The mythologist Joseph Campbell used to point out that, as cathedrals symbolized the strivings of medieval culture, so do skyscrapers (usually? often? housing banks!) today.
Yuck! Which form of mind control, which failed attempt to ignore Nature and insert mind over matter — religion or materialism — is worse? I’d say “a pox on both your houses.”
Matter: etymologically: from the Latin, “mater,” “origin, source, mother.” As Earth is our mother, so we should fall to our knees, worship her soil, air, water, consciousness. At one with her, breathing with and through her, alive, our hearts swelling to the brilliant beauty of a flower, the tiny bird’s trilling song.
Down the Skyscraper
May 15, 2011
by Dmitri Orlov
A.K. This article is long, and funny, with awful implications.
Skyscrapers occur during the terminal stage in the hypertrophy of financial and other control mechanisms. They are optimized for a single function: sucking resources out of the surrounding, low-rise economy, which is actually tied to the natural world in some way, through agriculture or resource extraction or the use of physical human labor. The appearance of very large skyscrapers signals the onset of a new kind of economic vampirism, in which the parasite outgrows the host, and then begins to starve.
Although it is easy to assume that the life blood being sucked out by the vampires is money, it is actually hope. In his novel Empire “V”(“V” stands for “vampire”) Viktor Pelevin describes an entire vampiric ecosystem: the imperial vampires feed not on money but on a metaphysical substance called bablos. Bablos is generated when people, multitudes of them, work for money in pursuit of their hopes and dreams. Bablos is harvested when these hopes and dreams are then shattered. The vampires’ bag of tricks includes abstract disciplines such as Discourse and Glamor, which they use to optimize the metaphysical expropriation of the products of human greed and envy. Bablos is administered as part of a special ritual, during which bushels of worn-out currency are burned in a fireplace, but this is only done to symbolize that the money has served its purpose as a vehicle for harvesting hope via greed.
It is hardly unexpected that high belfries would be inhabited by large bats. Skyscrapers crop up when the economic vampires decisively gain the upper hand and feel exuberant about their ability to endlessly expand their numbers and their reach. But the moment at which they are at their strongest is precisely when their quarry—the base of natural resources made available by human labor—is, correspondingly, at its weakest, and can no longer support the ever-increasing load of parasites. The result is a downturn, or a crash, or a collapse.
The ascent to the top of a skyscraper is normally an exhilaratingly rapid ride in a high-speed lift, but, in an emergency, or a downturn/crash/collapse, the descent can be nothing of the sort. As John Michael Greer writes in The Long Descent:
“…as we’ve climbed from step to step on the ladder of progress, we’ve kicked out each rung under us as we’ve moved to the next. This is fine so long as the ladder keeps on going up forever. If you reach the top of the ladder unexpectedly, though, you’re likely to end up teetering on a single rung with no other means of support—and if, for one reason or another, you can’t stay on that one rung, it’s a long way down. That’s the situation we’re in right now, with the rung of high-tech, high-cost, and high-maintenance technology cracking beneath us.” [p. 168]
Lofty and proud, often endowed with a literal pinnacle of human ingenuity and industrial might, a skyscraper has but two futures: as a smoldering pit produced by a controlled demolition, or as a rusting, teetering derelict, shed of its plate glass and overgrown with vine, serving as a bird rookery, with only an occasional visitor scaling its lofty heights, swatting away the birds, to scrape up some guano, perhaps pocketing a few eggs along the way. This is the career path of the skyscraper: from the lofty seat of the captains of industry to a mighty bird-shit factory in the sky; or is it bat-shit? Let’s just call it “sky-scrapings.”
The prospect of collapse is built right into the very concept of the skyscraper. The best case scenario of a controlled demolition requires explosive charges and electronic sensors to be placed in key areas all along its steel frame. The explosions must be triggered in a specific sequence, precise to the millisecond and dynamically adjusted by a computer so as to steer the accumulating avalanche of rubble into the footprint of the skyscraper’s basement, to be excavated using heavy machinery once the entire mass stops burning and cools down. Without such precise and active control, things are guaranteed to go sideways because errors multiply rather than cancel. The idea that a skyscraper can collapse down into its own footprint by itself has been disproved by every generation of little children who played with stacking up blocks and knocking them down: the blocks don’t land on top of each other in an neat little pile; they scatter all over the living room floor. The worst case scenario is that the entire structure will eventually start to lean a bit, then a bit more, and eventually topple, forming a trench forced with twisted steel. Where the skyscrapers are packed close together, as they are in the many “downtowns” where skyscrapers are to be found, there is a chance of a domino effect, with one skyscraper knocking down others in a chain reaction.
What better metaphor is there for our entire collapse-prone, highly temporary living arrangement than a skyscraper? An update to the ancient Greek myth of Icarus who flew too close to the sun, which melted the wax holding together his wings, causing him to plummet into the sea and drown, the modern skyscraper—a phallic challenge to the heavens—is an object study in failed ambition. Perhaps most significantly, no other type of building intended for human use goes so quickly from comfortable and posh to potentially lethal. Having worked in many of them over the years, I have been forced to watch, and even to participate in, situations that have convinced me that I don’t want to spend any significant amount of time either inside or near any skyscrapers.