Quote Book – [35] – Government & Society

Even as the drive toward bigness [and] concentration . . . has reached heights never before dreamt of in the past, we have come suddenly to realize how heavy a price we have paid . . . in loss of the values of nature and community and local diversity that found their nurture in the smaller towns and rural areas of America. And we can see, as we enter the last third of the twentieth century, that the price has been too high.
The question now assumes even greater urgency, as the growth of cities propels us toward the “mass society” – that frightening vision of people as interchangeable units, the middle class as powerless as the poor to affect the decisions of government.
One great problem is sheer growth, growth which crowds people into slums, thrusts suburbs out over the countryside, burdens to the breaking point all our old ways of thought and action-our systems of transportation and water supply, education, and even garbage collection. It also weighs heavily on our means of raising money to finance these vital services.

A second problem is the destruction of the physical environment, stripping people of contact with sun and fresh air, clean rivers, grass, and trees, condemning them to a life among stone and concrete, neon lights, and an endless river of automobiles.

A third problem is the increasing difficulty of transportation, adding concealed unpaid hours to the work week, removing man from the social and cultural amenities that are the heart of the city, sending destructive swarms of automobiles across the city, leaving behind them a band of concrete and a poisoned atmosphere.  And sometimes, as in Watts, our surrender to the mobile so crippled public transportation that thousands literally could not afford to go to work elsewhere in the city.

A fourth destructive force is the concentrated poverty and racial tension of the urban ghetto, a problem so vast that the barest recital of its symptoms is profoundly shocking.

The fifth is both the cause and consequence of all the rest. It is the destruction of the sense, and often the fact, of community, of human dialogue, of the thousand invisible strands of common experience and purpose, and of the affection and respect which tie men to their fellows.

It is expressed in such words as community, neighbourhood, civic pride, friendship. It provides the life-sustaining force of human warmth, or security among others, and a sense of one’s own human significance in the accepted association and companionship of others

Change is crowding our people into cities scarred by slums – encircles by suburbs which sprawl recklessly across the countryside, where movement is difficult, beauty rare, life itself more impersonal, and security imperiled by the lawless.
Therefore, the time has come … when we must actively fight bigness and over concentration, and seek instead to bring the engines of government, of technology, of the economy, fully under the control of our citizens, to recapture and reinforce the values of a more human time and place.
Growth has polluted our water and poisoned our air, and stripped us of contact with sunlight, trees and lakes.  Government has foundered as new agencies had proliferated, splitting tasks and energies among dozens of distant and unconnected bureaus.  Individuals have lost touch with the institutions of society, even with one another; and thus have become more and more both perpetrators and victims of coldness, cruelty, and violence.

Make gentle the life of this world

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