Erich Fromm and the hill that was

I do like owning a lot of books. When friends come over and we get discussing novels, I end up throwing a few in their direction to take away and read. I have a small shelf of “absolutely must keep”, while the rest (several bookcases) are in flux. Currently my library is at about 50/50, which is to say around half of them I’ve read. I’ve instituted a new scheme with the unread books: They have until the end of the year to demonstrate their worth, or I’ll be passing them on.

To this end I picked up “To Have or To Be?” by Erich Fromm from my shelf of “To Be Read”. This ended up in my library as a gift from a friend, which in turn was a gift to her. When I’ve finished it, I’ll pass it on.

The theme of the book instantly resonates. But today I want to share this line from the introduction, which just happens to be something I’ve been thinking about recently:

…we have tried to solve out existential problem by giving up the Messianic vision of harmony between humankind and nature by conquering nature, by transforming it to our own purposes until the conquest has become more and more equivalent to destruction.

Near where my parents live is a block of land that for the last five years has been a rolling hill covered in grass. It is now up for development, and I’ve watched it over the last few months be heavily excavated. When I saw it a few days ago, the hill had been transformed. It was stepped, such that houses could be built on it. The steps had been shored up with stone walls, and soon eveless suburban boxes will roll off the developers’ blueprints and onto the land.

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Rather making a house to suit the land, the developer wants to change the land to suit the house. I’m not a builder, but I do wonder what the lifespan of a house is that has been built on a newly disturbed hill, sliced apart because its gradient didn’t suit.

What would happen instead if we asked the hill what sort of house would it prefer to be built on it? What sort of shift in our psyche would be achieved (or be needed) to change our dwellings to suit the land, rather than shape the land to suit our dwellings?

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