The following is the second response paper for my Racial Patterns of Urbanization class:
The New Divinity
In this chapter, Mumford continues his historical treatise by focusing on the shift to a “new divinity.” The medieval church begins to dissipate and religion is incorporated into a new political and ideological system. Religious institutions morphed into new structures. Economics became the new religion and “the money changers all but drove the representatives of Christ from the temple” (Mumford, 1961, p. 372).
It is interesting to note that institutions which had been “stifled” by the Church were able to emerge after they disconnected from the cloth. Mumford writes about dramas of Shakespeare and the portraits of Rembrandt. The Guild and the Church were not bastions of creativity.
The unity of art and culture was localized in the courts of Princes. God was deposed by man’s “divine right.” Ancient public relations experts wrote accounts of the “omnipotence” of the “despot.” This seems to be a technique that modern day “spinmasters” use to promote the absolute authority of national leaders.
Luxurious living was the norm for peoples in the Courts as well as for soldiers in the army. Mumford (1961) states, “this concentrated triviality had a discouraging effect on good minds” (p. 373). Wealth was becoming important and “the demand for unlimited funds infected every rank in society” (Mumford, 1961, p. 373). Princes robbed from their own people when they ran out of money. Rich men took money from poor people and bestowed it on people who were already rich. This reminded me of President Bush and his cronies who seem to survive on stolen “pennies.” It was during this period when policies regarding licenses and patents emerged. This seems to be all about control. It’s no wonder why the class system exists. Someone had control while many others did not.
To further illustrate the hierarchies that this new system created, and the class and social inequities that were manifesting, Mumford (1961) closes with this quote:
- It finally came down to this: a whole country was run for the benefit of a few dozen families, or a few hundred, who owned a good share of the land – almost half in France in the eighteenth century – and who battened on the unearned increments from industry, trade, and urban rents (p. 374).
The frightening part about the previous quotation is that it represents the current system in which we live. A few families or groups have the majority of the wealth and power.
The New Freedom
This chapter’s primary subject of concern is capitalism and its effects on human society. The Western ideal of time plays a huge part in shifting the focus of man from nature and humanity to a more mechanical system of clocks. Capitalism became the new religion. Capitalism’s “ultimate result was a money-making economy that had no definable ends or purposes other than its own expansion” (Mumford, 1961, p. 415).
There seemed to be a singular focus. Profits were more important than the good of society as a whole. The new freedoms were “freedom from municipal restrictions, freedom for private investment, for private profit, and private accumulation, without any reference to the welfare of the community as a whole” (Mumford, 1961, p. 415). Perhaps I am more socialist in my leanings than I had thought, but this seems to continue the trend that the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.
The medieval economy gave way to capitalism because the medieval economy was sluggish and resistance to change. According to Mumford (1961), “in the effort to achieve a static security, the medieval corporations had resisted new inventions and new methods of work” (p. 416).
Existing cities were not prepared or created to sustain capitalism. “Local autonomy” was “undermined.” Capitalism created instabilities in cities and contributed to “active corrosion into existing cities.”
The objective of capitalism was to make money and to create profit. This was a new philosophy. The community had less control in this new system. Social responsibility disconnected and “divorced.”
In what looks like the first recorded episodes of gentrification, wealthy investors would displace poor renters, clear an area, and then develop it for profit. Taxes and profits became more important than the citizenry. My participation in a capitalist system is not unnoticed as I read this piece. It is very troubling. It would seem that we need to find a new system that does not oppress people. Capitalism seems inherently damaging to collectivist cultures. It seeks to disconnect people from each other and individualizes peoples into hierarchies in which oppressions occur. I never thought about how the military wall affected society. It’s amazing how the physical environment can have such a profound impact.
The Conquest of Paradise
Sale’s introduction of the historical context in which Columbus existed starts off on a depressing note. Sale labels it as a “culture of death” and time in which the ideal of progress was non-existent. Columbus thought the world was going to end. It’s no wonder he went on his risky voyage. Fifteenth century Europe was rife with violence, disease, and famine. Violence was a daily occurrence and those in power abused their subjects. The Church was engaged in the Inquisition which “went, methodically and heartlessly, after any variety of heretic or dissenter, reformer, or mystic…” (Sale, 1990, p. 32).
The diseases which ravaged Europe seem to have been caused by an extreme lack of hygiene. The city was its own worst enemy as overcrowding and poor sanitation systems set up a slew of “epidemic diseases as never before or since.” Famine was a major issue for everyone in Europe. In fact, it was not until “potatoes and corn” were “discovered” that the poor were “saved.” Humanism, the patriarchy of the Church, and rationalism emerged during this time period. Science (rationalism) came about in response to the failure of the church to “come up with the goods.” During this period, the “degodding of nature” was achieved. According to Sale (1990), “humans were the ‘masters and possessors of nature’” (p. 40). Science created the first public clock, eyeglasses, pane glass windows, double-rigged three-masted sailing ships, the printing press, and the gun. The printing press and the gun would prove to be extremely significant. The printing press enabled the “industrialization of philosophy and the mechanization of thought” (Sale, 1990, p. 41). The gun led to the establishment of “modern mechanized warfare.”
Another extremely important formation was constructed during this time. Material lust combined with humanism and rationalism formed the basis for capitalism. The idea of nationhood was established and the formula for the spread of European culture was created. It seems to me that although today’s systems are perhaps more complex, they do not diverge from what was occurring during the time of Columbus. Europe and Columbus overcame their troubles by oppressing the Native peoples of the Americas. Today, our government is engaged in similar oppressive acts in the Middle East.
The End of the Moorish Enlightenment and the Beginning of the Columbian Era
I think it’s important to note that the Renaissance would not have occurred without Moorish and Jewish Scholarship. This article is terrific in that it clearly illustrates how the histories that I grew up reading are bogus, biased, and bigoted. Christians sought to assimilate Moors and to destroy their culture even though they appreciated their scholarship. According to Carew (1992), a “tradition of conquest and ethnocide” was established (p. 4). I think it was during this period that a lot of African scholarship was destroyed and the myth of an unsophisticated Africa was created. I could be wrong, but it sure seems that the Spanish as well as other European historians wrote history in such a way that Europeans seemed to always be the champion for what was seen as “right” while the Moors and others were always seen as villains.
Carew (1992) states that “the persecution of Moors and Jews, therefore, and their tragic inhuman expulsion, gave added momentum to the process of decivilisation and the institutionalization of racism” (p. 6). Christianity played a pivotal role in setting up this oppressive structure which continues to this day.
It is a travesty that the Moors and their culture were culled from Europe. They were extremely advanced and the Christians slowed their own development by taking away Muslim baths. It does not seem coincidental that the public health and hygiene systems that the Muslims created were sorely missed when the Christians instituted “filthiness is next to godliness.”
Country and City – A Problem of perspective
The first two chapters of this book are extremely perplexing to me. Thinking critically, I have deduced that the primary argument that is being presented is that the country differs from the city and the truth differs from the tale. I hope that our classroom discussion enables me to flesh out the complexities of this work. I keep going back to this particular phrase at the end of chapter two: “Is it anything more than a well-known habit of using the past, the ‘good ole days’, as a stick to beat the present?”(Williams,1973, p.12). Perhaps this represents perspectives and how critical thinking needs to occur in order to break away from our tried and true past stories?
Carew, J. (1992). The end of the moorish enlightenment and the beginning of the columbian era. Race & Class: A journal for black and third world liberation, 33(3), 3-16.
Mumford, L. (1961). The city in history: its origins, its transformations, and its prospects. New York : Harcourt, Brace & World.
Sale , K. (1990). The conquest of paradise: christopher columbus and the columbian legacy . Plume.
Williams, R. (1973). The country and the city. New York : Oxford University Press.