Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Of Newness (and monkeys)

For a while now I have been noticing this. There is a certain suspicion, or can I call it hesitance, of development. This is think is the singular mark of our socio-cultural and architectural landscape.

Newness seems to have replaced progress. Or newness seems to be seen as synonymous with progress.

All across our cities, our towns and our villages we can see this now. This overarching desire for newness. A newness that seems to arise out of a strong and very clear perception of being left behind, of being poor runners in the great race to arrive.

Dotted across the landscape we see odd and sometimes unimaginable shapes, shining new aluminium and glass boxes. At other places novelties that are hard to fathom or explain, yet they seem to be sprouting like mushrooms, spawning newer and newer offspring almost every day.

And yet, every time the choice of something not encountered before, or without precedent, is put before us we chose the old accustomed way. The way we have seen it done, that way we have been told it is done or the way someone else has already done it.

The idea somehow seems to be the first to have something.

Progress, I believe cannot be shopped for(The first great faux pas of an emerging nation). Progress comes from a need and belief in human capacity and will. From a desire to push, to break forth, and light a way.

Sometimes I liken it all to train. You can be the train, or you can be the track or track layer. The train only goes where the track has been. It cannot steer clear, it cannot chose not to go, it cannot choose to rest a while, side step and walk another way, beaming its light into the limitless darkness. For the train, there is no darkness, there is no limitlessness, and there is no ambiguity of destination. The train merely gets there, and celebrates arrival, usually on time and sometimes (with the help of protective economic sanctions of governments) delayed.

But it arrives. At a new station, a new destination, and then chugs on: onto still newer rails.

But arriving is not progress. Arriving does not break new ground and does bring new hope. It only brings you to a point where you can choose from another set of destinations to chase.

This seems to be the story of progress we a writing as we journey, a decade into this new century.

In our villages they are doing what the towns did a decade ago. In the towns what the cities did a good five years ago or so. And our cities are chasing tran-atlantic/ trans-pacific even trance-yellow sea dreams.

We pride ourselves at our capacity to pluck and rehash, to have what we have seen others having.

But wanting to find something, make something, that no one else has ever thought possible regularly makes us shudder and slouch back into our chairs in the hope that someone else will lay out track and light our way.

Progress takes heart and indignation. And to use a word I read somewhere, Gumption. It also takes sweat and blood. And a certain fearlessness of bloodied noses.

As you look out into the landscape, of our cities and our lives and you will see a long assembly line of idea. Slowly being assembled and cast eastwards from the great continents of the west.

We can buy every damned Eiffel tower, every Empire State Building, every Lloyd's of London, every Bilbao. And we can pass it off as our own. Or we can make some sorry fusion and crow about it all day. And then dish it out for the next fifty years, as many of our now demising masters have done for so long. All in the hope that we will discover progress.

Progress is in the mind. And a mind filled with fear, of the white man’s disapproval, of his neighbors’ jeering, and of his own incapacity is hard pressed to progress at all.

So long as the others’ judgment is the measure of our worth, newness will be all we have. Like actors waiting, or worse. Like monkeys in a zoo waiting to be taught a new trick.

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