Sunday, August 24, 2008

Urban fortification

I have been slowly plodding through Lewis Mumford’s classic work The City in History. I was reflecting on this tendency described by Mumford below:

“Thus both the physical form and the institutional life of the city, from the very beginning of the urban implosion, were shaped in no small measure by the irrational and magical purposes of war. From this source sprang the elaborate system of fortifications, with walls, ramparts, towers, canals, ditches, that continued to characterize the chief historic cities, apart from certain special cases—as during the Pax Romana—down to the eighteenth century. The physical structure of the city, in turn, perpetuated the animus, the isolation and self-assertion, that favoured the new institution.” (Mumford, The City in History, 58)

Since the trend began to change in the eighteenth/nineteenth century, I was pondering on the current trend. My undeveloped thought is that the cities are still fortified, but not physically or militarily, rather economically. Cities still operate with hierarchies and classes except that now lineage and coat of arms mean little. Networking and resumes signal pedigree.

“Throughout the greater part of history, enslavement, forced labour, and destruction have accompanied—and penalized—the growth of urban civilization.” (Mumford, The City in History, 56)

The industrial age transformed the traditional practices of slavery to economic slavery. It seems that economics has become the primary determinant of a society.


tech.samaritan said...

Yes. But, the economic slavery is broader than the slavery of yesteryear, and now includes a good portion of the middle class, and is perpetuated psychologically through the "crowd control" institutions of mass media and public schooling.

What is the Christian message in such a world? Financial freedom, or freedom from consumptive habits?

I will look up that book. It seems to fit in with my current self-education.

M Crane said...

Tech.samaritan, thanks for the comment. The grip of consumptive habits is something I wrestle with. I have trouble even imagining life without succumbing to consumptive habits. Is there a River Jordan over which to cross to free us from this slavery?

The book is interesting, although not without its flaws. As a man of his era, Mumford works off of the presupposition of social evolution, which includes the developments of worldviews. Let me know what you think.

tech.samaritan said...

I am hoping that this river I am wading in is the Jordan...

Our journey has been a long and slow "opt-out". We control our inputs (Internet news sources, home-schooling), cast a skeptical eye on the "new", and resist external "shoulds". We move at a slower pace, saying "no" to routine obligations that threaten to eat up our space for contemplation, and question the culturally accepted business. In the end I think it is the attitude of contentment with what we have been given (good or bad) that makes the greatest difference in our consumptive habits.

It's a ramble... but so is living.

M Crane said...

I appreciate the intentionality with which y'all live your lives. It does call for commitment and discipline. It sounds like a life that would be easier if there was a supportive community in this. Is this, perhaps, what the church should be doing? Helping people live lives that are free from so many of the entrapments of the world? I'm just pondering out loud.

salacious crumb said...

Oooo. I like that thought. That the church should help people be less frenetic and consumptive. Help live contemplative and whole lives.

But Crane, when did you start using "y'all?" You've become southernized living among the diasporic southerners.


salacious crumb said...

Interestingly I once heard that Tokyo is the most efficient place on the planet in terms of the amount of resources used per person. Now, we'd have to verify that, but if its true it does hold out hope for cities being good in our spiraling crisis of consumption frenzy. This is not to say that the average Tokyo dweller is by any means any sort of model of the whole and contemplative life! But if we (esp Americans) could consume less cheap crap from China and as a result dump less crap into our surroundings (and other's surroundings), then maybe we'd better have the wiggle room to untangle ourselves from some of the various levels economic slavery. I preach to myself.

salacious crumb said...

But then sometimes I can't help but wonder if they've actually had it right all along:,0,819027.story

M Crane said...

Sal, thanks for you comments. I use "y'all" because English is in desperate need of a 2nd person plural. "Y'all" is the best option that i know of.

The Amish offer an interesting option. They are countercultural and offer an alternative community. The difficulty is how to engage and offer hope to the world with this kind of posture.