Saturday, October 13, 2007

Why we live together: our need to hear noise

Next time you go camping up in the mountains or in the desert, listen to the silence. Listen to what it’s like to be alone in the world.

After the routine noise of your working days, it probably sounds beautiful; you can hear your pulse, your breathing, regular and even; silence is indeed golden, but what if that was all there was – silence!

It’s difficult to imagine what that would be like, isn’t it – we live in a world full of noise – the obvious noise made by traffic and people generally – the noises we try to get away from but usually can’t – and the sometimes desired noise that we call music. Noise is ubiquitous –it’s all around us, all of the day and most of the night too.

We all sleep through the constant, dull sound of our air-conditioning, through the noise of the cars still going by at three in the morning sometimes, and the noise from those asleep in the same room.

But what would our lives be like without noise – ask the deaf! Noise tells us that we are not alone, and although there’s usually too much of it for our liking, if there was none we would feel lonely.

Jean-Paul Sartre said that hell is other people, but in a world where few people existed, other people that could be trusted would have made life bearable. In a world of dog-eat-dog, of lawlessness, being surrounded by people you knew and liked was probably vital.

To choose to live as a hermit (from the Greek ἔρημος erēmos, signifying "desert", "uninhabited", hence "desert-dweller"; adjective: "eremitic") - a person who lives to some greater or lesser degree in seclusion and/or isolation from society, ( would be an odd choice in a world of danger, and only the strong or the insane would contemplate it.

Living in communities arose, it has been said, more from the need to cooperate to manage common land than out of the need for defence. Nevertheless, people would most certainly have felt safer with others close by, and the history of our planet and its people is the history of the community – of the rise of walled cities, of treaties between communities, and of conflicts between them.

‘Eidgenossenschaft’ – German for confederation, the term literally translates means "oath fellowship"; a confederacy of equal partners, which can be individuals or groups such as states, formed by a pact sealed by a solemn oath, and is quite different from the hierarchies that grew out of feudalism - pacts between unequal partners.

Both were most probably concerted attempts to fend off interlopers as well as live off the land. Now that both mean less than they used to, why do we want to live together – in cities that have outgrown their usefulness to us – cities in which living is harder than it has ever been? The answer is because the alternative is probably too dreadful to contemplate – living alone, with all that silence!
Robert L. Fielding