Dark Age Ahead: Living without Community.

For International Studies, I got to read a bonus book, and the one I chose was Dark Age Ahead, by Jane Jacobs. (It was awesome.)

The main crux of the argument that Ms. Jacobs puts forward is that North American society is heading for a Dark Age, because of the decline of certain pillars of our civilization. And she points out that a Dark Age occurs when a civilization no longer even knows what it’s lost. The people assume that they live at the pinnacle of their nation’s glory while it’s crumbling underneath them.

So what are these pillars? She outlines five, the crumbling of each which has led to a whole host of other problems we regard as the normal state of affairs.

  • Community and Family
  • Higher education
  • The effective practice of science and since-based technology
  • Taxes and governmental powers directly in touch with needs and possibilities
  • Self-policing by the learned professions

Most of these I’d heard discussed, but I’d never really heard the Community one taken apart. That is, aside from the THE DECLINE OF THE WESTERN FAMILY OUR SOCIETY IS CRUMBLING thing that we’re all so tired of hearing. So it was very interesting to me to hear the stats taken apart. And because I believe sharing is caring, (lol), I reproduce the info for you here. ^_^

So what IS going wrong with Community and Family? Well, basically our society is set up currently to make sure they are very difficult to keep together. Jacobs cites two main ways our communities are rigged to fail, and the first is the fantastic cost of shelter.

The family, after all, is the smallest unit of a community, and to keep that community housed we almost have to never be in the house. When a family spends over 30% of their income on shelter costs, it is regarded as unaffordable. Contrast that with the common budgeting advice that 50% of your income goes to housing.

Hmmmmmmm.

So to keep the house over the family’s head, wage earners within the house are told they must work more hours at a high paying job. (We also have a cultural belief that the only real reason someone wouldn’t work outside the house is because they’re lazy, but that’s another topic.) This both means that people don’t have the energy for activities in the larger community– which is bad for the continued existence of the larger community as a functioning thing– and puts a great deal of strain on the family as a unit. If you’re only home long enough to watch tv, sleep and possibly entertain, what is that going to do to your relationship? According to the 2001 Canadian Census, 23% of people ever married had that marriage end in divorce at the time of the census. And of the people married within the ten years before the report, that number jumped to almost a 40% fail rate.

Related facts? Possibly.

So to deal with the cost of renting (never mind buying a house) people can either work more hours, with all the risks that entails, or push their expenses off into debt. We do live in a consumerist society, where to not-purchase is to be anti-social or a failure, after all. Debt isn’t something she specifically touched on in the book, but I think it’s something that is also setting up our culture to be in deep, deep trouble.

Jacobs does points out that we are also dissolving our communities with the way our transportation is set up. Our suburbs encourage long commutes to work, because a.) god forbid you should live near where you work, and b.) all those green lawns take up a lot of space. This could be partly avoided if people used public transit instead of travelling along super-congested super-freeways, but using public transportation is both an admission of failure to consume– (Translation: you are anti-social and/or a failure, see above)– and just not seen as a viable choice.

Jacobs points out that public transit– as competition for major automobile companies– has been the target of systematic attacks by those companies. General Motors spent the 1920s though the 1950s buying up electric trolley lines and replacing them with expensive and inefficient bus lines. And then once that had been completed, the car manufacturers had to move to vilifying busses in the public consciousness so that every family would need a car. (Then they moved to promoting the essential right of every person to own a car, so that a family will have two to four vehicles. Perhaps next we’ll be sold multiple cars, one for work and one for off-roading? Oh wait, that’s already happening.)

So where are we now? North Americans now spend so much time on their long commutes, after working more hours per year than the Japanese, (and that’s saying something), that driving fatigued is running neck and neck with drunk driving as the source of traffic fatalities. Enrolment in community activities (including voting, which has FAR-REACHING repercussions) is falling like a stone, and average household debt (Which at the time of the Great Depression was at 30% or so of household income), exceeds 100% of yearly income.

And we all think this is perfectly normal.


Dark Age Ahead, by Jane Jacobs.
Vintage Canada 2005

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Still breathing, still kicking, still cruising youtube.

International Studies class was today! So far it’s always been interesting, both because of the subject matter and because I never have any idea what to expect. 😉 At any rate, today we popped up to the Algonquin Hotel in Saint Andrew’s to listen to a talk. (Related note– that hotel won at life. They had free coffee and the building was FABULOUS.

The main thrust of the talk was about how mis-information– another way of saying Stereotype– impedes communication. It also started me thinking about how treating someone as though you can know them because you know their religion, occupation, hobby, financial standing or what they look like is an enterprise doomed to failure, but that’s something I need to let percolate a bit more.

But thinking about stereotypes made me think of the Jesus Dub videos. The Vintage21 church put them together to demonstrate what popular culture thinks The Church is all about, and how much of a hilariously bad idea it was to run an organization that way. So both to say “this isn’t what we’re about!” to people outside and “this isn’t what we should be about!” to people inside. Anyhow, without further ado– the videos!






He also played the Star Wars theme, but sadly I missed it.

Another reason the Algonquin Hotel won at life? They have a piper on staff.

Really, I think nothing more I could say about the awesomeness of the situation could possibly shed any more light.

BAGPIPER ON STAFF.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go weep over my French in preparation for tomorrow’s exam.

UNIVERSITY HAS NOT KILLED ME YET DESPITE TRYING HARD.

NEXT WEEK WE ENTER LEVEL TWO, IF I GET PAST THIS BOSS FIGHT THIS WEEKEND.

Ahem.

No really, things are going pretty well for me! I am basically flirting with Death financially, but I have at least until the end of the month until I start paying my line of credit with my Visa and thereby escalating to making out with Death. Hopefully before that time I can get a job. In hopes for AVOIDING keeping Death as my boyfriend, tomorrow I’m going to go harass the local burger shop and coffee shop and two grocery stores I applied at last week.

Now on the flip side of the coin, classes are a mixture of extreme fear and extreme interest. Ancient History seems like it’s going to be lovely. It’s focusing on the Old Testament (to no one’s surprise) but I feel like I’ve heard those stories enough times that I actually know them fairly well. And then I can focus on the awesome surrounding history, including orgy-tastic (direct quote from teacher) fertility rites, and the rise and fall of other empires, and how different empires subdued their conquered areas– etc. I am looking forward to that class. 😀

French is challenging, again to no one’s surprise, but the teacher is making a strong effort to make it both fun and comprehensible for those of us who have no language history. (Hallelujah!) Plus, any subject where I can watch a comedy and feel legitimately that it was homework-related because it was in French (I read the subtitles) is a win! I am quite determined not to do what I did with Latin and fall so far behind I am unable to catch up. Actually I should be listening to my vocab now… psh I’ll finish writing this first.

Let’s see– International Studies shows great potential to be awesome. It’s a discussion-based class, and there are some strong opinions on either sides of several debates. We started out today with a discussion on whether socialism is a realistic response to an anarchistic situation, which I think was heard two streets up. And a major part of my mark will be building a website/blogging, which is clearly another win.

I haven’t had the philosophy class yet, as it’s in an intensive format, but I’ve done the reading. And the reading is scary. Many words I don’t know. “Logical Positivism,” for example. ‘Nuff said.

And then we come to English. English is weird. Weird for my brain to process. Taking someone else’s words and taking them over, running away with someone’s images and using them ENTIRELY the way you want to, with almost no attention paid to what the author wanted, just your reading that is important– that’s bizarre to me. I’m committing the fallacy of intention left right and centre. 😀 But aside from the AUGH I”M DOING IT WRONG panic attack, I get to read lovely poems. I never liked poetry before, but I’m starting to learn how it works, and I’m making friends with it. 😀 (Yes, you will see more poetry here in the future.)

So that’s the download of my life. Have a good life OH WAIT ONE MORE THING!

Several of the classes require journaling, blogging or otherwise regularly responding to material. So, in an attempt to make it comprehensible, I will probably cross-post it here. Be prepared for verbose blogging!

Hopefully.