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Archive for February, 2010

After watching Avatar a couple of weeks ago I have been living in my imagination’s recreation of my life as it would be on Pandora. A return to life reunited with nature, an understanding and connection with all living things, the training of becoming a warrior and making the most of our body’s capabilities, and of course the flying with dragons part – that was just unbelievably cool.

There’s something so timelessly attractive about the stereotype of the enlightened “native”. The concept of knowledge being based entirely on necessity, and utter the immaterialism of rural life seem to erase everything that we negatively associate with the modern world of capitalism which, for want of a better word, SUCKS. On Pandora there is a sensitivity, an attention to detail, a respect of all things as they are and a brutal honesty which, sometimes, I feel is lost from our urban metropolises.

I remember one wise man who asked, in response to a friend musing on the simple, pure spirituality (in the human sense, not necessarily the religious one) of rural dwellers, what would happen if you took a villager and placed them in a city? Chances are that after a few weeks they would be no different from any urban dweller with their lack of attention to the environment, their surroundings and other people. What is it that the city does to us that grates away our humanity in such a subtle, but present way?

I don’t want to suggest that everyone who lives in an urban environment is an asshole, but I think many would agree that life in the metropolis is a hectic game of travelling as fast as possible from A to B, working hard to afford a decent lifestyle, and forces one to develop a resilience to human suffering which can allow us to walk past the several homeless people we inevitably see suffering each day as we rush about our business, and not be devastated by the thought of it. The fact is we don’t have time to. Why? Because in capitalist societies the metropolis is the centre of individual opportunity, achievement and success. As long as capitalism is our economic paradigm, we will continue to flock to the cities to pursue personal gain and development, at the expense of our energy to care about much else and remembering the core human values that our native predecessors survived on: collectivism.

My question is this: as the percentage of the world population living in urban areas begins to overtake rural populations, how will this massive migration affect human nature? Will we evolve our urban lifestyles to accommodate a sense of societal gain as priority over individual gain? Will we ever be able to return to a place where our leaders make decisions based on what is best for the whole community, rather than a select core group of elites? Even in a period of financial recession, which has threatened the current economic model world-wide, can we wake up and smell the cheese?

I doubt it. Watching Tony Blaire at the Chilcot enquiry gave me no hope of our paradigm of existence ever changing. A couple of nights age I went to see a talk called “Neuroesthetics Conversations: Improvisation, Creativity and Music” which featured the renowned jazz saxophonist, Gilad Atzmon, in conversation with neuroscientists Jessica Grahn and Stefan Koelsch at UCL. Gilad spoke about how good jazz musicians play without thinking, experiencing the whole essence of the music rather than being concerned about the details of their technique or technicalities of the piece they’re playing, which would put a damper on the quality of the music produced. He then compared this to the Chilcot equiry, saying that the enquiry was entirely tied up in the legalities of the case rather than considering the bigger picture of the ethics of what happened. It seems that this is becoming a more common trait in political and societal behaviour; getting caught up in the legalities and details of why and how atrocities happen, trying to unpick step by step what’s right or not by law, rather than making it simple and discussing the morality of our actions and their repercussions on our quality of life.

The following video perfectly expresses the notion of how possession, which is ultimately what capitalism comes down to, can ruin us as human empathisers:

I know that most people I interact with are good human beings, or at least we try to be. We care about others, we donate to charity, we buy the Big Issue… but it’s our political systems that are ultimately failing us. How can we change them? We can vote, yes, but a scratch performance based on verbatim interviews with people in the UK on their voting habits revealed to me that most people don’t feel as though their voices, or the votes, count in really making a marked difference in the governance of this country.

So what can we do to prevent our cities becoming the evaporating ground for empathy and the breeding ground for the need to possess? How can we stop the movement of human nature reaching the stage of the corporates in Avatar on their merciless search of ‘unobtanium’ (the only truly cringe-worthy part of the film – what an obvious and utterly uncreative metaphor)?

Maybe the answer is to paint ourselves blue and flash-mob Canary Wharf and the Houses of Parliament, showering petals on confused politicians and bankers, before releasing our army of fire breathing beasts and stray pigeons, and arming our bows with arrows to show them whose boss…

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