The survey abstracted reality. Its standardized treatment of land overwhelmed the particularities of place. It promoted land fraud, speculation, and exploitation across the continent. For generations, it encouraged the adoption of the hard utilitarian view of land as commodity, rather than (in Johnson's words) "a common good under the stewardship of its owners" or (in Aldo Leopold's words) "a community to which we belong."

The land survey magnified and deepened the distinction between public and private land, and hence between public and private interest in the use of land. For our inability to bring into harmony these interests not to mention the interests of the prior inhabitants, future generations, and other species we continue to pay mightily. "Too much rectilinearity, tied to efficiency, in our daily environment has been an American misfortune," Hildegard Binder Johnson concluded. The grid, of course, did not breathe these forces into being. Economic doctrines, land policies, and traditions of faith, philosophy, commerce, and science contributed as much, if not more, over many centuries. But the grid did give these forces exceptional opportunity to express themselves.

We inherit a grid that is simultaneously real and metaphorical. It has shaped materially our system of land use and our way of thinking about land - about the natural, the wild, the humanized, the civilized. It holds our memories and our lives and our plans. At the same time, it signifies our adherence to, and the imposition of, an abstract construction of the human mind. We have looked to the lines first, not to the land upon which the lines were laid. In this light, we can see that one of the functions of an evolving land ethic is to help us now to read in between - and across - the lines. (201-202)

Correction Lines: Essays on Land, Leopold, and Conservation (2004)
Curt Meine