29 June, 2009

Notes From the Sprawl #1

I’m sitting in the Sprawl. Endless tract homes outside, old forests fell to birth new frame-house clones. Green lawns sprinkled with new trees, small trickles of Ozarkian forest running through the places where developers can’t profitably reshape the land. The deep ravines, heavy bluffs, and holler creeks preserve what this land used to hold. This Sprawl is not unique. There are many thousands of other subdivisions just like it scattered in traffic jammed rings growing out from wheezing city cores. The houses, the cars, the flabby pink people, these same exact forms have become ubiquitous elements of the American landscape. I posit that this landscape fosters, exacerbates, and breeds ignorance. Like the soft and flabby bodies that automobile dependency and the “American diet” create, so too does the mind wither away in the suburbs. The American Dream may have directly led to the genesis of this massive Sprawl, this gross misallocation of resources, but it is here, in the Sprawl, that individuals’ dreams come to die.

We’re told that we should aspire to a tract home with a 2-car garage and enough bedrooms to raise our own brood. We’re sold the idea that we need to fill these thin-walled homes, new and insecure in the earth, with the latest LCD TVs, computers, fancy textiles and leather couches. We’re instructed to raise children like we maintain our houses: superficially beautiful and nice, but without depth or lasting permanence. These homes are not built to last. They are cheap opportunism, dry-walled profiteering. Just like the media we consume, the entertainment we float in.

Once we have achieved the perfect suburban house, what’s left? To climb the corporate ladder? To acquire a pool? A perfect vacation? These are small goals, individually oriented. These small goals constrain the empathetic powers of the mind, reduce it to baby steps and the politics of the immediate cul-de-sac. Housing associations enforcing false aesthetics, prime-time TV, faraway libraries; all combine to stifle the intrinsic human urges to curiosity and adventure. What more is there to know when all your immediate needs are immediately met?

This environment implicitly allows the ignorance that politicians and demagogues can prey upon. This is the danger of the uninformed, where grown adults cannot help their children with their homework because they have never, nor have ever even tried, to learn more than was simply required of them. This is most relevant to us, as scientists trying to improve science’s relationship with the public, because we fundamentally cannot convince adults deadened to novelty, wonder, or curiosity, to suddenly wake up and engage us. We can push the spark, but we cannot create it.

This is also entirely relevant to our discussions of gender roles, politics, religion, etc. We rant and rail against how society currently operates, we question how it can even be this way when it is so clearly repressive or illogical, we even offer solutions; yet the truth of the matter is that these discussions take place in a rarified atmosphere. We live in intellectual townships, on or near university campuses, and these places just aren’t like the rest of the country. Our discussions still are useful, they still have meaning, but the simple fact of the matter is that most people will not and cannot care until they perceive a direct benefit to them in the form of an infotainmented soundbyte. It ain’t necessarily the best or right, but it is how things currently work.

1 comment:

Stephanie Zvan said...

Yes and yes and yes.