October 09, 2005

Rural societies, be they herder cultures or agrarian, quickly evolve a self-reliance that is essentially alien to civil-isation, that intricate network of specialisation and inter-dependence that cores what constitutes a living city.

Climates of extremity, be they of snow or of desert, quickly cultivate variants of neighbourliness, mores of hospitality, mutual reliance and reliability with carefully delineated boundaries: "good fences make good neighbours", "guests and fish stink after three (or seven) days".

In societies which combine the two, one is expected to rely on one's own, but always with a deep recognition that a harsh nature itself might not always permit it: in which case bend the rule of self-reliance under careful constraints, just enough for the desert nomad to revive from thirst or for the farmer next door to recover from the bad season without having to break any of the cautious boundaries of clan and grazing/agricultural ground and the necessities of one's own survival -- and if the time and "loaned" (for eventual reciprocity is understood) supplies do not suffice, rural independent is not in that person to be, put it down to a failure of personal gumption or to being against the will of God. Go back to your nice, safe city, secure in the knowledge that someone will take care of you, find your niche within its protected walls, and don't seek to leave them again, little lamb. (If the city finds no use for your skills, what concern is that of ours?)

And maybe in this lies part of why third world small towns and villages seem to have so much more resilience to catastrophe than places more civil-ised?

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