05 July 2013

The False Ideal of the Green City

[This is taken from a reply to a comment on that bloated movie review I wrote for Fare Forward last summer.  The originals can be found here.]

...The question about the green city is an interesting one. I think the ideal of the green city is a compromise between ecological soundness and capitalism that we should really question. Anyway, in my analysis I was mainly going for layered sets of metaphors. The city is capitalism, is alienation from nature, is tyrannical government. Given these associations, all clearly supported in the movie, the the city's dissolution is much more profound. Imagine if The Lorax had ended with an eco-friendly city instead. That would have totally killed the movie, no? The capitalist would still reign, the citizens would be just as alienated from nature, it would just be an accident of the products they were consuming that they didn't devastate the surroundings. In that situation, the people benefit the least. Anyway, as for blaming Christianity, I think that's incorrect. The abuses of nature are much more compellingly traced to modern philosophical thought. Beginning in the 16th century with the emergence of a new humanism during the renaissance and the enlightenment, europeans thought of human nature as fundamentally discontinuous with the natural world. The natural world was meant to be battered and subjugated and made useful for human ends, which were rational and intentional and (in a non-religious sense) super-natural. This idea of man as the rational spirit at work to bend nature to his will has lingered in the popular consciousness of the west for some centuries now, and it's done a great deal of harm. But it is not fundamentally a Christian idea. It's a humanist idea. Christian thought has a strong tradition of seeing the continuity between human nature and the natural world and understanding that man is charged with the task of governing the natural world, which means respecting and caring for it according to what it is.