Archives for posts with tag: distance

Do people tend to live in neighborhoods with those like themselves?


But we may not realize that this tendency creates other dynamics. For instance, the economic segregation of Americans.

The Washington Post reports on a new study from researchers at the University of Toronto showing that the wealthy increasingly “isolate and wall themselves off from the less well-to-do’ in America’s cities.  Which cities are at the top of this self isolation-by-income category?

The least economically segregated cities?

Here is the full article by Emily Badger on the work of Richard Florida and Charlotta Mellander.

Florida and Mellander note one particular result of this urban economic segregation –

While there have always been affluent neighborhoods, gated enclaves, and fabled bastions of wealth like Newport, East Hampton, Palm Beach, Beverly Hills, and Grosse Pointe, the people who cut the lawns, cooked and served the meals, and fixed the plumbing in their big houses used to live nearby—close enough to vote for the same councilors, judges, aldermen, and members of the board of education. That is less and less the case today.

There is a new distance being created between urban dwellers in our largest cities.  Not only physical but in the socio-political worlds.  It means less sharing.  It must also certainly mean a lessened sense of a common good.

What we are now seeing more and more in the Urban Millennium are urban dwellers “experiencing the very same city in very different ways.”


I have a recent recording by Canadian singer Elizabeth Shepherd of songs from the mid 20th century.  Including Lonely House by Langston Hughes and Kurt Weill.  I am a longtime fan of Weill.  The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahogonny.  Die seben Todsunden.  Gibbering void and all that.

Kurt Weill

The song is not sung from a country road with neighbors far apart.  Rather, from the city.  With all those folks around.  It sings of urban density which seems to beget social distance, but even more so an emotional distance.  The reverse of community.  An unsought hyper individualism.  Not so far removed from the unhealthy individualism of the religion critiqued by Bonhoeffer.

Such lonliness is suffocating.  The song is a cry.  A shriek.

At night when everything is quiet
This old house seems to breathe a sigh
Sometimes I hear a neighbor snoring
Sometimes I can hear a baby cry

Sometimes I can hear a staircase creaking
Sometimes a distant telephone
Oh, and when the night settles down again
This old house and I are all alone

Lonely house, lonely me
Funny with so many neighbors
How lonesome you can be

Lonely town, lonely street
Funny, you can be so lonely
With all these folks around

I guess there must be something
I don’t comprehend
Sparrows have companions
Even stray dogs have a friend

The night for me is not romantic
Unhook the stars and take them down
I’m lonely in this lonely town, in this lonely house

In a number of ways Chuck Wright and I are quite unalike.

Friendship may be likely between those most alike.  I believe that I am blessed with many such friends.  But how poor we would be if friendship were only possible between those with common interests, views, backgrounds.

Chuck and I have been friends a long time.  As unalike as we might be, we do share some common tastes.  For instance, Miles Davis.

A couple years ago we sat one evening listening to music from several albums Chuck had brought along on one of his personal retreats.  I say ‘retreat’.  Don’t be misled.  There is little luxurious to a Chuck Wright retreat.  But he is not all spartan.  A fine coffee.  And Miles Davis.

My current Miles Davis fixation:  Blue in Green.   All week I have been listening to this cut from Davis’ 1959 Kind of Blue album.  LP.  Why?

There’s no knowing why a piece of music decides to speak to a person.  But I feel it speaks, saying something to an individual aware of a world grown more dense with humanity, complex beyond grasp, seeming to be more uncertain than it once was to us in our youth.  The music acknowledges this world.  And gives voice to its individuals.  Such as Chuck.  And me.

C Wright

Chuck dancing with his daughter Liz at her wedding.


“What you’re seeing in that moment,” he said in an interview last week, “is not a human being.”Sean O'Callaghan

This is the thing I’ve thought much about for several years.  But not quite in above quote’s context.

Sean O’Callaghan’s observation was made watching scenes of this month’s terrorist attack in a Nairobi mall.  Gunmen in the mall.  Shooting people.  But what they see, if Mr. O’Callaghan is correct, are not humans.  He shares this insight from his own experience as an Irish Republican Army gunman in the 1970s.  As a killer.

“A culture of authority and obedience that supplants individual moral responsibility with loyalty to a larger mission helps loosen the moral inhibition against murder, social psychologists say. So does a routinization of violence, as well as injustice or economic hardship that allows the killer to see himself as the true victim.”

Let me take a short leap here.

When I see drivers on crowded city roads during rush hour, I am not so certain that they are seeing humans so much as objects, and obstructions.

There.  I believe you are now seeing what I mean.

The idea I’ve been playing with is that technology creates distance, and that the result is a diminishing of others’ human identity.  Sure, technology can create closeness.   Social media.  Sure.

“But perhaps the most important ingredient is the dehumanization of the victims, said David Livingstone Smith, professor of philosophy at the University of New England and author of ‘Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others.'”


Technology has brought much benefit, and it isn’t going so far to say well-being, to humans and humanity.  But put a human in a tank on a WWII battlefield, peering through a slit or a periscope at figures scuttling across the land.  A young person seated at a control desk directing from a great distance a drone over a dark land far away.  A driver seated in an automobile surrounded by hundreds of other autos in which other drivers are obscured by the tinted glass.

It may be that the great challenge for humans in an increasingly urbanized world is distance.  The paradox is that as we more densely populate the places of this world, the great cities, that we find ourselves distanced via technology.  And in the case of the Kenyan terrorists, IRA of the 1970s, Germany of the 1930s?  Increasing degrees of efficient hatred have been brought about by technological advance.

This is a type of distance made possible by technology.  Perhaps even as reaction to increasing density.  My question:  how do we then serve in this world which God so loves?

One of the big theological concepts is that of reconciliation.  Things made right between others and persons brought together.  This theological impulse runs counter to hatred.

On the crowded city street during rush hour.  I need to change lanes.  Traffic is bumper to bumper and very slow.  I turn my head.  Make eye contact.  Smile.  A friendly wave.  I become human.  I merge.  Another wave of the hand.  Of gratitude.  I have become human.  And so has the other.

So then, how do we work reconciliation in this Urban Millennium?

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