Thursday, December 21, 2006

Urban and Rural Culture

After taking a trip across America to the south and southwest, some interesting questions and observations about the differances between urban and rural culture, as well as eastern and western culture in America, have presented themselves to me. Before noting the differences in tendency between such modes of culture, it obviously should be emphasized that we are all human beings; there is inevitably a level of commonality between people regaurdless of geographic location. In short, there are some things that all people, rural or urban, engage in; namely, commerce and social cooperation. With this commonality established, it still becomes a task to define how different people engage in such interaction.

Harkening back in time linguistically, the original term for "country folk" was the word pagan. A lesser known fact is that the original term for "city folk" was the word villian, which linguistically derives from the word village. There has always been a level of animosity between city and country dwellers. The "pagans" (I.E. country dwellers) were considered to be brute and primitive by the "villians" (I.E. city dwellers), and likewise the country dwellers often considered the city dwellers to be elites who expoit them. Examples of this go as far back as anchient Rome and Egypt. The Romans considered the country dwellers and nomads that lived past their borders to be "barbarians". While this animosity is so prevailaint, it must be emphasized that it is based on misperception. Even in our modern age, there is an assumed animosity between rural and urban people, and the politics of the day turns it into unecessary cultural warfare based on nothing short of blatant misunderstandings between urban and rural people, as well as between regional areas (such as north vs. south). This misunderstanding is something that should be reconciled, if possible. Despite the fact that there indeed are differences between our modern pagans and villians, this need not create animosity.

An interesting observation is that, generally speaking, urban people tend to be more "liberally" minded (in the modern context of the word). Urban people, philosophically and politically, seem to tend to be opposed to capitalism to some degree or another. However, what makes this ironic is that the urban people in practise engage the most in capitalistic exchange and developement in their everyday lives. Inevitably, this makes urbanites walking contradictions; on one hand, they are the people most politically opposed to capitalism yet in their casual life they enjoy the most fruits of it. The city is where the most commercial activity and competition exists (and indeed, without this, there would be no real urban areas), and in this sense urban areas are intrinsically more capitalistic then rural areas.

The observation of rural people is the mirror image of this. Politically, rural people tend to support capitalism and are more likely to fit the mold of a "conservative" (in the modern context of the word). Yet once again we confront a contradiction. The rural areas are where the least commercial activity and competition exists. While the rural people may politically support capitalism more than many urbanites, in practise they live in a more primitivist atmosphere: there is much less buisinesses and competition. On one hand, rural people are more politically supportive of capitalism yet in their everyday lives they are isolated from the mass-commercialism and production of the urban areas. Rural areas lack a diversity of choices (I.E. competition); they are relatively confined to whatever is local, and the local options are quite limited. There may be nothing else for miles. If a rural person wants more options, they must go to town.

To the extent that both urban and rural areas both indeed do engage in capitalism, the key differance is that the urban areas are based more on industrial markets, while rural areas are based more on agricultural markets. In a sense, both are dependant on eachother. Both are necessary. The urban people rely on the agricultural production of the rural areas, while the rural people rely somewhat on the industrial production of the urban areas. Rural areas produce the food and agricultural goods needed by urbanites, and the urbanites produce the industrial capital goods needed by the rural people. It would be counterproductive and impractical to have nothing but an urban metropolis everywhere because of the lack of agriculture, and a purely agricultural atmospere would be quite primitive because of the lack of industrial activity.

Another interesting observation is that while the urbanites may have more of a tendency to be environmentalists (in the modern context of the word), in their everyday lives they are about as far from naturalist as one can get. A possible disadvantage of urban life is that one indeed is isolated from nature. On the other hand, rural people live very much as naturalists in their everyday lives, yet they are less prone to modern environmentalism. There indeed is some hypocrisy here: the urban people engage most in those activities that are considered to be harmful to the environment. Modern urban environmentalists are simply inconsistant. On the one hand, they complain endlessly about the harm (both real and percieved) that industrial activity does to the environment, yet in their everyday lives they are dependant on that very activity. If they would like to be consistant, they would have to abandon their cars, move out to the middle of nowhere and simply abstain from modern technology altogether. Interestingly, the Luddite position (the erroneous notion that technology and industrialization is hopelessly corrupting and poses a threat of completely replacing human labor with machinery) would obviously be most consistant with rural life, and therefore this anti-industrial and anti-modernist position so commonly associated with urban "liberals" is actually a rural position, in both its original context and consistant application.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both urban and rural life. The urbanite has the advantage of more commercial options and more human interaction in general. The country folk have the advantage of isolating themselves from the busy atmosphere of the city. On the other hand, the urbanite is missing the advantage of being isolated. The urbanite does not know what it is like to be truly alone. In this sense, rural people have a certain individualistic tendency that is lacking in urban life. The urbanite, to the contrary, is forced to deal with other people on a constant and daily basis. On the other hand, the rural folk are missing the advantages of this interaction. The rural folk have the disadvantage of living in areas where pretty much everyone knows eachother, and thus there is less privacy and independance in this sense. The urbanite, on the other hand, has the advantage of anonimity; while they indeed deal with many others on a daily basis, this interaction is mostly as anonymous individuals. Unlike the rural folk, the urbanite is not forced to deal with the same small group of people all of the time.

In our cultural mythos, it is common to act as if there are huge regional differances between north and south, and east and west. While it is undeniable that there indeed are some differances, these differences are often exaggerated and are mostly rather superficial. The assumption that north-east and south or south-west are opposed to eachother and very different is somewhat of an illusion. What one finds in reality is that no matter what state one lives in, the vast majority of the country is rural. The vast majority of the country is "the middle of nowhere", with a few densely populated cities as islands in a sea of open country land and small townships. Further, north and south, east and west, doesn't really matter much in this respect. One finds that in the south, once you go to a city (example: New Orleans), people act like city-folk as much as people do in the north and east (example: Cleveland). In short, the city will generally be "modernist" no matter what region one is in. The city folk in the south and west are hardly distinguishable at all from those in the east and north.

In taking a road trip across America, one cannot help but note that there is a seemingly endless amount of unused and unindustrialized land. Those who are alarmists about population size are in grave error - the vast bulk of the land is unpopulated and unindustrialized. We have an extremely long way to go before population becomes a real concern in America. Indeed, the further homesteading of this unused land should be encouraged. America is far from "over-developed". In the grand scheme of things, and based on simply looking at the sea of unused land and lack of industrial activity on over 99% of the land mass, America (and the rest of the world for that matter) is quite under-developed. Each state has a number of concentrated urban areas, but outside of that is almost nothing but open country. One sees many signs by the side of the road in the country side where huge stretches of land is up for sale, and if purchased one could easily transform such land into the beginning of a city.

In conclusion, both rural and urban people should take the time to experience eachothers lifestyles, and also realize that they are not necessarily in utter opposition to eachother; rather, they are both necessary to eachother's existance and they both have different sets of virtues and vices.

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