The Fetish Of The Straight Line

The straight line was imposed on the rolling fields of the American semi-desert, and lo, the soil blew away.

Monoculture is not actually efficient in the long run, we just imagine that it is, and this delusion is a fundamentally aesthetic conviction. For us Western people, the straight line, the grid and uniformity are the outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual efficiency, and like all religious people, we prefer the symbol to the thing symbolised. Our language is saturated in this preference, from “straight” to “rectitude”. Geometry is symbolic ethics, or is it the other way round? Moral rectitude is about straight talking and dealing fairly and squarely. Angles must be right, or else they are wrong.

There have been agricultures that were far more sophisticated than ours. In place of monocultures they deployed a great variety of plants that interacted with another, encouraged insects that ate pests and so forth. But it all looked very “untidy”. Western man takes one look at their production facilities and says, “Oh, a primitive tribal village”. Yet if complexity is advanced, then it is we who are the primitives.

The fatuous boss in Nine to Five endlessly repeated the only idea for which he had room in his head: “The office that looks efficient IS efficient.” What reason did he have for thinking that? The ladies proved him wrong, so the science was probably bad. No, it was a mere dogma, or else an aesthetic preference. Beholding the human element displeased him.

The ethnographic museum in Berlin has a section on the Native Americans that tells visitors how the Inuit technology is still far superior to industrially manufactured cold-weather gear. Perhaps that is because, for all our jawing about form following function, we don’t really care about whether things work, only about whether they look as if they ought to.

Posted on April 23, 2009 at 09:32 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: CULTURAL ODDS AND ENDS, The Futurist Fever-Dream

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  1. Written by Urban Djin
    on April 23, 2009 at 14:42
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    Excellent point about agriculture. Although the ideas have been touted by visionaries for decades, the current economic, food, water, and energy crises in this country have given new traction to the idea of small scale, intensive farming which reduces dependence on fossil fuels and petrochemicals, produces high quality food, takes topsoil health and conservation seriously, manages water resources more efficiently, and, as a bonus, creates lots of meaningful work for human hands. As a gardener I approve.

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