Humble Sky

Composed on the 30th of December in the year 2011, at 9:51 AM. It was Friday.

Right to the chase. Actually, not right to the chase, because I have to fill some space and get past the giant "R" on the left here, so the quoting indentation doesn't look stupid. You think you're being clever with pretty design decisions, and suddenly it starts affecting your work. Enough. The chase is this quote, at the gutter end of the comments on an article about light pollution:

Is the closing of the sky a symbol of the closing of the urban mind? We are living in an era that has no great vision for any civilization other then commerce in China and India. Is humility an important ingredient in pushing mankind forward, does it beget the necessary ingredients of an advanced society, a vision? Yes I think so. As more and more people get closer together all that pollution of light and air dissolves any greater vision, and self obsession takes its place.

When the sky is washed clear of its character there is nothing but a skyscraper to offer humility, and if you live in one or work in one humility goes quickly.

Great visions have great plans with great projects, the pyramids, the cathedrals of Europe etc, where is our great plan? Where is that project that is so grand it almost seems separate from us, greater then us yet achieved by all of us. I am not talking about more of the same that has come before but something so audacious, so risky, so powerful it could never come to being without our own personal visions invested in that great plan.

The sky beckons us and we fall deeper into ourselves. The caveman had a clearer vision of our place, yet he too fell into himself, thinking the sky was full of evil things just waiting to strike him dead. With the sky empty of its form and structure where is there room for vision, where is there a need to be something better then a caveman with a cell phone?

We need a project, we need a plan, we need a vision, we need to go to Mars.

To respond to the first sentence: no. The "closing of the sky" is a result of photons emitting from ground lighting and bouncing off particles in the air and creating more ambient light than the stars. Apart from any other argument or line of logic in this quote, it's not a symbol of anything. It's a hyperbolic way to describe particle interaction.

"The urban mind" is almost as annoying as when anthropology teachers say "we still have stone age minds in an information era." Bullshit. Since there are no other information era minds to set the bar, we have the only information era minds. The urban mind is the same as all the other minds, it just lives in the city.

"We are living in an era that has no great vision for any civilization other then commerce in China and India." First, it's "than," not "then." Other then means the then that was tuesday rather than the then that was five minutes ago. Furthermore, what does this even mean? Other than commerce in India and China? I understand India and China are rising economic players, but how is this a major vision for civilization? The last major vision for civilization in China made it a communist state, which was definitely a vision, and a successful one, but not explicitly commerce-oriented, at least in my experience. Given the nonsensical nature of the sentence, I tried to translate it for my Indian friend as meaning "India has a coherent and revolutionary economic vision for the nation." His response was "I'd say the person who thinks India has a coherent vision of any sort has never spent any time in India." The hot visions these days are the fascist "free" democracy pushed by the conservative U.S. and the antiquated interpretations of Islamic law. We definitely have great visions in this era, but they have nothing to do with commerce, and they're at each others' throats and destroying world.

"Is humility an important ingredient in pushing mankind forward, does it beget the necessary ingredients of an advanced society, a vision? Yes I think so." No, I think not. There have been humble innovators, I'm sure, but the necessary personality trait of any artist is the little voice that says, "Everybody should experience my interpretation of my inner world," and half the scientists in history who have changed the world enough to earn repeated mention in laymen's physics books had egos so large they dared to think the entire scientific community was wrong. An advancing society is not a humble one, it's one that wants to continuously challenge the limits and laws that hold it down.

"As more and more people get closer together all that pollution of light and air dissolves any greater vision, and self obsession takes its place." Seriously, fuck you. Great vision generally requires self-obsession, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, and the clustering of people and light sources has nothing to do with the prevalence and quality of "vision." Great visions, whatever they may be, actually require a concentration of people to gain any traction. It could be argued that extreme concentrations of people are counter-productive to great visions getting airtime just because there's so much going on, but you could also say it just requires visions to be greater, or you could say visions don't get the proper respect in a busy metropolitan area, but mostly you should say this is really stupid and light and air pollution have nothing to do with ideological visions or anything besides light and air pollution. If a great vision is a thing held by an individual, self-obsession is mandatory; if a great vision is a thing created by society, it has nothing to do with individual experience, and larger concentrations of people should be beneficial, stars be damned.

"When the sky is washed clear of its character there is nothing but a skyscraper to offer humility, and if you live in one or work in one humility goes quickly." I'm not the humblest of people, but A) the sky is only "washed clear of its character" on otherwise clear nights, and B) I see a lot more people intimidated by skyscrapers than by stars. Any humility lost by being in a city is the humility lost after a year of dealing with far more daily challenges than those offered by a clear night in rural village. Perhaps a valuable amount of existential angst is lost, but I don't miss it.

"Great visions have great plans with great projects, the pyramids, the cathedrals of Europe etc, where is our great plan?" Really? After this lead-in about humility you bring up the pyramids? The "I'm going to make absolutely sure that everybody remembers I blew 10% of my country's GNP on my gravestone" vision? And the cathedrals? That one should be obvious, so I'll just point out how the church refused its priests the right to marry or fuck so it could inherit the property of the incoming faithful, thus laying the groundwork for the child abuse we're dealing with today. These are the visions we should be going for? Really? The seventeen-mile particle collider doesn't cut it for you, so you want another pyramid kind of thing?

"The sky beckons us and we fall deeper into ourselves. The caveman had a clearer vision of our place, yet he too fell into himself, thinking the sky was full of evil things just waiting to strike him dead." Aside from being nonsense, and aside from the fact that the sky is full of things waiting to strike us dead, this doesn't even match the rest of what I think are the points. If we fall into ourselves when the sky beckons, who cares if it's obscured by light pollution? And whatever it means to say the caveman "fell into himself," he did go on to create 10,000 years of civilization, so it can't be all bad.

"With the sky empty of its form and structure where is there room for vision, where is there a need to be something better then a caveman with a cell phone?" Even metaphorically, this doesn't mean anything, and it's just mixing up the existing metaphors, which have already been strained of any possible coherent interpretation. The whole concept of comparing literal vision and metaphorical vision hasn't worked since the first confused use of the word "symbol." Furthermore, I just don't buy the idea that the number of stars you can see in the sky is important in cultivating both humility and grand visions.

"We need a project, we need a plan, we need a vision, we need to go to Mars." Sure, fine. But what does this have to do with anything? And if all the millennia of technology, culture, and innovation it took to create the cell phone aren't enough, what's so great about being a caveman on Mars?

I'm not on this tirade to be defensive about city living. This is just a particularly good example of the pandemic of fuzzy thinking, creating mini-manifestos with a couple of meaningless metaphors stitched together with eight-year-old rhetoric and stapled to whatever's handy with a mad-lib opening sentence.

People should not be allowed to go to sleep thinking this qualifies as discourse. So join me in the campaign to



If you don't think it's a problem, you're not listening to Glenn Beck.1[1]

1 Wow, no footnotes.

See spot have seizure.

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