Here Lies Some Great Hamsters

In its way, San Francisco’s turn against
graves provides a nice synopsis of the twentieth century, all the
forces of modern times pushing toward a single end. So, for example,
whatever politicians may have thought they governed, American cities
were actually driven, for much of the twentieth century, by the
juggernaut of city planners and public-health officers, their eyes
gleaming with visions of Tomorrowland’s immaculate metropolis. So, too,
the great engine of modern finance put enormous pressure on real estate—skyscrapers! bank towers! the downtown office!—in narrow urban spaces such as the Golden Gate peninsula.

For that matter, San Francisco was merely
echoing the twentieth century’s general conviction that the nineteenth
century had taken funerals far too seriously—the Edwardians’ general
belief that their Victorian parents had been a profoundly sick people:
as infatuated with displaying death as they were obsessed with hiding

Still, even the most ardent modernist might
feel some misgivings about a rejection of the dead as complete as San
Francisco’s. And such misgivings reflect, however dimly, a deep
political insight—for a city without cemeteries has failed at one of
the first reasons for having cities at all. Somewhere in those banished
graveyards was a metaphysical ground for politics, and buried in them
was a truth that too much of modern political theory seems to have
forgotten: The living give us crowds. The dead give us communities.

Death & Politics by Joseph Bottum