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Structures of Urban Despair

Ghislain Mary_Unbalanced_YkZhQWc

Image from Ghislain Mary

Yellow city lights make me sad. There is something about the dull light bathing an empty concrete pavement that elicits despair in me. It may be the lack of color or the break from nature. It may be because it reminds me of my own smallness in the vastness its concrete spaces. It may be because of it’s stark contrast with everything else that is in the city – lights, sounds, life! The reasons are not important, what matters is that it makes me sad.
I suppose this is not unique to me. Internal Migration is a phenomenon experienced by 2.9 million Filipinos says data from the Philippine Statistics Authority. Of these 2.9 million, 50.4% are considered long distance movers or those who moved from a different province since the last census in 2005. 3 out of 10 of these long distance movers are in NCR, Region III or Region IV when they were identified. Maybe they were looking for better opportunities. Maybe they were looking for a different environment. But moving uproots you from your home where you have built and connected with a lot of people – dense networks. Nobody would deny that there are those who find meaningful connections in a different city or those who bring their family with them. I’m not saying that they’re all sad, I’m just saying I’m not alone in moving.

The vastness of the rationalization project rids individuals of control over their lives. One is left with either a constant uphill struggle or a resignation that this is going to be life from here on in.
Now that I think about it, maybe it’s the transactional nature of cities that breeds despair. Everywhere you go people are buying and selling. Your worth is measured through your output. As early as 5 or 6, children are evaluated in school – the by product is competition at a very young age. Graduation is not the end of such a system. Workers are evaluated at work. Metrics are put in place to make sure you fall in line, quotas set, and lives upset. People being treated like machines. Beggars being treated like landscape. We seem to have a fetishism for efficiency and a dearth in humanity.Maybe it’s dissatisfaction that breeds despair. In cities, you are exposed to a wide variety of ads that sell a wide variety of products. Everyday, groups of market analysts and researchers do their job of making sure that the design, cost and appeal of their products can encourage you to purchase. We are now the world’s Call Center Capital surpassing India in terms of Business Processing Outsourcing. These companies spend millions every year trying to come up with the best ways to get our attention and to change our behavior. All are customers, personal care is optional. Politicians do the same thing. Colorful posters adorn every street corner and they send greetings for all possible events. Nothing is impossible in wooing the voters. Dance, sing, lie. Human Rights are sacrificed for political expediency. Appearance is paramount. Sincerity is optional. How could you not be dissatisfied?

Workers are evaluated at work. Metrics are put in place to make sure you fall in line, quotas set, and lives upset. People being treated like machines. Beggars being treated like landscape. We seem to have a fetishism for efficiency and a dearth in humanity.
Social media made us products – maybe that’s what is so alienating. Tweet, post, pin and the process repeats. Substance is lost in favor of spectacle. Values taken aside because of virtual anonymity. Death threats for speaking one’s mind? You can’t possible be serious. Perhaps Zygmunt Bauman is right. social media connections are best characterized as networks instead of friendships. It’s a sounding board and those who don’t echo the same tune are removed or threatened. There were people saying that social media will usher in a new form of democracy. Maybe. But you can’t build a democracy with an intolerant population.Urbanization is a paradox. On the one hand it is a promise of expanding human control over nature and society. Everything is rationalized, automated and processed. Speed is the norm. The other hand reeks of dis-empowerment. The vastness of the rationalization project rids individuals of control over their lives. One is left with either a constant uphill struggle or a resignation that this is going to be life from here on in. This has been a perennial problem in sociology from its very beginning and unfortunately, it still is now.

That’s it. I’m off to my next shallow pleasure.

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