Green Seniors notes that there are many ways societies 'keep up appearances' with respect to making anything natural within range of homes and offices conform to a certain standard of taste and tidyness. Keith Farnish wrote the essay on this topic, below. Joyce says she is eager to share her own thoughts on the subject soon. Does Keith's perspective start you thinking about these happenings where you live? Feel free to post comments or send in your own views.
“When the grass in the park no longer gets cut, you know civilization is in trouble.” So said a friend to me last year. I have to admit that I was sceptical at the time; surely something so apparently trivial couldn’t be shot through with such significance, could it? When you scratch at the veneer of modern society, though, you quickly realise how significant something as grass cutting really is.
Let’s consider a few related questions: Why do people keep their lawns neat when their domestic circumstances may be anything but? Why do councils send out workers with blowers to keep the paths clear of a few leaves? Why to private firms employ gardeners to trim any surrounding greenery to within an inch of its life?
Ask these questions and you will no doubt get a variety of different answers, but it does seem a little obsessive. We all like to keep things tidy from time to time, and some of us are a lot more fastidious than others – but to take you to the homes of some of the hardest working campaigners I know would be to introduce you to some of the kinds of places that feature on those reality TV shows that insist that we must declutter our lives in order to make sense of them. Some people get along perfectly well with clutter, but the thing about clutter is it shows up reality: the open notebooks, the half-read books, the tools that haven’t been put away, the ingredients that won’t squeeze into the cupboard – not quite windows on the soul, but certainly a peek into the lives of the people who use these things.
So why are some people, and more significantly, most organisations and businesses, so obsessed with ensuring nothing is out of place? Because they have an image to maintain, and not just their own. This image is one of order, control, linearity, domination...all characteristics of a civilized society that is at the peak of its powers. The image says “Everything is alright”, “Carry on as normal”, “Nothing to see here” (except a neatly trimmed hedge and some hanging baskets).
But what if the image and the messages are actually characteristics of a society that is desperately trying to mask the turbulence, powerlessness and lack of confidence that comes from constantly fighting back the basest instincts of humanity: the need to express ourselves in whatever way makes us feel most alive, most human?
Not surprisingly, image is also maintained by the application of rules; and there are an awful lot of them affecting whatever you do. Some rules exist because they express what is immutable, unchanging – we call this Natural Law. Other rules reflect common decency and human rights – we call this Common Law. Most rules, however, merely exist to maintain the status quo and ensure humans follow a single path; the one that is spelled out in words like “progress”, “growth” and “advancement”, but which simply prevents us from living in any way that does not confirm to the existing consumption dominated lifestyle.
Civilizations throughout history have succeeded by maintaining an image, even if maintaining that image comes at the cost of liberty, imagination, equality, and the connection with wild nature that so many of us have forgotten about. The lawns of the municipal park are kept mowed, edged, sprayed, watered and weeded because nature must be seen to be controlled. But what kind of a society do we have when it is being sustained by so many cheap conjuror’s tricks?
As you watch the chap riding his mower across the green desert that is your local bit of “nature”, or the council worker spraying Glyphosate on the footpath, or the window cleaner making sure the glass of the office block sparkles in the setting sun, it’s worth considering whether we really want to live in a society that is so obsessed by image – especially when the basics like clean water, clean air, real community and a stable climate are in such short supply.