Growing up in Eastern Europe, my parents and grandparents, as well as teachers and church figures, made sure that all youth visited the sites of what remains of the concentration camps of World War II. We also saw the many graphic visual accounts of these camps presented in numerous museums. It was horrifying, but both part of the terrible history, and part of the education of my nation, Poland.
The impact it had on my upbringing was profound, and quite naturally I developed a keen paranoia about repeating history in any small semblance of this sort of institutionalized, incomprehensible terror. My family suffered through this, and have done their best afterwards to warn us.
Seeing the labor camps, ghettos and concentration camps of my nation has permanently altered the way I look at human organization. Now, in the United States, I find myself noticing little, yet creeping similarities between the way life was organized under totalitarian militarism and the peculiar ways of the self-organizing structure of modern urban and suburban America.
While modern suburbs certainly are not wartime labor camps in any direct terms, our modern civilian lives are already physically resembling the organization of prison camps. In softer, less coercive ways we are naturally dividing and cordoning ourselves off from each other, forming suburban blocks and neighborhood units. Our custom, very comfortable and well-stocked homes resemble luxury cells that we confine ourselves to, growing ever suspicious of even our neighbors. In many American neighborhoods you can walk around for an hour and never see another human being outdoors and not in a car.
Through a mass indoctrination into a very comfortable and distracting social and political paradigm, the majority of us find ourselves working all the time, eating de-natured foods, frightened of authority, scared to ask big questions, eager to fit into some group, yet so divisive that we’d break familial ties over perceived political differences. We’ve been programmed with a phony notion of success and disoriented by a shock doctrine delivered by a lying media that prioritizes American life into fear first, then sensationalism. We’ve already moved ourselves into manageable suburban camps, inwardly focused on scrapping for bits of a dying currency in a dying economy, while turning a blind eye to endless war abroad, and while the police at home arm themselves with tanks and drones. Weird.
Increasingly, suburban towns are coming under the control of micro-bureaucracies, neighborhood associations, and Homeowner’s Associations (HOAs). There seems to also be a rise in the over-zealousness of municipal code enforcement in recent years.
An uncle of mine looked up one day from his front porch to see an armed man in the front yard. Packing a holstered sidearm, this unexpected city employee also had a ruler and was measuring a blade of grass in my uncle’s yard to determine if it violated city ordinance. After years of harassment, letters, time sucked, energy wasted, and tax money burned, the city finally dropped the $2,000 fine they had issued him when, in court, my uncle asked the city prosecutor the bold question, ‘what exactly is the city’s definition of ‘a weed?’ They did not have an answer.
HOAs create rules, codes and regulations for homeowners, voted upon by those few who actually participate, enforced by power of contract, and backed up oddly by municipal governments and their criminal justice departments. Infractions of code are punishable by fine, property invasions, prosecution, eviction, forfeiture, arrest, and so on, depending on your personal limit for this sort of thing. It is ruled by force and humiliation; and, like camp guards, eager to enforce unbendable rules, some of your neighbors play out political control fantasies on the boards of these organizations.
Something as benign as deciding to paint your front door red, (or some other unapproved color), can introduce into life a world of stress, cost, and interference by the masters of the neighborhood.
HOAs are certainly not mandatory, which makes them all the more concerning, because either people seem to prefer this sort of punitive-based micro-management in their lives or they don’t care. Not a good sign, however you look at it.
In some areas of the nation, such as McKinney, Texas, municipal governments have undergone impressive technical integration with local and federal law enforcement agencies, and have even installed centrally controlled public announcement towers to broadcast ‘emergency’ information and alarms. These towers, located in neighborhoods, around schools, and located throughout the town are rather startling if you happen to be taking a nap in your home on a lazy Saturday afternoon, as they broadcast alarm tones and messages from a command center, at very high decibels, over the tops of all the houses. The city put them in whether or not you voted for it, protested against it, or begged for it.
Many of us are trapped in the suburbs. Trapped with mortgages higher than the worth of our homes, thanks to fraud at the highest levels of our economy, and by the expense of living in the suburbs, buried in debt, weighed down by consumer goods. Modern day work commutes with growing gas bills, skyrocketing electricity costs, being low on liquid-assets, and living paycheck to paycheck, make saving for a move and/or a job change very difficult, if not impossible. If this is not freedom, what is it?
The fact that we are self-organizing into units that both create division between neighboring areas and create microcosmic bureaucracy to police ourselves, and that we choose to punish non-conformity rather than invite individualism, says a great deal about our collective mindset. We are voluntarily subscribing to rules that divide us and pit us against each other and single out those who disrupt conformity.
While looking at our world this way is arguably somewhat cynical and less than positive, to be mindful of how we are structuring our lives and to acknowledge the dangers of being divided against each other, even at the neighborhood level, is to be empowered to create a more interesting and fulfilling future.
Let us work toward re-invigorating our communities by bucking the need for conformity, control and suspicion. Do your part by being friendly, helpful and respectful to your neighbors. Take on creative and positive initiatives like propaganda gardening and ask questions about the role of authority in our lives. Take on initiatives like guerrilla gardening that are proving to impact people in powerfully positive ways, and get to know the organizations and people who influence your community.
Alex Pietrowski is an artist and writer concerned with preserving good health and the basic freedom to enjoy a healthy lifestyle. He is a staff writer for WakingTimes.com and an avid student of Yoga and life.