One Boiled Frog

it's getting warm out there.

The combination of features, like petroglyphs, geoglyphs and trail networks, and the landscape’s significance to the origin stories of several Native American tribes have led to multiple attempts to have the area, also known as the Great Bend of the Gila, declared a national monument. (“From the Gila River to Bears Ears, a renewed push to protect public lands in the Southwest”, The Arizona Republic)

This begs the question: Why not reintegrate these lands into the Native American reservations whose histories live on these rocks and boulders? Why rely on a bipolar political administration who can create and nullify national monuments as it pleases?

The expansion of federal protection over lands runs parallel to the disempowerment of local communities as they cede the ability to protect themselves and the land they live in and off of to distant, short-sighted land management agencies managed by politicians in Washington D.C. Bears Ears and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are a testament to the failure of ceding these powers to the federal government, where once protected lands are a political battleground between profit and “protection.”

It was a pillar of American democracy that federal powers were subordinated by state and local ordinances. As the 20th century passed, we have flipped the hierarchy on its head: Local communities are subjugated by state and federal agencies, sometimes at the cost of their health, well-being, and lives. Yet we feel an air of accomplishment when the federal government tries to “protect” public lands—a land that should have been managed, enjoyed, and protected by its local people in the first place.

On the conservative side, public lands are supposed to go the way of the Tragedy of the Commons: uninhibited, also known as exploited and exhausted. On the liberal side, public lands are supposed to be managed by the highest echelons of government so that it cannot be touched by corporations or the local communities who live off it. On both sides, the local community suffers as our two primary ideological factions seek to transfer public lands to those with the largest wallets or the most political power. The question one should ask: What does the community want from their land?

The phrase “public land” is a misnomer because it’ll only be public as long as it’s convenient for corporate and governmental interests, who are willing and directed to lock away and exploit public land when it feeds budgets and fulfills “conservation objectives”. The amount of hoops the public has to jump through to have a say over what goes on within public lands is astounding—the bureaucrats of the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are not elected positions and have no responsibility to the public; they are guided by Congressional legislation, not people.

And we are trying to push for more and more public lands to be managed by such unattached, publicly-uncommitted agencies like the Forest Service and BLM? What kind of cognitive dissonance must one adopt to complain about the failures of federal public lands and then push to make it even more federally-controlled?

Local communities should be brainstorming how they can take back and manage the public lands they live in and off of so they aren’t part of an ideological pissing match between conservatives and liberals, who will designate national monuments and take it right back as easily as the wind blows. Right now, tree huggers and Q theorists from the likes of Michigan and Arkansas have an unearned say in the management of Arizona’s Native American histories and the grounds they are written upon, and it makes no sense. In the case of this, the Fort Yuma Quechan Tribe should have a say, and no one else; we must give up our futile hope that the federal government can truly represent small minorities, and direct our hopes toward a future where local governance reigns supreme and communities can regain a direct say over what goes on in their physical surroundings.

P.S. I’ll be direct here: The federal and state governments are one of many actors seeking the dissolution of community. By representing no one in particular, these government bodies write legislation the erases the specificity of community cultures, and replaces it with a generic “national culture” that feels weightless compared to the tangibility of local cultures.

P.P.S. I’ll be direct again: I argue that public lands are simply lands under constant political pressure from two ideological groups. I seek to innovate on privatizing land: I want to “communitize” it. That is, I want to return public lands back to the people who live within and off of it, and let these communities decide for themselves what they should do with corporations, conservation, recreation, etc. Of course, this is a double-edged sword as some communities will decide to prioritize profit over well-being; if this is the case, can you blame the community when it has lived in a country that has always encouraged profit over personal and communal health?

Thus, if we witness the self-immolation of desperate communities and their land, we will immediately know that it is the national and global culture that needs to be fixed so that future communities will not see it fit to sacrifice themselves for corporate interests.

A dao that may be spoken is not the enduring Dao. A name that may be named is not an enduring name. No names – this is the beginning of heaven and earth. Having names – this is the mother of the things of the world. (Dao De Jing)

Here is the inevitable trap about concepts like “sense of place”: When you feel it, you’re not thinking about it. “Sense of place” is like that moment of pure focus when you have left yourself for another activity, yet when you snap back to it, you didn’t even know it happened. “Sense of place” is not an “ideal” like Nirvana or the Dao, but it is a mindset that prevails when you conceive of the earth a bit differently than how it is presented now.

The phrase “sense of place” became more common in the mid-20th century in the multidisciplinary intersection of architecture and phenomenology. Architectural writer J.B. Jackson had complained about sense of place as a “much-used expression, chiefly by architects but taken over by urban planners and interior decorators and the promoters of condominiums, so that it now means very little.” Indeed, writings on sense of place have meandered between forest management, tourism, festival organization, child psychology, and so on. But “sense of place” has stuck around with architecture for almost a century, likely because of its origins within an 18th century poem by Alexander Pope:

Consult the genius of the place in all That tells the waters to rise and fall Or helps the ambitious hills the heavens to scale Or scoops in circling theatres the vale… (1731, lines 57-60)

The “genius of the place”, in Latin genius loci, became a repeated phrase for centuries to come. For Alexander Pope, genius loci pointed to a divine guardian that took stewardship of a location; with god-like gifts, they could personally shape the natural landscape to their own desire. From this perspective, we could infer the aesthetic desires of a divine power by studying the natural landscape. On a more tangible level, we should be able to see the spirit of a township or its ruler by the changes made to the landscape and the methods in which buildings were constructed. Norwegian architectural phenomenologist Christian Norberg-Schulz, connected genius loci to the modern demand for a “sense of place” when entering a town or building. To Norberg-Schulz, achieving a sense of place meant to design a town and structure with full regard to the natural and cultural environments; in other worse, buildings should be fully informed of their context during the design process. You can see this in any city where architects are allowed some creative room, but still seek to constrain themselves by the styles and culture of the locality; even postmodern architects must validate their bold choices by reasoning that their building is attempting to convey the city’s “essence” despite sticking out like a sore thumb.

The underlying assumption about this architectural perspective on “sense of place” is that people do not want to be alienated by their physical environment, and would prefer that a new building still follows the same design language as others in close vicinity. It’s an aesthetically conservative point of view as well, seeking the traditional or the slightest deviations from tradition.

Why? I propose that there is a comfort in recognizable symbolism: People, seeking a common language with others, can find it in traditionally-constructed buildings; undermining that brings the more conservative to a literal loss of words.

The problem is that the architectural envisioning of “sense of place” depends on auteurs who are willing to put in the extra effort to design new buildings with regard to their cultural and natural landscapes. As housing and building developers consolidate and become more “efficient” in their design templates—in other words, reducing the number of variations in designs to maximize economies of scale in material use and logistics—towns and cities all over the United States are starting to look the exact same. At times I forgot whether I was walking through 4th Street in Austin or K Street in Washington D.C.; the mass housing developments in Stoughton, Wisconsin didn’t seem any different from those outside Bellevue, Washington. Even more visibly, Wal-Mart and Target and Best Buy effortlessly turn any plot of land into the same cookie cutter shopping center.

From a descriptive point of view, the why of all this is obvious: the United States has evolved to become a nation of chains and mega-developments, because that’s where the money is; if the money was anywhere else, we’d be there. From a prescriptive point of view, the why is more impassioned: The natural processes of centralized government and commerce, if unquestioned, will continue to erode any sense of locality or rootedness in the physical environment.

Think of the aesthetic conservatism proposed by the architectural “sense of place”—resistance to deviations in design will only hold for a generation or two of people. A once-contentious issue building design will look like cultural wallpaper to a child, who grows up with this building as a point of fact rather than a point of argument. The goal of aesthetic conservatism then should not be a battle over designs, but over the spirit behind the design: Right now, we see a cultural spirit to turn every corner of the United States into a templated condo. Understand the spirit’s origins by pinpointing what it fulfills in people, and try finding ways to fulfill people by encouraging an alternative spirit.

I believe that the current spirit against locality, region and natural environment is fueled by a loss of one’s “sense of place” and the seeking of this feeling within cultural constructions rather than that of the familial and natural. The problem with rooting one’s identity in cultural constructions is that one’s identity thus becomes as malleable as the symbolism of the culture. One may identify with New York City, but only with the magnificent buildings of Manhattan than the contours of the Hudson River. Another New York resident might think of NYC as “Brooklyn first, and then the others”. Thus the New Yorkers, while able to call themselves as such, will have no shared language with the other; as time passes, Brooklyn and Manhattan get replaced with new buildings and apartments and these New Yorkers, if gone too long, lose the language of their own locality. In other words, the construction one’s identity from cultural symbolisms is like trying to keep hold of a particle of water in a river: Before you know it, you’ve already lost that molecule to the un-ending churn of progress.

Rekindling a sense of place will not be as simple as taking a few hikes each day or joining the Earth Liberation Front. This sense depends on restructuring one’s perspective on land and water as not a commodity but the extension of the individual and their community; more accurately, the individual and community are an extension of land and water. If this is to ever be believed, then one must also think critically about the assumptions made by a modern, technological, global society, and how these assumptions produce a habitual distinction between humans and all other life on the planet. Finally, to understand the root cause of why so many of us don’t have a sense of place anymore, we must understand the spiritual nature of why we try to distinguish ourselves from everything else.

From Margit Wennmachers on Andreessen Horowitz, explaining the direction of their new tech-splaining media venture:

Our lens is rational optimism about technology and the future. We believe that it’s better to be alive after the industrial revolution than in an agrarian society. I say this with conviction as I grew up on a pig farm! Living through a pandemic has not been fun at all, but try doing it without technology.

When someone attempts to coin their perspective on the world with words like “objective” or “rational”, you will see anything but. Just read the next few sentences after the mention of rational optimism:

We believe it's better to be alive after the industrial revolution than in an agrarian society.

Paired with the first sentence, there are two observed implications here:

  1. Only people that are rational would like to be alive today, or during the supposed “post-industrial revolution” (is it the same?). Thus, the skeptics, the people that are still searching for the benefits of our foundational technologies, the alienated, and the millions of people flat-out obliterated by technological progress are not included in club of those who are “rational”.
  2. The industrial revolution—or the “post-industrial revolution” that Margit believes is better than anything in the past—is its own era, separated from agrarian society. Wennmachers even complicates the bifurcation of these ages by the admission of growing up on a pig farm! How are we not still an agrarian society when huge swathes of the United States—let's not even consider the whole world right now—are apportioned to agrarian activities? What rationalism is used to deny the fact that 99.99 percent of the world is fed by agrarian society (That last .01 percent might be the undiscovered, living semi-nomadically within in the Amazon). Let me simplify what an agrarian society is: A society that asks that you to work for it or else you don't get fed—or at least we'll make it hell to feed yourself without working for us! No matter how many laptops and battery-powered pickup trucks you put on a farm, our society still survives on the “cultivation of the land” (In case you didn't like my pointed definition).

I came to Margit's announcement after running across a single sentence quote about “rational optimism”, but she filled the next few sentences with cognitively dissonant gold. I find techno-optimism to be a tragic phenomenon because its thinkers spend an enormous amount of useful energy thinking of ways to use technology to put out the fires of past technology, believing that what they're seeing is “progress” rather than the at-times literal wheel-spinning (electric vehicles anyone?). Techno-optimists are a people without a past, unmoored to the realities of what previous generations of similar perspectives have wrought against the health of the earth and the human spirit. They appear as patients of perpetual forgetfulness, clinging to a supposedly historical promise that “it'll get better”. And how? Well, technology feels like it's making our lives better, so I guess that'll be our buoy. And we see it with assertions like Margit's:

Living through a pandemic has not been fun at all, but try doing it without technology.

I can only be direct: A pandemic is impossible without technology. I know, our unmoored fortune tellers of the future cannot see the distant past, but before the internet, planes, ships, agriculture—technology as Margit might call it—the best human beings would have been able to do is an epidemic, and a highly localized one. If you want to argue the prowess of Western medicine compared to primitive treatments, you will find your argument hollow when indigenous people described the effectiveness of their own remedies. Sure, consider them wrong in the back of your head, but know that your “rationalism” only applies to your own constructed world of techno-optimism.

Soon the spirit of the indigenous people will die out, and you can erase the thousands of anthropological, archaeological, sociological texts depicting their enjoyment of a pre-agrarian, pre-industrial revolution society, but know that we human beings spent 3 million years doing fine without technology, and were not beset with the existential crises that we have run into repeatedly since we began and continue the agricultural revolution. We didn't have to tell ourselves with conviction that, after having grown up on a pig farm, we're past being an agrarian society.

You “rational optimists” of technology can only be so without the reality of humanity's history. The future can and will be made of optimism by applying a bit of skepticism on “technological progress” and a lot of our substantive learnings about the natural role of human beings on this planet. Spoiler alert: Technology won't be the future's defining character.

Globally, per-capita income rises with national energy use, meaning that cheap energy is critical to reducing poverty. “It’s hard to be productive if you don’t have lights to read by,” Bill Gates writes in How to Avoid a Climate Disaster.

Connecting rising incomes with the reduction of poverty means that one has successfully impoverished a community’s skills and resources where they are now dependent on nationalized income. Where skills to naturally thrive die out, national currency seeps in so people can survive on “income”.

Bill Gates writes that he became aware of energy poverty while traveling at night in Lagos and seeing the city in relative darkness.

The world’s moral values are surely upside-down when there exists “energy poverty”—have we destroyed the earth so much that the only way to escape a terrible life is through “energy wealth”?

We hear time and time again how city lights hurt the inner physiologies and psychologies of people, and downright destroy the natural habitats of birds and city-adjacent animals. Yet we invent the concept of “energy poverty” when we see a city that has more potential to minimize impact on the world than any in the West?

It won’t be long before a halogen-drenched city will soon be considered as representing “energy poverty”—a moral and mental poverty beset by an over-reliance on technology. Where is the wealth here? In the city people who long to move to the countryside? The countryside people who long to be free from the daily toil of managing machinery to scar the land?

Show me a place filled with “energy wealth” and I’ll show you a people who wish they were anywhere else.

Joseph Irrante and Zachary Student described American life as spatially and internally transformed by the interstate highway system (Irrante) (Student). Irrante’s efforts expanded upon the cultural outcomes produced by highway systems. As the automobile allowed users to commute to more distant locations, highways provided efficient means for laborers to commute to cities separate from their own residences. Companies and manufacturers began to move their production outside of city centers and started forming smaller industrial towns. Similarly, pre-existing townships near highways economically flourished. As such, communities developed around the highway system (Irrante). Irrante’s spatial argument to cultural-technological research adds value to the idea of Hughes’ deterministic argument.

Zachary Student’s own contribution has sentiments similar to Irrante and Hughes, but an important issue that Student raises is the civil activism that occurred in reaction to suburban sprawl and its resulting urban decay. As Student says, interstates “intended to solve urban problems and generate urban renewal, [but] they accomplished the opposite” (Student 17). Metropolis highways were built for the function of decongesting city streets, but instead instigated worse congestion and diminished nearby residences with noise, air, and water pollution, resulting in these areas turning into slums.

The environmental movement in the 60s and 70s found that highways were detrimental to environmental resources, in particular regards to air quality and natural resource conservation. As such, U.S. legislatures developed policies to relocate highways in an attempt to mitigate harmful effects on people and the environment. Feenberg’s argument of “democratic rationalization” comes into view again, as people contextualize interstate infrastructure to fit their views of urban and eco-friendliness, and use political institutions to transform the highway system into one that fits the contemporary cultural climate. Is technology as truly implacable as determinists want to believe?

The internet, or more technically referred to as Information Technology, has been intensely discussed as a colonizing force upon indigenous cultures (Iseke-Barnes & Danard), viewed as a vehicle for misrepresenting indigenous people or forcing global culture upon them. As Judy Iseke-Barnes and Deborah Danard state: “As visitors to the Web site [about native Canadian ‘story robes’], we can read about these Story Robes, but we cannot enter the community of origin. We cannot know the ways that this history continues to live in the lives of the present generations and those of the future” (Iseke-Barnes & Danard). This becomes a warning to historians and researchers using web sites to represent indigenous cultures as images and text can reduce a modern population to its historical creative expressions. For Iseke-Barnes and Danard, internet technology is seen as an extension of Western colonial power, moving into indigenous groups for active and passive ‘modernization’.

Other researchers have argued for the opposite: the internet as a tool utilized by the indigenous for the indigenous. Juan Francisco Salazar asserts that information technology can be utilized “according to traditional knowledge and systems of law” (Salazar). Salazar recommends that researchers should move their focus from the social impact of information technology upon indigenous people and toward understanding their cultural constructions of new communication technologies. This connects Zachary Student’s political shaping of highway infrastructure and again with Feenberg’s drive for contextualizing technology.

If technology were the hegemonic force that Hughes, Irrante, and Iseke-Barnes and Danard believe that it is, there would be a more unified interpretation of technology and infrastructure in regards to societal development. However, it is seen that there are disagreements in the academic community and local communities about how technology has shaped people, and in fact hint at people having shaped technologies in their own image and otherwise the amplificatory nature of culture via technology.

Reframing technology as a tool of cultural amplification should not be mistaken as an effort to make technology a completely benign concept. Technologies like the internet, weapons, and transportation have been the primary means for our Global Economic Society to actively impose itself on others. Technology is thus a means for cultural hegemony rather than the originators of hegemony. I often criticize our technological culture as a people that lost sight of its ability to function without technology. Do we blame the existence of the vehicle or the culture that made vehicles a mandatory appliance in our daily lives?

The development of culture in relation to technology can be summarized like this: Generation A develops observations, theories and scientific revelations. Generation B uses these scientific developments on their material culture, giving way to paradigm-shifting inventions; however, the scale of production and accessibility is not enough for mass adoption. Generation C is raised on the slow adoption of these inventions and their integration into the cultural consciousness. Generation D gis raised on the belief that the cultural consciousness is founded upon these inventions, turning a paradigm shift into a daily habit. Generation E, viewing these technologies as just another part of culture, start to ask why some have better access to it, and others don’t; by this generation, the most groundbreaking technologies appear almost like a public utility—people develop policies to institutionalize the technology as a permanent part of the cultural consciousness.

In five generations, earth shattering technologies transform into daily givens. This occurs with each successive generation normalizing a technology into culture, thus a lack of access to these technologies appears like a lack of culture, which is unacceptable for hegemonic societies who want all people to be “cultured”.

It is the cultural spirit of our Global Economic System to view communities as groups of people that just haven’t yet gotten with the program. When those who enact the story of the Global Economic Dream see a group of people that do not use a piece of culturally-ingrained technology, they perceive lacking rather than an alternative mode of living.

You’ve probably run into this situation before: You profess your interest in a particular topic, and someone tries to test you on how much you really know about it. This reaction is both an act of initiation and exclusion: Pass, and you are truly on the same plane as this examiner; fail, and you are just a casual. The examiner proceeds to speak to you based on the context of your success or failure.

Growing up as a video gamer, I could find both explicit and hidden lines drawn in the sand: During the days of “hardcore” gaming, there was the visible ideological conflict between PC users and console users. PC users, who had spent the time and money to build a powerful machine for gaming, looked down on the casual console gamer, because PC users consider themselves to earned the right to game, while console users bought a pre-furbished appliance without the rites of technological initiation found in PC-building.

Though unenjoyable to read about, this is one of the most benign forms of gatekeeping I could think of. During the age of #MeToo and #GamerGate, we’ve seen that gatekeeping is found in violent and hidden ways.

In any form, gatekeeping occurs in communities that do not share the same story as to why the community exists—or should exist—in the first place. The “PC master race” video gamer enacts a story in which gaming is most substantial when all parts of the machine were hand built. This story is not picked up by console or smartphone gamers, who may have many other stories for themselves to enact. When the stories clash, followers of each are unable to comprehend the other, thus developing a sense of us-versus-them and perpetual conflict.

Communities are built on an anchor point—a story, if you will. From afar, a non-video gamer is confounded by what they see of video gamer conflicts; to this observer, they’re all just playing video gamers. So they utter the usual non-solution: “Why can’t we all just get along?”

Arguments that try to combat phenomena like gatekeeping through a generalized narrative like “We’re all human beings...”, “Prick me, do I not bleed…”, etc. fall on deaf ears because they are not practicable narratives, but utopian ones. To command everyone to have respect for one another just because they are human beings is to command how people should be rather than thinking about humans as they are.

Gatekeeping at its most basic level is the reassurance that a particular community is in fact particular, rather than a quick lifestyle change. Say you lived in a twenty-person tribe along the Yukon River, which had developed a culture for dozens of generations. A stranger comes up and says, “I am one of you!” How could this stranger know all the nuances of your culture when they haven’t gone through the same local experiences as you? You’re cautiously open-minded; you want to welcome newcomers as guests, but you must figure out whether they are truly one of you. If they aren’t, why are they doing this? Why couldn’t this person go back to where they truly belong? It is not that you think your culture is superior, but that it works for those who have grown up for it, and you don’t have the time and patience to teach every random newcomer the ropes to become one of you.

Gatekeeping in its modern state is one that has been institutionalized by media, hierarchical social relations, and normalized prejudices, which is why people can be okay with a community calling itself the “PC master race”. Nowadays, gatekeeping can be the difference between you being able to access a part of the modern human experience or not—whether it’s getting a job, interacting with people, or entering shared activities. If you are not accepted by gatekeepers, you may not even be able to participate in their cultural realm.

This phenomenon has also become important to local communities: Because finances are the primary medium for geographical mobility, a person with enough money can move anywhere, despite their cultural incompatibilities with the local community. Corporations are people as well, and they are able to utilize their vast financial resources to move into communities in spite of the natives’ wishes, and can even destroy the local area, as permitted by the government. Gatekeeping is a natural reminder to passersby that a community was built off an anchor that may be contrary to the values and objectives of newcomers.

A story remains true so long as it works for all of its participants, and isn’t effectively challenged by non-participants. The stories of Native Americans held for thousands of years because it worked up until Western civilization actively suppressed and wiped out the full adoption of these stories, undermining Native American stories until they were fictions rather than realities. Now, our global culture has been attempting a reconciliation of a single story: That, despite the naysayers’ thoughts, all human action has been leading up to this moment, and that there is only one way to live. Because there is only one way to live, we are transforming our culture, our government, and ourselves to maximize one’s access to this single way to live: Free from the constraints of Nature, dependent on a global economic system.

This story rang true for civilizational peoples around the world for more than two thousand years. This is why China’s story focuses on the uniting of all its people under one flag. This is why America’s story focuses on uniting all of its people under one flag. This is why the European Union prides itself on uniting all of its people under one organization: The unite more people under one story. With globalization, we are attempting to undermine the stories of nations in order to enact a narrative that applies to all people under the sun. The “citizen of the world” appeals to the story that borders don’t matter anymore. What matters is the assumption that makes all these nations exist because of a greater idea: That there is only one way to live, and that is globally, without the constraints of Nature, and dependent on a global economic system.

The participants of our global story have been trying for decades to reconcile the distant qualities of a “global community” with the traditionally local one. A portmanteau was invented: “glocalization”, or the ability to still have local community in a global economic system. The challenge of the “world citizen” and the “glocalized” community is that they assume that this story truly works for every single person in the world. Unfortunately, I believe that the story of globalization has been a repeated failure that turns people into “human capital”, hides waste in poorer nations, and demands obligations beyond the scope a single person or community can handle. In other words, I believe that globalization is not conducive to a healthy community because it can only work based on the demand on how people should be, not as they are.

The story to enact for the global economic system is the striving to be an agent perfected for the system. This results in all the edge cases—and more accurately, a majority of people—to be alienated for they can’t adapt themselves to the moral framework of the global economic system.

Another fascinating aspect about the Pando aspen tree is that every tree that shares the same root system will simultaneously change to its gold, orange and green colors as the seasons change. While every tree looks a little bit different, they are all in sync with each other because of shared roots.

For millions of years, it was natural for a people’s story to develop from the earth on which they stood. Legends and myths were borne from the rivers and lakes and mountains and grasslands and the wildlife that were scattered throughout the land. People’s symbolic language rested on the land and animals around them. In the past, a people’s story didn’t typically envision the future, but approached the realities of Nature and life through the lens of familiar symbols. To our global culture, these stories appear superstitious and limited in scope: They were, because these past stories of people were developed for a reality in which it worked; they could not be reconciled with the story of modern society, which does not derive itself from Nature but solely from culture.

Community requires a story, because the story is the moral framework in which all actions are judged. A people’s story is developed from the necessities of their location, and answers why their location preserves these necessities. For example, if fish is the primary food for a community, their story will most likely include the mythology of fish and its relationship to the world and to its people. If the canyons and mountains are essential to the identity of a community, they will include the canyons and the mountains in its mythology as either moral or supernatural authorities.

Whereas the human experience is mortal, the wildlife and the natural environment appears to a community as immortal forces rather than static objects. Moral character is applied to Nature because even as generations pass and people return back to the earth, Nature appears immovable and providing. Nature is thus afforded the properties of godliness that children ascribe to their parents until they realize that their parents are as mortal as the rest of us.

The Fishlake National Forest in Utah contains the world’s most largest living organism: A 107-acre plot of 47,000 genetically identical Pando aspen trees. All part of a single root system, the Pando trees are estimated to weigh 13 million pounds in total. I started to appreciate this fact more and more when thinking about community. Despite our culture’s effort to hide our birthing process from Nature with sterile maternity wards, humans spring forth from the earth like these trees. And up until the past century, humans typically were raised on the earth they were borne upon.

As fleshy extensions of the earth below one’s feet, we are raised not just by parents but by Nature, whose natural properties remind us that we are not above it by recognizing the inescapability of gravity, shitting, and death. Thus, when we give up the pretensions of being sheltered from Nature, we can be more open to the fact that, just as we are what we eat, we are where we live. For millions of years, we embodied our location: If there was fish in the river, you ate fish and developed a culture around its nutritional preparation and spiritual symbology. If bears were nearby, you internalized the hazards of predatorial beasts, but also the magnificence of Nature’s larger-than-life creations. Live next to a mountain, and you know you are part of a mountain people, but also know that the mountain is an extension of yourself.

While I mentioned that the story is the most important ingredient for community, a community’s story used to be solely birthed from location. Now, our global society can defeat all the bears, eat fish from thousands of miles away, and visit mountains on a whim. Thus location in these days functions more like a fashion statement than a fundamental part of your existence. However, as I said before: While our global culture considers location to be choice-driven, we are still a product of location, because location breeds necessity.

For example, even though the city has the means to gobble up anything from around the world, economies of geography still apply: In the Midwest, crab will be less available, so people won’t develop a particular food culture around it. In the suburbs of California, water is increasingly rationed out, so your house and lifestyle must adapt accordingly. Cities absorb a lot more heat from the sun, creating a weather system unique to surrounding areas, so people may wear different clothes from those just twenty miles away. As our society attempts to homogenize the human experience, these geographically-derived cultural differences look to be more and more, but they do indeed exist because of the realities of Nature. Community can exist despite our attempted turns from Nature because it still breeds the necessity of difference: The Californian suburbanite is having a different urban experience than the New Yorker and the Chicagoan because their interactions with Nature subtly but effectively different.

Whether human-made or natural, our physical location has been the primary means toward the grouping of people who often develop and share a story to enact.

Enter your email to subscribe to updates.