The Enclosed Habitat of Modern Man

© Andy Singer

Chris Coleman takes a biological point of view at the favourite habitat of the Homo Sapiens in the Post-Industrial Age.

Each species has its preferred habitat: tigers favouring plains full of grazing prey, or sloth a rich, broad-leaf forest canopy. We humans are no exception. However, we are – along with the rat – the most versatile animal going on earth, meaning that we can settle in all but the most extreme conditions. Though we may be capable of thriving in the Arctic tundra or thickest jungle, we have chosen (or the mechanisms of industrial capitalism) to settle in the cozy confines of the city.

Not unlike the bear lured in by easy food from waste bins in mountain towns, we couldn’t resist the temptations of gas heating coming to our home at the turn of a knob, or food provided in exchange for minted coins and paper notes. We have chosen the path of convenience first, creating a living environment of sterile, lifeless, climate-controlled what I’ll call “insulated boxes” (rooms) and transforming more and more wild nature into monocultural land and industrial parks.

Our Post-Industrial/Information Age has decidedly embraced these insulated boxes as home: work is done inside in front of computers and desks; purchasing our daily wares is done under ultra-bright lighting in shopping centres; and transport moves from point A to B in cars and buses. Every activity possible – even sports – seeks a controlled, air-conditioned cubed box bereft of all but human life. This is the very opposite of the spontaneity, and cooperation between a diverse range of species found in nature. The closest most city-dwellers come to nature is the park where grass, a few trees and bushes provide habitat for only squirrels, stray dogs and the occasional homeless man.

The city is clearly coiling in on its grey, concrete self, leaving the modern man sadly unaware of the miracles of the unfolding seasons. In the US, for example, the Spring’s dandelion is perceived as an obnoxious weed, not a wonderful herb used in salads, syrups and teas. Also, the city dweller is only dimly aware of the phases of the moon as the brightness of ubiquitous street lights even overpowers the magical glow of the full moon. Is it any wonder that the average citizen does little to stop the destruction of our natural forests, meadows and traditional farms when nature is so distant from their daily lives?

Sensing guilt and emptiness due to our separation from nature’s bountiful joys in the rigid grey-black cityscape, modern man over the 20th Century sought a compromise in the suburb. But poor planning led to unforeseen consequences: as the urban nucleus spread out, so did the city’s cultural and municipal services, to the point that the foundations of civic engagement such as the theatre, town hall and local pub became further apart and less accessible. Furthermore, public transport became less and less viable as urban density decreased dramatically during this exodus to the outskirts. Coinciding with the fall of the tram and train was the rise of the car, which soon clogged our streets. Where children once played ball games and neighbours shared stories is now under the reign of the car. Even children are stuck in these insulated boxes.

The habitat we’re creating for ourselves now seems to be in profound denial of what has been usual through the history of the Homo Sapiens: a sustainable interaction with nature. A mere 200 years ago, 97% of world population worked in a rural setting. Compare that with current figures where an average of 3% of citizens in developed nations work on farms (most of which are highly industrialised). Our habitat is simply not “natural” in both meanings of the word. Could this explain the alarming rate of depression  as seen in the U.S. where 30% are or have been diagnosed as depressed, not to mention the decline of ethics that define our era? There is not room in this article to analyse the solutions available, but the fact is clear that we aren’t satisfied, fulfilled humans in this artificial environment.  Its time we evolved our city into a more natural form where are parks are more wild, and transportation more self-propelled, and make the biologically rich small farmsteads of our villages economically viable again.

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Car-Free Day Contest: Win FREE GAS!!!!

“Washington, D.C., September 21, 2009—As organizers prepare to observe “World Car-Free Day” tomorrow, the Competitive Enterprise Institute would like to remind observers and participants of the value of personal mobility and the advantages of car ownership.”

Here is a very surprising call to fight against World Carfree Day. It is of course the work of free minds who are fighting against the corporate idea of Carfree Cities (supported by powerful corporations).

Enjoy it, I guess it is a kind of joke…

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Cars, Cell Phones & The (Sponsored) Culture of Narcissism

Raymond Williams called it “mobile privatization.”

I think of it as “life behind screens,” or “bubble life.”

It — experiencing life predominantly through video screens, work sconces, and automobile glass — is not just part-and-parcel of corporate capitalism, but perhaps its first intention and requirement vis-a-vis the organization of the lives of the masses.

The latest bubble life news confirms, in spades, that the private automobile may be, as Plan C author Pat Murphy posits, “the greatest creator of alienation between humans that has ever existed.”

To wit, some excellent reportage from a July 18 New York Times story:

Extensive research shows the dangers of distracted driving. Studies say that drivers using phones are four times as likely to cause a crash as other drivers, and the likelihood that they will crash is equal to that of someone with a .08 percent blood alcohol level, the point at which drivers are generally considered intoxicated. Research also shows that hands-free devices do not eliminate the risks, and may worsen them by suggesting that the behavior is safe.

A 2003 Harvard study estimated that cellphone distractions caused 2,600 traffic deaths every year, and 330,000 accidents that result in moderate or severe injuries.

Yet Americans have largely ignored that research. Instead, they increasingly use phones, navigation devices and even laptops to turn their cars into mobile offices, chat rooms and entertainment centers, making roads more dangerous.

A disconnect between perception and reality worsens the problem. New studies show that drivers overestimate their own ability to safely multitask, even as they worry about the dangers of others doing it.

I’ll let the excellent CARtoonist Andy Singer have the last “word” on this totally unsurprising phenomenon:

by Andy Singer

Michael Dawson (The Consumer Trap)