Tuesday, March 12, 2013

More on care and affection

In talking about places worth caring for, Kunstler is basically asking the question, "What do we care about?"

While some people call him a doomer and someone that does not have the "expertise" of an oil economist, there is stil a tremendous amount of sense in what James Howard Kunstler says in his TED talk from 2004 (see previous post).  In making places worth caring about, we inherently forgo individual and community actions that degrade place; the built environment guides choices that cherish and nourish place instead.  This spirit of place can thus be incredibly empowering.

Care necessarily makes abstract concepts of urban planning and of daily choice more real, tangible, and concrete.  Care is not about numbers and statistics (although, I guess, care can be informed by them).  Rather than listening to news of ecological doom and gloom here and far away, building (not only materially) and living in places worth caring about actually empowers us to use an emotion so rarely put into action in our daily lives.  Today, many of us live in places where we do not know our neighbours or the local ecology, we work in places without sunshine and stare at screens.  The massive changes needed in all spheres of our civic and daily life grow from caring.

This care ties in intimately with the affection that Wendell Berry talks about so wonderfully in the 2012 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities (the highest honor the federal government confers for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities) he delivered: 
Obviously there is some risk in making affection the pivot of an argument about economy. The charge will be made that affection is an emotion, merely “subjective,” and therefore that all affections are more or less equal: people may have affection for their children and their automobiles, their neighbors and their weapons. But the risk, I think, is only that affection is personal. If it is not personal, it is nothing; we don’t, at least, have to worry about governmental or corporate affection. And one of the endeavors of human cultures, from the beginning, has been to qualify and direct the influence of emotion. The word “affection” and the terms of value that cluster around it—love, care, sympathy, mercy, forbearance, respect, reverence—have histories and meanings that raise the issue of worth. We should, as our culture has warned us over and over again, give our affection to things that are true, just, and beautiful. When we give affection to things that are destructive, we are wrong. A large machine in a large, toxic, eroded cornfield is not, properly speaking, an object or a sign of affection.
(Take the time to read the whole lecture.  It is worth absolutely every moment of your time.)

Places worth caring for are absolutely everywhere, and right outside our doorsteps (and inside, too).  They don't need to be a thousand square miles big or Glacier National Park.

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