Monday, November 20, 2006

a new kind of war

looking down at a city i feel like i am ancient history looking at the future, shining steel, a million burning lights, cold electricity, perfect elegant silent machines gliding as smoothly as curves of water. i get a feeling of power beyond the control of humans, a force moving in time that expands without our intention. i wonder if the ones who look out of windows from the top floors of the glass pinnacles feel they understand it, that they have planned this.

because i am an animal with an immortal soul that is as old as soil. looking to the faultless euclidean skyline i feel archaic, a small being under these things, these crazy luminous patterns of concrete and steel growing across the landscape came from the imaginations and energy of my species.

here in the twenty-first century our species (yours and mine) has mastered the machine. for all of our history we have done everything with simple labor of our hands. then suddenly came the thing called industrialization, roughly 250 years ago. with the advance of science came new tools and machines that could produce powers beyond the wildest speculation of the smartest people.

before this, most people were farmers, or hunters. then they began to drift to the cities. The cities grew with factories and great buildings to stack the people in. Cities are the brains of civilization, and they began to grow very big. roads are like neural networks, buildings are organs of resources and information. people are carriers, like red blood cells, moving resources and information in an increasingly complex system.

cities are now far beyond even that. sometime around, now

the world population has tipped from living mainly in the country to mainly in the city. now we have surrounded ourselves with cities. they have burst and flooded the land around them with the hum of wires, the glare of streetlights, and the sprawling ghettos of mammoth third world metropolises; dense unofficial cities growing on the peripheries, housing made from the debris of civilization, without gleaming lights nor planned sanitation; names like Sao Paulo, Delhi, Bombay, Shanghai, Kinshasa, Mexico City.

We are entering a new phase of human history, when the power of civilization exceeds human wisdom. It could be beautiful, it could be terrible. It will be both. And already we are coming to see ourselves as beings of a planet, a pale blue marble hanging in a great dark ocean.

Yet somehow in this great teeming future we have not even mastered that blackest part of our civilization. wars still bleed across the planet in many places and many forms. death and pain, a living nightmare, and we all wake up with it. Here in the sheltered west we even we in our warm cities still feel it, the dark world over there, over there, words now with an air like the names of demons; Iraq, Sudan, Gaza, Congo, Uganda, Chechnya, Sri Lanka, Haiti.

Over here too. Under the cities Kids on reservations drinking gasoline and screaming I WANT TO DIE, American ghettos, the US has the second highest number of child prostitutes in the world (250-340,000). And the granddaddy of them all, the exploitation of third world populations by the consumption demands of the first world. The lights of the shining world draining the energy of the darkened world. It may be these things will just become less and less interesting to the people living in the high cities. We are on the verge of even more immense power as we move into this age of genetic manipulation and atomic circuitry and the life of the city is becoming more and more distant from the country. We are transforming ourselves or being transformed, but into what is not known.

I saw a rave the other night. In a dark hall thousands of people raised their hands up to music that sounded like a very elegant machine playing a very primitive beat. Laserlights moved gracefully through the air making patterns in space. Its the future, I thought, the age of the machine.