Faultlines

Faultlines are change processes that are so deep-seated, intractable and contentious that they shape our entire worldview. They determine our landscape of thinking and decisions across multiple dimensions and can be global in scope, affecting our broadest purposes and ends. They may create insoluble problems and permanent ideological battlefields. Even if they eventually solve themselves, such problems are likely to take a very long time to resolve: 50 years, 100 years or more. It is then more a question of mediating and managing conflict.

The five most important faultlines are the battles between faith-based and secular worldviews, between the rational, irrational and arational, between environmental ethics and economic rationality in running countries or cities, between the artificial and the organic, and of realigning individualism with collective good. These affect a mass of downstream decisions.

Taking the first, the most obvious aspects at a global level are the varieties of religious fundamentalism. Fundamentalists are responding to disappointments with a material progress that neither makes us happy nor answers genuinely fundamental questions such as 'What is life for?' What in this context are the agreements that bond and anchor communities when fundamental views of the world are so different and people with diametrically opposing views now live in the same place - a city, a neighbourhood, a street? The search for greater meaning and releasing the spiritual realm beyond consuming lies at its core. What, if anything, can city leaders do to both balance differences yet also provide citizens with greater sustenance beyond material wants?

The second faultline is between the rational, irrational and arational. A big put-down is when the logical rationalist claims someone they don't agree with is irrational or arational. Being arational is not to be irrational (that is, to act without reason). It implies instead acknowledging that a narrow rationalist, linear approach is not the answer to inextricably interwoven issues where to untangle the threads involves thousands of variables. The result of trying to isolate each thread or system of threads is logical entanglement. It is rather like the cat that starts pulling a thread of a ball of wool and entangles itself as its claws get stuck. The result is confusion. The bigger picture made up of flows and dynamics disappears from view. Being arational is being full of reason and openness, because it implies the belief that an imaginative leap in thought can occur; that very deep instinct exists; that there are higher registers of understanding, knowledge and insight, some of which will remain intuitive for a very long time. It sees things less as a machine or defined structure and more as an organism that evolves and is emergent as things unfold, where the seeming randomness is not mindless. It can be intuited from within a higher pitch. The arational person understands the principles of connections and processes and is not scared of emotion. They believe emotion is a source of great value and that it enriches understanding. The narrow rationalist eschews emotion and so misses out, and makes decisions without sufficient knowledge and insight.

The third faultline is the conflict between environmental ethics and economic rationality. The rise of environmental ethics is a sustained challenge to an economic rationality increasingly regarded as an impoverished theory of choice-making. This rationality implies a value set and resulting behaviours and states that the sum of profit-maximizing individual choices and self-interest-driven behaviour through 'the invisible hand' in the longer run equates to public good. A central fault is that it assumes that the environment is a free exploitable resource. 'Rational' choice and its associated economic system have led to environmental degradation and massive pollution. Eco-efficiency on its own is only a small part of a richer web of ideas and solutions that requires a fundamental rethinking of the structure and reward system of commerce. This implies developing a regulatory and incentives regime attuned to encouraging resource efficiency by combining innovations in business practice and public policy. It implies a different taxation system which in essence makes what is considered good for us tax-free and taxes heavily what is bad. This might relate to encouraging recycling, creating local energy-efficient building standards or the public sector acting as a role model in using alternative sources of energy. To what extent have cities got the independence and power to operate in this way?

The more urban we become, the more we hanker after the wild, the untamed and unexplored. We want to touch nature and the undisturbed. This mirrors the divide between culture and nature, or that made by humans and that which pre-exists. It mirrors too the urban/rural split. In other words it is the clash between the artificial and the organic. This is the fourth faultline. The urban stands for the rational, the logical, the instrumental, the constructed, however little the results speak for its rationality. Thinking driven by the urban mindset appears to those on the opposite side of the fence as lifeless, lacking in understanding of natural cycles, seasons, forces and rhythms. The divide typically is with the eco-view and expresses itself in many manifestations contrasting the fast and the frenzied with the simple and the slow. The growth in organic foods or farmers' markets are instances of the latter.

The fifth faultline is the struggle to realign the individual and the collective in 21st century terms. Many feel individualism has gone too far. Expressed differently it is about how much we take or how much we give. How far we are going to remain egocentric or understand that being egotistical is a blind alley. The trumpeted choice of individuals has largely reduced people to consumers with a parallel loss of what it might mean to be a citizen. Instead the battle is to reframe day-to-day individuality so it embeds a concern for the larger whole, be this a local community, a city or an activist campaign. The default position of a new 'common sense', however disputed the term, is to consider individual and collective needs simultaneously.

In The Malaise of Modernity, Charles Taylor (1991) suggests that the source of our malaise can be largely summed up as individualism and instrumental reason. Individualism has resulted in the growth of human rights, perhaps the finest achievement of modern civilization. However, 'in its debased forms, individualism comes with a centring on the self, which both flattens and narrows our lives', it makes them poorer in meaning and less concerned with others or with society. Instrumental reason is the kind of rationality we draw on when we calculate the most economical means to a given end, the maximum efficiency.

The combination makes people feel a lack of meaning in their lives, an emptiness that is filled often materialistically, but does not provide satisfaction. Private life becomes more important, civic life atrophies and when life is moving fast it 'spins out to a rationalization that the average citizen is accomplishing a great deal simply by coping with or even surviving in this modern milieu, never mind being expected to assume responsibility for civic engagement and concern'.3 And remember the Ancient Greek origins of the word idiot: meaning self-centred, private, separate and only concerned with self-interest rather than the public or common good.

There are also human attributes that feel like faultlines as they rarely seem to solve themselves and are constantly present. It is perhaps better to describe them simply as part of the human condition. These determine how we feel, what motivates us, our patterns of behaviour and how we act. Often they oscillate from one extreme to the next. One is the striving for fullness and avoidance of void. There is a yearning for completion, being at one, having a sense of wholeness that might result in fulfilment. The desire to fill the absence leads to a striving and the void is filled in various ways -religion, ritual, spirituality, internal mediation. Ultimately these seemingly abstract things are expressed in the city. It might be a place of worship, an urban festival or the way a public space is laid out.

Another example is the human tendency to flip between needing anchorage and wanting exploration. Seemingly contradictory, but still sensible, this highlights the desire for stability and familiarity while constantly striving to experience the new, which often merely means consuming something different. Resolving the contest between new experience and the familiar and fixed creates cultural identity. It explains why tourism is so appealing. The dilemma today is that swaying between the two is happening more quickly and so absorbing what it means is difficult. The great cities, in passing, are those that manage to make you feel you know them, but that you can still explore.

Finally, those with power often want to project the inevitability of things as they are. They do not quibble, for instance, at the commodification of everything - our time, social interaction, every transaction. They argue that this is economic 'reality'. Yet a counter group will always resist and create a backlash, arguing these trends are merely self-serving. Alternatives are always available.

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