When I try to understand what is happening to us on a species level, I look for metaphors and analogies, often taken from natural or biological processes. One idea is that we are reaching species maturity, much as an individual organism grows to a certain level, and then ends its physical development. Rapid growth is a quality of youth and immaturity. As the individual comes of age, physical growth ends, but the potential for inner growth - an enhancement of wisdom, creativity, and cunning - remains. The same may be the case for the human species as a whole.
We have reached the limit of our capacity to grow, within the finite limits of the planet. We now must settle into our situation, and explore new potentials for qualitative development, for inner growth. As we will explore later, at the moment, our economic system prevents this - but that system is also an artifact of human design, and we can change it to reflect our new conditions of being. I believe that the technical challenges we confront, in making a rapid transition to a regenerative society, are less difficult than the ideological challenges.
Personally, I love cities and identify as an urban person. I grew up in Manhattan - I sometimes feel like an Eskimo perpetually wandering up and down this thin sliver of island - and I love the density, the cultural meldings, the constant hubbub, the graffiti scrawls, the mad lonely soliloquies, the erotic enticements, the serendipities, the raw chaos of urban life. In the country, I find myself restless, also afflicted with allergies. I have lived in New York City for my whole life, a half-century - a span of time when more than half of all wild beasts have vanished from the planet as humans have annihilated their habitats. I am an aficionado of New York’s cultural history, its bohemian milieu, its avant-garde art movements, and I tend believe that these cultural flourishes of human expression are the city’s primary reason for being.
The great city is the icon and the soul of our modern, now postmodern, world, celebrated in endless songs, stories, and fables. The city was the dark labyrinth where Kafka’s K faced his trial, where Stephen Daedalus sought his beloved, where T.S. Eliot found his wasteland, where Allen Ginsberg unleashed his howl. Ambitious young people still flock to the city, yearning to make their mark on the zeitgeist, chasing the sparks and embers of genius, seeking some incandescence of being - some cluster of holy moments, profane illuminations. The seemingly ephemeral new expressions of art and thought eventually become crystallized, formalized in new institutions and built environments: “The translation of ideas into common habits and customs, of personal choices and designs into urban structures, is one of the prime functions of the city,” wrote Lewis Mumford in The City in History.
Culturally, we need to reimagine cities as, in designer John Todd’s phrase, “scaffoldings for living systems,” as biodigestors and composters, as places of self-sufficiency and abundance, where food is grown, energy is produced, and waste is recycled. Cities should be the human equivalent of a coral reef or a beehive, in a harmonious and supportive relationship with their surrounding ecosystems. The basis of social life should be cooperation, participatory democracy, efficient resource-sharing, ongoing learning, and mutual aid.
This is an excerpt from my new book, which is a year away from publication. Your support via Patreon has been extremely helpful in allowing me the time to complete this project. I gratefully appreciate your support.