This week, I came across the following paragraph that is all the more remarkable because it was written over 40 years ago:
Freeways cut up our cities and our countryside, developments encroach upon the seashore and level the hills, ugliness is strewn everywhere, neon glares obscure the night, huge buildings block the sun. We walk a favorite woods path only to encounter the desolation of bulldozers, blasted tree stumps, and destroyed vegetation. In these instances of assault, where there is little offsetting satisfaction, it can readily be understood why people are starting to realize that they are being pushed, shoved and hassled.
Charles A. Reich, The Greening of America (1970) at 187. These words could have been written last week but were committed to paper only a year after Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon.
The timelessness of Reich’s observation illustrates the fact that we have done little to deviate from the path that we were on in 1970. Roads are still being planned to carve up even more of our countryside and a visit to the seashore reminds us that regardless of the changes that we have witnessed in just our lifetime, even more developments are underway along the ocean’s edge. Our children can no longer see the night sky (except in planetariums) and we seem to walk in perpetual shadows during the day. We no longer can experience our favorite patch of woods which have fallen to the bulldozers.
The key point, however, is not that we just haven’t heeded Reich’s warning. Reich predicted that deep emotional unease would result from the changes to the natural world around us. In Reich’s words, we would begin to feel “pushed, shoved and hassled.”
Could it be that the rise of extreme partisanship, discourtesy and outright rudeness that we see today is linked to this degradation that we see all around us? Do we have a natural order and rhythm that is being upset from the destruction that we see every day? Perhaps we need to look at the root causes of this discontent instead of treating just the symptoms. If Reich is correct, unless we act to stop these environmental changes, we will feel increasingly like we are “pushed, shoved and hassled.” And that is bad news for us all.