The Museum of Vestigial Desire

Traffic

tags: meta published on:

The traffic is not out on the streets alone, it is in the pattern and flow of thoughts in the head. If anything, city-dwellers think too much. Partly we are forced to think and partly we do it spontaneously. Nothing is left unthought, raw, unprocessed, undesigned. Carrying forward the logic of progression, the pioneers who will live on the Moon will have to think even more. For thinking is filling-in of sorts, the kind which does not easily become a habit or operating rule. Like the filling-in we do when we watch films. The filling-in I am referring to has a much more difficult pattern. Recognising it and starting to talk about it will take us some time.

In films we fill-in the jump from scene to scene, the off-screen motion which can't always be shown. We save film makers work and in effect activate the craft of filmmaking. If it were not for the eager and active filling-in by us, there would be no concept of film time. The filling-in we do in urban situations is maybe for reasons more closely linked to survival. In the times of the founding, when settlements were getting clustered together and cities were being born, the founding fathers had a slightly different picture in their heads. They pictured cities to be more like a media space for settlements to operate and exchange. Cities weren't supposed to be entire synthetic worlds but more of a layer of media to allow pre-existing worlds to transact. The plan wasn't to do large scale policing but to expect for natural self-balancing, a kind of equilibrium to emerge. The plan didn't work. Once put in place city spaces wanted to become everything. There was a resistance to being contained in a specific role, the idea of being a media specifically for worlds existing already was not taken very well. The arrogance that emerged when streets connected with streets and junctions emerged couldn't accept very well a priority given to settlements based on history, or bona fide ethnicity.

And so citizens of the prototype cities started to think a lot. They thought about everything, that which was there, that which was not there, that which was there at one time but was no longer there. Things that happened, things that didn't happen, things which could happen. There was never enough time to finish all the conversations that were started. There was never enough time to travel all the trails of thought which were walked upon. This overthinking led minds to be able to talk to each other just by being proximal. There was no need to open your mouth and say anything. Just by hanging around and being close enough, their skins talked to each other. Presence was no longer needed in the social sense, bodies just needed to move around, conversations just needed to be experienced not participated in. This was the filling-in that started happening. The social was a kind of stand-in for itself. People pictured large sets of inter-connected and inter-dependent societies that constituted cities in their heads. But this was a false image, actually very small groups or sometimes isolated entities were living in dense settlements and people's skins talked to each other spontaneously. The traffic of men, materials and thought seeded the city as the surface and space for a media to operate.

Traffic of other kinds also exists. I suggest that we look into the traffic of contraband. Contraband has always existed. Or at least since when law was fabricated and put into place overnight to cement some relationships and disrupt others. Things that people just did suddenly became illegal and negotiations had to be processed to figure out a middle ground. In fact this was the beginning of business also. The activity promoted with cooperation from the city to produce capital and organise the populace. Initially business was almost entirely sponsored by the state and was seen as functions that fulfilled desires of the state. The state wants access to capital. The state wants populations to be accessed en masse at any give time for mobilisation purposes. So the state sponsored businesses through legal largesse. All forms of private capital outside business was outlawed. So extortion, contract killing and prostitution which were popular pursuits at a time became niche interests. Children grew up aspiring to do business and not kill for money. These were all fabrications of the business-friendly legal system. Business was enshrined as a prime bona fide activity because it offered the maximum range of benefits to the state.

Today, business is still a central activity for us. It creates all the circuits of traffic. Motor vehicles crawling around on our highways, ships carrying free stuffed toys for grocery shoppers across the oceans. In all this dynamism and elaborate machinery lurk other things which we actually want to talk about. The traffic of waste thrives with the movement of men, materials, thoughts because wherever the circuits of traffic travel things get left behind. From shit to soiled bedsheets to thrown away glass pendants to furniture hacked away because it reminds too much of evening parties now past.

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