In his analysis of the modern world, Mumford speaks of three ‘utopias’, not idealized utopias, but the kind of utopias we are actually pursuing. I mentioned already the Country House, whose modern form is the suburban house, and consumerism in general.
Paired with this is what Mumford calls Coketown. Coketown refers to the factory town, or industrial city. In the 1800s this would have been Manchester, Birmingham, etc. Later it became Detroit, and America’s other industrial cities. This is where the things are made that are enjoyed and consumed in the Country House.
Mumford observes that the Country House and Coketown are two very different kinds of societies. The problem was how to tie them together into one society. Mumford’s answer to this is another ‘utopia’: the Nation State. He argues that the Nation State makes no sense, has no natural reason for being. Its boundaries are artificial, cutting across cultural and geographical lines that do make sense. He suggests that the nation state must be continually willed into existence.
My own observation here is that the Nation State is really a form of empire – distinct cultures and regions held together by force from a power center. This is rather clear in the case of Britain, which is really an English empire, whose distinct parts still have quite a bit of individual identity. The US is a much larger empire, and even many of its states are too big for a real society, and would be better broken into more coherent pieces. If you doubt that it is held together by force, just remember the Civil War, the bloodiest war in history as far as American casualties are concerned.
Globalism is the same story all over again, willing into being an entity that has no business existing. Today China is the world’s Coketown, and the US has been an example of the world’s consuming Country House. The act of will involved here has been globalization, a contrived, intentional project of the lords of finance, implemented by coercion and propaganda.
I’m not really doing justice to Mumford by these abbreviated comments, and I recommend reading the book itself – The Story of Utopias. There’s a lot more wisdom in his ideas and writing than can be conveyed by a summary of points.
I’m planning to do one more posting on Mumford, and this will be about his ideas for what kind of thinking would need to go into a useful utopian vision.
On other note, I watched a DVD yesterday, State of Play. (Apologies if you’ve seen it.) Russel Crowe gives a great performance as an investigative reporter. The story is just a story, and the political line is the interesting part. That’s about Blackwater, DynCorp and the other mercenary military outfits. The senator character in the film is seeking to prove that all of Homeland Security is being privatized. It’s a very relevant film. It was Blackwater who invaded New Orleans after Katrina. And while the media talks about the US ‘withdrawing’ from Iraq, what’s really happening is that the soldiering is being taken over by mercenaries, not a withdrawal at all. And of course the US military is keeping all it’s bases, and still carries out airstrikes and drone attacks.
On yet another note, I’d like to see some discussion of ‘what is worth doing’. I try to devote my time to things ‘worth doing’, but I always have my doubts. I only see the world getting worse.
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