A Cure for Displacement and Apathy
If we have learned anything from masterpieces like Nier Automata or Metropolis, it is that humanity transcends flesh. Conversely, the oppression of humanity transcends flesh as well, put simply.
Everyone deserves: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. That is an idea produced by the American Founding Fathers who had lived at the tail-end of the Enlightenment Era. The interpretations of what they mean are lost in contemporary public discourse for a wide variety of reasons that speak to the intellectual vigor of our society and our ability to empower ourselves in a society that holds “democratic values” and other cliché egalitarian truisms as a weaponized façade to divide and conquer workers and communities all around the world — primarily through income inequality and immediately through the effects of gentrification.
“Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” are 3 incredible ideas manufactured and developed over the course of several millennia in recorded human history. At the founding of our country, these were ideas that were topics of wild debate and required the blood of our Founding Fathers to secure. As admirable an effort it was to create a living, breathing document that is the Constitution of the United States of America, it has failed millions of people since its inception. Detailing the history of gentrification in America is not necessary to make this point not only by recognizing the failures of our systems in our country, but by recognizing who benefits the most from the current system.
The idea of: “pursuing happiness” requires liberty. To have “liberty”, you must have “life”; in which in the origin of this term in the Constitution was a privilege granted to wealthy, white, male land owners (especially those with higher education and preferably those who had a sophisticated English pedigree and were Protestant — worth mentioning due to even the Irish being prosecuted as well).
The policies enacted by the U.S. government under Jeffersonian ideology reflected this preference with land entitlements that required the gentrification of Native Americans to ensure. If the efforts to gentrify were resisted, then genocide was an enforcement to give guarantee to the legal constituents promised land offered in both public and private policy. Political realignments are a well-known Political Science concept that does accurately reflect many aspects of society in relation to electoral politics — however, this concept does not apply to urban development and foreign policy which better reflect Hamilton’s vision for America’s future.
Through rapid, never ending industrialization and addiction to modernity, our metropolitan landscape is shaped by that which fuels the capitalist machine of our economy, not that which fuels the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness for our communities for the sake of selling out to the ever-growing demands of urbanization.
Fast forwarding to the end of World War Two, the rise of the suburb arose for the upper middle class to move away from the city and resettle to affordable housing offered to veterans coming home through the benefits of the G.I. Bill. Levittown, Pennsylvania serves as the classic case study for the rise of suburbs in the 1950’s that rebranded such housing as the classic “white picket fence” real-estate to start a family. Without concern to the sheer amount of resources it requires to maintain a lifestyle associated with this type of development, the middle class of America bought the dream. As more suburbs were created, a subtext of the American Dream permeated into American society.
The point in which this dream was “lost” is up for debate, what matters are the current conditions of what the suburb represents: ambiguity and yearning for nostalgia like dusting off an old souvenir (Dorst 2012). This is the point where the aftermath of the policies of neoliberalism strip the identity of the middle class without discrimination of race, gender, and sex described further:
“Gentrification is part of a larger political project of neoliberalism, the impacts of which are far more complex than orthodox [Marxist] understandings of displacement. It involves a reconfiguration of politics, which has an important local manifestation. The extension of participation and consumer citizenship signifies a shift in the traditional social contract between the state and citizens, which has negative consequences for working-class residents, relating to both grassroots and institutional forms of politics.” (Paton 2014).
wE LivE iN A [cyberpunk] sOcieTy
With workers migrating to cities for work that end up trapped in a cycle of poverty and/or feel the full brunt of economic stagflation while stratified suburbanites further isolate themselves away from the rabble despite facing issues of gentrification themselves, an important question must be asked: “If this vicious cycle does not end, then what will happen to society?”. Science fiction writers have pondered about the dangers of accelerationism in a globalized society for decades and have produced a sub-genre to dive further into this kind of inquiry: cyberpunk. Before cyberpunk imagery can be used as a predictive model for inevitability, one must realize three things. Firstly, one must understand that gentrification is not a linear concept since there are no rules or pre-requisites for varying degrees of displacement. Secondly, the concept of cities as we know it are living productions of society similar to the internal biological systems that keep our bodies well-regulated. Finally, even if technology is utilized to materially or immaterially improve the lives of the gentrified and dispossessed consumer, and if the conditions of the communities that an individual consumer-worker are perceived to be separated and devoid of a rich, diverse culture because of this vicious cycle of class warfare, then what hope is there for the well-being of our communities? By exploring existing marginalized communities and drawing stark comparisons to cyberpunk imagery, a surprising revelation has yet to be discovered by the mainstream and will be discussed here.
What the Flavela?
Rio, Brazil is home to infamous urban development: the flavela. In privileged circles, this is dismissed as simple slums. To those in one of many flavelas in places like Rio, it is home. The origin of the flavela is originated in the global trend of slavery abolition. Brazil hosted far more slaves than America did, especially Rio — which explains a housing crisis that ensued after the abolition of slavery. Every government til this day has forgotten about the needs of the people in small towns that we see in these flavelas, so naturally the communities that dwell within them had to take matters into their own hands and build their towns from the ground up alone with no experience in public policy. (Perlman 2010).
“My research revealed that the return to democracy in Brazil brought neither inclusion of the poor nor bargaining power to poor communities. The incursion of the drug traffic into the favelas only made matters worse, but the. fundamental problem was that the democratic transition was, to use Holston’s phrase, “incomplete.” Comfortable, worn patterns of corruption, cronyism, and clientelism resurfaced once the rigid controls of the dictatorship were relaxed and party politics returned.” (Perlman 2010).
What makes the case study of the phenomenon of the flavela so relevant is how much it reflects current marginalized communities in the United States. Displaced immigrants flock to the United States and are forced to build their lives from the ground up and fight off urbanization and globalization simultaneously while maintaining their heritage and maintaining a sufficient standard of living all the while dealing with the effects of gentrification to start the process all over again. In what amount of democratic will marginalized communities in the U.S. is present is usually used in municipal levels of government to fight off these damaging effects. Fighting apathy is also a must for these marginalized communities.
To fight it off, it is well known that a multi-cultural approach to creating and maintaining what little power and sense of Latinx identity exists in this type of community: otherwise known as Latinidad (Laó-Montes 2001).
Cities are alive, our communities are the cells, and you are the powerhouse of the cell…
“The city in its complete sense, then, is a geographic plexus, an economic organization, an institutional process, a theater of social action, and an aesthetic symbol of collective unity.” (Mumford 1975).
“These same representations, that have reafﬁrmed the uniqueness of each city, have also interpreted this unique location as a version of a familiar and repeated storyline. Each city, no matter how ‘unique’ it is, is also one example of a universal format of social and spatial organization that is known and recognizable (for example, this is where governance is based, where the ﬁnancial and economic centres are located, where intense cultural activities take place). The duality of the city as a ‘unique’ place and as a universally recognized image have been produced and sustained through the media since the early days of modernity.” (Georgiou 2010).
Lewis Mumford and Myria Georgiou present an alternative outlook at what a city is from a surface-level observation that is so commonly made. The relevance of Mumford and Georgiou in the context for gentrification and cyberpunk are the universality of both of their ideas of what truly constitutes a city and how culture and community are axiomatic to neoliberal goals for urban development.
Bringing it together
Applying this knowledge to a futuristic setting assumes a future filled with apathy and increased marginalization of everybody that is apart the working class under increased acceleration of technological improvements. Inequality continues to be a socioeconomic reality that is only intensified overtime through the ongoing effects of neoliberalism as explained earlier. What “reality” has been made aware in this paper is that is already the case today. We already live in a cyberpunk society where augmented reality, virtual reality, and the Internet exist to create a new type of city: a digital public space that is increasingly being privatized every day.
What is shown in most cyberpunk settings in digital realms are filled with diverse and unique communities that desperately try to hang onto what they have left — much like the process of how cities are “latinized” through rampant gentrification. The common setting in cyberpunk settings are futuristic flavelas that are marginally cleaned up with neon lights and various other tech such as holographic billboards or augmented backdrops to “cover up” the reality of the flavela’s current state.
Plagued with pollution from CO2 emissions from flying cars and industry, the solace of knowing that everybody coughs just as badly as you do serves as just one of many means of perpetuating apathy and helplessness in a society that has already left you behind for the sake of accelerating technology — so plugging into a virtual reality is an attractive escape from a world that could care less if you were dead. Furthermore, in other cyberpunk narratives, such as Ghost in the Shell, society has progressed so much that the idea of technological singularity (uploading the mind to a cloud network) creates a unique transhuman dysphoria. One cannot fathom how confusing it can be to repeat the vicious cycle of gentrification in a society such as that.
Hope for a Cure
To change course from such a future, this is just one policy proposal explained for helping those who live in the flavelas of Rio, Brazil: “The only pathway to recapturing the city of Rio from the violence and chaos caused by the drug traffic is to complete the democratic transition with transparency, equality under the law, and accountability for lawlessness. As long as corruption dominates decisions, there can be no faith in the fairness of government, and that space will be filled by some alternate power system for resolving disputes and maintaining order.” and further explained: “The bottom line is a redefined social contract based on the commitment to a just city, a diverse city in which rights apply to all. The population of Rio de Janeiro’s formal city will have to join forces with with the population of the favelas in order to create the leverage for transforming the policies and practices that are part of the problem. The mindset and values of the formal city may have to catch up with the new reality of the “real city.” “Us and them” may have to evolve into a larger “we.” Without a doubt, widespread popular support, social mobilization, and political will are needed to forge a unified city out of a divided city.” (Perlman 2010).
My suggestion is to restore class consciousness as the core mode of combating apathy in our society. If our place in society, city and our community requires a common glue of a type of pride such as Latinidad to use as a base for empowering all marginalized communities, then that is what must be done for improving our lives now and the future with the help of everybody that we can empower together within our communities!
Dorst, D. John (2012) The written suburb : an american site, an ethnographic dilemma. (2012). Retrieved from ASU
Georgiou, Myria. “Media and the city: Making sense of place.” International Journal of Media & Cultural Politics, vol. 6, no. 3, Jan. 2011, pp. 343 — 350., doi:10.1386/mcp.6.3.343_3.
Laó-Montes, A., & Dávila, A. (2001). Mambo Montage: The Latinization of New York City. Columbia University Press. Retrieved from JSTOR
Mumford, Lewis, et al. Architecture as a home for man: essays for Architectural Record. Architectural Record Books, 1975.
Paton, K. (2014). Gentrification: a working-class perspective. Retrieved from ebook central
Perlman, J. E. (2010). Favela : four decades of living on the edge in rio de janeiro. Retrieved from ebook central
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