Rural life faces grim reaper

Cows, unaware of dark clouds, enjoying rural landscape in Scotland. (heraldscotland.com)

The shadow darkening over pastures and woodlands, farm villages and hamlets probably threatens the rural style of life more in Britain than in America, where only a remnant of family farms, dairy or crops, survives in New England and the mid-Atlantic states, with hobby farms pushing out family farms year by year, not to mention the threat of large commercial farming.

Another part of this long rural demise stems from the pressure of  remorseless urban development as it spreads from city and suburb, chewing up the farm life. Another part stems, especially in Britain, from the equally remorseless seizure by woke mentality, climate alarmism and negative Brexit blowback (lost agricultural subsidies) of institutions that regulate the edges of the rural mentality.

This blog tends to focus on the ill effects of modernity on the urban landscape, but every nation (almost) has its own rural landscape, and its adulteration and disappearance is the flip side of what has happened in cities and towns round the globe. Behold the latter-day imperialism of brutal neo-colonialism! The survival and regeneration of this half of every nation’s life is as important as getting control of what is happening to all of our cities.

The Scottish farmer and author Jamie Blackett has written a pair of books describing his fight to protect the land in Scotland that his family has owned for generations. Red Rag to a Bull: Rural Life in an Urban Age is the first; newly out also from Quiller is the second, Land of Milk and Honey: Digressions of a Rural Dissident. In the sequel Blackett describes in detail how, in the words of James Stevens Curl, “[Blackett] and his family coped with the crisis by adopting regenerative agriculture and transforming his business into pasture-based dairy-farming.” Stevens Curl has reviewed both books and in his essay on the sequel describes what Blackett hopes to save:

It should be remembered that visually agreeable countrysides, with hedgerows, copses, fields, farm-buildings, etc., are the results of centuries of interventions by humankind, creations that embrace æsthetics, architecture, and all sorts of artefacts that derive from conscious design decisions, such as fencing, gates, stiles, dry-stone walls, and so on.

Stevens Curl, who wrote a vivid history of modernist architectural and planning theories and practices (Making Dystopia: The Strange Rise and Survival of Architectural Barbarism), is at his best describing the forces against which farmers and most other people without reality dysphoria must struggle. I would like to close by extracting from Blackett’s sequel what he is best at describing, the delights of farming and of the rural world. And, as is appropriate this week of Queen Elizabeth’s sad shuffle (in Scotland) off this mortal coil, the passage involves the death and funeral of Blackett’s father:

We brought him home to Galloway to be buried. Fittingly it was a busy farming day, after a catchy spell of weather there was a window to get on and cut silage [fodder grown as food for herds]. I hesitated before allowing the contractors to come on the day of the funeral, then thought Dad would have insisted that we crack on, so made a plan for them to go for it with the aim of sheeting the day after, it would be good for us to be kept busy. So, as we sadly made our way towards the church in Dumfries we passed frenzied activity: the chopper munching its way through thick rows of mown grass in the field next to the kennels, and tractors thundering around the roads leading silage to the pit. It was a grassy year and our first cut was the heaviest ever. Dad had seen it on his last day with us ten days before, and had glowed with pleasure as he gave me rare praise for the crop. It all served to emphasize that life goes on.

And so it does, on farms, with greater difficulty amid shrinking beauty – unless King Charles decides to speak out on the disappearance of this aspect (among all too many others) of Britain’s greatness.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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16 Responses to Rural life faces grim reaper

  1. Rural America luckily got a helper in the Amish. Currently 370 000 they double every 20 years and revigorize every county demographically and economically where they become 10-15% of the pop. And their farming methods may not be ecological but they use a lot of premachine age techniques.

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  2. John the First says:

    The philosopher Herbert Spencer, in his work Facts and Comments, already in 1902 wrote about the gradual disappearance of the picturesque, to be replaced by industrially generated ugliness. And he imagined that in the future it would become much worse.

    In Holland and Belgium, the farmers had the practice to demarcate their lands with topped willow trees, these trees now are part of what many people experience as picturesque. Which is only one example of the fact that what we experience aesthetically as attractive, which is based on disinterested appreciation, was once produced because there were practical interests involved. The societies who produced it, never intended to produce something aesthetically pleasing.
    The massive aesthetic appreciation of such environments in our times is a luxury, which is the product of the general improvements in the lives of people, so that many now have leisure time and abundance of energy, which leads to a gradual development of aesthetic taste, the capacity among the masse to look at something in a disinterested manner, appreciating its form. It is the aesthetic counterpart of the general increase of intelligence through mass education. The popularity of gardening, historical architecture, interior design, and the picturesque are all expressions of the fact that a sense of beauty has awakened among a greater public.
    It needs to be noted that the picturesque is not beautiful, in aesthetic terms it is charming and agreeable. Since what we experience as picturesque is the product of ‘spontaneous’ interest based generation, and such interest based generation is likely to be ever more replaced with non interest based generation (a form of ‘luxury’), it appears to me that society should be aiming at a synthesis of the old and the new. So that the farmers of the future will be engaged in preservation (which is no longer singularly spontaneous practical interests based), and deliberate creation of the charming and agreeable in new forms, using new knowledge.

    Regarding climate change alarmism: climate change alarmism and woke is soaked with the vice of moralism, and moralism, the most poisonous of human vices, has always been the enemy of art, beauty, the charming and the agreeable. Besides, it is also the enemy of real science. One would almost think that morality has been invented to control other people, if not so, ninety-nine percent of it’s application throughout known human history is the application of hypocrisy trying to control and dictate other people. Hence the intolerance which is so characteristic of woke and climate change alarmists, and why such fraudulent schemes have grown like a tumour.

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    • John the First says:

      For the sake of compressing a long argument: the situation is that since the industrial revolution, the interest-based no longer spontaneously produces that what is charming and agreeable, thus the future will have to be one of ‘planned beauty’ over planned ugliness.
      The generation of wealth throughout the twentieth century allows the luxury of planned beauty, but moralism created by elites (for instance the Club of Rome) has created a severe hindrance. Basically, the awakening of a sense of beauty among a greater public is counteracted by an oligarchy , the WEF King Charles III curiously operating in both camps…

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  3. LazyReader says:

    Americans are leaving the cities. Between July 1, 2020 and July 1, 2021, New York City lost 305,000 residents. Los Angeles County lost nearly 160,000. Cook County, home of Chicago, lost nearly 90,000. San Francisco lost nearly 55,000. The counties in which Boston, Dallas, Miami, Philadelphia, San Jose, Seattle, and Washington are located each lost well over 20,000. Collectively, the counties containing 26 of the nation’s 33 largest cities lost nearly 900,000 residents.

    Epitome of arrogance to believe you can tell other people THEY have to stay. YOU Can take every person on Earth, arrange them in a grid 6 feet apart…and theyd be in a single 10,000 sq mile area…smaller than Maryland.

    Density is a loveable, laughable pet subject…. Environmentalists, who argue that densely populated cities are the solution to lower the energy requirements for transportation and living. On the other hand, the solar envelope shows that above a certain threshold, density can also raise energy requirements, in particular heating, cooling and daylighting.I said before you can build artificial islands for what it costs for the infrastructure of major cities.

    Biologists who study ants and get paid to think of such things, estimate there are one quadrillion ants and an ant can move 50-100 grams of soil a day. The Ant population moves 250 million metric tons of rock/soil a day….

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    • I’m not sure what your complaint here is, Lazy, but I have never indulged in anything like the arrogance you seem to be imagining.

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      • John the First says:

        It appears he is pointing to what I would call quantity managers, or calculating apes, making themselves big. Surely you are not a quantity manager.
        Lazyreader is a sort of a walking encyclopedia of facts and numbers, quite interesting at times.

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        • Indeed he is, John. In fact, you both are. Your input is uniformly interesting, often in similar ways, although not always agreeable to my own point of view. Sometimes I wonder if you and Lazy are the same person.

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          • John the First says:

            I never engage in encyclopediacal expositions.. and give me a number greater than two figures, and two seconds later I have forgotten it, even when it concerns my own money.

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  4. I subscribed to this newsletter because I thought we were fighting the same fight, but this sentence: “Another part stems, especially in Britain, from the equally remorseless seizure by woke mentality, climate alarmism…” .makes me think made a mistake. I will uns
    ubscribe now.

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    • I will remove you from my list, Michael. But what is the “same fight” you thought we had in common? Thanks, after all, for what you have read from my blog.

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      • Michael R Ytterberg says:

        I thought we were interested in a built environment that treasured traditional architecture and urbanism and sought to build new traditional architecture and urbanism to create beautiful environments. Why this is challenged by being excessively polite and respectful of all people (ie, “woke”) is beyond me.

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        • Michael, I am glad to be able to say we are still in “the same fight.” Why “woke” must, alas, be part of the discourse – since indeed the woke are *not*, however alert they may be to real and perceived injustices, are not in the least “excessively polite and respectful” individuals. Their negative impact on rural and city life, and many other useful and/or pleasant institutions and traditions, has been ubiquitous, and worthy of fighting against. For a slightly deeper take, please read my response to Charles just below. Also, I believe that both Lazy Reader and John the First touch on some of these issues. You are, of course, perfectly within your rights to disagree and so am I to disagree with you (at least for now).

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  5. You need to learn what “woke” means, rather than just using it as an all purpose slur for policies you don’t like.

    I don’t think that farmland is being lost to people who talk about racial prejudice.

    I notice a lot of name calling in your recent posts, which degrades the quality of political discourse.

    From Wikipedia:
    Woke (/ˈwoʊk/ WOHK) is an English adjective meaning “alert to racial prejudice and discrimination” that originated in African-American Vernacular English (AAVE). Beginning in the 2010s, it came to encompass a broader awareness of social inequalities such as sexism, and has also been used as shorthand for American Left ideas involving identity politics and social justice, such as the notion of white privilege and slavery reparations for African Americans.

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    • Charles, I don’t think “woke” means what you say it means. Being “alert to” the things you cite is not necessarily to be woke. To be woke is to perhaps be alert to those things but also to be willing to go beyond “alertness” to *act* in an arguably racist manner to atone for real or perceived injustices of the past and/or present. The willingness to act in that way is, many people believe, unjustifiable and unsupported by the facts. Whether woke people threaten rural life directly or not, their success in dominating many British and U.S. institutions supports a broad matrix of circumstances that put rural life at risk.

      I don’t think that architecture and politics mix well, and I regret that legal and cultural changes sparked by woke ideas have forced the inclusion of politics into some facets of architectural discourse. I try to ignore it is much as I can, but cannot ignore it totally. If you find that this coarsens some of my posts, I can only agree. That’s too bad, but that is where we are today.

      Anyhow, there are scores of definitions of woke out there. Still, Charles, with all due respect, I think mine is as legitimate as yours, and is indisputedly involved in the weakening of traditions that make rural life possible to sustain.

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      • John the First says:

        Architecture and politics?
        Aesthetics and moralism seems to be the issue, they do not mix, as the latter is a matter of intolerance. We should be able to have learned something from the nineteenth century, the fight of artists against moralism and hypocrisy.
        Morality has a certain important but limited place in life, moralism on the other hand creeps into any corner of the mind, and any place in society, where it tries to control everything, whether it is minutely small, or large and overbearing. Moralism may trip over any insignificant detail, and side itself with great powers,. It can take any shape and position, it is blind on the one hand, and on the other hand watches everything jealously.

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    • John the First says:

      Woke is the product of democratic powerplay, democracies are typically obsessed with morality (social justice) to the point that it becomes sick and rampant, and it is easily exploited. Social justice moralism will penetrate every corner and aspect of society. Such encyclopedia-dictionary-reading autist belligerence like ‘You need to learn what “woke” means”’ only indicates that in that respect some people are unfortunately incapable of seeing the spirit of a thing, instead relying on some ideologically biased authority like Wikipedia.
      Collectivist systems like mass democracy (contrary to small ‘peasant’ democracies), communism, etc, are known to be prone to produce such tyrannical madness. Of course the race based social justice madness is characteristic of racially mixed democracies, thus the moralist madness also operates in a rather new area.

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