Farmers & Explorers

4 12 2007

When young, we’re given to dualities. Good/evil. Right/wrong. Beautiful/ugly. Smart/dumb. Jock/nerd. Taurus/LeBaron.

We later concede that the truth is to be found somewhere in the middle — if it is to be found anywhere at all. But one duality still sticks in my mind as especially pertinent to this time in our lives. I remember thinking of it early in college, when the world was sky and thoughts were uniformly epic. It seemed back then, as it does now, that civilization is built on two archetypes: the explorer and the farmer.

One pushes out, giving texture and color to the previously nebulous. His is the life of bravery and wonder. The other provides, trading expansionist aspiration for communication with the earth. One sees life ahead, the other sees it under his feet.

It’s important to note that neither takes a precedence over the other. Certainly, the farmer runs out of land and the people run out of resources, and thus submits to the explorer’s talents. It is his charge to move forward, to discover something new and fertile.

But without the farmer, what good is exploration? Jumping from piece of land to piece of land is a way of life for some — the Bedouins still manage to do so — but it’s the anti-civilization, as civilization’s very essence rests on a sustainable, permanent location. Even in modern life, even for the most avid of adventurers, adventure is a practice whose allure comes in its deviation from the norm.

And as we’re confronted with endless choices about the direction in which we want to steer our lives, I like the idea that modern life has given us the opportunity to be both.

The world’s been pretty much mapped out — although my buddy Matt studied geography at Macalester, presumably to be a cartographer — so our exploration needs to seek new destinations. But the frontiers remain. The brain, for example. Human interaction is another one, especially when conducted by new technologies.

That’s why I think new media, even including the blogosphere, is a pretty cool thing — as it rolls on, we have access to a volume of information that we never had before. Although most of it isn’t pioneering, some of it is.

That pioneering stuff is where the intersection of new exploration and new farming occurs. By creating virtually without limitations, we expand and expand. Our land stays fertile. And for a society bent on being up-to-date, these words are food.

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