Keep your Arcadia

It’s not just Phyllis Schlafly who talks ridiculous crap about the futility of a “war against Nature” and disseminates that crap via the latest communications technology. There is Noah, for instance, if David Plotz describes it accurately in Slate.

Like the last Noah’s Ark movie, this Noah tells a straightforward environmental parable. Expelled from Eden, mankind has gutted and burned creation, chopping down every tree, butchering every beast, and crowding itself into black, sooty cities. Alas for mankind, the heavenly think tank only has one idea for addressing the issue: start over, with a lot fewer of us—like, half a dozen, preferably vegetarians.

Aronofsky’s message to us moderns is clear: We, too, have corrupted our world, just as the antediluvian humans (save Noah) did theirs. But the director’s public policy chops are scarcely more nuanced than Yahweh’s. He ends up condemning progress of all kinds. The movie pits Noah and his family against all the other humans of the world, led by the king Tubal-Cain. Noah and his family are rural gatherers, living gently off the fruit of the land. Tubal-Cain, by contrast, is a machine-maker and warlord who has strip-mined and clear-cut forests to build his cities. The Noah family is constantly moving further and further away from these cities, off the grid, to be alone.

The fantasy of Arcadia. Dear dear life off the grid, being alone – with no electricity, no running water, no sewer system, no way of getting anywhere beyond walking distance; no books, no food you don’t grow or hunt or raise yourself, no clothes you don’t make yourself; no doctors, hospitals, dentists; no music you don’t make yourself; no radio, no tv, no movies; no coffee houses, no libraries, no bookshops, no farmers’ markets except tiny local ones with a few staple products; no schools, no universities, no museums, no strangers to talk to and learn about, no exploration. Certainly no Internet, so no conversations with people in India or Ireland or Australia or Germany or Argentina.

In its nostalgic, unsophisticated view of the world and our place in it, Noahcollaborates in the fantasy of certain parts of the environmental movement, which believe that Earth would be healed if there were fewer of us, living further apart from each other.  Yet Aronofsky has it upside down. Cities are ecologically kinder than other forms of human habitation. They foster communities and human connections, they enable the advancement of science and the creation of great art. Cities reduce population growth, raise living standards, increase life expectancy, and enhance human freedom. (See this for a great summary of why.)

A world of glowering, friendless farmers living miles and miles from one another? That may work well for a while.

It wouldn’t even work for a while if everyone did it. If everyone did it it wouldn’t work for half an hour.


  1. Shatterface says

    Cities are ecologically kinder than other forms of human habitation. They foster communities and human connections, they enable the advancement of science and the creation of great art.

    And they’re entirely dependent on the country for food .

  2. rq says

    There’s a similar theme in Lord of the Rings, actually – the intrepid industrialist Saruman (and Sauron) pitted against the anti-progressive nature-lovers.

  3. Shatterface says

    I hardly think opposing the widespread industrialisation of the countryside is anti-progressive.

    Are you also in favour of cutting down the rain forests?

    And Plotz’s utter contempt for environmentalism maps conveniently onto the climate change denialists of the far right. Maybe that’s why he’s losing his shit over a film about flooding.

  4. RJW says

    In the original Sumerian Flood myth, which the Hebrews plagiarised, humans were exterminated by the Gods because they were too noisy, understandable.

    Deep Greenies like Schlafly are such easy targets for neo-liberals, environmentalism is compatible with urbanisation, economic growth and science.

  5. Carol Lynn says

    @ 2 rq

    I don’t think that’s true. Elves and men and dwarves and Hobbits built cities and did science. Morgoth, Sauron, and Saruman wanted to strip the earth and have everyone else be their slaves.

  6. says

    Shatterface, who said anything about the widespread industrialization of the countryside? I didn’t, at any rate. But I think the hatred of cities is anti-progressive.

    It’s perfectly possible to be an environmentalist – I’m one, as far as I know – without being an agrarian.

  7. rq says

    Oh, I can’t agree completely, but I read an analysis a few years back that actually did a decent job of showing why it could be true – I can’t seem to find it now, though. (It’s not this one, at any rate.)

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