Prolegomena to a Pattern Language
for the New Village
By Paul Caron
Christopher Alexander’s main premise in his own introduction to his method of pattern languages set forth in a separate volume, “The Timeless Way of Building” (1), is that there is a natural, intuitive – one might say “unconscious” – process at work in vernacular architectures around the world.
In developing a structural understanding of this process, he hopes to make possible a Remembering and Return (to the Timeless Way) for us in the “West,” which means the industrial/ rational civilization stemming from Europe and now threatening to become world dominant.
That this is a threat is easy to say and among the circle of the readership of this publication it is a commonplace. Responses to this threat including Alexander’s, generally organize themselves around this idea of “remembering and return.” There exists a faith in some solid ground of human being that – if only we could connect with and rest in- would function to guide us out of our predicament and into a more sustainable future.
I also hold views along these lines. Yet I think too many times solutions are posed with out enough consideration of questions which are fundamental to an understanding of the process we are involved in. It is easy to imagine returning to a slower – paced, more “grounded” or land based way of life, and this image involves an emotional response which cannot be denied. I think this feeling is valid as far as it goes.
We are responding to an inner knowing of the higher potentials of human being.
Nostalgia, however, is not a firm basis upon which to create strategies and tactics that will produce a truly sustainable form of life in the next century.
What is required are answers to fundamental questions about human being,
especially as they relate to history.
From Satisfaction to Disenchantment
We imagine reshaping our lives around timeless principles. That such principles exist is indisputable. But what is the basis of the timelessness? I believe this question resolves itself into the nature of satisfaction for human beings. We can be intuitively in touch with the timeless way because we know in our bodies what works for us as humans. Alexander, et al propose a methodology for applying body knowledge to vernacular architecture in The Timeless Way of Building. I have employed this method and can report that it works. But then how have we become disconnected from something so close to us?
Some things (e.g. the human body and its physical needs) never change - or change so slowly as to seem constant - but the point is, some things do, and there lies the rub. Human being is a process of evolution which we call History. It does no good merely to bemoan the loss of past innocence, be it body centered vernacular architecture or any other expression of the commons. Through the enchantments of the mind’s search for dominance over a fearsome Nature, clawing its way out of unconsciousness, the older certainties of the body in a physical and social architecture appropriate to it have been fed into the maw of Leviathan. Now we need clear direction, because whereas in the recent past human history has been guided and shaped by huge forces (economy, politics, culture), developing, as it were, outside of conscious control, in the present historical moment we are under an increasing demand to exert some kind of control over these very forces.
“If ‘consciousness’ does not play a large part in the future of the human species, then what kind of future can we expect it to be?”
History is a “dialectical” process; that is, it proceeds in two opposing directions simultaneously. So on the one hand, the original pre-conscious psychological unity which tribal people experienced continues to break down into the sometimes cacophonous competition of individual self interests that we call “civil society.” At the same time conscious awareness of the true interdependence of all humans on the planet in the possibility – for the first time really (Bosnia, Rwanda, northern Ireland, and S.C. Los Angeles notwithstanding) and – of the emergence of a of a truly global identity for humanity is becoming possible. On the basis of what?
“History is the long the march from animality to freedom,” said Mao Tse Tung.
So the question for us comes down to this:
what will be the form of freedom we intend to create?
And thinking about structuring “Village” as a response to the challenge of creating a sustainable future, we need to think about the nature of the freedom that 10,000 years of History has brought us.
The Threat of Civil Society
It has been noted that civil society, which is a society characterized by the supremacy of individual rights and responsibilities laid out in laws, rests on, and in fact only functions on the basis of a substrate of forms of society, values, and institutions which were created in previous pages of history. These are namely the family, the nation, and the church or cult. These are all unconscious forms of identity which have allowed individuals to find rest and to function in society. At the same time, the functioning of the global industrial form of civil society acts to tear down in disrupt these very institutions upon which the rests.
“If man will cut the same branch that he is sitting on, he will also fall down.”
So here is our dilemma. We emerge with our freedom completed (ideally) after the long march, only to discover that the very creation of history that gave us our own freedom, civil society, threatens to annihilate us, like Chronos devouring his children. Let me stress here that we are talking about freedom of the individual identity, which is still abstract freedom. Our choices are still limited by concrete inequalities of power which are with us from our primate past. The biggest monkey still rules the group. But, whereas our monkey forebears were content to put up with the situation, we are not. Freedom of choice in imagination demands to manifest itself in the world that we choose to create. Hence the call for the “New Village.”
It is suggested in A Pattern Language that the largest group which can govern itself by direct discussion and agreement is somewhere around 500 individuals. Since the people who are going to be seeking to create the New Villages have come out of modern society where the groups they participate in are both much smaller ( the average person has a group of 5 – 20 close friends or associates ) and much larger ( many people being raised in urban settings where a thousand or more students in their school, and 50,000 – 100,000 people in their town), participating in direct democracy is a still unfamiliar and yet critical set of skills which must be learned by New Villagers. Education for consensus decision –making will be crucial to their success.
The New Social Glue
As society begins to feel the contradictions embodied in industrial global modes of production tearing down the stable basis of human life, two dialectically related processes will begin to be a parent. First, the state, which is the concrete embodiment of the essence of civil society in law or public ethics, will react to disintegration in more basic levels of society – the family, civil and religious communities – by seeking regulatory control over more and more details of everyday life. This cannot be stopped. It is in the very being of a civil state. So there approaches the totally administered society. The exact point at which this movement toward administrative control can be called Fascist may not be easy to identify, but we can feel movement toward it now, and we will recognize it after it is reached; there can be no doubt. In reaction to this, individuals are seeking to escape administrative control, and it is those individuals who will come together to form intentional communities of all forms. This is the main pattern that will have to be addressed in developing the New Village. As a response to the historical forces at once creating and destroying individual freedom, the roles of conscious intention and personal affinity through choice will loom large, becoming the main social glue of the New Village, serving where blood kinship functioned in all previous forms of society.
Secondly, due to the already increased mobility of modern industrial society, but also because it is a practical way to escape administrative control, an increase in Nomadism will come to characterize the New Village. Here is a place where conflict may be experienced by many people who, reacting to the insecurity of modern society, are seeking a quieter, more “stable” form of life in an intentional community. Each community will respond to this challenge in its own way, but I would caution that this new Nomadism is not just a reaction to or a bad product of the breakdown of industrial civil society, it is a feature of who we are becoming. In the face of either the breakdown into chaos of the industrial world or its stiffening under total administration, the New Villagers will not escape into a sphere of nostalgia where we retreat into the woods, close their eyes, and wait for the smoke to clear. The only hope for the truly Angelic potential that we sense as our higher motive lies in globally coordinated actions between groups in all bio regions. Just as affinity being the main glue on a global level as well, it will behoove the New Villagers to support Nomadism as the means to achieve global consensus between groups separated by geography but united in the evolutionary purpose of common survival.
If it is our destiny to survive the “ chaoastrophy” of the emergence of our potential “Star Seed” being, the way is a forward escape through the contradictions of painful and certainties which characterize late twentieth century society. We must become a people at the same time lost and groping, beset by dangerous freedom, and guided by knowledge that what we are is only now being born. For above all the New Village is an incubator for the “Star Seed.”
If we are to survive this final crisis it is incumbent on us to develop a
human world that above all deserves to inherit this green planet.
And this brings me to my final point. Let it be understood that when we speak of sustainable futures we’re talking about our own future. There is no need to “save the late Earth.” Life on this planet has survived worse than the crisis now present: asteroid strikes, ice ages, cosmic ray storms, reversal of the polls, you name it. Were it not for the seed of freedom that we possess, our extinction would be no special tragedy. And it is not a physical survival that is the question, though it may be momentarily at issue. The point is that the survival strategy we create must be worthy to survive. This can only be judged in light of the historical mission that a quirk of evolution has placed on us: to braid the oroboric serpent around, to complete the cycle of freedom which finally states, “I am that I am.” and perhaps then to ……… be able to open a little export office… and …….
Paul C aron © 1996
1. Alexander, C., The Timeless Way of Building, Oxford University Press, New York, 1979.
Paul Caron is a partner in a company manufacturing and distributing foot bags, good medicine, his slogan is “ Kick in the New Paradigm.” When not kicking sack and spinning philosophical jive, he does custom cabinetry and furniture repair and sometimes designs novel architecture for Earth Haven. He lives with an unruly tribe of cats at Rosey Branch farm, and can be reached at 328 Stone Mountain Farm Road, Black Mountain, North Carolina, 28711.
Paul has created Earth Haven an "off the grid permaculture " community in North Carolina, he is the father of the community and hangs out and builds all of the time. I have known Paul since 1993 and done many things with him and traveled to Central America while watching Earth Haven and his little solar house be built and, just living life doing the best as one can!
See Paul Caron's Kicking in the New Paradigm, Circular Times, Volume One : Issue One,1995
Great little read and informative too!
I have added some links for you – I hope this to be of service for you
and for the many who want to achieve a better solution
to our building problems and future of humanity. Colette
Official web site of the architect. Attempts to put his theory into practice via the web, users can design buildings online using Alexander's principles. " An Association of People from all walks of life. With Architects and Builders we are rebuilding our neighborhoods, slowly rebuilding the Earth.”
NATURE OF ORDER
Official site of Christopher Alexander's four-volume series, "The Nature of Order".
Christopher Alexander - Wikipedia, “(born October 4, 1936 in Vienna, Austria) is an architect noted for his theories about design, and for more than 200 building projects ...”
The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander
Originally written for Permaculture Activist No. 35 Village Design – November 1996 –Paul Caron
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