I’ve been in New York a few days now, and part of me feels it’s too short a time to make any sense of what I’m seeing, too soon to have any valid critique. But then I read Georg Simmell, who notes that the stranger in our midst is important because they ‘hold up a mirror to the society in which he or she enters, since [they] cannot take for granted ways of life that seem to natives just natural’ – and think that perhaps my raw strangeness in this place is a good thing.
The stranger is an interesting character – they are recognised, denominated as ‘someone’ – but not known. I am a stranger here. But I’ve come here. So don’t take this the wrong way… I do love NY. But…
So here’s two things that immediately spring to mind as a stranger in the US: you have excessive packaging, and excessive laws.
First, the laws. As soon as the plane landed the announcements and signs begin: this is against the law, we have the power to remove your mobile device, we have the power to keep your mobile device, the law states that it is dangerous and unlawful for more than 178 people to be in this room… and so it goes on and on.
One of my first thoughts here was this: rather than legislate for every last thing, why not work to create the conditions within which people will want to do the right thing? I think the answer is that legislation means that we can avoid contact with the other. If it is against the law to do something, then I can call the police and make it their responsibility to sort out. Rather than go to my neighbour and try to sort it out between us, we call 911 and get law-enforcement in.
Why? Because we are afraid of engaging the other. Afraid of what they might do. The other is dirty, is dangerous. We need to push them away, outside of our gated communities and below us in the mean streets.
And that, I think, is actually linked to packaging. Which I’ll get to tomorrow.
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