Recently, in reading Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, I’ve come across three concepts that would seem to have relevance to the Cornish predicament.
The first is the idea of ‘sacrifice zones’. These are areas destroyed for the greater good of economic ‘progress’. Especially vulnerable are peripheries ‘harnessed to feed a glittering centre’. It strikes me we have two types of sacrifice zone in Cornwall however.
The first type is located in our coastal and countryside areas. These are harnessed in the interests of the wealthier elements of the centre to provide them with a leisure zone and bolt-hole, and to feed their demand for second homes, holidays and retirement. But as local people are displaced, unable to afford the spiralling housing costs, they have to seek shelter in the second type of sacrifice zone.
This is found in and around our inland towns. While the landscape in the first sacrifice zone is protected via AONBs and other conservation designations, the landscape in the second type has to be used to build greater and greater numbers of houses and associated infrastructure. This is both to meet demand from the somewhat less wealthy who want to live in Cornwall but can’t afford to move directly to the first type of zone and to meet the local need for relatively cheaper housing.
The second useful concept comes from an Australian professor, Glenn Albrecht. He’s coined the term ‘solastalgia’. This nicely sums up the response of the people who live in these sacrifice zones. They gain some solace from nostalgia, as in the search for family roots and an abiding, even obsessive and pathological, interest in the old times, when things appeared with hindsight to be somehow simpler and more secure.
Solastalgia is a way of coping with the ‘psychological distress’ caused ‘when the homelands that are loved and from which we take comfort are radically altered … rendering them alienating and unfamiliar.’ Anyone who grew up in a Cornish town has only to walk to the outskirts (or to the town centre for that matter) to experience this. It’s ‘the homesickness you have when you are still at home’. When our roots are ripped up in front of us, most of us take refuge in some degree of solastalgia, if only to avoid a permanent state of the sort of anger that might tempt us to vote for Ukip.
Finally, bound up with sacrifice zones is the attitude of those in the centre to the peoples who they displace. In short, they are forced to assume attitudes of racial and cultural superiority. Complaints from those on the receiving end are summarily dismissed or ignored. Their actions can be justified only by assuming that the cultures being replaced ‘count so little that they are considered deserved of sacrifice’.
This might go some way to explain the splendid mix of embarrassed puzzlement, painfully affected ‘humour’, splenetic outrage, arrogant rejection and downright racism that are provoked by even mild demands for equal treatment from Cornwall. (As in the response in the comments in the supposedly liberal Guardian when it reported MK’s demand for a party political broadcast.)
Those who have faith that there are no limits to ‘growth’ and no barriers to their own life satisfaction or personal comfort tend to think there is no place they can’t go in pursuit of it. But where are we supposed to go?