Urbanism and the Broken Spirit of Man

IndustrialDuring the day, I hurriedly finish tasks so I can free up time for something else only to find myself rushing through that. I feel rushed. I notice this phenomena all around me. It permeates through everything.

As I drive from work to my house, I notice how hurried I am. I cannot get out of my car fast enough; I cannot get to my destination fast enough. I feel more aggressive in my car and traffic only worsens these feelings. When I do reach my destination, I feel drained from the experience. I need to defuse. I sense that others deal with this far worse than I do myself. A few days ago a couple of Hispanic men ran me off the road and as they passed by they proceeded to smile at me (while flashing money at me for some reason). Not a day goes by that I am not honked at for not moving immediately once the light turns green. Even if I cannot, I am still honked at forcefully. I may get a derogatory sign, like the finger, because I am not going the satisfactory speed of those behind me. Usually, I would think “Tough luck, pal” but as people are getting shot and attacked for not submitting to others on the road (Here and Here) it’s best to be accommodating and move out of the way. But this leaves me sad and slighted; I want to defend myself and confront these people lest my dignity evaporate. People will say “Yes, but you must pick and choose your battles.” In a world descending into madness, a person no longer has this option. Letting others do as they please lest they burst into spontaneous rage and kill you seems like the only sensible thing to do; however, it leaves one always questioning whether they have any courage. That can hurt, especially if you’re a man.

Inside the city, I feel like I am wasting everyone’s time and yet I feel like everyone is wasting mine simultaneously. I often laugh as I pass through traffic, looking to my left and looking to my right, seeing people scrolling through Facebook (and whatever other application they might be using). I honk at them, because “this isn’t the place to be using social media”. But then as I am sitting at a light, I notice that I too am engaging the use of applications on my phone (and I become disgruntled as others disrupt me with their horn). It’s clear we cannot endure a measly minuet at a red light anymore. A minuet sitting with our self inside a car is like torture. We need a distraction.

Urban life leaves you exhausted, disoriented at times, and anxious; you’re more tense than relaxed, rushed,  fearful, and often feel insignificant. I don’t say that this is applicable to everyone, because there are surely people who pretend to enjoy this (or at the very least, people who would never admit to feeling like that in the city and suppress these feelings). Horns blow, trains abruptly stop you (or wake you at night); gun shots and sirens, smog and exhaust, and always more waiting. There’s neon lights, billboards and skyscrapers to dizzy the senses. Our senses are bombarded with anything and everything. Our malaise is grounded in this sense stimulation. We need a remedy…and we know it.

Urbanism (this lifestyle of excess, efficiency, progress, and prioritization of pragmatic affairs, like status and work) is analogical to drug addiction. The drug addict often knows that the drug is the source of his suffering, yet he fully believes it is the only the thing that can relieve him of that suffering. In a similar way, the urbanite probably understands on some basic level that the city brings much internal discord and strife. Yet it some how, like a drug, it becomes the only think that can remedy the agitation. Urban environment intends on cheapening genuine rest and replaces it with a kind of perversion. No matter what city you find yourself in, you are never in short amounts of strip clubs, bars, smoke lounges, fast food restaurants, move theaters and arcades, casinos and resorts, etc. These are brief, superficial forms of non-work, non-efficiency, non-progressive outlets for a person. Let us call this respite. Respite is, by its very nature, short lived and it leaves us wanting more. But ultimately it never truly satisfies or fulfills us either. This sets up the diabolical duality of Urbanism. We’re often given brief periods of pseudo-rest (or “breaks”), which in turn, being short lived and nice, leave us wanting more of it. They’re never fulfilling, because a break doesn’t offer us the time for genuine rest. In a way, we get a glimpse of it but never really experience it. We return to work. This conditions us as a kind of proverbial beast of burden always chasing after the elusive prize. If we want that break, we must work hard for it. But because the break, by nature, a respite, is short lived and brief, it doesn’t fulfill us. Because our activities while breaking don’t actually satisfy, we’re not fulfilled. It’s frustrating. We want more break! (But we have to go back to work to get it so we think). This is evidenced by the fact that people get bored very quickly while on their break from work, whether it be during the day or their weekend (sometimes even during vacation). Sometimes we feel like our break is a complete waste because it doesn’t fulfill us as we had hoped or envisioned it would. So, we start this process over again. What is peripherally happening is work becomes fundamentally necessary for human beings; it make us chase after cheap, perverted rest only to then realize we’re not really fulfilled and find ourselves going back to work to alleviate the boredom engendered by this superficial humdrum we call “rest”. Work is designed this way, because it cannot be presented as some end in itself; it’s an absolute, satisfying good. Nobody would accept that (we all know work is toilsome and burdensome). It removes us from the finer and more valuable things of life. If one can diminish rest (and the forms of rest) as something cheap and ultimately meaningless, work seems like the best thing to do with our time. While work has a valuable place in a man’s life, it does not deserve the priority and importance it now receives.

Urbanism is a paradox. It functions both as sanctuary and desecrator. Inwardly, our spirit is reduced to a vicious cycle (and therefore a trap). One cannot ever count on or achieve peace, which is the very ingredient of genuine rest, with a life dictated by such a diabolical structure.

In truth, that is what urbanism does to a man. It breaks him down into a perpetual oscillating state of restlessness (and restless man is always conditioned to keep moving and doing). Nothing is ever genuinely restorative or restful (not work and not the current/popular forms of rest provided to man). Without proper rest, they have no time for peace and he cannot transcend the economic, working, industrial world. They have no idea of themselves, no understanding of their  emotional states, their intellectual or psychological states or their spiritual state because they lack the introspection to put words to this. All they knows is that they are agitated inside. But they cannot heal because they have no time for silence and quiet. They are petrified by eternity and by Paradise, the stillness of this, believing these as fanciful myths but, by their nature, contrary to “how life is” (and life is about work of course). These are the same people who reduce vacation to a kind of unreality. “Back to reality” people often say when their vacation is over, as if a time set apart for family, for leisure, for relaxation, is surreal (the only real thing being the “work a day world”). They have no relationship with the land (and what I mean here is the joy of a cool breeze, the rustling of the leaves, and the smell and texture of freshly cut grass; they fear the silence and very structure of the country side, the trees, and the vast natural skyline uncluttered by buildings). They are repulsed and nauseated by the “laziness” of rural, un-urbanized people. They are embarrassed by what these people call common sense and intuition (and truths grounded in these); he is happy to reduce this to unscientific and simple thinking. He laughs at tradition as myth. They scoff at their love of heritage as bigotry and racism. Unwittingly, they are revolting against a life consistent with and complimentary to the development of familial and spiritual living. But if you told any of them this, if you told him they were drowning in their industrial, urban complexity, would they possess the aptitude to believe you?