April 08, 2007

Different cultures have different versions of the same saying: that polish comes from the cities but wisdom comes from the heartlands, be they farmland or wasteland. Heroes are born to decent folk who all their lives have eked out an adequate living in small towns and farms and even sometimes nomadic travel, and are brought up within an environment of hard work and adequate rewards for labour: basic, few or no luxuries, but nothing missing truly necessary in life. In this balance, generally, is found a happy childhood, solidly grounded in all that is good and decent.

An increasingly common part of the myth is that success is not found in the heartlands. Dick Whittington must undertake a hard trek from the English agrarian countryside to London before he can become "trice lord mayor of London Town". Longfellow Deeds, the "Cinderella Man", must be uprooted from his simple small town life to become the Depression-era philanthropist. Clark Kent must move to Metropolis before he discovers the need to become Superman. Brantley Foster leaves his parents' Kansas farm to pursue his MBA dreams in New York City. Luke Skywalker abandons his uncle and aunt's moisture farm to pursue his Jedi quest through a series of increasingly greater cities, ending finally in the echo of galactic capital that the Emperor carries with him everywhere. (A curious twist in Jericho, where the prodigal son returns to the heartlands from the big cities with the necessary knowledge and evolved leadership to counter the betrayals homegrown in the big cities and spreading their way into the heartlands like a cancer: and it is this very return that coincidentally saves his life.) The move may be willing or forced, one and all quickly find themselves initially betrayed by the realities lurking beneath the tantalising promises of Capitol City, but one and all come to the realisation (eagerly or reluctantly) that they have grown beyond their roots. Though a few heroes may return home occasionally to touch base, to rejuvenate, or even simply to discover that they no longer fit within the old adequacies, all find that they cannot stay. What was good enough for their parents and guardians is no longer good enough for them. The heroes are better than that.

The first half of the myth is lived out by countless thousands of millions around the world each and every day, seeking in the cities the opportunities they do not find within the spiritual heartlands of a hundred nations. Cities occupy the apex of the capitalist pyramid. Cream rises to the top.

But, carrying through the myth to its logical conclusion: what of those left behind? The Soviet Union taught us some hard lessons about the law of population averages. When the cream of youth continually leave to pursue success within greater civil-isation, who then is left in the heartlands, to raise the next generation within an environment of hard work and adequate rewards for labour, solidly grounded in all that is good and decent?

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