Thursday, March 22, 2012

Rural Life and Urban Life

   In the discussion between the Westernizers and the Slavophiles in the 19th Century, one of the major issues which were addressed was the virtue of rural life over urban life.  This issue was certainly addressed by Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852) in his novels and short stories.  Rural life was also important to Lev Tolstoy (1828-1910) based upon the fact that he lived in a rural setting outside of Moscow and felt very much at home with the serfs living on his estate. 

    Another prominent proponent of agrarian life was Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881).  In his last short story, Dream of a Ridiculous Man, Dostoevsky wrote in favor of rural life and in opposition to urban life, which he refers to as civilization.

    For Dostoevsky, civilization is about power. It is about the harnessing of nature for the ends of the elite; manipulating her and eventually destroying her.   All occult understand derive from this radical severing of man from nature, and forcing him to live in a world of images rather than the reality of creation. The “Dream” is a polemical attack on the occult as it was manifested in Russian freemasonry at the end of the 19th Century. 1

    It was a common practice for Dostoevsky to personify St. Petersburg.  This city was itself, a masonic ritual.  Peter the Great used the forced labor of Old Russia, represented by the Cossack host, to build his city on the most difficult and coldest swamp in the world, near the Finnish border. The city was literally built on the bones of the Old Belief, that is, everything that Peter and his masonic friends in Holland thought was backwards and deranged.  The new European city, dedicated to finance, military might, and industrialism (not to mention the new magistrate, based upon the western Renaissance models) was literally meant to conquer nature itself, not merely in the symbolic building of this city in a terrible place from a strategic point of view, but from a magical point of view.  In a more powerful sense of being the city will bring industrialization to Russia. 2

    This discussion did not end with the Slavophile movement, but continues even until today.  A leading modern proponent of the rural life movement is Valentin Rasputin (b. 1937), a Russian novelist and a 2002 recipient of the Order for the Merit of the Fatherland awarded by then-President Vladimir Putin.   

     Both capitalism and Soviet Marxism believe in progress and technology, which provides both with a distorted view of country and agrarian life.  Both ideologies demand absolute conformity to its ideological dictates, even to the point of building global empires to impose such ideas.  Insofar as the agrarian life is concerned, these ideologies are identical, considering this life “backward” and “inferior” to the technological paradise of urban living.  Both ideologies demand, in short, either the eradication of country life (as in Lenin’s case) or its radical transformation (as in Khrushchev’s case). In Soviet Russia, modernization meant the state’s invasion of the agricultural sphere, demanding strict oversight and control over all agricultural programs, and encouraging migration to the cities.3 

     Rasputin is closely associated with a movement in post-war Soviet literature known as "village prose," or sometimes "rural prose" (деревенская проза). Beginning in the time of the Khrushchev Thaw (оттепель), village prose was praised for its stylistic and thematic departures from socialist realism. Village prose works usually focused on the hardships of the Soviet peasantry, espoused an idealized picture of traditional village life, and implicitly or explicitly criticized official modernization projects. Rasputin's 1979 novel Farewell to Matyora, depicts a fictional Siberian village which is to be evacuated and cleared so that a hydroelectric dam can be constructed, further down the Angara River, was considered the epitome of this genre.4

   Urban areas are equipped with all the modern amenities. The modern-day facilities like the Internet, telephone, television and satellite communication facilities are widely available in the urban areas. A majority of the households of the urban areas are blessed with this technological advancement.

   The newly developing shopping complexes, theaters, food malls, and restaurants are a commonplace in urban cities. Huge construction projects, large housing complexes, and skyscrapers are found in most urban metropolitan cities. Elevators, escalators, leveled parking areas, and towering construction add to the magnificence of the urban cities.

   Due to a greater availability of all the modern facilities along with an increase in the number of educational facilities and career opportunities, people in the urban areas lead an economically more stable and a luxurious life.

   The increasing attraction of the people towards the urban parts of the world has resulted in crowding of urban areas. The increasing population, majority of which prefers settling in urban cities, has led to an imbalance in the density of human population. Excessive industrialization has invited environmental problems like pollution.

   However, the rise in economic growth that has resulted in self-sufficiency in the common masses has resulted in a self-centered nature of society. While technological advancement has brought the world closer, human beings have gone far apart from each other. Buildings that touch the skies have built walls between people. The rise in prosperity has been eclipsed by the decline in peace.

   Rural areas, on the other hand, are not crowded with concrete constructions all over. Houses are rather widely spaced with ample room for fields and gardens. Rural areas are some of the only areas fortunate enough to house the greens. People in rural areas live in close proximity of nature. Apart from people, there is room for pets and grazing animals that help maintain equilibrium in nature.

    Due to a relatively fewer number of people inhabiting the rural areas, the rural parts are not overcrowded. These areas are blessed to have the least amounts of pollution. Due to afforestation and ample space for plantations, rural areas have managed to maintain an environmental balance. Pollution is less, also on account of much less industries in rural areas.

   The stress that results from a fast life in the urban areas is not a part of the peaceful and relatively slow paced life in the rural regions. Life may not be as lavishly led as that in the urban areas, but the people there are generous and their hearts have room for emotions. Rural areas are the ones where humanity is still alive.

   Every coin has two sides to it. While the rural living is deprived of luxury and technology, it is rich in terms of its relationship with 'nature'. The urban life is update in terms of technology and career prospects. However, the falling humane qualities and a disrupted environmental balance shadow the bright future of urban living.5

    In the West, as always, the policy is identical, but the means are very different.  In 1999, the United States Department of Agriculture met with the two largest agri-businesses in the nation, namely Archer Daniels Midland of Kansas City, Kansas and ConAgra of Omaha, Nebraska.  Their purpose was the final destruction of the family farm and the parceling out of the abandoned arable land to their corporate interests.   In the meantime, the major media was spewing the typical stereotypes of rural residents as hicks and morons, with pickup trucks and Southern accents, “spitting tobacco” and killing non-whites.  It was, and is, an acceptable stereotype, according to the apostles of diversity, and one encouraged by everything from situation comedies to stand-up comedians. If you want to south stupid, simply speak in a Southern accent.  Media and corporate finance worked hand in hand to destroy agrarianism, small towns, and the family farm.6

   When it comes to urban life one would think that the large population would provide ample opportunities for more friends than we could ever imagine possible; however the opposite is actually true. 

   For most people, social networking provides what they would describe as a community of friends. This use of the word 'community' is worth taking a closer look at. After all, as William Deresiewicz points out in an article, it is precisely the breakdown of community in the US in recent decades (particularly in urban areas), that has led people to view friendship as a replacement for the closeness that such communities once provided. Yet there are questions about what kind of community is represented by online relationships, since often the connections are essentially bilateral; what is described as a community essentially consists of one person's friends - some of whom may, of course, know each other.

   Taking the investigation further, there are also questions about what is meant by the term "friendship" in today's highly networked world. For example, a study in 2004 found that one out of four Americans i.e. nearly 25 percent reported having no close confidants. This has soared since a similar study earlier in 1985, where the number of people reporting a lack of close friends was only one in ten i.e. 10%. Interestingly, this has taken place against a background of more frequent text messaging, status updates, and tweets. In Deresiewicz's somewhat jaundiced view, it appears that the more people we know, the lonelier we get.7

    There are some people who believe that people in rural communities are “nosy”; however, this idea of being “nosy” can also be understood as being interested in their neighbor.  This idea might seem intrusive to people living in an urban environment, but it is not necessarily a bad thing. 

                                                            End Notes

1)     Matthew Raphael Johnson The Ancient Orthodox Tradition in Russian Literature (PA: Deipara Press, 2010), p. 110

2)     Johnson, p. 114

3)     Johnson, p. 8

4)     “Valentin Rasputin” (accessed 3/21/12)

5)     “Urban v. Rural Living” (accessed 3/21/12)

6)     Johnson, p. 9

7)     Farah Ghuznavi “Virtual Preoccupations” The Daily Star, Vol. 10, Issue 42, 11/4/11  (accessed 3/21/12)

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