A Non-Ideological Conflict That Threads Thru All American History: Rural vs. Urban

Humans Don't "Make" Food, It Makes Itself

Agriculture, including meat and dairy production, is an activity that, in it's purest form, requires no human labor whatsoever. Sure, food processing involves humans, but turning seeds into food really is an act of nature. Animals, with no human influence whatsoever, eat, give birth, produce milk and grow fat.

The number of people required to produce our food started at a very high number 10,000 years ago and has been going down ever since. There is absolutely no reason why technology couldn't ultimately reduce it to zero. And, importantly, the food processing that does require some human input has taken place in cities since the spread of the railroad.

It is a biological fact that if humans want to survive, they should live where food, water, and shelter are available. This is not a moral or normative "should" but a biological reality.

You want food? Then you want a job.

In a capitalist economy based on money the availability of food, water, and shelter is synonymous with the availability of employment. We created that world, we could change it, but we don't appear likely to anytime soon.

Introduce the fact that the number of jobs created by agriculture has been declining toward zero since the dawn of civilization and the clear conclusion is that over time, a higher and higher percentage of humans should live in cities. Again, this is not a normative "should", but a matter of survival.

In The Land Before Jobs...

But 10,000 years is not a lot of time for genetic evolution. Yes, many adults have evolved the ability to digest cows' milk, but the vast majority of our propensities are those of hunter-gathers, a way of life that defined hominid existence for millions of years. For hunter-gathers, food, water, and shelter are not synonymous with employment. For hunter-gathers, food, water, and shelter are synonymous with territory or land. If a tribe of hunter-gathers has access to land full of bison and blueberries, that tribe survives.

Thus, we are genetically predisposed to become deeply attached to the land we live on. For millions of years this attachment was not-just evolutionarily adaptive, it was evolutionarily required. It could not have been otherwise.


And so comes the tension that has been a major theme of American political history: people should move to the cites, but they don't want to, and even urbanites have a deeply felt sense that maybe they shouldn't have to. Nonetheless, urban folks don't want to send endless amounts of money to support rural folks who chose not to move where the jobs are. And urban folks definitely don't like it when rural folks demand a society that reflects an outdated agrarian ideal, especially the way that ideal prominently features the violent theft of the labor of African Americans.

And so the urban v. rural conflict rages on. It has frequently featured the democratic masses pitted against a motivated minority, but what has confused the elites in academia and the press (two groups that are more removed from the actual substance of democracy than they realize) is that the people embodying these interests have shifted dramatically over time, and, even more importantly, they have formed coalitions with radically different interests over the past 400 or so years. Witness the never ending confusion over the definition of "populism".

Detangling this mess requires the rejection of "ideology" as a useful tool of analysis.