Thursday, March 13, 2008

Reflections on City: (2) If nothing we do matters...

Living in the city has left a few significant impressions, most of them visual/cognitive; meaning that they are images that have imprinted themselves upon my cognitive landscape and which will probably remain associated with 'city' for a long time to come.

One image is a melange of building sites, from the Brisbane North-South tunnel to tall-building
construction. Large works, for the most, with a few small roadside works mixed into the impressions.

Concrete pouring in Varsity Lakes, Gold Coast, Qld, Australia.

In all instances we're talking about 'works of men'. In all instances the 'men' working on said 'works' have the significance of...well, think of intelligent ants. Something like that.

The 'works' in whose construction they are a minuscule element, will very likely outlast them all. The scope of these works is humungous; probably beyond their scope. They matter and yet they don't, for they are all replaceable; easily so I'd guess. If any of them disappeared by accident, sickness, nervous breakdown or just plain death, within the scope and context of the 'work' they're laboring on, who would really care? Worse, who would actually 'know'? Certainly not I, who just drives past or watches bemusedly for a few moments. Or anybody else who drives past and/or doesn't even 'see' that these are human beings.

The second major impression of 'city' are high-class peddlers--known in common parlance as 'retailers', though they would probably be horrified at being labeled even as 'retailers', which is a benign term!--for the revoltingly affluent. Names like Montblanc or Louis Vuitton; plus another hundred I don't recognize, but who have the same status and basically cater for a whole spectrum of idle-wealthy tastes. I find it difficult to express how profoundly the existence of these...things...offends my sense of existential propriety. It's the places and what they represent; what makes them possible and what makes them be where they are. Each time I see them I realize that, yes, no matter where we are in the decline of this kind of civilization we live in, we are in the decline. We have been for a long time.

I'm not talking about world catastrophes or anything like that. But since basically 'civilization' on a worldwide scale has become so connected that, for certain purposes we might as well consider it all as 'one', we can speak of the decline of 'civilization' as we know it in the world. The obscenely affluent, whose lack of life-purpose is reflected in the existence of these peddlers' outlets, are pretty much the same everywhere; never mind the 'culture'. This isn't a new thing; only the worldwide near-direct connection and competition for status between qualifies as 'new'. In the old days the competition was plain old conflict. Wars and stuff like that. Nowadays it's a battle of who flaunts what the most and best and in the right places. And the 'masses', by and large, being the sheep they are--and they are--accept it and indeed support it; as, one might rightly argue, they really have always done.

Next on this city-observer's hit list: Angeber Autos, a.k.a. 'bragmobiles'; cars whose main, if not sole purpose is the effect they have on those knowing that you have one of them. That's different from 'toymobiles', which are cars chosen from a passion for the car itself, or for the fun one might get out of it...but in this instance the fun is predominantly independent of the existence of others drooling and twitching in paroxysms of envy, jealousy and sheer spite—though you might, of course, be a member of a select group of similar toy-lovers who in turn might well drool. So, the line is fine—but it can be drawn in most cases. Just look at the person driving them; a fascinating array of the sad and airheaded. This city is riddled with them, though possibly in the apartment complex we stayed we might have gotten more than the usual in-your-face share of these losers; male and female alike. It certainly left an impression.

Next there are the smokers, of course; but I've already alluded to them in another blog.

A seething mass—as much as you're going to get 'seething mass' here in Australia; inhabitants of Calcutta, for example, would probably laugh derisively—of people, many of which do not have even a shred of a sense of purpose. I can see it when I look into their eyes, many of which are dead. And dead eyes like that are of a special kind; I'd almost call them 'city-dead'.

"Ahh," you say, "but life has no purpose—as you keep telling us. So what are you talking about?"

Well, the 'purpose' I'm talking about need not be 'real' in the metaphysical sense; meaning that there need not be any 'higher' meaning to anything and that, even as Joss Whedon made his demon-with-a-soul, Angel, say,
...if nothing we do matters... there can still be imagined purpose, which is of course all we have. Imagined larger context. Imagined 'reasons' why a purely random configuration of events and contingencies, turns out to 'actually be for the best' or 'the universe working in my favor' or 'better in the long run because...'

The main reason for such purpose attribution to dismal events is, of course, that it has helped those who were subject to such imaginary considerations and rationalizations to survive—long ehough to breed and ensure their offspring's survival. On a more immediate scale it assists one subjected to adversary vicissitudes to cope with them and to learn and adapt, such as to deal with any future contingencies of similar nature better. Someone who is crushed by witnessing the indifferent randomness of the universe does not learn and adapt. He just perishes. He who has a sense of purpose—all imagined, mind you—is much more likely to live and indeed to be 'successful'.

So, I'm not necessarily talking about anything metaphysically 'real' when I speak about the void in people's eyes where a light of purpose should be. And in this big city, with its high density of population—again, 'big' and 'high density' are relative!—the number of vacant eyes can be disheartening. Never mind how 'busy' they look, or if they're running from here to there like the devil was chasing them and time was running out. Many remind me of that old joke about if you want to look busy, just pick up a manila folder with some papers in it, and never mind if they're blank, and just go somewhere, anywhere, with sure, apparently purposeful strides. The irony about that joke is that many lives perfectly fit the metaphor; only the deceptions are aimed at the deceivers themselves.

And so they proceed with their lives, oblivious to the second part of Angel's statement: ...
then all that matters is what we do… now, today. Indeed, it seems to me like an incredible amount of effort is expended of trying to make oneself believe that it is not so.

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