The modern economy, we are told, is a knowledge economy and in order to have a knowledge economy you need to have a learning society. Sounds nice. But it’s pretty clear that our society for the last little while has been incapable of learning. The last two years have been a useful case study of this larger trend. The powers that be doubled down and then tripled down on a series of public health measures that hadn’t worked the first time to stop the spread of a respiratory virus. That doesn’t sound like learning. It sounds like not learning.
Of course, we were told those ideas were based on “science”. But science in this context means “knowledge”; the end product of the scientific method which is a itself technique for learning. So, another way to look at the last two years was that we continued to rely on knowledge rather than learning. This is not really true, however, as we threw all the existing public health knowledge about how to deal with respiratory viral pandemics out the window in March 2020. But that was the party line and most people seemed to believe it. We ended up with the worst of both worlds; neither learning anything nor relying on past experience and knowledge. Now that corona appears to be coming to an end, there is no evidence that we will learn anything from it. Instead, we are stumbling straight into the next emergency. It’s a useful time, then, to reflect on the meaning of the concepts just to remind ourselves what learning and knowledge really are. In doing so, I will set the stage for a mini-series of posts that aim to deal with the archetype of The Orphan in more detail (see my post on The Orphan in my coronapocalypse series for more background).
Let’s begin by doing one of my favourite activities which is looking at the etymology of the words themselves. These gives us an insight into the evolution of language and meaning over time. The words learn, know and knowledge all have cognates in Old English and proto-Germanic. This fact is not trivial because the English language often uses Latin words for abstract concepts reflecting the history of both Roman and French domination as well as the fact that Latin was the lingua franca for much of European history. Learning and knowing are such core concepts of human life that the Latin words did not dislodge the folk forms at those historical junctures.
The word learn used to have the meaning of “follow a track”. We can still find this connotation in modern English phrases like “learning pathway” which gets used in the education sector. Similarly, you might go to a conference and join in the “economics track” or the “accounting track”. In Old English, learn could also be used in the sense of modern German “lehren”. Thus, you could say “I am learning you Spanish” meaning I am teaching it to you. The teacher is the one leading the student down the track which hopefully leads to a mastery of Spanish. Later came the meaning that we still have to this day which is to think about, read about, become cultured etc. In this way, the meaning of learn follows a very common pattern in the semantics of languages where a tangible, physical meaning like following a track is metaphorically extended into an abstract domain like coming to know about something. (You can take my word on this one. I wrote an honours thesis in linguistics on the subject. Trust the expert).
The word know is from Old English cnawan which meant “to perceive”, “to distinguish” and “to identify”. We are told that seeing is believing, but actually the phrase “seeing is knowing” is more faithful to the historical meaning of know. Like the old word for learn, cnawan had the meaning of seeing with your own eyes; experiencing for yourself. In this way, cnawan was equivalent to modern German “kennen” and “erkennen” but not “wissen” (the English word wit has its origin in the same word as modern German’s wissen). To know meant the ability to recognise, to distinguish, to identify by perception. It implied something directly experienced.
Translated into philosophical terms, we can see that both learn and know had a strong empirical bias in common language. This made perfect sense as there weren’t many philosophers around back then and most people couldn’t read and didn’t go to school. Most of things they knew, they knew by virtue of seeing it for themselves. For things that they were told, there was another word: believe.
The earliest meaning of believe was “to care”, “to desire” and “to hold dear” and those connotations are still present in modern religious and ideological belief. When somebody gets triggered, it’s because their beliefs have been violated; things they care about. Later, belief came to mean something like “be persuaded of” or “to be made to care”. You believed something somebody else told you but which you did not see for yourself. This distinction is very important and we start to see why so much of modern education and modern life in general is based on belief and not knowledge in the old meanings of the words. Most of what we refer to when we say we “know” something actually falls under belief. We did not see it with our own eyes. Somebody else told us. The distinction was described by Descartes at the beginning of his Meditations where he realises that most of what he thought he knew about the world was just stuff he had heard and a lot of that turned out to be wrong on closer inspection. He set about wondering how he could put his on understanding on firm ground (another metaphor).
What about the word “knowledge”? If cnawan was about seeing with your own eyes, shouldn’t knowledge be the result of that seeing? There doesn’t seem to be any record of that. The earliest meaning of knowledge had the connotation of honour. We distinguish a person from the crowd. We recognise them and thereby we honour them. It was later on that knowledge received its modern connotation as the awareness or remembrance of facts.
To reiterate, in learn, know and knowledge we see a semantic shift over time from concrete, empirical experience to abstract forms based on study of second hand materials, facts communicated by others, book learning etc.
The old idea of learning was to follow a track and this is still used in science (although less and less) in the concept of reproducibility. The great physicist, Richard Feynman, advised all scientists to reproduce the work of others rather than just believe it for themselves. In other words, to follow the track others had gone down. In science education we could, for example, take the student down the same pathway Aristotle took to show that the earth is round. This would require traveling to different longitudes to observe the night sky, seeing that the stars change and then reasoning about these observations. Another way would be take students to the shoreline and observe ships coming over the horizon via telescope. (Note: the Wolfram demonstrations project has an interesting version of this – https://demonstrations.wolfram.com/ShipSailingOverTheHorizon/).
This learning by repeating is precisely how apprenticeships work. It’s how martial arts get taught. It’s how musicians learn. The student joins the path and the pathway leads somewhere. Given that it is built into our scientific method, how can it be that we have seemingly dropped it altogether in our education methodology?
I mentioned a couple of posts ago that education systems once implied a larger pathway or track for the student. For example, there was a system that produced the English gentleman. That education wasn’t just about teaching maths or English, it included how to dress, how to speak and how to behave. You needed to be able to tell the difference between the soup spoon and the dessert spoon so you didn’t make a fool of yourself when the Duke and Duchess came over for dinner. You were on a pathway which was a life path: the path of the gentleman. Your education was the preparation for this pathway just like an apprenticeship is a preparation for a trade you will have.
In the old world, the pathway for each individual was more or less fixed at birth. You were born a gentleman or a peasant or what have you. Nowadays, we have the opposite problem. We have no idea what pathway you are on when you are in school and you don’t either. Thus, when you finish your schooling, you still don’t know what to do. We can’t educate students in the old-fashioned way so we throw a bunch of knowledge at them in the hope that some of it might come in useful at some point. This makes sense when you consider that the modern education system was developed as a response to youth unemployment in the late 1800s. Young people used to go to work but then the work dried up and we needed to find something for them to do. So, we sent them to school. Ever since then, school has been not much more than a glorified child care facility which plays up to the vanity of parents and the underlying need of humans to form by dominance hierarchies by ordering children according to numerical grading. (To be fair, the old reading, writing and rithmatic did serve a useful function but that was in place by the end of primary school).
There is an idea that is fashionable nowadays that you can learn how to learn. This is mostly used as a marketing gimmick by the higher education sector to try and encourage adults to continue to spend their money on education. Nevertheless, I think there is some merit in it but I would frame it in the old fashioned sense. Once you have walked the path of learning once, it’s easier the second time and you can start to see the patterns that exist in learning. One of the patterns is that learning comes when it wants and not when you want. While you are walking the path, learning jumps out from the bushes like a group of bandits with pistols drawn. Learning costs you something although it is rarely a financial cost. Learning isn’t something you plan and it’s almost never something you want, at least in the short term.
Let’s take a concrete example from my own experience. Some years ago I decided to start walking the path of the backyard fruit and vegetable gardener. Along the way, I have learned many things about insects, birds, fungal disease, bacterial disease, soil, sun, pH, rainfall etc. Almost all of this learning happened when something went wrong and that crop of tomatoes I was expecting never eventuated because I wasn’t watering them enough or the apple cider I planned to make in autumn got eaten off the tree by a gang of cockatoos three months beforehand. I hadn’t planned to learn any of these things, but I did. Mother nature learned me gardening and she continues to learn me on a daily basis.
There’s another kind of learning which comes out of walking the path. You start asking yourself whether or not you really want to keep going. You ask whether you are on the right track. You learn something about your real motivations and your real will as opposed to the thing you imagined in your mind. This learning also comes when it wants, usually when some random pest has wiped out yet another crop and you throw your hands up in despair and wonder whether it’s all worth it.
If learning is something that happens to you and will pop up when you least expect it, it follows that learning cannot be controlled. Sometimes you learn a small lesson. Sometimes you learn a lesson that will shake the foundations of your entire belief system. Not all learning is equal. Our education system glosses over all this and sets up elaborate systems of grading with exams and essays and multiple choice questionnaires and we assign numbers to the results so everything looks scientific and quantifiable. Of course, the numbers have as much to do with learning as the current stock market valuation has to do with the economy.
In the last two years, some of us have learned a lot. Some of us have had the foundations of our beliefs about the world shaken. Many others have not. Those people have clung to their “knowledge” like their life depended on it. Even as the content of the knowledge changed from one week to another they still declared it to be knowledge. Of course, we know from the old meanings of the words that they weren’t referring to knowledge but to belief; the belief that the world makes sense, that the experts know what they are doing, that the government is doing its best to help.
Real learning calls both knowledge and belief into question. It challenges both what you think you know and the emotional and probably even physiological substrate of your mind. Every time you learn you are learning that the knowledge in your head was wrong. Once you’ve had that experience enough, you learn to be sceptical of your own knowledge. So, yes, you can learn to learn and it gets easier with time.
We can deduce from all this that we don’t live in a learning society. We don’t live in a learning society precisely because our education system does not put people on the pathway of learning. Rather, it is a substitute for that pathway. Modern education is the pathway for people who don’t know where their path is; and that is most of us.
It follows that the most needed thing right now is for people to start finding a pathway. To find firm ground again. More on that in the next post.
49 thoughts on “The Age of the Orphan Part 1: The Path of Learning”
Great essay. I am not a linguist, but i think the word smart has the same origin as the german schmerz.
Learning is a painful experience.
And queensland’s slogan “the smart state” all of a sudden makes sense.
Roland – I’d guess klug and clever are also cognates. You’ve learned all about water falling out of the sky up there in the last few days. Was your place affected much?
Wendell Berry argues that to know each other, a couple needs the practical work under one roof that each plays a vital part in that’s so rare these days.
Maybe the bible’s authors knew a thing or to about knowing the way they used the term for marital pleasures (pleasurable marriage?).
P.S.: Cider is always made from apples.
Michael – yeah, that’s another old meaning of know. “Lot knew his daughters” but then again he didn’t “know them” (recognise them). Of course, he’d drunk too much cider which has cognates in Hebrew and Greek and used to mean “strong drink” 😉
Nothing works better at what you are describing Simon than gardening, or even fishing and hunting. Having that direct material (and spiritual) relationship with the becoming world gives you such harsh and quick feedback that you can’t help but learn. A big problem with modern society is this feedback is either non existence or distant either in space or time. Trying to build/create something you have to rely on is also great for this. One of the things I am very jealous about that aboriginal societies did is that each individual was their own craftsman, and would create a multitude of things they would use daily. Early settler reports speak of men and women sitting for hours engrossed in making things like a cloak, spear or jewellery. They would also mock the Europeans for not being able to make the guns, clothes or instruments they used and relied on themselves, which is a humbling thought.
I’ve found this is still true in farming families/couples. There are very low divorce rates here, and from what I gather being a part of it myself is that a lot of it stems from cupboard love. Living with more defined gender roles places a deeper material reliance on each other for better or for worse. Even when neutral roles are committed to in theory, I’ve found that in any couple that attempts to live in a sustainable, low input manner on the land they very quickly take up what would be regarded as the traditional tasks of their gender. I’m not saying it’s the right way to live or for everyone and there are certainly notable exceptions, but I think a lot of the undifferentiated nature of the roles the sexes take up in modern society is made possible by our fabulous energy wealth rather than a commitment to principles. Being co owners in large land assets also makes divorce very painful – cynical I know, but also lived reality rather than nice abstraction.
There is also an interesting twist that is mirrored in traditional societies. After woman are done raising children and move into the grandparent stage, they naturally take up the leadership role in the family, and come to take over a lot of the decision making. The men usually wonder off into their own little obsession hobbies as they age and end life almost as children. Ursula’s matriarchal position in ‘100 years of solitude’ is a great example of this.
I read about that etymology of cider, but it seems one of several, with definite links missing.
Strong drink in the case of cider really is better drink.
Re ‘klug’ and ‘clever’:
Klug I would translate as prudent or astute.
Clever is a way to describe someone cunning or crafty, like today’s lower classes in industrial nations who have found a way to survive on the dole, all the while keeping bureaucrats on their toes, their precise accusations causing panic, and social workers on their side with learned helplessness.
Skip – that’s a good point and something I will be talking about in future posts. The aboriginals could go off on “walkabout” which, from what I understand, meant six months by themselves in the bush. That implied that they had all the knowledge and skills required to hunt, cook and otherwise take care of themselves for an indefinite period of time. We, on the other hand, are entirely dependent on each other and that is a trait of The Orphan.
Michael – I didn’t mean that klug and clever had the same meaning in modern language just that they probably have the same root word based on the phonetic similarity.
My Kluge (sic) has a lot on klug, but remains unsure about clever (which is not a German word). You may well be right, as clever seems to have experienced a fundamental change in the meaning it carries quite recently.
Skip, I can’t help but bring those two paths of the elderly together for and in Modern Woman, who is convinced that the hobby horse industrial society provided the funds for during her career will earn her an automatic promotion to Wise Elder status.
High and dry here, but power has been off for a while now and roads are closed.
If nature was trying to teach us that we are not in control, i am afraid she was unsuccessful.
As soon as the rain stopped the prime canetoad here blamed the changing predictions of the BOM.
Learning did not happen.
The insanity runs too deep.
Correction, i meant premier canetoad of course
Michael – hmm, yeah. Seems “clever” might be an English dialect word.
Roland – so, the models were wrong again. I’m sensing a pattern. Of course, if you have a system that relies of flawless models giving you perfect information just when you need it, then your system is going to fail.
Models are not reality. A map is not the territory. We seem to forget this.
We have total control over our models, ergo we have total control over reality. At least those blessed ones who control the models and know how to read the entrails.
This could be the embryonic form of a rather unimaginative new religion.
Yes. And the only way you could not know that is if you’ve spent your whole life avoiding the “real world”. Which is a surprising number of people these days. Maybe even a majority of the population.
If I remember my college German, you are correct about kluge and clever!
Simon – is there any etymological link between ‘path’, ‘pathology’ &/or ‘pathos’?
Reading your background discussion on the Orphan, I was reminded of Sharp Objects, the 2006 psych-thriller debut novel, since adapted to a miniseries, from Gillian Flynn. Devouring mother – Adora (!) – inflicts her Münchausen by proxy on her two surviving daughters. The older – the rebel – has escaped their small town for the big city & a job as investigative journalist; the acquiescent yet spoilt & bullying adolescent stays behind & is intermittently poisoned, literally, by mom, who then nurses & coddles her. The rebel is assigned to write a story on recent mystery murders of girls in her hometown. Eventually Adora is convicted of the long-ago murder (by poison) of her middle daughter, & the rebel journo rescues & removes the acquiescent. Only at the end do we learn that the latter is a budding serial killer.
So the Orphan is revealed as the jealous, attention-hungry perpetrator. Seems to me that Flynn understands the archetype well…?
Cugel: with a name like that, you clearly know what you’re talking about. So, I believe you.
Shane: pretty sure pathology comes from “pathos” meaning sorrow. So, the phonetic similarity with “path” looks to be accidental. Thanks for reference to Sharp Objects. Always interested to hear where the subject has been dealt with in fiction. From what you’ve told me of the story, that fits with the archetype but not because of jealousy or attention seeking. As that is literally the subject of the next post, I’ll keep you in suspense as to why 😉
I have the impression that the modern education system somehow obscures your pathway (I read a lot about learning and the education system at https://supermemo.guru/wiki/SuperMemo_Guru). When I was a child, I wanted to become a Paleontologist. I was dreaming of digging up dinosaur bones in the Rocky Mountains like Edward Drinker Cope (awesome name!) und Othniel Charles Marsh. When I finished school, I was completely disillusioned and hated learning. I would say that I am still struggling to find my path 20 years after finishing school.
Regarding live avoidance:
Between school and becoming a father, I had an extended period avoiding the real world spanning more than one decade, being addicted to video games and consuming a lot of alcohol. If you have a family, you cannot avoid the real world anymore because people are depending on you being present. I still have some relapses into old habitual patterns, but they are becoming more rare as I get older.
Secretface – I had a hard time in high school too. Fortunately for me, my father insisted on me working with him during school holidays which meant that by the time I’d finished high school I was almost a qualified tradesman. There’s definitely something special about working with your hands. I’m quite sure video games make use of that connection.
Which brings us to another problem, fatherless children. My parents divorced when I was very young, so I grew up without a father.
It took me a long time to realize that there had to be at least some others of my generation who like me would have had the intuition that the Shining Path the universities were offering was not all it was cracked up to be.
Quite some time between those years and 2022.
Using the TV set as everyone’s teleprompter worked well.
But now the yes-men moving their mouths to the blue light in the livingroom are running out of jawbone tissue.
Secretface – yes. That’s the implication of The Devouring Mother concept. If she is dominant, where is the father? The answer is: absent. (If not physically, then at least as a “spiritual” presence).
Michael – being a contrarian has its uses. If everybody’s rushing to get into something, whatever the inherent value of that thing, its perceived value will fall. Economics 101.
I’m sorry for all here who had a dissatisfying high school experience. I thought school was great. Although i must admit it would have been better if we could have found a way to get rid of the teachers.
Unless you happen to have a gifted teacher, almost everything learned in school is learned in spite of the teachers not because of them.
For the last 20 years without misgiving I have been glad, and indeed rather proud, that as a teen I saw through the “Shining Path” of higher education (as Michael put it), left high school, and never looked back. Of course that led to a decade or so of aimless rambling, but I probably would have wound up there anyways and besides learned a lot through the travels and travails of my restless 20s. I wound up learning how to do a lot with my hands, and obtained real-world problem solving skills that are becoming highly endangered if not completely extinct in our youth these days.
Now, pushing 40 and with two small children of my own, I read parts of this post to my wife who worries our homeschooled kiddos are somehow lacking something by missing out on the school experience. My thoughts are to give them more of a directed education, much like your English gentleman example, Simon, and living on a rural homestead we have the opportunity to do just that, while imparting skills which may just prove invaluable in the world to come. Of course we are happy to allow them the choice of a path, but I think nowadays youth are perhaps given too much choice which, when combined with great breadth but little depth of knowledge, and with scant hands-on, real-world experience, becomes paralyzing.
“Only a fool would let his enemy teach his children.” – Malcolm X
Cub – I’m a bit biased as I grew up on a farm but I’d say it’s the best environment for young children. I still have very clear memories of the landscape and the birds (and the heat and the flies). Choice is overrated. It’s probably the case that you have to be forced down the path of learning the first one or two times. That’s how it was for me, anyway. In hindsight, it was a huge benefit even though I didn’t like it at the time. I guess the thing that school gives is the social aspect. How do you handle that with your children or are there others in the neighourhood (I don’t know how big your farm is) to make friends with?
And when noone pulls you into praxis, you remain confused even when you’re making honest attempts to not “join”.
Back then I used to think that at the very least there was an ‘Us’ of those who were marginalized, didn’t fit.
But the older I got, the more it became clear that most of those on the margins were making money hand over fist, raking in subsidies of various sorts, establishing hierarchies (internally and in terms of their objects’ worthiness) and by their very fringe position underpinning the establishment.
I’m sure it’s very tempting to join those (NGO et al) pseudo-fringes when praxis is something you’ve only ever read about.
And very lonely if not joining really does mean not joining.
Michael – better to be lonely than sell your soul to the devil.
That´s why your essays about the devouring mother and Corona resonated with me in two different ways. First, I thought that they were an accurate analysis of the Corona situation. Second, I could see the same concept being present in my own family.
I also agree that living on a farm is very good for young children. The people seem to be more laid back in rural areas and the children have more room to roam and explore. Unfortunately, this is not feasible for most children with our current population density in Germany.
I wouldn´t say that high school was dissatisfying in total. I really enjoyed seen my best friends every day. I also liked sports. Other than that, the teaching sucked so hard that I lost a big chunk of my learning drive.
Unfortunately, homeschooling is forbidden in Germany, as far as I know. Otherwise, I would consider this as a better option than putting my children in public school. I would be interested, how you manage that your children have enough social contact to other children?
Simon. Yes, growing up rurally really is great for the kids. As I believe you mentioned in a Coronapocalypse post about our beliefs surrounding death, just seeing the cycle of life and death in animals regularly, even (especially?) when they are your “pets” is a great education.
But yes the social aspect is perhaps the biggest concern. We have 4 or 5 families very close with kids the same age range, and living where we do we have managed to shirk or ignore most of the ridiculous rules imposed over the past two years, but a wider range of socialization would be nice.
Once the kids get a little older we are hoping to hire a live-in teacher as a community, offer them room and board and a small stipend – an arrangement many would probably been keen on in the coming days as the cities become more and more unlivable.
Secretface – I think Germany has the advantage of having lots of smaller cities where access to the countryside is easy. These days, parents don’t allow children to run off and play. It’s not “safe”. But if things loosen up in the future that will be possible again.
Cub – Absolutely. You pick a lot of things up by osmosis. For example, you know that meat comes from animals and doesn’t just arrive pre-wrapped in plastic at the supermarket. I think for young kids the social thing is not a big deal. We lived on a huge farm with only one other family and that worked out fine. Kids can make friends easily at that age. High school is when I think it would become a priority. ymmv.
Simon – I currently live in a smaller city (around 20k people). What I enjoy about it:
1. I have easy access to the countryside
2. I can do must of my shopping and other stuff by foot
3. The pollution due to congested streets full of cars is at a low level (my nose seems to be more sensitive)
What I don‘t enjoy:
1. Minimal cultural offerings
2. Friends and family live far away in a metropolitan area
3. In more rural areas the population decline in Germany is more obvious since the holes are not filled with migrants to the same degree as in the metropolitan areas
4. As a consequence of the population decline, institutions like schools and hospitals are getting closed, so you need to travel further distances
For me, the negatives outweigh the positives. Especially #2 is weighing hard on me. As a family we are currently strugling to find a suitable place to live.
Simon, Australia may be by far the older continent in terms of its soils, but Germany is the older place aboveground. People had molded, subdued this landscape for millenia, and created a park – just like ‘The Biggest Estate On Earth’. But then that fragile structure got taken out after WWII and what remains today is a neat, efficiently managed moonscape.
So leaving a small town and finding a traditional landscape becomes virtually impossible – the forest is a timber plantation, most hedges were removed or neglected, and everywhere you still find remnants of the old structures you’re sure to get trampled by tourists.
The traditional has to ge replanted, its ways have to be re-learned. We’ve got next to nothing.
P.S.: Old stands for tired in this case, for a landscape which has lost its heart.
Secretface – I know what you mean. Trying to find people who are on the same wavelength is difficult. That’s one of the interesting things about small towns and cities, though. You have to learn to get along with people, which means agreeing to disagree. There is an art to it. For example, I have friends who are fully on board the official corona narrative but we still meet and enjoy each other’s company. We just agree not to talk about the subject. Ironically, this practical skill of tolerance is precisely what the people who worship at the altar of tolerance and diversity lack.
Michael – our starting point is a desert. But, to borrow a phrase from one of my favourite poems “from the desert the prophets come”. This is also related to The Orphan and I’ll be talking about that in future posts in this series.
Simon, you are indeed ‘walking in beauty’.
In my kind of desert, I’m having to plant the entire oasis myself.
Simon – I totally agree on your point. Maybe the people lacking the tolerance of other opinions are that way because they live in big cities, where they can build a large social circle just with like-minded people. This trend seems to be exacerbated by the internet, where everybody can find a niche for his own special interests.
Michael – it can be done. Even forests in the Sahara.
Secretface – which is one of the reasons I suspect smaller cities will be better places to live in the future (if they aren’t already). The only question is how long it will take and that nobody knows.
Simon – From my understanding of resource depletion (especially fossil fuels) it could be the case that we cannot maintain larger cities anymore at some point in the near future. Therefore, it could be that we will all have to live in smaller cities then.
At the moment, the trend in Germany still goes into the direction of larger cities. Maybe the smaller cities have to shrink to a certain degree before they stabilize again and become a pleasant place to live. I am somehow sceptical, as we have some smaller towns and cities that could become ghost towns within 20 years at the current shrinking rate.
Secretface – I’m sure the powers that be would love to cram everybody into big cities, nice and compliant and easy to manage.
On the subject of management, as a newcomer to home ownership & the convolutions of strata schemes, I’ve noticed both the strata manager’s poor communication skills (his aim seems to be to meet minimum legal job requirements, hence indifference to major problems w/ a building he’s never seen) & how disengaged other owners are. To sum up, the manager presumably mostly deals w/ larger developments, where a bureaucratic mindset goes unchallenged, while the owners, though few in number, tend to focus on personal comfort, safety & saving money, as if unaware that neglect of underlying conditions (!) may increasingly affect that comfort etc. Living in public housing, I regularly had to cop needless renovations: they simply got done en masse when funding came down from above, while Housing failed to organise needed individual repairs. Both these attitudes seem symptomatic of urban living. Living, long ago, in rural Tassie for a year, problems couldn’t be fixed by a call to a middleman who’d issue a work order & collect a commission. Instead, I learned, e.g., that by rigging up a makeshift belt for a rainwater tank pump, I could restore water supply until I could buy a new belt. It seems that the more people are crowded together, the less individual responsibility they have room to exercise. And the internet seems like a ‘logical’ extension of this overcrowding: no physical reality (w/ attendant microbes etc.) at all. It’s as if the logic of the internet is colonising physical reality – e.g., using QR codes to enter a toilet/shower block or a children’s playground!
Oh yeah: re the Orphan getting along w/ people: Flynn’s acquiescent child murderer is named ‘Amity’.
Michael – I found what you’re talking about really confronting when I visited Western Europe (I’m Australian). It was very hard to find the ‘wild’ in places. I don’t mean this in the pristine untouched wilderness sense which is of course not true of Australia either, more in the sense that every square foot of the place is human controlled and plants and animals seemed to have given up the fight. There weren’t even wild weeds growing on the side of the roads in many places. It all seemed too perfect, like a postcard.
It only takes an hours’s drive from most places in Australia to find somewhere that isn’t under direct human control, whether that just be a road side or abandoned lot with pioneer species taking over. Or even just things spiders invading your house, or possums living in the roof, or magpies stealing your cats food. On top of this, what we consider introduced pests here are actually great examples of unmanaged, wild nature. Australia has populations of camels, buffalo, donkeys, horses, foxes and on and on that are all completely feral and out of human control, and we have never been able to do much to stop them.
It may have something to do with your freezing winters allowing people to reset everything once a year and keeping the wild growth unchecked, whereas here it is a never ending encounter with all sorts of non human life attempting to break in. It all relates to population density too I suppose.
Shane – don’t forget that we live in the nanny state where fixing things yourself is literally against the law. The silver lining is that all this massive waste represents a layer of fat that should act as a buffer once economic realities hit home. Knowing how to fix things will be an incredibly valuable skill when that happens.
Simon – I agree that this is one of their ideas, but as far as I understand, the problem with rural areas is the economic situation. Currently, you need very few people to work in agriculture. Therefore, there are fewer opportunities for work. In the cities, there are much more options. So, as long as we can reduce the number of farmers, we will have a clustering of people in the cities. I could imagine that this trend is reversed in the near future due to fossil fuel depletion.
Skip – You can find “wild” areas in Germany but you have to go to mountainous regions because the flat land is covered to such a large degree by cities, fields and transportation infrastructure that it is really difficult to find “wild” areas (maybe some woods). In some remote mountainous regions, resettled wolves and lynxes are roaming the wild again.
Even though these regions exist, I can totally understand that an Australian or anybody from a sparsely settled country will be puzzled by the lack of “wilderness” in Germany. Compared to Australia, the population density is around 80 times higher in Germany. Funnily, Astralia has more cities greater than 1 Million people than Germany. So, the “few” people living in Australia are much more concentrated than the Germans.
Secretface – it’s the same problem in Australia. Although, there does tend to be work in the rural areas, it’s just that nobody wants it. Farmers rely on imported labour for that reason.
Secretface, what Skip (correctly) observed is that management of our landscape has not necessarily eliminated every picturesque spot or every unwanted species, but paralyzed them, because it paralyzed us.
It is what Allan Savory calls ‘reductionist management’, and once it grabs hold of a landscape and of our minds it will perform an act of well-intentioned strangulation on it, whatever the exact outcome – every attempt at amelioration will only ever make things worse, because the framework does not allow for things to get better.
Simon – We have the same problem here in Germany. We primarily import our harvesters and pickers from Eastern Europe. The “pandemic” also disrupted this practice to the dismay of the farmers.
I don´t whether I brought up that example before, but there was a news story in Germany a few years ago about a woman with a PhD in Gender Studies. She was unemployed and her employment office clerk proposed to her to work as a strawberry picker as he saw no other way of getting her employed. This looks like a realistic future for a lot of people with useless university degrees.
Secretface – I like that. A PhD in strawberry picking.
Did she get the job? A PhD in Gender Studies is as good a proof of uselessness as you can get.
I can’t imagine anybody whose business is subject to market forces hiring her.
I looked up the article, where this story was told. It seems like she declined everything proposed by the employment office clerk.
Here is the link to the story in German: