and murals, as well as display space for statues and and other art.

In spite of their classic facade of white marble, stoa could be adapted to accommodate modern technology, albeit unobtrusively. Tubes and grids can be built along the ceilings of stoa to aid in transportation. Large objects can be suspended by wires and transported by robots sliding along gridwork overhead. Such activity would be mostly out of view of passers by.

In a large city, multi-storied stoa might be connected by elevators built into columns or pillars. Thus a lower level stoa might be commercial, with markets, stores and workshops while upper level stoa specialize in reception areas for offices and factories, and the verandahs of private households.

A domed city surrounded by stoa could regularly deliver robotic workers to maintain formal gardens surrounding and beautifying the entire area. This would encourage residents to frequent the stoa, focussing the attention of all on the adjacent classical gardens. Again, this provides a slow transition from the artificial world of the city into wilder natural spaces further away in the countryside, where field and forest predominate.

Such a cityscape takes two kinds of beauty, human and natural, and places them together in gentle harmony. It combines values like order and freedom, that clash as irreconcilable opposites in our harsh, frenetic streets today. Balance and moderation would become public ideals, built into the very landscape. This allows town dwellers to find a right and natural balance in their lives, a happy mix of civic duties performed as a citizen of action, with the duties of a seeker of truth, including family, rest and recreation.

In such a cosmoplitan order, "street smarts" would come to mean what it should: an ability to glean lessons about work, life and eternity just by spending time on the street.


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