Monday, June 20, 2005

The Monster of Suburbia

Isn’t it a strange irony that we want our kids to live a life that we really don’t respect? We cajole them into living a life that we would view with contempt if we were to look at it from a distance.

We want them to never face danger, or insecurity, or any of the rough edges of life. We want to build a bubble, a fortress for them, so that they get whatever is best in this world and avoid all that is bad. In some respects, this situation has been created and manufactured en masse. It is called the suburbs.

But when we think about it, the people we respect are those that have lived life to the fullest. We respect people that have faced adversity, danger, and challenges. We mostly respect those that have done it and have come out healthy. But we also respect those that have had it rough and have been defeated into addictions, suicide or cynical anger and aggression. What we don’t respect is the spoiled child and especially the spoiled child that has never had that situation challenged or corrected; the spoiled child that is no longer a child.

The mythical story of the Buddha comes to mind here. The Buddha was a prince born into wealth and his father made sure that he was never exposed to the rough edges of life. He lived in his palace and when he grew up, he was given many wives and servants. His father was insistent that he never leave the castle. But one day he did leave and when he was out there (out here) he came across a sick person, an old person, and a corpse. When he returned he asked his father; “What’s the meaning of this?” His father had tried to protect him from reality. He then went out and became an ascetic and found that he could not find the meaning there. He eventually found the meaning of Reality between the extremes while meditating under a tree at Deer Park.

We have created a whole class of little princes and princesses or rather, spoiled children that have been artificially immunized from Reality. They have grown up watching television and playing video games. They are creatures of the suburbs. They don’t know about sickness, death, or old age not so much because they have never been exposed to it, but more because they have become detached from the side of reality that is icky. They have learned that the world is really soft after all and that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. They have lived with the material comforts of relative wealth and the psychological protection that goes with avoiding all that is unpleasant.

With these protections securely in place, they can look at sickness, old age and death with complete indifference. That happens to them because they deserve it. What’s really important after all is that it will never happen to me. They can watch war on the news and starvation all over the world and be completely and utter unaffected by it. This is partially because they have become accustomed to the belief that they are somehow special, they are God’s chosen people, and also because they live it a ‘virtual’ world.

Another word for this virtual world is alienation.

This is not to suggest that all creatures of the suburbs are like this. It is likely a continuum we are all on. But there definitely has emerged a type, a class of middle class creature that stands on it's own. What is concerning is the pervasiveness of this condition and our ability to ignore it.

These folks are glib and charming. In their own way they are intelligent and most importantly, apparently intelligent. Many are completely indifferent to politics but may play up charity or partisian politics with future gain and games in mind. They are very aware of public perception and are skilled at playing up to it. They have no feeling whatsoever about the plight of others and always write off the misfortune of others as ‘their’ fault. It is the fault of the particular individual, the victim, of whatever calamity. They comfort themselves with the knowledge that ‘I’ have made all the right moves and ‘I’ have the right ethics. I am somehow blessed. This is partially the result of overprotection but more importantly, it is the result the alienation that only capitalism can manufacture. That is, the belief that the value of the human being is based in his or her exchange value. Use value means nothing. In other words, in this world presentation and status symbols are everything. Substance means nothing. It is more important to have material possessions and status than it is to genuinely love somebody.

Although many creatures of comfort are warm, loving and genuine people, the fact remains that we all know that the content of this essay is true as much as we might wish otherwise. We may want to look away but maybe that is part of the problem. Maybe that's the crux of the problem.

This really has to be turned around.

On a large scale we have to stop buying into the idea that rich people are more valuable than ordinary people. They are not; au contraire.

On a personal level, if you know these people or if you are one of these people, point yourself, or them, in the direction of Deer Park. You better do it because sickness, old age, and death will happen to you and your video games will not help you.

They are not even helping you now.


Dita said...

Try telling someone wealthy they are LESS valuable than the rest of society. It's quite an ironic statement. A rich persons reality is measured by what they own, while your/my reality is defined by what it IS.

joy said...

As a suburbanite, I whole-heartedly agree. So why do I live in suburbia then?
Because if everyone moves to the city where it's more diverse, or to intentional communities, they are living the life they want to lead for themselves. They are surrounding themselves with an environment that makes it EASIER to be active.
Sure, there are spoiled folks in the city, too. In fact I have met a lot of twenty-somethings preaching what you are talking about, who were spoiled suburban kids who decided that instead of gathering the courage to change their environments, they would move to a place where it would be easy to blame everyone else, including their former neighbors, family, and home, for all of society's ills, rather than staying in the thick of it and having the balls to change it from the inside out.

This is why I continue to live in suburbia.
Consciously modeling activism in an environment that is hostile through apathy and fear is much harder than moving to a place that is already active and pointing a finger back to suburbia and doing nothing about it. As you know, it is the quiet veto of apathy that is more dangerous than the gunshot in the long run, and I am teaching this to my child and to many others who live in our neighborhood through my actions.
THIS is the harder fight.

I would encourage others to do the same, or to at least recognize that "it is MUCH easier to be a monk living in a monestery than it is to integrate with society and try to become enlightened between commercial breaks and traffic jams."

If you always point the finger back at yourself, you will always have the possibility of a solution.
Please stop whining.