Superimpositions of Fools

Complexity abounds

Nomadic hunters and gatherers, even early agricultural societies, aligned their lives and toils to the rhythms of nature. How much people worked and when and to where they migrated were influenced by surrounding conditions and pressures: hours of daylight, weather patterns, migration of wildlife, outbreaks of sickness and health of tribal or community members.

Unpredictable and elegant natural sprawl

Effort related to environmental conditions. On a balmy harvest moon, whole rural societies might toil to reap and store grain until well after midnight, bolstered by the mutual benefit of working with neighbors. During cold winter storms, the activity of hunting buffalo on the Great Plains of the United States might be curtailed until temperatures rose. Effort and the use of time were inextricably related to surrounding environmental conditions.

Natural curves

Then came the industrial revolution, with often cruel and lengthy work hours. This was finally curtailed by the limitation of time at a job generally to a ‘forty hour workweek.’ This is a blessing within a cursed framework – that of inciting relentless toil to attain maximum production within reduced spans of time.

Beauty and efficiency

Today, most employees are expected to begin work at some hour, and end at another hour and take some alloted time at some o’clock to eat lunch.

In other words, a somewhat rectilinear organization of time for toil and relaxation has been superimposed—like a window frame—over what was previously an often more malleable time frame followed by (not imposed by) hunter gatherer tribes.

No human could design such beautiful complexity

This is more efficient. And perhaps the relatively quick fruits of this organizational control have led to greater aggregate wealth, health care, nutritious food and better climate controlled lifestyle for unknowing adherents of our societies weaned under this structured lifestyle paradigm.

Going with the flow

But as we gained, we also lost certain benefits as societies. When is the last time you watched a sunrise or moonrise or peered at a meteor shower or wandered in the woods tracking the path of wildlife? Do you hike along the fractal and splitting and unpredictable edges of rocky coastlines, or instead jog along predictable curves of urban cement sidewalks?

When straight roads need to curve

If you inspect a map of a small segment of the western portion of the United States, a topographical quadrangle printed by the U.S. Geological Survey, you will notice that the layout of towns and cities and even geographical parcels belonging to private and public landowners is rectilinear. That means: squares, rectangles, straight lines and ninety degree angle corners. This is the Township system. It is the geographical milieu imposed over, say, California or Colorado or Oregon by technocrats who dwelled in Washington DC well over a century ago who knew little of wilderness other than what existed on the east coast, such as tangled Virginia overgrowth, or sometimes swampy Hudson river banks.

Slightly organic suburban sprawl

In other words, a geographical, Cartesian coordinate system of Greek origin was favored by east coast politicians with no direct knowledge of the West and who had never visited the western United States. They superimposed their blocky system over curling and swerving natural landforms—rivers, watersheds, wood lots and mountain ridges of the Pacific and Rocky Mountain states.

No straight lines in sight

In the same way that the industrial revolution smacked—like a flyswatter—modular and measured parcels of structured time over the fluid and ephemeral nature of natural quotidian time, the map makers of yore (ignoring the pleas of wise explorers such as John Wesley Powell) smacked a grid—like a meshed and metal window screen – over the beautifully intricate topographical undulations, declivities, hilly skylines and roughly spaced scrublands of the natural topography of the Western United States.

Watersheds and neighbors

Again, we gained, but we lost. Although it’s easy to calculate the area of a square acre of land (43,560 square feet) we seem to be forgetting that ranchers and farmers congregate with neighbors within their own watershed, rather than with others who may share land within the same rectilinear basin/township/range land division outlined on a map—because those other folk often live over a mountain range, or a several hour drive away.

This actually is (civilized) work time

One beauty of nature is that its elemental organization may appear random, haphazard and sloppy—but this usually belies the truth that its internal structures are efficiently assembled, often superior to systems that humans can devise.

Rectilinear cities

The damning of rivers, raising of skyscrapers, imposition of fixed work hours and the delineation of cartographic chunks of squares and rectangles for geographical divisions may prove, in time, transparently facile and rudimentary, the equivalent of a child’s linear solution to a complex system.

Raggedy lines of the natural world

In the meantime, we move ahead. We are aware that the raggedy lines of the natural world are often more harmonious and beautiful that the geometric structures we build to live in or travel over; that the measured artificial parcels of time we work within are not as conducive to productivity as time that aligns with our moods.

I hope much of this will change in the future.