Rural Flight

By: Peter Goodchild

How is it possible that overpopulation and depopulation are both causing so much trouble? You’d think that one cancels out the other, but even Wikipedia (not the most brilliant source of ideas) says that’s not the case. In fact, if you think about it, the two have almost similar effects, which might be summarized as social breakdown — crime, corruption, etc.

I suppose it could be said that the “proximal cause” of the breakdown in both cases is poverty — poverty in a downtown slum and poverty down a dirt road are both poverty, and both have the same final results — the occasional break-in, the occasional ten-day drinking session.

You would think the answer is some sort of “agrarian revival.” Get people to start growing their own vegetables, milking their own goats, say goodbye to slavery to the corporations. But it doesn’t happen. I guess it’s a better deal to drive 50 miles to a cheap supermarket than to support a small farmer’s market — my neighbors in central Ontario were certainly happy to drive past my market garden and spend a fortune in gas getting to a place that had air conditioning and those nice metal carts with tiny wheels that go in four different directions. 

They’ll never get out of that mental world. Their parents grew up on farms, so they themselves want to be part of Modern Society. They just don’t know that Modern Society came to an end by 1970 if not earlier. Besides, their pimply bad-tempered kids are dying to get out of high school and go to the big city to work in department stores, like normal civilized people, and they regard their rural mud patches as an immense embarrassment that will delay their loss of virginity until they’re 14 years old.

Most mud people just see boarded-up stores on the main drag, or “For Sale” signs that accomplish nothing. They know that people with strange license plates won’t even slow down long enough to buy a pack of cigarettes. They suspect they’re the only town in all of Canada that has never been visited by a single tourist. They want to be “on the map.” They dream of getting the federal government to put up a skyscraper and give everyone jobs in the Ministry of Dormant Files.

It would be possible for a rural revival to succeed, but only if everyone in a community worked together. But that is exactly what will never happen. There’s only one thing that rural families hate more than newcomers, and that’s other rural families that have been living in that village for generations. In fact, without TV there’d be nothing to live for, whether you’re in Toronto or in Beaver Narrows.

About the author: Peter Goodchild is the author of ‘Survival Skills of the North American Indians’ (Chicago Review Press). Click here to mail him.