A Society in which Work and Pleasure are Walking Distance from Everyone’s Door

We need a society in which both work and pleasure are walking distance from everyone’s door. That is the foundation of our task to allow the revival of other species and to allow the lungs of Earth to re-find their balance. I cannot see another remedy. Most people profoundly disagree. Wild polemics advise that we can green our current ways of life, while friends of mine say that their chosen way of farming will “draw down carbon”, others say, Yes, – very nice, but dream on…, while still others say, look how far we’ve advanced, technology will continue to advance and find a way.
This is what I say.
We need to re-centre suburbia, revive derelict town and village centres and shut-down corporate-supplied consumerism. Rather than green our loud energy demands, we must hush the noise and begin to watch and listen. We must shrink our needs to fit within what we learn from that natural lesson. Our most destructive activity is transport. Greening that destruction is futile. We must remove the need for it as much as we can.
And we can replace the high-powered internet and its connected global transport with good conversation, concerts, theatres, pub gossip and sing songs, musical instruments, books, market squares, proper shops, workshops and cafes spilling onto the street. We can replace unreality with reality. That reality includes safe and convivial car-free roads, where people can stroll at leisure and children can play as children should. And we can bring market gardens into town and revive private gardening and allotments. As we remove the old infrastructures, so we also remove dependency. Dependency is a soul-sapping weight. Liberated, we can set pleasures, ingenuity and dexterity free. These arguments are old as the hills.
Which is why this needs little explanation. The transformation is from an extraordinary fossil-powered levitation and back to very ordinary and easily-understood solid ground. It’s also fortunate that the ordinary contains all that is marvellous – seasons, sights, scents, sounds…. We need no advice from academics, consultants, architects, journalists, or government officials to achieve it. In truth, that hierarchy of professional (and deluded) monopolies has played the major part of our crazy levitation. What’s more, from that elevation it has reached down and extracted crippling rents from those who still generate real economic activity. If I need a solicitor, or doctor, or if I need planning permission for my self-built house, I must bring my £6 per hour to pay for their £300 per hour. I pay for a class system. I pay for idle education by my physical labour. That educated idleness can only exist by the cash-generating power of fossil fuels.
Sometimes, reality will produce scarcity and surplus – such necessary trade can be managed (if we work at it) by canal navigable river and the sea. Sail trade is tried and tested. Even though you say, “Dream on mate”, it is the only trade which fits physical reality. It can also revive coastal communities. Can we maintain the railway? Only trial and error will tell. Certainly, it must be efficient rail – that is, slow rail. How far will durable electricity stretch? Nobody knows. Its first uses must be domestic. That may well prove its limit, but perhaps it will stretch a little further. Certainly, I don’t know. In any case, uncertainty is the best frame of mind to receive enlightening fragments of certainty.
Fossil fuels have lifted humanity high above the Earth on a wild ride to self-destruction. What’s more, they have not brought happiness. Our species had evolved to find its place amongst all the other species. Firstly, agriculture came too fast for our deeper selves to keep pace – the inherited moral structures that form family, community and their settlement inside the natural world, were often overlain by that new reality. Thus, moral structures became both strained and exploited. In many instances, we could justly call that new agricultural reality – unreality. Throughout history, (and no doubt, pre-history) many agricultural communities had pillaged their soils and so themselves, even before the magnificent power of fossil fuels levitated our half-unreal agriculture into utter, unmitigated unreality. By agriculture, I mean a culture of roads, villages, towns and cities – of specialised trades – all of which are enabled by the specialist cultivation of fields. Today, in spite of the marvels of aviation; of the internet and so on, we remain an agriculture.
A society in which both work and pleasure are walking distance from everyone’s door can remain an agriculture – or as I shall pursue, a more horticultural society, into which animals can beneficially contribute. I think our settlements must retract as the wilds expand.
I carry Utopia with me like an imaginary harbour light, or the evening star. Our cultural voyage cannot embark without hope. Yet, looking at the evidence, there is now no future for humankind – the heating is more rapid than all peer-reviewed predictions. Looking at my family, friends and neighbours, it is plain that we will not achieve the fast (immediate) mutation of social behaviour necessary to live within planetary means. Yet hope is something different. It is anchored, transcending time, to its final leading light. “You never enjoy the world aright, until the sea itself floweth in your veins – until you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars.” Says Thomas Traherne. “And know yourself to sole heir to all the universe – and more so, since all others are sole heirs also.”
Yes, our journey will devise many compromises in the face of both human and natural obstacles. But the thing is, as we set off again, having necessarily compromised, our renewed guiding light must remain Utopia. Compromising a pragmatic compromise always leads to hopeless disaster. After all, Utopia is Nowhere. It always leads to hope.

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2 Responses to A Society in which Work and Pleasure are Walking Distance from Everyone’s Door

  1. Michelle says:

    One of my favorite lines from Traherne! I agree that we must find a way back to walking distances. Life is so much richer when you can walk in it instead of whizzing through our lives sealed in our vehicles going to work in sterile office buildings. It is a difficult to maintain a vision of Utopia, while working with the world as it is i.e. pragmatism. Your musings are as fascinating as ever.


    • bryncocyn says:

      Thanks very much Michelle. Do you know, I’ve taken to visiting your anima soul as an occasional refuge from all the wild polemics that are flying about at the moment? Thank you. It’s a long time since I’ve read Thomas Traherne, but his lines flow in and out of my head, along with those of poets and writers who filled my distant youth! Ancestors sustain us. Nowadays, coming in from work, I fall asleep, or drink a little too much wine for proper reading, but still, lovely remembered fragments come and go, many no doubt, mutated and misremembered.


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