Trial & Error
“There might be a compromise here.” ~ Jason, earlier today
I think it depends on the ‘localist/artisanist/do-it-yourself’ individual, obviously, but I think many would certainly like Make magazine. I hadn’t heard of it before, but after spending a few minutes at the site, it certainly seems pretty cool to me. Plenty of localist types, as well as the greens and sustainable living types, love innovation – especially architectural innovation. (That last link is to inhabitat.org which I believe I first stumbled on when reading Matt and David’s old blog.)
What a good few localists, extolling the virtues of mud huts, are actually doing is saying “Look to the past when you look to the future.” You might actually find the secrets of innovation locked in the plain view of the past. This doesn’t mean the past is better than the present, or that the future would be unbearable without carrying over some traditions from the past. It just means that progress should be tempered, aided even, by what has come before. This is not a revanchist’s sentiment. This is not a call to halt progress or stymie innovation.
Hopefully localism and the mining of tradition will not lead us to blind faith in a mythical past. This would be to miss the point entirely. The purpose of looking back is to look forward. That’s what being a student of history is all about. But while studying how things were (or are) done in primitive cultures might not tell us much about how to tinker with a computer, it might help us understand more about sustainability or – if you happen to be a libertarian – it might help you understand more about stateless societies.
Studying the ways towns were built in the past might help elucidate how they can be built better now. The accidents of the past can become the purposeful intentions of the present.
For instance, the number one deterrent to crime in a city is foot traffic. Building cities where shops and homes are distant from one another leads to uninhabited streets at night which leads to higher likelihood of crime, which leads to politicians demanding more police, which leads to higher taxes with no results because – the number one deterrent to crime is us. Just people, walking around. Why spend tax dollars on cops when you could just give out a few more permits to street vendors?
So it’s important that we not make caricatures of one another. Certainly sometimes people really are the caricature you would expect – the die-hard uncompromising localist, or the glibertarian, or the hippie who names their kids after astronomical bodies. But most of us are somewhere in between. I may be a localist (to some degree) but I’ve also built a half dozen computers or so just for fun. We are very rarely one self, one set of ideas, one uncompromising vision. People are piecemeal. We are governed by the tensions of our compromises.