Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Between the wars 'Impure Manhattan' & involuntary inclusivity

The Era of High Modernity, while it really only lasted one lifespan (from 1875 to 1965), was uniquely notable as the period when virtually all of the most powerful people in the world (middle class, well educated urban dwellers of the biggest civilizations) held a decidedly dire Manichean take on Reality.

One of Modernity's leading lights, Baron Howard Florey, was fully typical in frankly preferring things to always be 'clearcut'.

Reality cut in two distinct binary opposed bits, as if by a sharp crystal diamond.

Normal vs Deviant, Clean vs Dirty, Synthetic vs Natural, Pure vs Mixed, Man vs Mother Nature, White vs Colored, Native born vs Foreigners, Man vs Women, Worthy of Life vs Unworthy of Life : above all, Us vs Them.

Your social and ethnic enclave kept well away from my social and ethnic enclave ----- and vice versa.

Manhattan was like that before, during and after the inter-war period : I use enclave rather than ghetto because few people call the Upper East Side a ghetto, except tongue in cheek.

Donald J Trump's father was a big part of that attempt to keep white middle class Manhattan well apart from its other bits.

'Old Man Trump', as Wood Guthrie always referred to him in his protest songs , was a former 1920s KKK rioter and a well known excluder of Negroes and other 'unwanteds' out of his rental properties.

In the end, inclusivity and commensality, involuntary or not, trumped Trump exclusivity

But my point is, despite the ernest intentions of all concerned, people and ideas refused to stay in their separate little worlds.

Not in a modern densely populated city where people had to daily leave their own little enclaves to work, shop, go to school or hospital and to be entertained -- mingling in shops, on ball park benches, walking along each other on sidewalks or seated together in subways.

And not when the culture and ideas of other enclaves assaulted you daily in your living rooms and bedrooms - invaded via the radio and the illustrated print media.

Everybody was involuntarily and unwillingly dependent on everybody else and living so cheek to jowl, it was a form of involuntary collective commensality.

Manhattan the human Rhizosphere

Many Modernists felt this constant close interaction between ethnic enclaves  in Manhattan was a surefire way for it to fail --- but others (then & now) credit for making Manhattan the world's number one most productive global city.

Rather like the extraordinary productivity thrown up by any tightly crowded & wildly varied little microbial community, whether it be in a human gut and oral cavities or in the rhizosphere in the soil around plant roots.

Competing furiously but also involuntary dependent on each other.

I deliberately call Manhattan a rhizosphere (the microbe-filled soil immediately around plant roots) to emphasize that despite the enormous size difference between the big tree and the tiny bacteria in this relationship, they both need each other to flourish.

'Impure Penicillin' could only have happened where it did and when it did

In that period between the wars, Manhattan-based Dr Henry Dawson and his co-worker Dr Gladys Hobby specialized in studying the crowded microbial community in that 'enclave of enclaves' the human oral cavity.

Dawson had previously worked at Manhattan's Rockefeller Hospital where the world's seriously ill elites came in a great panic when their 'top dog' immune system was struck down by Life's smallest weakest beings : Dawson early on learned again the power of David over Goliath in biological asymmetric warfare.

If they came to appreciate how sophisticated the enclaves' survival methods really were and how co-dependent each species was on each other, if might be because they already knew how truly world-class productive was the crowded little highly 'impure' city that they worked and lived in ...

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