the fable of the Tower of Babel, the permanent warning againstrnthe presumption and follies of men who turn from landscaperngardening to high-rise construction “whose top may reach tornhea’en.” Not content with subduing the earth, with shapingrnand “dressing” it, “now nothing will be restrained from them,rnwhich thev have imagined to do.” The punishment, then andrnnow, is confusion, not merely in the sense that we do notrnunderstand each other, but in the deeper sense that we do notrnunderstand ourselves.rnSometimes it takes a city to teach us about the country—it isrnno accident, for example, that pastoral poetry is cultivated byrnpeople undergoing urbanization. I was living in San Franciscornin 1969 and spent much of mv time wandering about on therncliffs b’ the Legion of Honor Museum, imagining the voices ofrnthe seals who were no longer there. Downtown I went to see arnnew cathedral—all glass and concrete—and it was there that Irnrealized, nonbclicvcr though I was, that man cannot properlvrnexpress any of his aspirations except in natural materials that reflectrnhis landscape.rnI was not, I hope, falling into the foolish idiom of art theoristsrnlike Vincent Scully who reduce architecture to something likernan excretion of local landscape, because some of our landscapernwe have been earrving around with us since Eden. As bizarre asrnEnglish-stvle Greek-revival architecture might seem on thernbanks of the Mississippi, both England and Greece were part ofrnthe mental uni’erse of Southern planters. But man-madernmaterials—ferro-concrete, glass, plastic—are mere reflectionsrnof our own imaginations, and the more “imaginative” thernmaterial, the less we are constrained by the physical andrnmathematical laws that determine our sense of beauty (asrnexplained in On Growth and Form by the classically trainedrnbiologist D’Arcy Thompson).rnThings made from plastics can reflect only our self-conceit,rnour vain desire to liberate ourselves from the laws of our ownrnnature, including the law of death. It is no accident that thernplasties industry is the faithful servant of American consumption,rnthe force that subverts all traditions—moral and political,rnas well as aesthetic—in its drive to reconnect humanity—di-rnided since Babel—in one universal libido. This is the onlyrnworld order that really counts, and the good news is that we arernalready choking to death like the greedy Viking in the folktale.rnThe last time I allowed myself to think of these things, I wasrnin Genoa, a monument to the follies and corruption ofrnmismanagement. The ancient alleys, haunted by Tunisianrndrug dealers, stink of things worse than the merely human excretionsrnthev have been accumulating for centuries. The pollutedrnharbor is virtuallv empty of ships, because of the highrnprices imposed bv labor unions with the connivance of government.rnYet all around are the relies of wealth and beautv fromrnthe time when Genoa was a proud mercantile capital of thernMediterranean, rivaled only by Venice. Golumbus came fromrnGenoa and must have imparted some of its pride and some ofrnits lo’e of wealth to the New Wodd. In our beginning is ourrnend—onlv we shall leave behind so much less that is worth preserving.rnIn Genoa I spent several hours talking with Pier Luigi Zampetti,rnsome of whose political views I have previously discussed.rnHis book La Sfida Del Duemila (Rusconi, 1988) takes up therncrisis of democraev—and Zampetti is a highly original advocaternof participatory democraev—but from a distinctly moralrnpoint of ‘iew that includes the great question of the en’ironment.rnFor Zampetti, materialism is the obvious culprit, responsiblernfor our spiritual malaise as well as environmental catastrophe,rnand although he is staunchly antisocialist, he sees capitalism asrnthe primary vector of the disease:rnMaterialism has become the dominant philosophy bothrnin the West and in the East…. Capitalism, as we know,rnis the economic system of the entire contemporaryrnwodd. East and West are worids bound by capitalisticrnsystems, even if of different types. But, how is man consideredrnin these svstems? Can he express himself, his freernand responsible choices; in other words is he considered arnperson? Not even in a dream.rnWe are no longer properly “persons” because Cartesian dualismrnhas led us to consider ourscKes objectively. “Man is consideredrnan object, not as the subject of the system of economicrnproduction” to the extent that others make his economic (andrnsocial) decisions for him. If we are no longer persons, we havernsunk to the level of the mere individuals so dear to the hearts (ifrnit is fair to sav that they have hearts) of economists:rnThe consideration of man as object instead of subject.. .rnmeans the exclusion of the conception of man as a beingrnconstituted by the integration of the spiritual force andrnthe material or bodily force. We call “the individual” thernman in whom spirit and matter are separated. We callrn”person” the man in whom the two forces arc integrated.rnMan can be considered an object only in the first case,rnnot in the second.rnCapitalism per se is not evil, he says, but it provides the conditionsrnthat facilitate the descent from person to individual:rnIndividualism does not necessarily lead to the predominancernof matter, in relations between the wodd of thernspirit and the wodd of matter. In eady capitalism, thernphenomenon was not yet manifested, or if it was, it camernabout in an indirect manner. The economy was only arnpart of society, and in this phase man was treated onlyrnoccasionally as object. In any case, the exercise of libertyrnwas always possible, and therefore choices in many sectorsrnof the economic world, especially in the world ofrnconsumption based on the law of supply and demand.rnFor such reasons, in the individualistic conception thernspiritual force and the material coexisted, and one couldrnnot speak of a primacv of the second over the first. Capitalism,rntherefore, as an historical phenomenon, did notrnhave to issue, necessarily, in a materialistic conception ofrnlife . . . [but] the event was possible and could not be exeluded.rnAnd this possibility was owing to the individualisticrnand no longer personalist conception of modernrnthought.rnThis possibility was not arrived at until the last phase of capitalism,rnwhich he calls consumismo, a term with a broader significancernthan the American term “consumerism,” whichrnmeans little more than “shop ’til you drop.” Consumismo, onrnthe other hand, implies an entire way of life defined by gettingrnand spending as the ultimate activities. The advertising jinglernthat comes closest is a billboard I once saw: “Shop like yournJUNE 1996/11rnrnrn