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"...Anything that, like baseball, keeps a country that's constantly preening in the mirror from actually looking in the mirror and remembering where the bodies are buried..."                         

Paul Beatty

The Sellout

There are few nations without their brutal migrations, their genocides, their colonial adventures, their civil and religious wars to extinction.  

In this sense, America is un-exceptional.  If there's a  national exceptionalism it is the exceptional extent to which burn-all-bridges migratory flight forms our ideological essence.  This ideology, in turn, frustrates even the first steps towards a national developmental adolescence, let alone maturity.

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FLIGHT AND FIGHT

America as a spilled and sprawling pot; not a melting pot; Goodale Archtecture Planning
The native map of America, pre-colonization
Colonial map of America; Natives eradicated
African American migration from southern states and impacts on northern cities

While in certain great cities, the Melting Pot metaphor briefly pertained, it might be useful to consider the initial American adventure as the European Boiling Pot over-turned - providing an endless frontier for the poor, the misfit, the heretical, the opportunist, the rebel, and the idealist to spill out over.

 

The power of this ideology of flight - its inevitability:  We had to get out of there -was such that the human and cultural carnage that followed in its wake - across the whole of the continent - was made to seem, by the nation's chroniclers, a small price.  

And - in the vastness of the landscape - the territorial and governace claims of the old monarchies, the British, the French, the Spanish - must have struck the early inhabitants as quaint and risible, long before the American Revolution.

Though No Taxation Without Representation was a seminal bromide of this revolution, the general pattern of flight, of movement, of seeking after one's own modest monarchy - in the form of farm, plantation, industry, or interior adventure - made the idea of a common, consensual representation tacitly beside the point.  So it is that, only two or three hundred years later, the resonant remainder is, more simply, No Taxation.

That these outposts are increasingly unsustainable, in terms of infrastructure, trafffic, energy consumption, health, and cultural stimulation, does not forestall fears among their citizens that new waves of immigration will make them even less habitable.  And one suspects there is increasingly the sentiment that we have run out of places to run.

The persistence of this ideology of flight in America - and its institutionalization in the single-family ranch house - is a recalcitrant monkey wrench in the project of diversity, equity, human connection, and genuine sustainable settlement-building.  

 

Urbanists and planners hope it will go away, up-zoning a few neighborhoods around urban transit stations in the meantime.  But until there's a genuine, sober, ubiquitous conversation about the infantilism of flight ideology and the detached houses it builds, (and where most of the ideology's critics still live), there will be little progress towards physical or cultural national development.  

Sprawl, infrastructure costs, and lack of national sustainability
Personal houses and vehicles and the death of the American city

Compare the dramatically existential Liberty or Death - celebrating flight AND fight - with France's revolutionary Liberte' E'galite' Fraternite'.   The latter - at least in national mythology - squarely faces the Boiling Pot that had always been Europe, and posits a necessary collaboration between all citizens in the creative construction and maintenance of a shared polity.

The 20th century African-American migration out of the south and into the north's urban factories; and the slowly reactive white migration out of - and disinvestment in - America's cities was a continuation of frontier ideology 'by other means'.  The other means, in this case, being the detached house, the yard, the freeway, and the big boxes of monopoly capitalism required to efficiently serve the outposts of flight. 

I love LA the way one loves a tantalizing dream / nightmare that sprawls out, intricately baroque and hilarious in its variations, each with its own unique incapacity to provide succor.  But it isn't sustainable. 

 

Thinking that the single-family house is a defensive necessity in which to raise our children, it's more likely that we are devouring the richer potentials of their future for connections, commerce, and culture.  Goya's great painting of Saturn Devouring His Son is a metaphor, still-rock-solid from the ancients to us, about the ludic desperation that follows from staving off the energies of the future.

 

Might there come a time in our cities when we - the polity - offer incentives to divest these moribund re-creations of the frontier, these risible single-family ranches with metal buggies scattered around the yard?

Goya's Saturn Devouring His Son:  America's houses, cars, and the unsustainable future
America's abhorrence of taxation re: its lack of infrastructure and human development