Spooky Wisdom


Journalist Gracy Olmstead examines modernism’s legacy of sterile efficiency and the anti-human spaces it spawned:

But in modernity … we chose to dispense with precedent and tradition. We decided to distrust the “spooky wisdom” of the past—whether it had to do with old-fashioned agrarianism or dense walkability—and instead start from scratch, inventing our own way of doing things. Thus, freeways cut through the core of our cities, severing neighborhoods and communities. Suburbs sprung up around cosmopolitan centers, fashioning their own car-centric rhythms and culture. Farmers, meanwhile, were told to “get big or get out,” to trade diversity and sustainability for homogeneity and profit. Small to midscale farms steadily lost land and resources to their larger, industrialized counterparts.

The “spooky wisdom” she writes about is a term borrowed from quantum theory. It refers to intuitive insights that work even though we can’t fully explain WHY they work. Olmstead offers examples from ancient cities and rural communities whose designs not only fulfilled profound human needs but have survived and thrived over long centuries. Her great-grandfather, she notes, resisted the efficient yet inhumane practice of “confined animal feeding” on his small farm because providing open pastures “made the animals happy and kept the land pretty.”

I’ve long believed that our longing for beauty rises from our deepest needs and provides crucial guidance in meeting those needs. Our yearning to interact and enjoy nature and other people has been pushed aside in favor of gratifying material wants. In the mad rush to get there faster and consume more and more, we’ve managed to sequester our bodies in polluting cars or in the shadows of towering buildings. And we wonder why we feel so isolated and small.

However, some hopeful currents are stirring, from the return to small, sustainable agriculture to walkable greenways in our cities. Nature tends to be self-correcting, and I believe the pain inflicted by modernism is a signal we as a species are finally responding to.

15 thoughts on “Spooky Wisdom”

  1. i like the idea of an open farm, where animals can roam freely. they benefit from our care, we benefit from them being happy. I read once an article about the ‘happy cow’ vs. ‘sad cow’ and the ones who listened to music and moved about under the sun produced more milk than the others.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. You triggered literary recollections:
    1. “Small Is Beautiful …” -1970s economics book for college philosophy course (and I can’t remember any of it!)
    2. “Beauty is truth …” -Keats’ truth
    3. “Getting and spending …” – Wordsworth’s truth

    Plus, you gave me a new item with Fyodor’s quote in your “Beauty” post linked herein. For some reason, I never tire of that guy. Thanks.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Buzzwords like “boutique,” “agile,” “independent,” and “hyper-local” signal the trend to smaller and sustainable in business. Small business always seemed more sensible to me than bloated corporations.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Modernism has created all of this; it’s true. I’m not sure if we’ll self-correct or not. Have you heard of liquid modernity? Apparently, it’s come after post-modernism and is where we are now. I think you’d find it interesting if you haven’t heard of it already.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. One of the biggest joys in my military childhood was driving between the states and seeing farm after farm, ranch after ranch, field after field…Now its empty pasture and new or future new housing developments of McMansions…So I just watch the road and drive.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The rural areas around my old home town have also gone to seed. Many of the old farms have been deserted, and others have been razed and turned into ticky-tacky housing developments.

      Liked by 1 person

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