The Story of Utopias, by Lewis Mumford, , at sacred-texts.com
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How the Country House and Coketown became the utopias of the Modern Age; and how they made the world over in their image.
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Now that we have ransacked the literature of ideal commonwealths for examples of the utopian vision and the utopian method, there remains another class of utopias which has still to be reckoned with, in order to make our tally complete.
All the utopias that we have dealt with so far have been filtered through an individual mind, and whereas, like any other piece of literature, they grew out of a certain age and tradition of thought, it is dangerous to overrate their importance either as mirrors of the existing order or as projectors of a new order. While again and again the dream of a utopian in one age has become the reality of the next, as OShaughnessy sings in his famous verses, the exact connection between the two can only be guessed at, and rarely, I suppose, can it be traced. It would be a little foolish to attempt to prove that the inventor of the modern incubator was a student of Sir Thomas More.
Up to the present the idola which have exercised the most considerable influence upon the actual life of the community are such as have been partly expressed in hundred works and never perhaps fully expressed in one. In order to distinguish these idola from those that have occupied us till now, we should perhaps call them collective utopias or social myths. There is a considerable literature that relates to these myths
in French, one of the best known works being M. George Sorel's Reflections on Violence; and in practice it is sometimes rather hard to tell where the Utopia leaves off and the social myth begins.
The history of mankind's social myths has still in the main to be written. There is a partial attempt at this over a limited period in Mr. Henry Osborn Taylor's The Mediæval Mind; but this is only a beginning, and other ages are almost untouched. The type of myth that concerns us here is not the pure action myth which M. Sorel has analyzed; we are rather interested in those myths which are, as it were, the ideal content of the existing order of things, myths which, by being consciously formulated and worked out in thought, tend to perpetuate and perfect that order. This type of social myth approaches very closely to the classic utopia, and we could divide it, similarly, into myths of escape and myths of reconstruction. Thus the myth of political freedom, for example, as formulated by the writers of the American revolution, frequently serves as an excellent refuge for disturbed consciences when the Department of Justice or the Immigration Bureau has been a little too assiduous in its harassment of political agitators.
Unfortunately, it has become a habit to look upon our idola as particularly fine and exalted, and as representing the better side of human nature. As a matter of fact, the myths which are created in a community under religious, political, or economic influences cannot be characterized as either good or bad: their nature is defined by their capacity to help men to react creatively upon their environment and to develop a humane life. We have still to recognize that a belief in these idola
is not by itself a creditable attitude. Even quite base and stupid people are frequently governed by ideals; indeed, it is the ideals that are in many cases responsible for their baseness and stupidity. Neither is the habit of responding to idola any evidence of rational thought. People respond to "ideas"that is, to word-patternsas they respond to the stimulus of light or heat, because they are human beings and not because they are philosophers, and they respond to projections, to idola, for the same reason, and not because they are saints. Our myths may be the outcome of rational thought and practice or not; but the response to these myths is not perhaps more than ten times in a hundred the result of following the processes of reason from beginning to end.
We must think of our idola as a sort of diffused environment or atmosphere, which differs in "chemical content" and in extension with each individual. Some of these idola have so uniformly taken possession of men's minds in a particular age that they are as much a part of the environment a baby is born into as the furniture of his house. The sociologists who follow Emile Durkheim have called a certain part of these idola collective representations but they are wrong, I believe, when they limit these "representations" to savage or ignorant groups for they are an important part of every civilized person's luggage. Parallel with The Story of Mankind and with The Story of Utopias, which I have just told, it would be amusing to write The story of Mankind's Myths. This work, however, would require the scholarship and industry of another Leibniz, and all that I wish to do here is to put together the chief social myths that have played a part in Western
[paragraph continues] Europe and America during the modern period, to contrast these idola with the utopias of the past and the partial remedies for the present, and to suggest the bearing of all this upon any new departures we may be ready to make.
In selecting these idolaThe Country House, Coketown, the MegalopolisI have been forced to gauge their strength and test their quality very largely by their actual results in the workaday world, and it is a little hard to purify them from the various institutions, old and new, in which they are mixt. Yet with all this taint of actuality, these idola are scarcely as credible as the Republic and it will help matters a little to realize that we are still within the province of utopia, and may exercise all the utopian privileges.
To understand the utopia of the Country House we must jump back a few centuries in history.
Anyone who has ranged through the European castles that were built before the fourteenth century will realize that they were no more built for comfort than is a modern battleship. They were essentially garrisons of armed men whose main occupation was theft, violence, and murder; and every feature of their environment reflected the necessities of their life. These castles would be found beetling a cliff or a steep hill; their walls and their buttresses would be made of huge, rough hewn stones; their living arrangements would resemble those of a barracks with an almost complete lack of what we now regard as the normal decencies and privacies, except possibly for the lord and his lady;
and the life of these feudal bands was necessarily a crude and limited one.
Up to the fourteenth century in Western Europe the little fortified town, or the unfortified town that lay beneath the protection of a garrison on a hill, was the only other social unit that competed with the even more limited horizons of the peasant's village, or with the spacious claims for the Here and the Hereafter which were put forward by the Roman Church. To dream of huge metropolises and farflung armies and food brought from the ends of the earth would have been wilder in those days than anything More pictured in his Utopia.
During the fifteenth century in England, and in other parts of Europe the same thing seems to have happened sooner or later, this life of agriculture and warfare and petty trade was upset: the feudal power of the reigning nobles was concentrated in the hands of a supreme lord, the King; and the King and his archives and his court settled in the National Capital, instead of moving about from place to place in the troubled realm. The territories of the feudal lords ceased to be dispersed; their possessions were confined more and more within what were called national boundaries; and instead of remaining in their castles the great lords gave up their crude, barbaric ways, and went up to the capital to be civilized. In the course of time money took the place of direct tribute; instead of receiving wheat and eggs and labor, the lord came into possession of a rent which could be figured in pence and pounds; a rent which could be transferred to the new trading cities for the goods which the rest of the world had for sale. There is a fascinating picture of this change
in W. J. Ashley's Economic History; and the old life itself is outlined, with a wealth of significant detail, in J. S. Fletcher's Memorials of a Yorkshire Parish.
At the same time that this change was taking place in the physical life of Western Europe, a corresponding change was taking place in the domain of culture. Digging about the ruins of Rome and other cities, the men of the late Middle Age discovered the remains of a great and opulent civilization; and exploring the manuscripts and printed books which were getting into general circulation, they found themselves face to face with strange conceptions of life, with habits of refinement, ease, and sensuous luxury which the hard life of the camp and the castle had never really permitted. There followed a reaction against their old life which was little less than a revulsion; and in that reaction two great institutions fell out of fashion. Men ceased to build castles to protect themselves against physical dangers; and they left off entering monasteries in order to fortify their souls for the Hereafter. Both the spiritual and the temporal life began to shift to a new institution, the Country House. The idolum of the Country House drew together and coalesced; and as a familiar symbol of this change the colleges at Oxford which date from the Renascence can scarcely be distinguished in architectural detail from the palaces which the aristocracy were building in the same period; while our banks and our political edifices to this day bear almost universally the stamp of that Roman and Grecian litter which men discovered on the outskirts of the mediæval city.
We do not know the Country House until we realize, to begin with, what its physical characteristics are like. There are a great many descriptions which the reader may consult if he does not happen to live in the neighborhood of a great Country House: but perhaps instead of examining the contemporary Country House it will be well to go back to its beginnings, and see how it was pictured in all its encrusted splendor at the first movement of the Renascencein the setting which François Rabelais, in one of the few downright serious passages in his great work, Gargantua, sought to provide for the good life.
Gargantua purposes to build a new Abbey which he calls the Abbey of Theleme. This Abbey is to be in every respect what the mediæval Abbey was not. Hence to begin with, the Abbey, unlike the castle, is to lie in the midst of the open country; and unlike the monastery, it is to have no walls. Every member is to be furnished with a generous apartment, consisting of a principal room, a withdrawing room, a handsome closet, a wardrobe, and an oratory; and the house itself is to contain not merely libraries in every language, but fair and spacious galleries of paintings. Besides these lodgings there is to be a tilt-yard, a riding court, a theatre, or public playhouse, and a natatory or place to swim. By the river, for the Abbey is to be situated on the Loire, there is to be a Garden of Pleasure, and between two of the six towers of the hexagon, in which form the building is arranged, there are courts for tennis and other games. Add to this orchards full of fruit trees, parks abounding with venison, and an archery
range, fill all the halls and chambers with rich tapestries, cover all the pavements and floors with green clothand the furnishing of the Abbey of Theleme is complete.
The costumes of the inmates are equally splendid and elaborate. In order to have the accoutrements of the ladies' and gentlemen's toilets more convenient, there was to be "about the wood of Theleme a row of houses to the extent of half a league, very neat and cleanly, wherein dwelt the goldsmiths, lapidaries, jewellers, embroiderers, tailors, gold drawers, velvet weavers, tapestry makers, and upholsterers. . . ." They were to be "furnished with matter and stuff from the hands of Lord Nausiclete, who every year brought them seven ships from the Perlas and Cannibal Islands, laden with ingots of gold, with raw silk, with pearls and precious stones."
The women who are admitted to Theleme must be fair, well-featured, and of sweet disposition; the men must be comely and well-conditioned. Everyone is to be admitted freely and allowed to depart freely; and instead of attempting to practice poverty, chastity, and obedience, the inmates may be honorably married, may be rich, and may live at liberty.
The liberty of Theleme is indeed complete; it is such a liberty as one enjoys at a Country House to this day, under the care of a tactful hostess; for everyone does nothing except follow his own free will and pleasure, rising out of his bed whenever he thinks good, and eating, drinking, and laboring when he has a mind to it. In all their rule and strictest tie of their order, as Rabelais puts it, there is but one clause to be observed
"Do what you please."
When we turn our attention from Rabelais conceit of an anti-monastic order, we discover that he has given us an excellent picture of the Country House, and of what I shall take the liberty of calling Country House culture. We see pretty much the same outlines in the introduction to Boccaccio's Decameron; it is elaborately described in terms of that most complete of Country Houses, Hampton Court, in Pope's Rape of the Lock; it is vividly pictured by Meredith in his portrait of The Egoist; and it is analyzed in Mr. H. G. Wells' cruel description of Bladesover in Tono-Bungay, as well as by Mr. Bernard Shaw in Heartbreak House. Whether Mr. W. H. Mallock holds the pattern of Country House culture up to us in The New Republic or Anton Chekhov penetrates its aimlessness and futility in The Cherry Orchard, The Country House is one of the recurrent themes of literature.
This renascence idolum of the Country House, then, is powerful and complete: I know no other pattern which has imposed its standards and its practices with such complete success upon the greater part of European civilization. While the Country House was in the beginning an aristocratic institution, it has penetrated now to every stratum of society; and although we may not immediately see the connection, it is responsible, I believe, for the particular go and direction which the industrial revolution has taken. The Country House standards of consumption are responsible for our Acquisitive Society.
Perhaps the shortest way to suggest the character
of Country House institutions is to say that they are the precise opposite of everything that Plato looked upon as desirable in a good community.
The Country House is concerned not with the happiness of the whole community but with the felicity of the governors. The conditions which underlie this limited and partial good life are political power and economic wealth; and in order for the life to flourish, both of these must be obtained in almost limitless quantities. The chief principles that characterize this society are possession and passive enjoyment.
Now, in the Country House possession is based upon privilege and not upon work. The title to land which was historically obtained for the most part through force and fraud is the economic foundation of the Country House existence. In order to keep the artisans and laborers who surround the Country House at their work, it is necessary to keep them from having access to the land on their own account, provision always being made that the usufruct of the land shall go to the owner and not to the worker. This emphasis upon passive ownership points to the fact that in the Country House there is no active communion between the people and their environment. Such activities as remain in the Country Housethe pursuit of game, for instancerest upon imitating in play activities which once had a vital use or prepared for some vital function, as a child's playing with a doll is a preparation for motherhood. The Country House ideal is that of a completely functionless existence; or at best, an existence in which all the functions that properly belong to a civilized man shall be carried on by functionaries. Since this ideal cannot be realized in the actual world,
for the reason that it is completely at odds with man's biological inheritance, it is necessary in the Country House utopia to fill in by play and sport an otherwise desirable vacuity.
In the Country House literature and the fine arts undoubtedly flourish: but they flourish as the objects of appreciation rather than as the active, creative elements in the community's life; they flourish particularly in the fashion that Plato looked upon as a corrupting influence in the community. In the arts, a gourmandizing habit of mindthe habit of receiving things and being played upon by themprevails; so that instead of the ability to share creative ecstasy, the chief canon of judgment is "taste," a certain capacity to discriminate among sensory stimuli, a capacity which is essentially just as hospitable to a decomposing cheese as to the very staff of life. The effect of this gourmandism in the arts can be detected in every element of the Country House from cellar to roof; for the result has been to emphasize the collection of good things rather than their creation, and there is an aspect in which the Country House is little better than a robber's hoard or a hunter's cachea miniature anticipation of the modern museums of natural history and art.
Observe the architecture of our Country House. If it has been built in England during the last three hundred years, the style is probably that bastard Greek or Roman which we call Renascence architecture; if the Country House was built in America during the last thirty years, it is as likely as not a Tudor residence with traces of castle fortification left here and there on the facade. On the walls there will be plenty of
paintings; indeed a whole gallery may be devoted to them. In all probability, however, the paintings have been created in other times by men long since dead, and in other countries: there may be a portrait by Rembrandt, a Persian miniature, a print by Hokusai. Some very fine element in the structure, a fireplace or a bit of panelling, may have been removed piece by piece from the original Country House in England, Italy, or France; even as many features of the original Country House were quarried, perhaps, from some mediæval abbey. The very china that we use upon our tables nowadays is a Country House importation which took the place of pewter and earthenware; and wall paper is another importation. From feature to feature everything is derivative; everything, in the last analysis, has either been stolen or purchased from the original makers; and what has not been stolen or purchased has been basely copied.
The insatiability of the Country House to possess art is only equalled by its inability to create it. In the Country House, the arts are not married to the community, but are kept for its pleasure.
Let there be no confusion as to either the facts or the ideal we are examining. There is a vast difference between that fine mingling of traditions which is the very breath of the arts, as the lover of classic Greek statuary knows, and the rapacious imperialistic habit of looting the physical objects of art which has been the essence of the Country House method in modern times, even as it seems to have been a couple of thousand years ago in the Roman villa. A genuine culture will borrow steadily from other cultures; but it will go to them as the bee goes to the flower for pollen, and
not as the beekeeper goes to the hive for honey. There is a creative borrowing and a possessive borrowing; and the Country House has in the main limited itself to possessive borrowing. The Country House ideal, in fact, is limitless possession: so the great Country House masters have five or six houses, perhaps, in their name, although they need but a single one to cover their heads.
Now the Country House idolum involves a dissociation between the Country House and the community in which it is placed. If you will take the trouble to examine mediæval conditions, you will find that differences of rank and wealth did not make a very great difference between the life of the lord in his castle, and his retainers: if the common man could not claim to be as good as his lord, it is plain that the lord shared most of the common man's disabilities, and was, for all the exaggerations of chivalry, just as ignorant, just as illiterate, just as coarse. In the cities, too, the lowest workman in the guild shared the institutions of his masters: the churches, the guild pageants, and the morality plays were all part and parcel of the same culture.
The Country House changed this condition. Culture came to mean not a participation in the creative activities of one's own community, but the acquisition of the products of other communities; and it scarcely matters much whether these acquisitions were within the spiritual or the material domain. There had of course been the beginnings of such a split in mediæval literature, with its vulgar Rabelaisian tales and its refined romances of the court; but with the integration of the Country House idolum, this divorcement was accentuated
in every other activity of the community. One of the results of this split was that popular institutions were deprived of their contacts with the general world of culture, and languished away; or they were transformed, as the public schools of England were transformed into restricted upper class institutions. Far more important than this, perhaps, was the fact that each separate Country House was forced to obtain for its limited circle all the elements that were necessary to the good life in a whole community such as Plato described. We shall deal with the effects of this presently.
Let us admit what is valid in the utopia of the Country House. Enjoyment is a necessary element in achievement, and by its regard for the decent graces of life, for such things as an ease in manners and a fine flow of conversation and the clash of wits and a sensitiveness to beautiful things, the Country House was by all odds a humanizing influence. In so far as the Country House fostered a belief in contemplation and a desire for the arts apart from any uses that might be made of them by way of civic advertisement; in so far as it urged that all our pragmatic activities must be realized in things that are worth having or doing for themselves, the Country House was right, eminently right. It was no snobbery on the part of Russian soviet officialism when it opened up some of its Country Houses as rest houses for the peasants and workers, and then insisted that some of the airs of the Country House should be acquired there, to replace the rough usages of the stable, the dungpile, and the
field. Ruskin and Samuel Butler were possibly right when they insisted that the perfect gentleman was a finer product than the perfect peasant or artisan: he is a finer product because he is essentially more alive. Even by its emphasis upon appreciation the Country House did no mean service; for it called attention to the fact that there were more permanent standardsstandards which were common to the arts of Greece and Chinathan those which were looked upon as sufficient in the local region. In sum, the Country House emphasized a human best, which was the sum of a dozen partial perfections; and so all that was crude and inadequate in the old regional cultures was brought to light and criticized. All these virtues I admit; and they hold just as good today as they ever did.
The fatal weakness of Country House culture comes out all the plainer for this admission. The Country House did not see that enjoyment rested upon achievement, and was indeed inseparable from achievement. The Country House strove to put achievement in one compartment and enjoyment in another; with the result that the craftsman who no longer had the capacity to enjoy the fine arts no longer had the ability to create them. The effect of an isolated routine of enjoyment is equally debilitating; for enjoyment, to the masters of the Country House came too easily, with a mere snap of the fingers, as it were, and the tendency of connoisseurship was to set novelty above intrinsic worth. Hence the succession of styles by which Country House decoration has become a thing for mockery: Chinese in one age, Indian in another, Persian in the next, with Egyptian, Middle African, and heaven knows what else destined to follow in due order. There is
nothing to settle to, because there is no task to be done, and no problem to work out; and as soon as the first taste for a style gets exhausted it is speedily supplanted by another.
It would be impossible to calculate the extent to which the Country House has degraded our taste but I have little doubts as to the source of the degradation. The stylicism which has perverted the arts and has kept a congruent modern style from developing has been the work of Country House culture. I remember well the contempt with which a furniture manufacturer in the Chiltern Hills told me about the way in which he produced an original Sheraton: his knowledge of sound furniture design was subordinated to some other person's knowledge of "style" and the miscarriage of the man's innate craftsmanship made him so mordant on the subject that it seemed as though he had been reading Thorstein Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class. It is the same through all the arts. A visit to the industrial sections of the Metropolitan Museum in New York will show how dismally the taste for novelty, which led the Sheratons and Chippendales to find "classic motifs" in one age, causes the designers of the present day to seek the motifs of Sheraton and Chippendale. So much for what happened to the arts when enjoyment and achievement are separated.
The industrial bearing of the Renascence ideal is of capital importance.
During the Middle Age the emphasis in industry was upon the production of tangible goods: the craft guilds
set high standards in design and workmanship; and the aim of the worker, in most of the trades, was to get a living from his work, and not simply to get enough money to free himself from the necessity of working. This is a broad generalization, I need scarcely emphasize, and there is plenty of evidence of pecuniary interests under the best of conditions; but it seems fair to say that the dominant ideals of the older industrial order were industrial rather than commercial. In the trading ventures that the Country House promoted under its Drakes and Raleighs, ventures which were needed to bring them "Ships from the Perlas and Cannibal Islands," the emphasis shifted from workmanship to sale; and the notion of working and gambling to acquire multifarious goods took the place of that earlier ideal which Henry Adams so sympathetically described in Mt. St. Michel and Chartres. Thus the good life, as I have said elsewhere, was the Goods Life: it could be purchased. If the whole community no longer offered the conditions for this life, one might filch what one wanted from the general store, and try to monopolize for self or family all that was needed for a good life in the community.
What is the chief economic outcome of this ideal? The chief outcome, I think, is to exaggerate the demand for goods, and to cause an enormously wasteful duplication of the apparatus of consumption. If the limit to one's possessions should be simply the extent of one's purse; if happiness is to be acquired through obtaining the comforts and luxuries of life; if a man who possesses a single house is considered fortunate, and a man who possesses five houses five times as fortunate; if there are no standards of living other than the insatiable
one that has been set up in the Country Housewell, then there is really no limit to the business of getting and spending, and our lives become the mean handiwork of coachman, cook, and groom. Our Country House will not merely be a house: there will be a chapel, an art gallery, a theater, a gymnasium, as François Rabelais imagined. As the common possessions of the community dwindle, the private possessions of individuals are multiplied; and at last, there remains no other community than a multitude of anarchic individuals, each of whom is doing his best to create for himself a Country House, notwithstanding the fact that the net result of his endeavorsthis is the drab tragedy and the final thing to be said against itis perhaps nothing better than six inadequate rooms at the end of nowhere in a Philadelphia suburb.
The Country House, then, is the chief pattern by means of which the mediæval order was transformed into the modern order. It does not matter very much whether the Country House is an estate on Long Island or a cottage in Montclair; whether it is a house in Golder's Green or a family manor in Devonshire: these are essentially affairs of scale, and the underlying identity is plain enough. The idolum of the Country House prevails even when quarters are taken up in the midst of the metropolis. More than ever the Country House today tries to make up by an abundance of physical goods for all that has been lost through its divorce from the underlying community; more than ever it attempts to be self-sufficient within the limits of suburbia. The automobile, the phonograph, and the radiotelephone have only served to increase this self-sufficiency; and I need not show at length how these instrumentalities
have deepened the elements of acquisitiveness and passive, uncreative, mechanical enjoyment.
The Country House's passionate demand for physical goods has given rise to another institution, Coketown; and it is the idolum of Coketown, the industrial age's contribution to the Country House, that we have now to consider.
The chief difference between the individual utopias of the nineteenth century and the "collective representation" of Coketown is that these individual utopias were concerned to repair certain points where Manchester, Newark, Pittsburgh, and Elberfeld-Barmen fell short of the ideal. In repairing these points, Bellamy and Hertzka were ready to alter the conventional arrangements by which property and land were held, and capital was accumulated. The final end however was the same; and the differences are therefore more apparent than real.
If the illustrative example of the Country House is in the Abbey of Theleme, that of Coketown is in the sharp picture of industrialism which Charles Dickens presents in Hard Times.
Coketown, as Dickens sees it, is the quintessence of the industrial age. It is perhaps one of the few idola of the modern world which has no parallel in any earlier civilization that we have been able to explore. In order to understand what Coketown brought into the world, we must realize that before Coketown came into existence the center of every important European city consisted of a marketplace, shadowed over by a Cathedral, a Market Court, and a Guildhall; and frequently there
would be an adjacent university. This was the typical formation. The various quarters of the city were subordinated to these central institutions, and the work which was carried on within the city's walls was more or less concretely realized in the local community.
Coketown, on the other hand, was the outcome of other conditions and necessities. The center of Coketown's activity was the mill, set at first in the open country near falling water, and then as coal was applied to steam engines, removed to areas more accessible to the coal fields. The factory became the new social unity; in fact it became the only social unit; and, as Dickens sharply put it, "the jail looked like the town hall, and the town hall like the infirmary"and all of them looked like the factory, a gaunt building of murky brick that once was red or yellow. The sole object of the factory is to produce goods for sale; and every other institution is encouraged in Coketown only to the extent that it does not seriously interfere with this aim.
What are the outward physical aspects of Coketown? To begin with, the city is laid out by an engineer; it is laid out with a mathematical correctness and with a complete disregard for the amenities. If there are hills where Coketown ought to stand, the hills are leveled; if there are swamps, the swamps are filled; if there are lakes, the lakes are drained away. The pattern to which Coketown's activities are fitted is that of the gridiron; there are no deviations and no allowances in the working out of this plan; never will a street swerve as much as a hair's breadth to save a stand of trees or open up a vista. In the matter of transportation and intercourse, the aim of Coketown is to "get
somewhere"; and it fancies that by laying down straight lines and joining them in rectangles this aim is expedited; despite the demonstration in every city of older growth that a radial system of intercommunication is much more economical than the gridiron. As a result, there is no terminus to any of the avenues of Coketown; for they begin on a draughting board and end in infinity. It is impossible to approach from the front the jails, hospitals, and sanatoria of which Coketown boasts; the tendency is to run past them. So much for the physical layout of the industrial city; what remains is obscured by smoke.
The factory is the center of Coketown's social life; and it is here that the greater part of the population spend their days. At its purest, that is to say, during the first half of the nineteenth century, and in a great many centers to this day, the factory is the only institution that provides anything like a social life, in spite of the fact that the unremitting toil which accompanies its routine reduces the graces of social intercourse to such a minimum that drunkenness and copulation are the only amusements which the inhabitants can engage in as a relief from their noble duty of providing the rest of the world with necessities, comforts, luxuries, and nullities.
The Coketown idolum has been disintegrating a little during the last two decades, under the influence of the garden cities movement, and I am aware that in certain departments I am celebrating a lost cause and an abandoned idealism; but there still remain in acres and acres of workingmen's dwellings, such as one finds in Battersea and Philadelphia, and in old-fashioned railway stations, and in buildings like the Mechanics Halls of
[paragraph continues] Pittsburgh and Boston, a notion of what Coketown stood for when Coketown, the Frankenstein which had been created by the Country House, had not been repudiated by its master.
Coketown is devoted to the production of material goods; and there is no good in Coketown that does not derive from this aim. The only enjoyment which those who are inured to the Coketown routine can participate in is mechanical achievement; that is to say, activity along industrial and commercial lines; and the only result of this achievement ismore achievement. It follows that all the standards of Coketown are of a quantitative kind; so many score of machines, so many tons of gew-gaws, so many miles of piping, so many dollars of profit. The opportunities for self-assertion and constructiveness in such a community are practically boundless; and I can never confront the mechanical felicities of a printing plant without realizing how fascinating these opportunities are, and how deeply they satisfy certain elements in our nature. The unfortunate thing about Coketown, however, is that these are the only sort of opportunities that are available; and work whose standards are of a qualitative sort, the work of scholars and artists and scientists, is either frozen out of the community by deliberate ostracism, or is hitched to the machine; the artist, for example, being compelled to sing the praises of Coketown's goods or to paint the portrait of Coketown's supreme esthetic achievementthe Self-Made Man.
In its pristine state, Coketown is not a complete community. So it is natural that the idolum should have provided certain additions. In the first place, the activities of Coketown, whether they are beneficial or
wasteful, satisfy only certain elements in the human makeup; and although much may be done by compulsory education to discipline the younger generation to the machine, and to show them the necessity of doing nothing which would interfere with the continued activity of the machinefor work in Coketown, as Samuel Butler fearfully predicted in Erewhon, is in the main simply attendance upon machineryhere and there the igneous instincts of the workers will break through the solidified layer of habit which the school and the factory have produced, and the arcane energies of the population will flow either into the Country House or into that other simulacrum of the civic life, Broadway.
Coketown for the workaday week, the Country House for the weekend, is the compromise that has been practically countenanced; although the country houses of the working classes may be nothing more than a diminutive extension of the urban slum near sea or mountain. But it must be admitted that there is a permanent Country House and a permanent Coketown population in the more ideal aspects of the order. Mr. Wells in the Time Machine has given a picture of Coketown which is perhaps a little exuberant in some of its detailsthe picture of a happy and careless Country House population, living on the surface of the earth, mid all the graces of a jolly weekend, and that of the factory population, the Morlocks, living in the bowels of the earth and performing the necessary industrial functions. Mr. Wells' presentation is a little exaggerated, however, and we must be content here with such a plain and outright description as Messrs. Bounderby and Gradgrind would approve of.
In the Coketown scheme of things, all that does not contribute to the physical necessities of life is called a comfort; and all that does not contribute either to comforts or necessities is called a luxury. These three grades of good correspond to the three classes of the population: the necessities are for the lower order of manual workers, together with such accessory members as clerks, teachers, and minor officials; the comforts are for the comfortable classes, that is, the small order of merchants, bankers, and industrialists; while the luxuries are for the aristocracy, if there is such an hereditary group, and for such as are able to lift themselves out of the two previous orders. Chief among the luxuries, it goes without saying, are art and literature and any of the other permanent interests of a humane life.
Let us note what an improvement the three classes of Coketown are upon the three classes in Plato's Republic. The custom of limiting the earnings of the working classes to the margin of subsistence is singularly effective in keeping them occupied with the business of productionas long as there is no over-plus in the market to throw them out of workand it is thus a safeguard of efficiency and industry which Plato, who was deplorably obtuse in these matters, did not provide. It is likewise obvious that the life of a middle class citizen, with plenty to eat and drink, with his life protected by the policeman, his pocketbook protected by the insurance company, his spiritual happiness protected by the church, his human sympathies protected by the charity organization society, his intelligence protected by the newspaper, and his economic privileges protected by the Statethis middle class citizen is, after all, a much more fortunate and happy
individual than those Platonic warriors whose life was a perpetual effort to keep the edge on their bodies and minds. As for the Guardians of the State, it is plain that Plato did not offer them any inducement to do their work which would attract a normal commercial man: anyone who was worth a hundred thousand dollars a year would have thought twice before assuming leadership in Plato's impoverished commonwealth, whereas in Coketown he would find that his simple ability to make money would be taken as sufficient proof of his education, his insight, and his wisdom in every department of life. More than that, Coketown, when all is said and done, welcomes the artist with a cordiality that puts Plato to shame: Coketown can afford its luxuries since, when you look at the matter squarely, a rare painting might be worth as much as a rare postage stamp; and it is accordingly an acceptable addition to the Coketown milieu.
Coketown has, in fact, only one question for the arts to answer: What are they good for? If the answer can be expressed in money, the art in question is taken to be almost as satisfactory as a device to save labor, to increase speed, or to multiply the output.
There is one phenomenon still to be accounted for in the economy of Coketown; one monumental instrument without which the wheels of Coketown would become clogged and the very breath of Coketown be extinguished.
I refer to the rubbish heaps.
The aim of production in Coketown is naturally more
production, and it is only by making things sufficiently shoddy to go to pieces quickly, or by changing the fashion sufficiently often, that the machinery of Coketown can for the most part be kept running. The rage and fury of Coketown's production has to be balanced off by an equal rage and fury of consumptioncontinence would be fatal. As a result, nothing in Coketown is finished or permanent or settled: these qualities are another name for death. Coketown makes china to be broken, clothes to be worn out, and houses to be torn down; and if something remains over from an earlier age which made things more soundly, it is either incarcerated in a museum, and derided as the monument of a non-progressive age, or it is demolished as a nuisance. (So powerful is the idolum of Coketown that in the workaday world building after building continues to meet with irreparable ruin at the hands of barbarians from Coketown: why, I have even seen innocent little half-timbered fifteenth century cottages whose fronts were obliterated by a nineteenth century plasterer, in the name of progress.)
The status of every family in Coketown can be told by the size of its rubbish heap. In fact, to "make a pile" in the markets of Coketown is ultimately to make another pileof dust and junk and litteron the edge of the town where the factory district dribbles off into the open country. So in Coketown consumption is not merely a necessity: it is a social duty, a means of keeping "the wheels of civilization turning." At times there appears to be a possibility that this utopia may defeat its purposes by producing goods at such a pace that the rubbish heaps will fall behind the demands of the market; and while this mars the theoretic perfection
of the Coketown social organization, it is offset by periods of war, when the market is practically inexhaustible, and Coketown's prosperity increases to a point at which the working classes are on the point of becoming the comfortable classes without having had sufficient previous training to make their contribution to the rubbish heapa serious pass, amidst which confusion the working classes of Coketown might take to reducing their working days and enjoying their leisure without sufficient consumptive effort.
This, then, is the idolum of Coketown. There are certain features in it which need to be noticed. The first is that there is a certain solid reality in Coketown that remains when all its pretensions and idiocies have been incinerated. An environment that is devoted solely to the production of material goods is obviously no sort of environment for a good community, for life is more than a matter of finding what we shall eat and wherewithal we shall be clothed: it is an interaction with a whole world of landscapes, living creatures and ideas, in comparison with which Coketown is a mere blister on the earth's surface. Nevertheless, with respect to the business of melting steel and building roads and performing certain essential industrial operations, the aims of Coketown are, up to a certain point, relevant: we have already encountered them in Andreæ's Christianopolis. There is no need to dismiss the good that lies inside of industrialism because it does not embrace the good that lies beyond it.
Up to a certain point, then, using mechanical power rather than human power is good; so is large-scale production, so is the division of labor and division of operation; so is rapid transportation; so is the accurate
methodology of the engineer; and so are various other features in the modern industrial world. One might even say a word for efficiency, as against "doing things rather more or less." Coketown made the horrid mistake of believing that all these things were good in themselves. New factories, for example, drew a bigger population into the city: Coketown did not perceive that, as Plato pointed out, beyond a certain point the city as a social unit would cease to exist. Bigger and better was Coketown's motto; and it resolutely refused to see that there was no necessary connection between these adjectives. The whole case for and against Coketown rests upon our admission of the phrase "up to a certain point." Up to a certain point, industrialism is good, especially in its modern, neotechnic, electrical phase: Coketown, on the other hand, believes that there is no limit to the usefulness of industrialism.
Up to a certain pointbut what point? The answer is, up to the point at which the cultivation of a humane life in a community of humane people becomes difficult or impossible.
Men come together, says Aristotle, to live; they remain together in order to live the good life. This determination of the good life is the only check and balance that we can have upon Coketown; and it is perhaps because we have been so little concerned with it that the practical effect of the Coketown idolum has been so devastating. "Invention and organization," as Mr. George Santayana admirably points out, "which ought to have increased leisure by producing the necessaries of life with little labor, have only increased the population, degraded labor, and diffused luxury." William Morris conceived that men in the future might
discard many complicated machines because they could live more happily, aye, work more happily without them. Whether indeed a good part of modern organization and machinery could be scrapt is perhaps a debatable question: but the possibility of scrapping it is at least conceivable once we become more interested in the actual result of industrialism upon the life and happiness of the people who are part of the organization than we are in the profits which pile up upon paper, and are finally realized in an ever-growing rubbish heap.
By what means can the Country House keep Coketown working for it? The idolum of the Country House, which was built up during the Renascence, and the idolum of Coketown, which was formed in the early part of the nineteenth century, are obviously two separate worlds; and in order that each might be realized in our daily life, it was necessary that some connecting tissue be manufactured to keep them together. This tissue was the social myth, the collective utopia, of the National State.
There is a sense in which we may look upon the National State as a fact; but that great philosopher of the National State, Mazzini, realized that the National State had continually to be willed; and its existence lies plainly, therefore, on a different plane from the existence of a bit of territory, a building, or a city. In fact, it is only by the persistent projection of this utopia for the last three or four hundred years that its existence has become credible; for all the minute descriptions which the political historian gives to the
[paragraph continues] National State, its origins and its institutions and its people, read a good deal like that fine story which Hans Andersen told about the king who walked the streets naked because two rascally tailors had persuaded him that they had woven and cut up for him a beautiful outfit of clothes.
It will help us to appreciate this beautiful fabrication of the National State if we turn aside for a moment and glance at the actual world as it is known to the geographer and the anthropologist. Here are the physical facts in defiance of which the utopia of nationalism has been clapped together.
The earth that the geographer surveys is divided into five great land masses. These land masses in turn can be broken up into a number of natural regions, each of which has within its rough and approximate frontiers a certain complex of soil, climate, vegetation, and, arising out of these, certain primitive occupations which the inhabitants of the region originally practiced and later, through the advance of trade and invention, elaborated. Between these natural regions there are occasionally frontiers, such as the barrier of the Pyrenees which separates "France" from "Spain"; but these barriers have never altogether prevented movements of population from one area to another. In order to have a more faithful knowledge of regional groupings in certain important areas, the reader might with profit consult Professor Fleure's Human Geography in Western Europe. (London: Williams and Norgate.)
These natural regions are the groundwork of human regions; that is, the non-political grouping of population
with respect to soil, climate, vegetation, animal life, industry and historic tradition. In each of these human regions we find that the population does not consist of a multitude of atomic individuals: on the contrary, when the geographer plots houses and buildings on a topographic map, he finds that people and houses cohere together in groups of more or less limited size, called cities, towns, villages, hamlets. Normally, a vast amount of intercourse takes place between these groupings; and in the Middle Age, before the utopia of the National State had been created, the pilgrim and the wandering scholar and the journeyman and the strolling player could have been met with on all the highways of Europe. Under the dispensation of the National State, however, the population, as the German economist Buecher points out, tends to be more settled, and we transport goods rather than people. It is important to realize that, so far as the geographer can discover, this trade and intercourse between local groups has been a part of Western European civilization since Neolithic times, at least: it takes place continually between individuals and corporate groups in one place and another, and as far as geographical facts are concerned might more easily exist between Dover and Calais, let us say, than between Calais and Paris.
Now the interesting thing about the utopia of the National State is that it has only the most casual relation to the facts of geography. Wherever it suits the purposes of the Guardians of the State, the facts are ignored, and an artificial relation is willed into existence. The human communities which the regional sociologist recognizes do not always coincide with those which the statesman wishes to incorporate as "national
territory," and when this conflict occurs, the idea rather than the reality triumphs, if necessary by brute force.
In the utopia of the National State there are no natural regions; and the equally natural grouping of people in towns, villages and cities, which, as Aristotle points out, is perhaps the chief distinction between man and the other animals, is tolerated only upon the fiction that the State hands over to these groups a portion of its omnipotent authority, or "sovereignty" as it is called, and permits them to exercise a corporate life. Unfortunately for this beautiful myth, which generations of lawyers and statesmen have labored to build up, cities existed long before statesthere was a Rome on the Tiber long before there was a Roman Imperiumand the gracious permission of the state is simply a perfunctory seal upon the accomplished fact.
Instead of recognizing natural regions and natural groups of people, the utopia of nationalism establishes, by the surveyor's line, a certain realm called national territory, and makes all the inhabitants of this territory the members of a single, indivisible group, the nation, which is supposed to be prior in claim and superior in power to all other groups. This is the only social formation that is officially recognized within the national utopia. What is common to all the inhabitants of this territory is thought to be of far greater importance than any of the things that bind men together in particular civic or industrial groups.
Let us look at this world of national utopias. The contrast between the politician's map and the geographer's would be little less than amazing were our eyes not used to it, and were we not taught in modern times
to look upon it as inevitable. Instead of the natural grouping of land masses and regions, one finds a multitude of quite arbitrary lines: boundaries like those that separate Canada and the United States or Belgium and the Netherlands are just as frequent as the natural frontier of sea that surrounds England. Sometimes these national territories are big, and sometimes they are little; but the bigness of empires like those of France, England, or the United States is not due to any essential identity of interests between the sundry communities of these empires, but to the fact that they are forcibly held together by a political government. National lines, in other words, continue to exist only as long as the inhabitants continue to act in terms of them; are ready to pay their taxes to support customs bureaux, immigration offices, frontier patrols, and educational systems; and are prepared, in the last extremity, to lay down their lives to prevent other groups from crossing these imaginary lines without permission.
The chief concern of the national utopia is the support of the central government, for the government is the guardian of territory and privilege. The principal business of that government is to keep the territory properly defined, and to increase its limits, when possible, so as to make the taxable area larger. By stressing the importance of these concerns, and constantly playing up the dangers of rivalry from other national utopias, the State builds a bridge between the Country House and Coketown, and persuades the workers in Coketown that they have more in common with the classes that exploit them than they have in common with other groups within a more limited community. It would seem that this reconciliation of Coketown and
the Country House is little less than miraculous, even as an ideal; and perhaps it would be interesting to examine a little more carefully the apparatus by which this is effected.
The chief instrument of the National State is Megalopolis, its biggest city, the place where the idolum of the National Utopia was first created, and where it is perpetually willed into existence.
In order to grasp the quintessential character of Megalopolis we must shut our eyes to the palpable earth, with its mantle of vegetation and its tent of clouds, and conceive what might be made of the human landscape if it could be entirely fabricated out of paper; for the ultimate aim of the Megalopolis is to conduct the whole of human life and intercourse through the medium of paper.
The early life of a young citizen in Megalopolis is spent in acquiring the tools by which paper may be used. The names of these tools are writing, reading, and arithmetic; and once upon a time these constituted the main elements in every Megalopolitan's education. There was, however, a good deal of dissatisfaction, on paper, against this somewhat barren curriculum, and so at a fairly early date in the history of Megalopolis, various other subjects, such as literature, science, gymnastics, and manual training were added to the curriculumon paper. It is indeed possible for a Megalopolitan student to know the atomic formula of clay without ever having seen it in the raw earth, to handle pine wood in the workshop without having walked through a pine forest, and to go through the
masterpieces of poetic literature without having experienced a single emotion which would prepare him to appreciate anything different from one of the influential Megalopolitan magazines, "Smutty Stories", but as long as his hours of attendance can be recorded on paper, and as long as he can give a satisfactory account of his studies on an examination paper, his preparation for life is practically complete; and so he is graduated with a paper certificate of education into the industries of Coketown, or into the multitudinous bureaus of Megalopolis itself.
The end of this period of paper tutelage is but a prelude to its continuation in another form; for the religious care of paper is the Megalopolitan's life work. The daily newspaper, the ledger, the card index are the means by which he now makes contact with life, whilst the fiction magazine and the illustrated paper are the means by which he escapes from it. Through the translucent form of paper known as celluloid, it has been possible to do away on the stage with flesh-and-blood people; and therefore the drama of life, as the Megalopolitan story writers tell it, can be enacted at one remove from actuality. Instead of his travelling, the world moves before the Megalopolitan, on paper; instead of his venturing forth on the highways of the world, adventure comes to him, on paper; instead of his getting him a mate, his bliss may be all but consummatedon paper. In fact, so accustomed does the Megalopolitan become to experiencing all his emotions on paper that he can be entertained by the representation of a static bowl of flowers on a moving picture screen; while his cockney ignorance of nature is so vast that a certain vaudeville performer, seeking to amuse
him by imitating the calls of birds and beasts, finds it wise to have moving pictures taken of the rooster, the dog, and the cat, in order to give his mimicries reality in minds destitute of any personal image.
The notion of direct action, direct intercourse, direst association, is a foreign one to Megalopolis. If any action is to be taken by the whole community, or by any group in it, it is necessary to carry it through the Megalopolitan parliament, and have it established on paper, after innumerable people, who have no genuine concern in the matter, have committed their views about it to paper. If any intercourse is to be carried on, it must he largely conducted on paper; and if that medium is not directly available, subsidiary instruments, like the telephone, are used. The chief form of association in Megalopolis is that by political party, and it is through the political party that the Megalopolitan expresses his views, on paper, as to what is necessary to amend the paper constitution or promote the welfare of the paper community; albeit he realizes that the promises made by political parties are written on what Megalopolitans in their more cynical moments call "non-negotiable" paper, and will probably never pass into currency.
By its traffic in Coketown's multifarious goods and by its command over certain kinds of paper known as mortgages or securities, Megalopolis ensures a supply of real foods and real staples from the countryside. Through incessant production of hooks, magazines, newspapers, boilerplate features, and syndicated matter, Megalopolis ensures that the idolum of the National Utopia shall be kept alive in the minds of the underlying inhabitants of the country. Finally, by the devices
of "national education" and "national advertising" all the inhabitants of the National Utopia are persuaded that the good life is that which is lived, on paper, in the capital city; and that an approximation to this life can be achieved only by eating the food, dressing in the clothes, holding the opinions, and purchasing the goods which are offered for sale by Megalopolis. So the chief aim of every other city in the National Utopia is to become like Megalopolis; its chief hope is to grow as big as Megalopolis; its boast is that it is another Megalopolis. When the denizens of Megalopolis dream of a better world, it is only a paper perfection of that National Utopia which Edward Bellamy looked forward to in Looking Backward.
Working in connection with the Machine Process of Coketown, the Megalopolis erects a standard of life which can be expressed in commercial terms, on paper, even if it does not offer any tangible satisfaction in goods and services and perfections. The chief boast of this standard is its uniformity; that is, its equal applicability to every person in the community without respect to his history, his circumstances, his needs, his actual rewards. Hence such goods as Megalopolis creates in profusion are for the most part in the line of plumbing and sanitary devices which, if they do not exactly heighten the joy of living, at any rate make the routine of Megalopolitan life a little less formidable.
The total result of these standards and uniformities is that what was originally a fiction in time becomes a fact. Whereas the inhabitants of the national utopia may originally have been as diverse as the trees in a forest, they tend to become, under the influence of education and propaganda, as similar as telegraph
poles along a road. It is not a little to the credit of Megalopolis that the National Utopia has pragmatically justified itself. It has created the sort of mental environment on paper which is necessary to a smooth adjustment of Coketown and the Country House. What is Megalopolis, in fact, but a paper purgatory which serves as a medium through which the fallen sons of Coketown, the producer's hell, may finally attain the high bliss of the Country House, the consumer's Heaven?
It should be plain that in describing the National Utopia and Megalopolis I have been trying to outline what Plato would call the pure form. It is equally clear, I trust, that the pure form is an idolum to which any existing national state or metropolis approximates only so far as the idolum does not conflict too grossly with the real men and women, the real communities, the real regions, the real workaday occupations which continue, despite the reign of these idola, to exist, and to occupy our main attention. Formal education has not altogether taken the place of vital education; loyalty to the state has not altogether succeeded as a substitute for deeper allegiances and affiliations: occasionally, here and there, people meet each other face to face, they eat real food, dig in real earth, smell real flowers instead of coal tar perfumes that arise from paper bouquets, and embark quite madly on real love affairs. It is true that these realities are a disturbing influence: they are always threatening to undermine the idola which the politicians and journalists and academic handymen unite so valiantly to build up; but there they
areand even the most stubborn idealist cannot help himself from occasionally confronting the world that he denies!
If you and I were perfect citizens of Megalopolis, we should never let anything come between us and our loyalty to the State: when the State called for our taxes, we should never think regretfully of the amusements we must forego in order to pay them; when the State demanded that we go to war, nothing like the claims of a family or an occupation or a moral conviction would ever step between us and our national duty. By the same token, we should never eat any other food than that which had been nationally advertized, and never buy anything direct from the producer when we might buy it from a third person in Megalopolis; we should never read any literature that is not produced in our own country, never desire any other climate than our own country can boast, and never seek to find in any other culture, remote in space or time, the things which we seem to miss in our own environment. If only this utopia of nationalism could be realized completely it would be self-sufficient; and there would be nothing on earth, in heaven, or in the waters over the earth which did not bear the authentic trademark of Megalopolis.
The picture of the National Utopia that I have drawn is perhaps a little too black to stand out clearly; and I must now add a few high lights for definition.
As in Coketown, there was a point up to which efficiency in mechanical production was a good thing, so in the national utopia there is a point up to which
uniformity is a good thing. The National State seems historically to have arisen in some part through the relief which the people of the Middle Age experienced in being able to travel under the protection of the King's law along the King's highway, and their discovery that common laws and customs, common weights and measures, were on the whole an advantage over a multitude of senseless irregularities which continued to exist in particular neighborhoods. It was a distinct triumph for the good life when the men of London and the men of Edinburgh, let us say, realized that they had something in common as citizens of a single country, and emphasized the likenesses which bound them as men rather than the antagonisms that separated them as cities. If the National State erected barriers of trade against other countries, it at any rate broke down barriers that had long existed in even more limited regions, and that have long continued to exist in certain cities in Italy and France. So much is to the good.
But uniformity is not a good in itself. It is a good only in so far as it promotes association and social intercourse. In breaking down minor barriers, the State created major ones, and it created national uniformities in regions where they were meaningless. Moreover, nationalism is inimical to cultural unity, and it perpetuates irrelevant conflicts in the Kingdom of the Spirit where there should be neither slave nor free, neither white nor black, neither citizen nor outlander. As a matter of fact, the two great international cultural vehicles of the Middle Agethe Latin Language and the Roman Churchwere broken down by the propagation of a National Language, that spoken at the National Capital, and a National Church, that
which was subservient to the State; and nothing that nationalism has done since has repaired this loss. On one hand, the idolum of the National State is too narrow, because the world of culture is man's common inheritance, and not the mere segment of it which is called "national literature" or "national science." And on the other hand, the idolum is too big, for the reason that there is no bond except a paper one between men who are as far apart as Bermondsey and Bombay, or New York and San Francisco. The temporal community, as Auguste Comte finely pointed out, is local, restricted, and multiform; this is its essential nature and limitation. The spiritual community is universal. It was a great cultural misdemeanor when the National Utopia, in its extension as imperialism, sought to make the spiritual community restricted and the temporal community universal; and it is this heresy to the good life which makes all the pretensions of the national utopia so shabby and insincere.
If Coketown and the Country House and the National Utopia had remained on paper, they would doubtless be entertaining and edifying contributions to our literature. Unfortunately, these social myths have been potent; they have given a pattern to our lives; and they are the source of a great many evils that threaten, like stinking weeds, to choke the good life in our communities. It is not because these myths are utopias that I have been criticizing them so assiduously; it is rather because they continue to work such wholesale damage. Hence it has seemed worth while to point out that they are on pretty much the same level of reality
as the Republic or Christianopolis. We may perhaps approach our social institutions a little more courageously when we realize how completely we ourselves have created them; and how, without our perpetual "will to believe" they would vanish like smoke in the wind.