The idea of escaping from the city to the countryside, from urban turmoil to peace disturbed only by cicadas, is as old as the city itself. Ecclesiastes already preached that the city was the seat of iniquity and injustice, and in Greece, starting in the fourth century BC, the philosophical schools of separation relaxed or directly broke ties with the polis. Among the first Christians appeared the hesychasts, hermits who found their ideal of moral perfection in the caves of the desert and who were bewildered by society, both civil and ecclesiastical.
Nothing new, then. The city, whether ancient or modern, is a jungle of interests, the struggle for survival is the structure of its encounters, relationships are utilitarian and its break with nature has become definitive.
But humanity has followed that course and surely has done so with good reason. Not everything is alienation and traffic. However, this course has been acquiring new qualities and characteristics over time. For example, in the middle of the 20th century in Spain, the great movements of internal migration took place between the towns and the provincial capitals, where the industry of the years of developmentalism was based. That was the case until the 1990s, when the movement was reoriented to the big cities, when the children of the former emigrants from the provinces decided to do the same as their parents, but with a greater objective. From the urbanization of the 19th and 20th centuries we have moved on to what is known as metropolization. In 2018, according to the National Institute of Statistics, these migrations had already doubled the number of those that occurred in the 1990s.
We mentioned the reasons why humanity, mistaken or not, has followed the course of urbanization and now of metropolization. The economic and material attractions – security, health, education – that undoubtedly always contribute to elections are not underestimated. But are not the only ones.
In a culture where personal development, education and the search for talent and the transmission of information have become factors of individual and collective identity, as well as factors of richness for the consideration that subjects have of themselves, the city or, rather, the metropolis has an incomparable offer, whether it is compared with rural culture or with the provincial capitals.
Certainly, the inequalities produced by the metropolis and the difficulty of survival for the lower economic echelons are obstacles on the way to these or other purposes. The city is tough and implies the acceptance of rules of the game synthesized in the winner/loser polarity, so American and so disgusting. In other words, the city is liveable, but only if you have money. Without money, what is inhabited is a limbo of work and isolation (or overcrowding).
This harshness is what explains the movements – on the other hand, quite residual and until now insignificant – of migration in the opposite direction, from the metropolis to the countryside. While they are quantitatively marginal, they have nonetheless reinforced a feeling, and a fairly generalized ideology – even among those who live in the metropolis – of the existential poverty of life in the city. This ideological value, and not so much political, since politics remains indifferent to such proposals, is what seems not only debatable, but also extremely reactive. The city is the object of hatred and the alternative is only its consequence. But that is another topic.
To the existential and social defects that the city has, the rural ideology, to call it in some way, opposes the relationship with nature, a life freed from the chains of production and the productive hierarchy, as well as from the consumerist bombardment that has fact of simple consumer citizens –or rather, citizens as consumers–, an adjustment between the needs and the effort necessary to satisfy them, and ultimately, a life in community, that is, within a knowable social group, with palpable bonds, charged with human authenticity.
In other words, the aim is to liberate the social and economic pressure that the urban habitat systematically exerts, replaced by a system in which the individual is freer and can choose in a less coercive way.
To put it without further delay, that does not exist in the Spanish rural world. Nor can it be achieved under the current circumstances. Social pressure in this environment is governed by religious morality –regardless of whether individuals are practitioners or not– and by a system of habits and customs that aspires to be immutable over time. The novelty, including novel human beings, with all its panoply of variants, does not fit within an anti-modern model, completely turning its back on what constitutes the essence of civility: movement and the display of energy, whose objective is the transformation of matter in possibility.
The Spanish countryside is the product of several ingredients that, in different proportions, have been mixed throughout its existence, among which stand out extreme poverty, ultramontane Catholicism accompanied by a reactionary ideology, and the stubbornness in the face of progress that was not merely economic. The result is that this world, as Machado has already sentenced, “despises what it ignores.” And he behaves with all belligerence against any openness in his value system or to novelty. It is simply stubborn.
Unlike the French rural environment, historically occupied by the bourgeoisie and its liberal modus operandi, which produced an enlightened rurality and a historical and real alternative to life in the city, Spain has been a place hardened by misery, moral to politics, through everyday life.
The emptied Spain is the Spain that was emptied not only for economic and material reasons, but also because its environment was unbreathable and social pressure, unsustainable for anyone with a minimum of sensitivity or curiosity. No one has tried to rebuild the Spanish countryside simply because no one wants to rebuild it, since no one wants to go back to that. To that or to that, because nothing has changed, except a few electronic gadgets that shine among the ruins.
One of the modalities of the insignificant return to the countryside in our country are the so-called groups of happy hippies, which work with different degrees of community within a group of friends or acquaintances who provide themselves with their own resources, such as school or health. Apart from the fact that they live within hostile territory, the city takes you, as Cavafis wrote, wherever you go. As with the communes of the 1960s, the danger of implosion is high. This too is another topic.
Anyway, all this reminds you of Holden Caulfield’s dream in The Catcher in the Ryein which he saw himself trying to save some children who were playing in a field of rye that on its edge hid a precipice.
I do not believe that this article is going to save anyone from the Spanish rural precipice. At best, I hope it encourages the conviction that the fight against social injustice, if there is one, will be fought on the asphalt and not on the fallow fields.