Building our City

I’ve been working construction for the past 6 years. Big building kinda stuff, not single dwelling homes. Often it’s been government funded projects or large towers. Sometimes the things I work one conflict with my personal ethics. Gentrification is a problem in my city and these towers may be making it worse. There’s also government funded things that I don’t like the purpose of. But nonetheless, I feel a sense of pride at having worked on them.

It’s definitely not tied to the actual end result because as I stated already, I’m not always a fan of why the the thing is being built. Obviously it’s preferable when my ethics line up with the project. I briefly worked on a radio-pharmacology expansion for a local hospital. That’s something I’m happy to have worked on. Of course it was my first job, so I can’t really claim too much credit for it.

But I digress.

I enjoy these projects because of the size and scale of them. It’s having a direct hand in building my city. I feel more intimately connected to my home. These structures that make up our city are monuments to our progress as a society.

In the ancient times it would have been temples to the gods. Now it’s towers for business, with the great corporations names emblazoned on the top. Both structures are monuments to the elites arrogant belief in their own ideology. As a crafter I am in tune with those same builders of old (well the ones who weren’t slaves). The craftsmen who were prized for their skills. It’s unlikely they all believed devoutly in the old religions, but they harbored at least some beliefs. Worship has been safer than the alternative throughout most of history. The same is still true. We builders of the modern age must channel our forebearers when we trust in economics.


Cities are monuments to capitalism. The size and cost of a buildings is the plumage of a bird of paradise. They waste millions of dollars on displays of wealth, when millions of innocents die.

A piece of work I’m particularly proud of is a large chandelier I installed downtown. From talking to my bosses they estimated it was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Just the chandelier for a lobby. It’s main purpose wasn’t even to provide much light, it was principally decorative.

People are in terrible poverty very near that building. Walk a couple blocks from that job site and you’d see it. Yet a chandelier is installed that’s worth more than multiple people’s average  annual income. How to we justify this?

We don’t.
Not really.

It’s not a rational thing. It’s part of our confused concepts of justice and ownership and “fairness”. We’re all entitled in our own ways, even if we have a decent concept of morality. There’s an element of double think going on, of having morals and willfully ignoring them.

I’m reminded of the double-think required to be patriotic and moral.

True Patriotism, the kind that actually serves a positive purpose, has a dual nature. It’s a shame and a pride. And that’s how it should be. You have to feel both. You should feel pride in the progress your country makes because you are a part of it. A minute cog is still necessary for the larger workings of the national organism. Even if you hate the idea of it, you cannot be truly removed from nation states. The only option is to accept one, embrace it and try to do some good with it.

The flip side of Patriotism is patriotic shame. This is why I’ve always hated it, because so many “patriots” ignore this half. They don’t accept the wrongs done by their country. Most modern states have been involved in some horrendous acts; institutional racism/sexism, non-consensual medical experimentation, genocide, war crimes. No country is fully innocent, so recognize the flaws and work towards something better. If you stop feeling shame you’ve decided you no longer need to improve. Morally.

So reject that idea. Feel shame. Feel pride. One forces you to see your mistakes, the other allows you to see a better way to be. You amplify the good parts of your nation but you never stop talking about the shameful acts they’ve committed.


One thought on “Building our City

  1. Johann, I am so proud to read your essay. It’s an honour to be part of your world, your thoughts.
    Very kind of your mother to send me your work.
    Coincidentally this afternoon, I received an email reply from SFU instructor whose course, Saving Liberal Society, I am taking. We discussed Adam Smith’s concept of sympathy last week, and I sent him a contrasting article I found in a magazine which made me deplore the state of the world we live in. He sent me back his response, the last paragraph of which was written in the spirit of satire. It was enough to break my heart.
    I was thinking about my response to his mail for several hours when I received your essay from your mother.

    I believe the only hope for our future is to raise our children — yours, your parents’, and mine — with sympathy — like the one you have expressed in your essay — in spite of the odds against it is painfully glaring, hence my instructor’s heart-felt satire! For to think of the world where human beings are entirely devoid of sympathy and empathy toward one another — that all the haves could think of with their wealth and power is to create the getaway, the hideaway somewhere beyond the reach of the perceived danger — namely the ordinary people like you and I — is to give up hope for our children and humanity, is leaving ourselves to misery and death by surrendering to an evil impulse.

    Thank you for being thoughtful toward your fellow humans and toward your position in society, it’s encouraging for me to know there are people like you.

    I will forward you the email, hope you have the time to read it.

    Looking forward to reading more of your work.
    Your neighbour, Julianne


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