City lights

When the alien archeologists visit us, they’ll poke through the artifacts and conclude that ours was a society based around paradox.

As a simple example, we live in cities but do not design them for living. It is as if we were hiding our true intentions from ourselves, like a gambler trying to bluff his opponents.

Nor are our offices designed for comfort. Interestingly, our commutes are not, either… nor most of our homes. We design them with luxury in mind, and a check-list of must-have items, but the actual comfort level lags behind.

For example, a typical day involves sitting in a car for forty minutes. You suffer the outrageous conduct of your fellow humans, who can’t be bothered to (a) hang up and (b) pay attention. As a result, it takes longer and is more dangerous, but mostly boring, to get to work.

At work you go in through a lobby which is essentially dead space designed to insulate you from the crazy out there in the world. Then you take an elevator filled with the body smells of others to your floor, get out and go into an office or cubicle.

Bright light rains down upon you. Air conditioning dehydrates you. They crammed everyone else into the same tiny space, so germs constantly barrage you. Noise level is high. Interruptions are frequent. Hallways go past offices and people talk in them. You can’t hear yourself think.

When that gets too exciting, you go to a meeting. The chairs here are designed to put you to sleep. Instead of a spinal support, you get a modified La-Z-Boy, which tilts backward and slides you into unconsciousness. The room is stuffy, warm, humid or otherwise unaccomodating.

When you’re on the street in the city, you’re assaulted by constant noise. It smells like smoke, exhaust, grease, dirt and people everywhere you go. The air gels over the city. The streets have meaningless names and approximate a grid, which tells you nothing about where you need to go.

Even worse is the coercive nature of the city design. Streets are channeled to corral you between major destinations. Anything off track is forgotten. The designers valued density of people rather than efficiency. The result is constant crowds.

Some day, we may become tired of coercive utilitarian designs which benefit only the fictional average person. We may get sick of how unrelentingly ugly, dirty, scary and controlling the city is. We may even throw in the towel on our ugly and inhospitable workplaces.

We would instead demand places we want to be. But this would force us to step out from our hiding place, paradox. We would have to want to like our jobs, to enjoy our cities, and to deal with our fellow citizens. We don’t want this, because it decreases the power of our individual selves and our wants. The more we use the external to force ourselves to do things, the less we must think about them. We can space out, like back and enjoy it, and retreat into our own minds and focus on our own wants.

For us to actually enjoy life would require us to want to make something of life as a whole, instead of wanting a small segment of it that we control. We would need a type of gentleman’s agreement that we all work toward a healthy goal and stop wasting time.

We would also need to work together informally to remove incompetents and nasty people. This must be informal because to do it publicly and officially is paradoxical, since the incompetents and nasty people will simply flock to that agency in order to protect themselves. Officialdom is their domain.

Humans are easy to confuse. We have been fooled into thinking that defending our individual rights is our primary goal. Individual rights just break down the whole and make an island out of each of us. By demanding rights, we have denied our right to sensible whole. Even if rights make us “free.”

A sensible whole is a society that re-designs ugly into beauty, re-factors inefficient into efficient, selects the best humans and casts the rest aside, and in general rewards us with a public life that is sensible, enjoyable and interesting.

By focusing on the separable details and not the big picture, we have sacrificed this. So we wait in cars, decay in offices, calculate entropy at home, and pretend to care about football while we wait for mortality to whisk us away. But we’re free.

13 Comments

  1. Mihai says:

    These days, in my city, it snows like crazy. A very fast wind pulverizes snow all over the place. This results in many blocked of jammed road ways, piles of snow on the sidewalks which makes it difficult to walk etc.
    The people here are complaining about this “hard and difficult winter”, although until two days ago it was mostly dry, sunny, with a temperature between 4-8 degrees celsius during the day, and no less than -3 during the night.

    What does this have to do with anything this article says ?
    Well, my point is that living in a large, modern city, means, for the great majority, a trance-like existence. The comfort and “easy life” that our civilization prides itself with is no more than a facade. In reality, trying to make everything easy, comfortable, luxurious, “within hand’s reach” has led people to be completely cut-off from their environment, to be oblivious to anything else but their boring routine and the avenues they pass on their way form home to work, to feel not part of a unity, but a single unit in a place of many units, with no connection between them.

    Every effort, in our modern cities, has been put to make everything predictable, easy, mechanical so that a minimum of self-consciousness is required to actually go through your day without incident.
    Hence, when something EXTREMELY NORMAL, and usual happens (like the snow storm in the middle of winter that I just described), and people are forced to awaken from their drowsiness, because their normal routine is no longer feasible under these temporary conditions, they immediately find it unbearable, a veritable “hard nut to crack”.

    1. 1349 says:

      When a kid, i liked it very much when electricity switched off on the whole block due to a power network failure, especially in winter (a frequent situation in early post-USSR years).
      Or when water supply stopped for a couple of days.
      Some kind of adventure.

    2. Well, my point is that living in a large, modern city, means, for the great majority, a trance-like existence.

      I think this is a very good point. Life is easy; there is no need to really engage beyond the self. Hence it is like a trance, rote motions and no feedback from the world, like being in a dream…

    1. ferret says:

      Thanks for sharing. Great photos.

    2. The tool shed in those photos is going to collapse the moment a fat squirrel sits on it. Didn’t those people even ask anyone how to build a shed?
      It’s probably a normal, fictional-average-person-shed. And, as such, is actually designed to collapse, in much the same way as a fictional average person’s society is designed to do exactly the same thing.
      Still, the photos are a pleasant distraction, if you are able to ignore the butchered trees, being sold to finance the vast concrete-pour that is completely unnecessary, etc.
      No. These people are like the back-to-the-land hippies I used to hang out with, in the Bella Coola Valley, in my teen-age years.
      They all had enough money to not need to be pretending to be what they obviously weren’t. While I slept under a tree and shot squirrels with a .22, to survive another day, or two.
      Interesting site, this Beaver Brook. But I don’t know what it is.
      What is it?

      1. Ryan says:

        ah rodent meat, the meal of a WN hah! yo ho ho ho!

      2. ferret says:

        “Didn’t those people even ask anyone how to build a shed?”

        It’s not fair to critisize a small group of young guys about a tiny temporary shed while the rest of Americans are running termite farms for aestetic purpose. <;)

        1. crow says:

          What? WHAT???
          It’s not FAIR???
          I KNEW you were a leftist, with your ‘fairness’ and your little pointy face!
          That is no ‘temporary’ shed, with all the hardware and all the effort they put into it. They just did it all wrong, is all.
          It looks like something I built, once, before it fell down.
          And if you look closely, some of those young guys are young girls. I think.
          But, sadly, you are right. Sort-of.
          ‘Termite farms’ is horribly accurate.
          Nice crow-smiley, BTW.
          I forgive you.
          (:>

  2. Buck O says:

    You describe what you deem to be a bleak society, nearly every aspect of it. Could you to provide the revolutionary solution and plan for rebuilding our cities, homes, and offices. Thanks

    1. crow says:

      I think the idea is to leave the cities to expire by themselves, and diffuse out into the slowly recovering ecosystem.
      Offices? WTF? Even homes…
      Humans were designed to live in caves, huts, shelters, etc.
      Of course, this utopian fantasy is a long, long way off.
      But given the current decline, and the pace of it, maybe not so far off as we might think. Or wish for.

      Gotta resist this easy urge to simply redesign the environment that wrecked us, to be merely more aesthetic.

  3. Nicholas Marville says:

    Mihai is right.

    That said, I have a minor point to argue with. “The most competent must prevail and let’s discard the rest.” Hmm, but we have designed environments that direct us into protocols on how to interact with them. Therefore someone competent is someone conditioned to interact efficiently with such environments. It’s almost impossible to make a selection of competent people. Even if you have a 100% score on tests it only means that you memorized the stuff that your babyboomer testcreator thought important. If you pick a group of people with high grades then they identify themselves with the achievements of the system. Because that gives them self-esteem. However to be truly great one must be able to understand the faults in the system and to criticize it. But such an attitude makes it harder to rise in the ranks of the existing system. Einstein for example would have been discarded at an early stage because he sucked at many subjects.

    The only way to move forward with the selection of competent people, is to select persons who have developed an interest into a specific area even if their family is unconnected with it. For example, a son of a carpenter picked up the interest of being a pianist and played thousands of hours on the piano on elementary school.

    There are two ways of becoming famous/great/important.
    [1] Have a genious creative mindset that’s unique. Then invest tons of hours into honing your craft.
    [2] Have a fascination with your craft, in the sense that you take satisfaction from practicing it and never tire of it. Then, have some sort of network (your girlfriend owns a university, your mother possesses a museum) and get them to put your art/craft into public attention. The only thing that you must do then, is never tire in practicing your craft, and your environment will continue to push you, even if what you create is not truly excellent but instead mediocre.

    99% of all the current leading art/business/design/intellectualism is [2]. 1% is [1]. For example, few people knew Van Gogh until he died. Everyone knew average artists that nobody knows about today.

    On a sidenote, there’s two ways to make an ideology big.
    [I] Common Enemy. You create a common enemy, and blaim things upon the common enemy. Mankind unites infinitely faster in a desire for war, than it ever does in an effort for peace. The enemy of my enemy is my friend and this creates unity. Also people have something external to focus their rage on.
    [2] Abstract Processes. Ideologies that ascribe the workings of the world to abstract processes, have the advantage that everything can be explained by them. For example: “It’s God’s doing, but God is omniscient and we’re not, so we don’t understand it. But rest assured it’s God’s will.” This allows one to rest assured that somehow a higher process is at work which will make sure that everything will be alright: “Jesus watches over you.” Or: “All of this degeneracy is a symptom of the decline of capitalism and eventually the proletariat will revolt and things will be made alright” (Marx).

  4. EvilBuzzard says:

    It reminds me of how Oswald Spengler viewed the megalopolis. It is an endpoint to a society. The sign that the culture is no longer generative of the civilization. When the cities look ugly, dysfunctional; that is a leading indicator of what will happen to the society as a whole.

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