The Newest City
— meditation before 2010 Burning Man —
For millennia, we human beings lived in walled cities. That was where the power was. We were safe and warm inside the walls that kept the dark chaos of nature – out.
In the old days it was the darkness of wolves and bats and the undead. The wall was vertical stone. In modern times the wall is made of impressions and perspectives, pixels and trade deals. Nevertheless it is the same wall and does the same job: keeping out the wilderness and that great expanse of the fleeing poor and all their droughts and earthquakes and floods. We will send out help. We’ll do what we can! But our walled city design has stayed the same through the years. We stay here on the inside with our power. Beyond the wall is the dark chaos.
What a surprise then to find that the wall is suddenly full of holes. Our power is no longer inside with us, here behind the wall where the power belongs. Suddenly, our nation-state and corporations and religion are hard to find. Are the powerful on our side of the wall like they used to be? Public image professionals have assured us that the power will return soon. But the wilderness keeps showing up in the oddest places: in our dreams, in rumbling sounds under whispers.
How astonishing to find that we ourselves are the fleeing poor. We knew there were economic problems, but people have lived in the capitals of broken empires for centuries and things were OK. We didn’t know that we would be forced to move for lack of money or food. They kept telling us that the old walls were still casting their spell, like television screens that broadcast old hits. Our betrayal wasn’t clear to us until the weariness wore us down and we had to take a rest by the side of the road.
How were we to know that when we saw a walled city in the distance and walked toward it for days – that we would not be admitted? We felt drawn to it. We could feel the power. Now we stand at the gate of this city and find that it is inhabited by a vast wilderness. The dark chaos has reversed the power and walled us out. But what is this wall made of? It takes the form of incomprehensible bad weather, erupting rock and the last screams of the dying. Who do we even talk to? The newest city doesn’t seem to know that we are Americans.