Discover more from From The Forests of Arduinna
The village and the city
And upcoming appearances
Yesterday, I made the journey into the city to meet my sister for dinner.
It’s fascinating to me how rural I’ve become. It’s been three and a half years since I moved to this small village in this small country, and my sense of scale has utterly changed. The city feels so big and sometimes so overwhelming, and traveling to it can feel quite epic. But for context, the “city” has only about 300,000 people during the day, and diminishes to 100,000 by 7pm once all les frontaliers1 have gone home from work.
I really do love visiting the city, despite how loud it can be. Especially, I adore watching people, observing their movements, imagining what their lives must be like, making guesses about what their jobs are, where they live, and where they’re from.
Only half of the 600,000 permanent residents of Luxembourg were actually born here; the rest, like me, are immigrants. Most were drawn here for work, as even a public toilet attendant or a construction worker makes more than many workers in the rest of Europe. Multiple waves of Portuguese immigrants, especially, compose the actual class of people working with their hands, doing service, construction, and diminishing factory work. There are also sizable populations of refugees, especially from Syria though also increasingly from Ukraine. That latter group isn’t necessarily what you’d think of as your average “refugee,” though, as many of them are quite wealthy. They’re the ones who could afford to pay their ways out of the mandatory war conscription, and who also had the money to buy million-euro houses without taking out loans.
All these groups seem to blend into each other in the city, and it’s hard to identify class just by dress or mannerisms. All public transit is free in this country, so you’ll see a cleaning lady from Portugal and a lawyer from France sitting next to each other on a tram without any sense of tension. The real class differences only start showing when the tram ride is over and each returns to their respective homes, as rents and property prices here are as out of control as San Francisco or Seattle.
I sat next to a roofer going on my journey to the city, and then next to a woman whom I suspect worked in banking on my way back. In the city itself, I was surrounded by people whose incomes and professions were even more varied, all walking through the same spaces, getting their groceries at the same stores, and taking the same trams together.
Watching them, I kept asking myself the question I wish anyone who considers themselves “left” would ask themselves more often: how would you convince all these wildly varying people — from wildly varying backgrounds and with wildly different material conditions — to commit to changing things together?
Leftism has been a bit of an unfunny joke for decades now, and it’s becoming even less serious and more embarrassingly risible in the previous few years. Imagine, for example, trying to explain family abolition or declarative gender to the varied workers on the streets of any city in the world right now. Imagine telling the poorer people returning to their high crime neighborhoods that they don’t need police or prisons, or explaining to sanitation workers that abolishing the cisheteropatriarchy will make their lives utopian.
Maybe I’ve lived too long in this small village, but it’s really hard to see how any of this would mean anything to them.
In fact, though, we’re all living in virtual villages now, but without any of the physical things which make village life meaningful. Or perhaps better said, virtual cloisters, but without the contemplative practices which make such places sacred. Few of the grand new theories of the left are rooted in anything material. It’s as if we’ve decided a revolution can be grown hydroponically, under the same artificial light which illuminates our screens, or formed from chimeric tissue stirred in unseen vats. No dirty soil, no pulsing blood: only Gnostic fantasies of transcendence over the messy flesh and earth of actually-lived lives.
Here Be Monsters: How To Fight Capitalism Instead of Each Other comes out in four more days. Reading how already some “leftists” are quite angry the book is even being published makes it difficult to even look forward to that day.
But on mornings where the cold night air mixes with the early warmth of the day, bringing to my nostrils the scent of nearby forests, cow dung, and the perfume of my garden, I’m hopeful it might help change things. And after that evening visiting my sister in the city, surrounded by the people for whom the left once tried to fight, that hope persists.
If you’re in the US and have not yet pre-ordered a copy, you can get 25% off at Barnes & Noble (you have to be a “rewards member”) until the end of the day today (8 September). Here’s the link for that.
I’ll be appearing at Hoxton Books, London, on 22 September at 6pm. Come say hi if you’re in London.
On Sunday, 24 September, I’ll be on RuneSoup for a live online event (you can ask questions in the chat). You can set a reminder on YouTube at this link.
I’ll also be appearing on the It’s Not Just In Your Head podcast — the recording is next week, and I will share the link to the episode when they publish it.
Workers who commute into Luxembourg from Belgium, France, and Germany to take advantage of the very high wages here and the lower cost of living in those other countries.