Friday, June 5, 2015

Conservative Fears : drowned under Plentitude or abandoned after Plenticide

The 1990s were filled with books about one, two or ten humans left all alone on a vast empty Earth after a too-successful effort at human Plenticide (usually an all-out nuclear war).

Nominally about issues of abandonment, they were often secret conservative 'wet dreams' about all their liberal leftie neighbours all being wiped out so that  one  (American)  heterosexual family can re-create a Right-thinking, gun-touting, Right-voting paradise.

But in the 1890s, a century earlier, the fear was all about Plenticide's opposite, Plentitude.

But if a physically empty Earth was the conservative fear of the 1990s, 1890s conservatives feared a mentally-filled , not an physically-filled, Earth.

Yes there were more people on Earth in 1890, if rather less plants and animals.

But that very real population increase went unnoticed, the human population still so small and resources-undemanding and the Earth still seeming so big.

What was much noted and more feared by conservatives were all the humans leaving rural areas (where they could be observed and contained) and heading for the overcrowded dark tenement areas of the world's biggest cities, where they live out of sight and beyond upper class control.

Worse, in those tenement areas, they were free to hear the ideas of the troublemakers of all the world's nations.

But this real Plentitude of humanity in the inner big cities wasn't the only thing noted at the time though it is all that we tend to remember of the 1890s.

But conservative observers back then were actually much more exercised about where all those new city poor had come from - and that was the newly depopulated and de-stabilized, declining farm areas : modernization had Plenticided the farm community.

All this, however, was a conscious conservative reaction to a localized (urban) form of physical Plentitude.

But I argue that the largest conservative reaction against 'drowning' under a flood of Plentitude was actually against a new virtual Plentitude of ideas and facts thrown up by modernization and this reaction was largely unconscious.

It soon emerged out the other end - quite self-consciously - as we know today as Modernity and what 1890s reformers would have called simply "Progress".

Progress would stop the parts of this plentitude the upper classes feared and channel the parts of the plentitude it wanted to encourage.

What do I mean by a "virtual", rather than a physical plentitude ?

When an educated person at the end of the 19th century looked up in the night sky, they saw no more stars than they did as children.

But Science had told them (and they fully trusted Science) that the number of stars in the sky had actually increased a billion fold and their age extended back from a few thousand or a few million years to a few billion years.

The same with the deep dark woods, deep dark seas and deep blue daylight skies : Science said that far far more plants, animals, microbes and minerals had been discovered to lurk in their depths than had been imagined, although they still looked as opaque as ever.

More human languages, more human societies, more human history than ever before imagined had been discovered by Science - though looking out your Manhattan brownstone on a bright May morning, they remained as invisible as ever to your eye or ear.

But to your mind - oh my !

How your brain ached with the fullness and the plentitude of all reality.

Progress's plenticide would drastically prune it back to an improved version of reality as you knew it as a child...

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