Suburbia, Individuality and the Cog in the Machine
It's easy in this day and age to feel swamped by the mass of humanity. As of March 2012, the world's population jumped past the 7 billion mark, according to the United States Census Bureau. That's 7 billion and you's and me's walking around and doing stuff. 7 billion people who feel just like you or I do, and who basically seek the same kinds of things.
The suburbs of our towns have in many ways become a representation of this incredible population. Suburbs can go on for miles and miles, and where once existed a collection of towns, we now have super towns, all interconnected by urban sprawl. The following picture by Huw Ogilvie entitled 'Infinite Suburbia', shows just a fraction of the sprawl of Shanghia in China. Shanghai is thought to be the biggest city in the world, but in fact it's an amalgam of different towns and districts.
Seen in this context, it's easy to feel that we're just a cog in the machine, and that everything we buy and do, just feeds vast economic systems which we're part of. Seen in this context, we're reduced to being consumers who walk around shopping malls and supermarkets, feeding the machine, that in turn, feeds us. This whole idea is explored in more depth in my hub Gurdjieff, zombies and human machines.
Other organisms too show this pattern of behavior, not just humans. From ants to caribou, when individuality is subsumed into a greater whole, another pattern and truth emerges, which sits uncomfortably with each of us who like to think of themselves as individuals.
We are predictable. The study of crowd movements tells us that crowds tend to move to the right (see this fascinating article). Even people who like to think of themselves as somehow free thinkers and who live outside the box, are just a personality type, and the forces of commerce even know which products are best targeted at these individuals.
Are we individuals?
Our very own individuality seems threatened by the super population of the world. From town to town we meet people who share certain characteristics and sometimes, we even meet people that are so alike someone we know, that they could nearly be the same person. Genetically this is not surprising, as the genetic material has been spread far and wide, and collective memories and impulses are informing the majority. More importantly in our age of instant communications and mass media, we tend to think the same way and think the same thoughts, depending on what we've been exposed to.
I might hear someone say 'I am so not like someone else', to which I might respond, 'Really?' In fact, re-wind a few years, and it might be evident that it was the TV series Friends that popularised in all English speaking countries that distinctive use of the word so, and ending even a statement with a question mark?
In some ways the collapse of certain world barriers is creating a uniform race, where we tend to just be the same kind of person, whether we think we are or not. We are what the term sheeple has been coined to describe. With the advent of modern technology, whether we're alone or part of a crowd, our own individuality is subsumed into a greater collective and collective information, and we function like a cog in a machine...
Carving out our own individuality
Carving out a sense of self is something everyone is up to. Being swamped by the masses isn't necessarily the frightening thing it could be, since really there are no two souls alike. Sure, there might be strong similarities, but strip back the outer casing, and what we find is a key signature that is utterly different from individual to individual.
Call it soul, or spirit, or consciousness, but this very essence leads us to make our life our own, and carve out a little niche that we're comfortable with, sometimes against all odds. Just because we look and sound the same as other people from city to city, doesn't mean that we're really the same. It's just that, we look the same to people who don't know us personally.
Just as ancient man carved out meaning in their lives, with belief systems and certain thought processes, we do exactly the same today. We have to create certain barriers and boundaries and more often than not, own our little piece of land or property and give it a name: home.
At One with ourselves or at One with everyone else?
Maybe it doesn't really matter who we are or what we are - whether we're part of a crowd or recognized for our amazing individuality.
Being at peace with ourselves has the strange quality that we are immediately at peace with everyone else as well. This means letting go of exterior perceptions of self.
We are individuals at peace with the masses. We are a cog in the machine, perfect little worker ants, but unconcerned about the apparent soullessness of the situation. Perhaps we see the restrictions of life, but are happy with the clear limitations imposed on us. We float free from the cage, while remaining within it.
We all have a part to play. Because the cosmos is whole, it stands to reason that our existence is integral to everything else. This totality of all things means that you only have to remove one thing for the whole thing disappear.
So without you, no cosmos...
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