Unchecked growth and the exportation of consumptive culture
March 2011 brought the chance for me to visit Shanghai, China. Coming in for a landing, I could see mile after mile of industrialized harbor and polluted canals filled with rusting ships. Countless acres of anonymous factories sprawled out in every direction. Blocks upon blocks of high-rise housing developments populated by millions of people struggling to make a life for themselves.
The hour long ride to the hotel revealed more construction in progress than I have ever seen in any one day of my life. Probably more than any entire week of my life. Endlessly sprawling city, with every available square meter occupied or under construction as we sped down the highway. A mix of ultra-modern architecture, communist bloc housing, and even some pre-cultural revolution structures interrupted only by vast stretches of green space for growing food.
As we whizzed by the twin cooling towers of a nuclear power plant, my driver explained to me that the government had designated much of Pudong as a special industrial growth zone to encourage rapid investment, as well as entice western companies to build. Shanghai has over 17 million and the growth over the last 2 decades has gotten so intense that the government is trying to slow the growth now because land values are rising faster than the people can handle.
I wondered about the lives of the people that were here before the accelerated growth, when this was nothing but farm land on the river delta. Did they feel pushed aside by all this progress? Or did they feel it enhanced their lives?
Watching a man on Chinese tv talk about his dream of owning a car, and how that would really make him “somebody” put all of the rampant growth into perspective for me. Millions of real people in China are working hard to buy into the same lies my friends and family in America are enslaved by. They’re collectively mistaking the material possessions they don’t need in the first place to be somehow indicative of their values as individuals.
They’re polluting their bodies, their communities, their culture, and their environment to live the same shallow lives we live. Somebody had better tell the communists that they’ve lost the war.