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by Nikos Laios
2014-06-30 12:19:13
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I live in a metropolis in the western world,inhabited by millions of people - just like one of the many that exist around the world - in my shoebox apartment, like many millions of other anonymous souls squeezed into their shoebox apartments like chickens in a battery farm.

With my cable television, and coin operated laundromat;trudging home from my 9 - 5 job after the city commute on the subway; barely noticed, like all the other faceless people walking past each other with blank faces on city streets, or standing next to each other on the subway with not a single soul acknowledging each other's existence, or saying hello, or even a warm smile.

img_0007_400I live in a city, where homeless people live on city street corners and back alleyways in cardboard boxes in filth and squalor;a city which allows its old,sick and lonely to live out their old penniless days eating spam or tinned food,or going to the local clubs to be kept company by the jangling musical sounds of the poker or slot machines.

I live in a metropolis that is the technological wonder its age, where everything is ordered,categorised and structured by the thousand of myriad civil laws that keep its citizens under order and control. A city which has no time for god,religion or the human soul; where unless the human soul is able to be assigned a monetary or materialistic value, is cast aside as an antiquated appendage - like our appendix - able to be excised when troublesome.

I live in a city where people pour all of their energy into materialism,where people comment on how cheap a $600,000 price-tag to buy a new home is; where they spend all of their human energy and endeavours into working in jobs that they don't like simply to be able to service their mortgages till their old age, to be able to pay for their $600,000 houses.

I live in a city where the humanities have become forgotten, where art, poetry and literature have died, where humanity has dumbed down;where the peak of intellectual conversation is in discussing the stock markets, or housing prices, or the latest episode of the home renovation television reality series; where universities pump out mindless accountants and economists.

I live in a city where humanity has forgotten its humanity;where the time honoured and evolved traditions of kith and kin,communal support networks,caring and sharing,and selfless sacrifice and love have been forgotten.Where anyone could be found dead one day in their apartment without anyone knowing or caring that they have died.

This is the kind of soulless city I live in - my city of Sydney - but it can be one of many other cities; New York, Los Angeles,London,Paris or Rome.As I wait for the timer on the microwave to ring, I ask myself the question, is this the kind of city that I want to live in? The kind of society I want to be a part of? a civilisation that supposedly is the most advanced on earth?

It seems as though between the start of the industrial revolution,to the modern banal television reality shows,that we have lost our humanity,lost our transcendence and our sense of the mystical,our sense of wonderment, lost our ability to care.Nietzsche once exclaimed:

"God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looms. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?",

I live in a city, where one can see this sense of loss,where people mourn for the lost unknown; where humanity has become aware of its existential angst,of living in a dark meaningless universe, and a darkness which has become one of our own making.

I live in a city which represents the western world: which attempts to solve its existential and societal problems through economic management devoid of the importance of any other societal needs;through the short-term and myopic dichotomy of the left-right political movements that have defined the last one hundred years,and nearly destroyed the world through the various wars it has spawned. A world which has seen humanity tempted and embrace its dark Jungian shadow through  the guise of new radical right-wing fascist movements, or through the equally detestable and  abhorrently violent anarchic-leftist movements.

We live in an age where we are dangerously close to repeating history, of repeating the competitive imperialism that nearly destroyed the world through war; through the guise of radical Randian objectivism that has become the policy of the world bank, the bureaucrats in the EU, and of many other nations; and of the dangerous sabre rattling in the east and Asia.

At times, walking through the various suburban squares to the clattering sound of the unemployed youth playing with their skateboards against the backdrop of graffitied and scarred walls at night, I realise that our society is missing the point. That it is not how we run our society, but why we run our society.

The question 'why' I think has not been asked thus far,or avoided; we have been consumed with the brittle superstructure that we have constructed around us to run our society,rather than in the possibility of requiring to destroy this superstructure and to start anew.

In attempting to seek answers to our question, a good starting point would be to ask the simple questions that the Ancient Greek philosopher Plato asked:   "what is the good life?", "what is the happy life?". We need to firstly ask these questions to be able to define what we want our society to become,and then actualise this change,rather than cowardly avoiding these difficult existential questions,and simply choosing the lesser of two evils.

Instead of materialism and the pursuit of mortgages, human 'flourishing' needs to be promoted as the central goal of society, or 'eudaimonia' in the Greek; where the exercise of virtue underpins our moral compass and our desires,and enables us to achieve the full actualisation of our best faculties;to try to be the best we can be.

Sometimes the answers to our question lie right under our noses, and I think the great Greek poet George Seferis summed it up when he stated:

In our gradually shrinking world, everyone is in need of all the others. We must look for man wherever we can find him. When on his way to Thebes Oedipus encountered the Sphinx, his answer to its riddle was: «Man». That simple word destroyed the monster. We have many monsters to destroy. Let us think of the answer of Oedipus.

I'm a small-town boy that lives in a metropolis; but my heart will always belong  to small towns, in beautiful sleepy places, for we have much to learn from them, and I think I sum up this experience by some of the verses of one of my very own poems,Parian Dream':

...As I listen
For the first
Time to the
Ballet around
Me in this

Under palm
The jingle
Of goat

The vying
Playing at

The creamy
Viscosity of
Small cubes of
White cheese
Scattered on a
Plate like a chaotic
With the sharp chilli
Flavour of marinated
Olives,and the aroma
Of small tubular
Segments of grilled
Chorizo adorning the
Plate like some ancient
Broken,fallen down
Column of a
Greek temple.

In the warm
Of a glass
Of red wine.

As the
Noise of
Dice falling
From weathered
Against a
Board;the babble
And smiling
Warm creased
Faces of old
Men and
The centuries,
And the
Of time

It all passes
Me,it all
Passes me.

At present we are facing a crisis of consciousness,where masses of people have become  alienated,driven to penury,where our youth have become unemployed and face a bleak future, which has driven some communities to innovate creative solutions.

Like some small towns in Greece where they have seen an influx of people leave the large cities, and go back to small towns to live.Where some of these towns have innovated a new system of people interacting with each other economically and barter their trades and services by a trading credit currency called 'TEM'. Where trading credits are accrued for a service performed or a product sold,and where one is able to the trade these credits for a service or product that one desires.

Catering for one's economic needs whilst at the same time enabling one to live in these small beautiful sleepy towns with their communal warmth,and familial and communal support networks;and their town squares with children playing games around the fountain as the old men Play cards or chess; or the familiar local hometown girls walking back home from the cinemas waving their helloes to friends, as the warm rustic flavour of freshly baked bread wafts from the local baker and intermingles with the clattering of the knitting needles of the old women rocking on their front porches,or how the sound of the church bell on a Sunday afternoon draws all the local townsfolk in.

Yet I, like many others,live in a metropolis; with our cable televisions, and coin operated laundromats, and our garbage trucks that collect our discarded waste and refuse, past curling cats and rats in stained back alleyways,and corner coffee stands,and morning alarms that wake us from  our sleep to our morning commute; and the question needs to be asked,how can we change our direction,and inject the humanity back in humanity?

I think that the answer lies in our past; for to move forward as a society, we need to be able to firstly look back,and this brings a quote by the famous Scottish philosopher David Hume to mind:

"A man acquainted with history may, in some respect, be said to have lived from the beginning of the world, and to have been making continual additions to his stock of knowledge in every century."

Though the bustle of the metropolis has become a necessity to house and contain the bourgeoning populations of this strained and over-stretched world, it does not have to be soulless or meaningless,it can become a meaningful place;but only if we allow ourselves to rediscover our humanity,our soul, our transcendence.



With a digital drawing from Nikos Laios


Nikos Laios, North Sydney, Australia

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