“Get in the pod. Eat the bugs.”
It should come as no surprise that the rulers of a declining civilization and its (un)witting cronies preach little more than “accept the decline”.
It is easy to point to today’s “progressives” as the source of these issues, but the rot set in far earlier. The first “pods” truly came about in the immediate aftermath to WW2.
If we want to understand this, we need to set out what a “pod” is. It is far too easy to start grouping related but distinct societal issues together under a single phrase that becomes more pejorative than anything else. So what is a pod, and how does it relate to the variety of issues our society faces today?
A pod is, at its core, a living quarters that alienates those inside from those outside. Sealed away, like an escape pod, the inhabitants of a pod are cut off from meaningful physical community.
This is not to say that the inhabitants of a pod are agoraphobic or are shut-ins. Rather, this is to say that the pod structurally acts as a barrier to the formation of meaningful physical community (answering the door for a delivery guy is not meaningful; conversing with neighbors regularly and buying their kid a birthday gift is).
The Root of the Rot was not Cities, but Suburbs
As with building and maintaining any friendship, building and maintaining a community of people requires not only regular interaction, but also deep interaction. A community, as opposed to simply a network of people living near each other, is defined by reciprocal care and identity.
In this manner, Suburbia is a hellscape of alienation. As I summarized in my There is no Rvturn piece:
But perhaps the suburbia of the 1950s so closely associated with those families, that whole “white picket fence with 2 kids and a dog” fantasy, actually undermined family structures in the first place. Perhaps separating people into their own homes, isolating them from each other, obliterated any sense of community we had. Trading community and identity for security and comfort.
Suburban homes were the first pods. They were an integral part of the transformation from citizens to consumers. Cut off from the wider world and alienated from even their neighbors, people turned to commodified alternatives to meaningful physical community, which only drove further alienation and isolation. A vicious circle resulted.
When you have no real life culture to speak of, and you focus your online identity around the consumption of a particular brand of goods, it's easy to fall into the consumerist trap. Consuming becomes your culture, because it's the one anchor point in your life; without a meaningful expression of creativity or ritual, you drift to the ritual of purchase, consume, repeat.
Pods are the Telos of Consumer Culture
Bowling Alone was a prophecy: technological change coupled with the endless search for new markets has led to the destruction of communities. This was neither (for the most part) an intentional design/conspiracy by elites nor was it a consequence of fully “informed” choices by consumers.
Urban vs Suburban vs Rural is not the correct distinction. In all of these regions, the distinction is between towns and cities that are structurally designed to foster strong physical communities, and those that are structured to foster the opposite. Suburbs were the birthplace of pods and largely remain the most alienating area in society. Urban regions can be wonderful communities or forsaken zones as alienated as the worst suburbs. Rural areas can also be alienating or connecting.
What we see is that in all of these regions, there is a drive towards the production of more pods and less community. Part of this is “natural” (lol) market forces and part of this is administrative design (whether intentional or not). Zoning laws, taxes, subsidies, and social status all play a role in developing the incentive structures of our society.
And for those dimwits who believe that “everything bad comes from regulation”, markets operate based on primary allocation. In other words, once you’ve started down a shitty path, the market is not going to magically fix things if “allowed to operate”. It will simply continue to “optimize” based on the incentive structures put into place. Inertia means that you will likely just continue down the same shitty path. There is no “distortion” that will magically be removed.
Pods are the telos of consumer society, whether urban, suburban, rural, or something in-between. I do not wish to engender a major debate here about capitalism as such a debate will be far too lengthy to deal with in anything close to a satisfactory manner in this already-too-long post. But I will repeat that markets can be useful mechanisms, but they are neither always good nor always useful. Sovereignty establishes the boundaries of incentive structures. And we absolutely need some new boundaries.
What to Do?
Ultimately, if I were to identify two significant issues that we can meaningfully fix it would be these:
The increasing “thrown-ness” of our society
On the first point:
Yes, cars fucked a lot. They ruined urban planning and gave direct rise to suburbia and also to lots of terrible rural design. BUT this is not a call to ban cars. Such a move would be silly. As I have discussed before about institutions and technologies:
You can’t just say “don’t use these.” They only exist because there are no widespread viable alternatives that provide the services they do. Outcompete, or die.
So, how do we fix this if not by banning cars?
The focus must be on requiring new developments to be designed in such a way that cars are no longer needed. Furthermore, rules regarding existing developments should be redesigned in order to continue to limit the need for cars, and allow for greater usage of bicycles and walking (for those who hate public transport, well designed areas may not even need public transport).
That means, first and foremost, utterly nuking our country’s zoning laws and starting over. I believe we should focus on making sure that new developments are built in walking/biking distance of a “center”, which might consist of a small park/square, a grocery store, a pharmacy, etc. We can also work on rebuilding existing developments to satisfy this. In other words, we should be building new developments (AND retrofitting old developments) such that someone should not need a car in order to get the necessities for life.
“You’re messing with the housing market!?!?!?!?!?!” Yes, yes I am. There is no “natural” market. “Laissez-Faire” is a lie. Stop being a lolbertarian. Go away.
The goal of this is NOT actually to eliminate the need for cars (although that would be a huge win for the environmentalist movement as well, which could be another group of supporters for said proposals), BUT RATHER to rebuild a functional public sphere that is readily accessible to all people. A place where connections can be made and reinforced. Reducing the alienation caused by the lack of such a public sphere would go a long way to humanizing our fellows and transforming us back from consumers to citizens.
On the second point:
I will define “thrown-ness” as “being removed from a community in which you had been an active member and being placed into a new network of people that you are largely unfamiliar with”.
There are many causes of “thrown-ness”: moving for work and college are two big ones that I feel can be alleviated at least somewhat. For these, solutions have already been put forth (in part or in whole) by others.
First, many have discussed a kind of “remote work boom” that may occur in the post-covid age. Of course, this has serious problems as it exists now:
The “remote work” being discussed largely revolved around working from home, further sealing the individual away from meaningful community (as meaningful a community as the workplace can be, of course)
With current laws, if your job can be done from 100 miles away, why not from 1000 miles away for half the cost and maybe 80% of the effectiveness?
Today’s “co-working spaces” are wack as fuck.
So, how do we resolve this?
First, redesign co-working spaces so they aren’t the wet dream of a bunch of 20-something former hipsters who couldn’t afford to live in Brooklyn without 12 roommates. Perhaps I am being unfair here and my experiences are not representative of the nation as a whole, but there are no studies on the “wackness” of co-working spaces and all of my experiences have been profoundly negative.
Honestly, cafes represent a far better kind of co-working space (see: your local Starbucks). Although, of course, cafes aren’t usually designed to host 20 people on zoom calls trying to be heard while not getting distracted. What might a new kind of co-working space look like? What would the differences be per community? Here, I have no ready solutions, and ask for suggestions from the audience.
Second, a robust public transportation network (I hate beating a dead horse but for the love of all that is good and holy in this world, high-speed rail PLEASE) AND a robust communications network (national community-owned gigabit fiber network, anyone?) are key. You can’t just have one or the other. Public transit should be designed such that if/when you do need to go into the office, you can relatively easily (again, without the need for a car). And the entire country should have fast internet access so that remote working can occur from anywhere (at the very least, businesses and co-working spaces in every community should be hooked into a fast and reliable network even if hooking in every house is harder).
Third, the abolition of college as an institution is a longshot (although a goal we should strive for), but there are ways to reduce the thrown-ness resulting from college. Further subsidies to going to an in-state school (or perhaps even an in-region school: call it a “keep in touch with your parents” act - not like 17 year olds can vote anyways so who cares what they think) is an idea.
Another idea is presented by Anarcho-Contrarian, a smart localist I have been talking to on Twitter. He proposes a “neo-homesteading act”":
I believe this is a good start, and we need more creative alternatives in order to get this kind of stuff working. Raising/Lowering taxes is boring. Restructuring tax incentives for particular purposes provides us with so much potential leverage. Someone simply needs to seize it (I will be discussing this in my “Effective Populism” series in early 2021).
Our problems demand creativity. It is time to think in terms of possibility spaces. Adopt a “beginner’s mind” and think about all that can be possible. Only then will we be able to build a new, functional culture.