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Silence in the city

A recent visitor was struck by our location in central London, saying the effect made her wonder whether people actually live here!


Steve Latham


The noise, fast pace, and multicultural variation, all made her aware of the difference between this and her suburban home.

The busyness and the speed do indeed take their toll. But there is also the virtual city, the plugged-in nature of much experience today.

There is no place for us to be quiet, to disconnect. Always on the go, the only ‘down time’ is when we can’t go on any longer, and get really ‘down’, or depressed. And we welcome this invasion of our psychological space, choosing to receive willingly the penetration of reality TV and social media.

Nothing is truly private any more. Every aspect of life may, in principle, be offered up for the consumption of others and the construction of our own perfected image.

Byung-Hul Chan, a Korean scientist-turned-philosopher based in Germany (how postmodern and globalised is that?), has written “The Transparent Society”, where he critiques these developments.

According to him, that reserve of private, secret, life is suspect today. After all, why would we object to the highest number of closed circuit TV cameras in the world, if we had nothing to hide?

We avidly welcome Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon. A central tower, originally conceived to oversee penitentiary prisoners, it is now the metaphorical underlying principle of our total control society. Instead, we need to preserve the oases of quiet and reflection. Only these can provide us with the reservoirs needed for creativity and innovation.

But, what Robert Sarah calls ‘the dictatorship of noise’, in his book “The Power of Silence”, is not-so-gradually pervading our cultural and individual consciousness with the mental equivalent of musak.

Psychoanalyst Josh Cohen, in “The Private Life”, recognises the dangers, but the process of therapy, his own and with others, suggests to him that there is always an undiscovered personal excess.

Our innermost thoughts are often, Freud would say always, unknown even to ourselves. When we think we are most self-aware, a chance remarks slips out of our mouth, revealing some inner feeling. Nevertheless, for Cohen, psychotherapy is needed to recover these forgotten remainders hidden in our mental recesses.

To thus resist the pressure from society and systems, whether external or internal, socio-political or psycho-spiritual, we need a conscious discipline.

Only by deliberately taking time-out, to think, meditate, pray, or reflect, can we construct a kind of psychic samizdat to overcome the extraneous sounds in our souls.

The real battle, after all, is against the interior chatter, the barrage of thoughts in our heads. Concentrating too much on the physical clamour can prevent us from attending to these rumblings.

Consequently, Martin Laird writes, in “A Sunlit Absence”, whether we are in the country or the city, it is our own personal restlessness which disturbs the tranquillity. Even within the city, he maintains, stillness is discoverable, for example by practising contemplation on underground trains, our secret selves cloistered within the cacophony.

(Photos: Pixabay)

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