1950s London: Human-Powered Pushcarts (May 29, 2010)
We tend to forget that "wealthy" "advanced" cities as recently as the 1950s featured nattily attired workers moving goods by their own muscle power.
Correspondent John R. C. submitted a fascinating set of photos from 1950s London (U.K.) and an incisive commentary on the "politics of experience" revealed by the photos.
A key part of the integrated understanding I tried to lay out in Survival+ is the politics of experience, but which I mean the hidden assumptions and structures which we take for granted in everyday experience which reflect core political and financial beliefs and the complex systems which support those beliefs.
One way to understand what I mean by the politics of experience is to explore how the past is a lost land to the present. Studying photos, advertisements, magazines and private correspondence offers windows into the past, but it is no easy thing to reconstruct the entire worldview of those who lived "in the present" at that time.
Thus people who were born after 1970 cannot grasp the "lived" worldview of politics, energy, media, etc. which made up "the 1960s" and the counterculture.
This is why so many people have violently negative responses to my work when I present a future with positive features. Few people can imagine anything beyond what they experience now, and what they have been brainwashed into "believing" by films and visual media.
Thus a "doom and gloom" future featuring roving mobs of desperate, starving, heavily armed and exceedingly ruthless urbanites who must be cut down with one's own arsenal (as per Rambo and countless other depictions of one-sided horrifically violent combat) is easily imagined by "doom and gloomers" because they have watched such scenarios so many times that this "future history" seems not just plausible but inevitable.
The idea that there might be alternative, slightly more positive and considerably less bloody futures strikes them as "dangerous" lunacy.
Meanwhile, to those who have read deeply of urban history, and of great cities with populations numbering in the hundreds of thousands which thrived without any fossil fuels at all--cities such as the capital of Tang China in the 800s, Ayuttaya in central Thailand in the 1500s and Paris in the early 1600s, to name but a few--the notion that huge populations must turn to machine-gunning each other down for the last few cans of green beans reflect a dangerously limited politics of experience.
Turning now to 1950s London: what John R. C. discusses is a wide spectrum of transport similar to 1905 San Francisco which I highlighted in 1905 San Francisco: Great City, Low Energy Consumption (April 24, 2010).
We have replaced that spectrum with an auto-centric monoculture, and in doing so we have greatly increased our vulnerability, just as planting one variety of grain has increased the probabilities of widespread blight and crop failure.
The present-day politics of experience is impoverished in so many profound ways. We have collectively lost the ability to imagine a positive "present" without a vast, remorselessly profligate, wasteful and destructive system constructed of financial and physical pathologies.
Here is John's excellent commentary:
Lynn M’s article ( The Generation Gap and "Old" Austin, Texas) reminded me exactly of a set of photographs taken in the late 1950’s in London, a few of which are attached.
The most striking thing is how much traffic there was on foot, and as Lynn M. pointed out, how men were pushing barrows and carts as a normal part of their working lives and with obvious dignity, many of whom would wear a tie every day as a matter of course. The attached picture ‘Bow Street and Covent Garden’ from the late ‘50’s epitomizes this. I can look at that picture for a minute or two and reflect on what it is saying, and seeing the way the men are working somehow brings a sense of shame to me about the undignified way we often lead our modern-day ‘convenience’ driven and automobile dependent lives.
I can respect a man who plies his trade pushing an ice-cream cart up and down the hills of Austin, TX, day in day out, or one who pushes loads to and fro at the fruit and vegetable market or one who works at a fish stall like Tubby Isaacs selling people’s daily foodstuffs. But I couldn’t give that same level of respect to a stretch limo driver of today.
Thank you, John R. C. for a deeply insightful commentary and archival links.
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