Brother Chris is right, of course. Urban animism has been discussed before. To my mind at least, it feels like a really nineties thing to talk about.
His post is nothing of the sort. It’s a thoughtful analysis of urban animism that covers what are probably the two most important notions to consider when discussing what is “natural”.
The first one. Cities are natural. Cities are birds nests made by millions of monkeys. What ‘un’ natural thing could they be built from?
The second. As Brother Chris rightly points out, our romanticising of the natural environment is largely a byproduct of pastoral fantasies. Wicca emerged along with “naturism” (the fantasy clue is in the word), the belief that countryfolk were “custodians of antiquitous wisdom” and an obsession with folklore as part of an urban misapprehension of the rural idyll.
Saying countryfolk are custodians of ancient tribal wisdom is kinda like saying Asians are good at maths or Native Americans are clairvoyant. It’s… icky.
And also it’s a new idea anyway. In fact, for most of history, country people were considered terrifying, rapey, inbreds. Which is a bit rich considering that, for most of history, everyone was a country person.
But the land itself was seen as being far from beautiful or health-giving. Prior to the 17th century landscape movement, upstanding ladies would draw the curtain of their carriage when travelling between towns so as not to be affronted by the savagery of nature. Winding it back to the even-more-romanticised Bronze Age, there was no such thing as the natural environment versus the built environment. It was just “that place where we live”. The time in between has been a bunch of things. Like any other moral or philosophical position, sometimes you’re hot, sometimes you’re not.
All of this has been covered before.
It’s worth thinking about again, however, because we as a species recently passed a significant demographic milestone.
More of us now live in cities than don’t. In a very literal sense, the city is now our natural environment.
Good or bad, squaring with the idea of humans as a primarily urban species needs to happen.
Here are a few things to consider when forming an opinion on city spirits.
- Technological innovation is solely dependent on population density (according to Jared Diamond). So ironically, the solution to the world’s ills are most likely to come from their principal causative agent.
- Living in a city is greener than not. City lives use less carbon because they benefit from proximity and scale. Recycling and waste reduction are easier as physical sharing is easier.
- Cities promote tolerance better than less dense areas.
- The next thing that lays waste to mankind -assuming it’s terrestrial in origin- will come from a city.
The BBC recently aired a fantastic documentary series called Megacities which I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who hasn’t already seen it. (You all know what I mean by ‘wholeheartedly’ by now.)
And here’s another segment from my beloved London. There’s something vaguely Babel about The Shard. Can’t wait for it to be finished.
Who doesn’t love those stinking, writhing, dangerous, fickle, generous, inspirational, loud, complex city spirits? Which isn’t to say we shouldn’t have big love for the nature spirits. We should.
It’s just that putting them on a pedestal isn’t natural. (Couldn’t resist.)