The Tragic Disconnect

In observance of my generation, again and again I remark how truly disconnected we are. And how illogical this seems when the vast and intricate net technology has woven over our cities is taken into account. People, groups, companies and corporations are constantly connecting and disconnecting. We are packed like sardines into towering skyscrapers and subway cars and busy intersections. Cities have grown like never before, their boundaries truly without limit and the possibilities of the metropolis have become endless. No longer are we creatures of the ground; we occupy every stratum of the earth. These cities that we have built attract people from the far corners of the world, because they offer prosperities of economic and social quality, however they are organisms of mass pollution, injustice and hostility that comes in forms never before seen.

The question torments me – are we creatures of our culture, or are we creatures of nature? Where should our loyalty lie? It is true that urbanization accelerated and debatably even instigated our development into rational, intelligent and conscious beings. The social, economic and political infrastructure created in towns and cities provided a scaffolding without which progression would have been made impossible. They have equipped us with the tools which we needed to create an enlightened society. However, today, the opposite seems to be true. Our cities are dominated by corporations, targeted advertisement, crime, isolation, segregation and corporate architecture. The home, where we have carefully constructed our culture, which serves as our identity, has turned on us. Because what pervades today cannot be counted into our identity, unless a new one is nascent, being one of cruel bigotry, ignorance and mass complacency. With urbanization comes the question – are we truly meant to live in these mega-complexes?

Having spent a majority of my childhood outdoors, in tree tops and billowing cornfields and on stream beds and in the dappled shade of spruce forests on the seaside, scathed by the marine wind and tangled in Spanish moss, I feel a connection, or even a commitment to nature that is without parallel in nearly everyone my age. I think that this connection has given me a different vantage point from which I can observe the trivial occupations of my peers almost impartially. No one seems to care about the environment anymore. Our economy has trumped all, and environmentalism has been deemed unprofitable. And no, by environmentalism I do not mean the advocation of clean or alternative energies, of recycling, of reduced carbon emissions or bicycling to work. By environmentalism I mean a deep-rooted naturalism, the belief that our surroundings are to be protected because they provide for us, and an understanding for nature that is not taught, but learned first-hand. This naturalism is not one of religiosity, of new-ageism of anarchism or of leftist anti-capitalism (though the two all-too-often go hand in hand).

In our cities, we are raised in a concrete cage. We have built walls and tunnels and fences and causeways around us and can no longer move freely. Nature has become ornament, and its value is only understood commercially. In the wild, ethereal states of minute fragility create a whole that is resistant and fortified, while in the city, our slabs of rock and iron and steel come together to expose an unsettling tenuousness. As to the children of cities: they are raised orphans, with no knowledge of the ever-present undercurrent that pervades our existences. Adopted by the city, their loyalties are tied into the sidewalks and i-beams and the fragile roofs over their heads, and they are immediately exposed to a state of decay rather than one of growth. These children will always be wanderers, but never pilgrims or explorers. These children will seek security in material things, because they have never experienced true value. However, most unfortunately of all, these children will participate in the lifestyle of destruction that was held by so many of their parents without knowing it at all, because they only have a disconnected apprehension of what is at stake. And here we are – a generation that does not know how to distinguish one plant from another, one whose children cannot name vegetables, one that places its value on social status and interaction rather than anything meaningful, because it grew up in an environment where this meaning could never be experienced. Have we truly graduated to become an exclusively cultural entity, or do we still owe legitimate loyalty to our surroundings?

Is There Hope in Thought?

At first glance, it must seem that we, the human civilization, simply no longer think. The evidence is everywhere. Blank and blasé stares into nothing in the subway. Eyes glued to the screen, a flicking thumb. Shopping, to fill the emptiness and not to fulfil our needs. Petty arguments, narrow-minded decisions, mass-media politics, narcissism, littering, hate-crimes. One could say we have lost our imagination. In a truly remarkable time, where it seems like everyone is empowered, we are blinded, and our minds are numbed. This universal ignorance, this complacency and this compromise has infected our society from the inside out, and it is suffering from a fever that is only growing worse. Where are the Hobbes, the Kants, the Kerouacs and the Camus of our generation?

Though I consider myself privileged by every means (I am able to attend university, feed and clothe myself, pursue some hobbies) I am utterly uninspired by everything society sends my way. My classes are dull, and even though I study at (one of) the best universities in Canada, I am extremely underwhelmed. And my biggest frustration is that this is not due to a lack of difficulty – it is due to the fact that university has been so privatized and engineered to spew out ideal citizens that will serve the needs of our cities, schools, governments and hospitals. I can’t even open the books that are the best-sellers. My peers are fearful, my teachers mediocre and the people around me exhibit a slave mentality that would have sent even Nietzsche himself into reverence.

Where have the thinkers gone? Where are the radical ideas, where is the poetry, the lust for life, the undying belief in betterment? Am I simply in the wrong place, or has humanity actually died?

Our denial of what is truly important has escalated to the point of ignorance, and I can no longer place the blame on individuals. How are we to know what is out there when we are raised in the concrete jungle of city high-rises, or in the sheltered suburban sprawl, where the streets twist and turn into themselves in mirror-image cardboard houses, where even the tree stuck into the ground on the front lawn looks identical to the neighbour’s? How are we to see the stars when we can no longer penetrate the orange dust-bowl glow that hovers over our reality? How are we to know the truth when we no longer are taught to see? How can we see the faults in our society when it indoctrinates us with its brevity and its momentary “truths”? How are we to grow when we fight every day for others to accept us, when what we strive to be is the average, to blend in, to be like everyone else? How are we supposed to understand our power when we have been taught nothing but obedience and complacency?

For me, these problems have their origin in the complete failure of a school system we have in Canada. I have attended 9 schools in three countries throughout my life, therefore I deem it appropriate to assume I have a somewhat wider perspective of what education can be. And in Canada, it is depressing, to say the least. I have little to no memory of my elementary school days, apart from the vast expanse of pavement that served as our playground, the dirty tile we sat on, the acrid smell of the gym and the distaste I cultivated for every single one of my teachers. Rebellion grew inside of me, beginning as a small seed, and growing into an almost permanent disposition of protest, absence, and a sense of superiority that had no ground in reality. For almost fifteen years, I refused my education in the most selfish way possible. What could these people teach me that I had not learned outdoors? To me, the lessons that mattered were the practical ones, the ones that I learned when I took a hard fall, when I had to solve a problem. I gained satisfaction from building things, teaching myself a language my sister and I had invented.

It wasn’t until I was seventeen years old that I started to develop an appreciation for formal education. It didn’t take much reflection to realize that this was not a fault on my part – it was the fault of the school system. Only one of the teachers that taught me was a teacher by choice – the rest out of necessity, since their initial plans for their careers had failed. The classrooms were decrepit. We were taught to be conformers, to be socially and politically correct and to accept everything that came our way as truth. There was no room for imagination, for creativity, and anyone that thought differently was assimilated into the oppressive and narrow model. Science was fiction, math was burdensome, english was underwhelming and everything was taught in the most dry manner. The yearning for truth, for knowledge was suppressed, but never even acknowledged. We were not taught to think, we were taught to memorize and to spew out. The subjects were dead and inanimate, I could hardly distinguish them from one another. My years in school blurred into a single dull sensation.

Why must we each ignite the spark manually, in an exasperated attempt for any kind of inspiration, when a match can simply be held to us, bursting into a wildfire that cannot be contained? It took me 18 years to wake up when it should have been an integral part of my education.

To think, it is to be different. And to be different is dangerous, because you are an outcast. How dare you divert your attention from what demands it? And I catch myself falling into complacency, sometimes even for days. When I think again, I feel that I have awakened from a long and arduous slumber. I am filled with fear – how long until I awake again? The constant bombardment of visual stimulation numbs me to the point where I sleepwalk through the majority of my life, wasting away the days of my youth that are starting to be numbered.