City Life: The Illusion

Calgary Skyline 2006 photographed by Herb Buist

City Life is but a Dream

To a person lost in the wilderness, a nomadic herder or a poor, one-acre farmer, consequences are real-time and hard-hitting. Injury, sickness and meager years can be devastating. In the city, consequences are delayed and softened. In a financial sense, you may have a second life like in a videogame (bankruptcy) or could be too big to fail (bail-out).

With accumulated resources, especially food stored from agricultural practices, we can work together like an ant colony to construct a human dimension. Our early agriculture ancestors could manipulate their natural environments such as to provide lasting security. Not everyone needed to forage, hunt or herd; some could work the fields while others could be artists, politicians or philosophers with the protection provided by the whole. Inequality gained assent and some of us could be more thinkers than doers; more human, less animal.

Cities are the constructs of human imagination built on the backs of workers, the resource extractors and farmers. We all work together to run this dimension, keeping the natural world– the impermanent and hostile force– tame. Roads smooth the land for human passage, concrete buildings shelter from storms and landscapes are manipulated for aesthetics. In more libertarian societies, the more resources that can accumulate the more can go around; near everyone in the city is granted a degree of city securities. On a global-scale, this is far from the truth.

Civilizations have a tendency to keep building on illusions. Once vulnerable to the uncertainties of nature and resource availability, they become increasingly detached from the land and workers that support them. We are susceptible to the natural world, despite the illusion of invincibility. Changes in the environment could be beneficial or disadvantageous and in force, can penetrate a city’s security as seen in large-scale storms. The loss of a resource like oil could be detrimental to how our cities currently function. Even with technology that requires less and less human-power, the planet still has far greater supremacy.

More Money, More Problems

The practice of agriculture has been very short-term in human history. For most of our existence we have lived within an area’s natural capacity, following herds, foraging plants and participating in comparatively small-scale environmental manipulations like area burning. Food was rarely preserved, stored and accumulated. Our pre-agriculture ancestors were not brutes without any sense of community. On the contrary, clanless foragers were the most likely to be egalitarian.

I was raised to believe that being human meant being altruistic, having progressed from savage cave-people. Yet, we participate in the most unequal societies humans have ever known while our pre-agriculture ancestors had egalitarian societies and a good quality of life.

I believe it is the illusive nature of the city that prevents altruism to flourish. We do not live close to the land or our garbage dumps. We do not know how our products have impacted workers around the world and do not know them personally. On top of that, we will probably never see the people we pass in the city again, lowering our accountability to the whole. Our sense of security based on either true accumulation or investment aids in the prevention of authentic connection to others (see Sex and Society: Conclusions). An elitist perspective begets more inequality.

The Human Animal

I do not think living in a city with a car, computer and high-paying oil and gas job should be a source of guilt. Humans are animals. We all long for security and comfort, accessibility and convenience. This is as much in our nature as altruism.

Like all animals, we respond to our environments. When an external stress hits, we pull together to get through. We rely on others and accumulated resources for security. However, we are also humans, blessed or cursed with the ability to pick up on patterns, learn from others and predict future consequences.

We know what can happen, we have an ethical sense of right and wrong and we can change our perspective. I think we need to cut through illusions and start asking questions; letting the human guide us back to the animal.

Why do we value a standard of living over quality of life?

Where does our food and goods come from?

How many material goods are enough?

What standard of life or level of technology are we hoping to obtain and who will benefit?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s