the city, he loves me (december 2008)

Posted: July 21, 2010 in Uncategorized

if you’ve been in New York for any length of time, you’d know from both intuition and observation that many people live on their own in that place. how many apartments would you have guessed have just one occupant? 1 of every 8? every 4? on record, the number’s 1 in every 2. of all the counties in the US, NYC is the unrivaled leader in single-individual households. here, just a lone man or woman flips on the coffeemaker every morning and switches off the lights at night.

the records should tell an unambiguous story. they should confirm the common belief that the City is an isolating, cold-hearted sorta place. movies and art set in NYC are filled with lonesome NY characters. and then there was Christina Copeman who famously died alone in her apartment in east flatbush. her remains were discovered around christmas last year, a year after she died, still eerily dressed in a beret and overcoat. terrifying but real.

by contrast, the small rural town is the archetypal community in american lore. a state of grace from which city folks have fallen. even among die-hard city dwellers -those who could hardly imagine a life anywhere else, you’ll find people who secretly long for the small village they’ve never known.

yet the picture of cities that has been emerging from the work of social scientists shows the unexpected: that the people living in the city are actually less lonely. rather than driving people apart, heavily populated centers actually pull them together and, as a rule, tend to possess greater community virtues than smaller ones. ironic but nonetheless true.

take the grand central station for example. vast and seemingly impersonal, teeming with solitary commuters from a variety of kith and kind. might some people feel profoundly estranged as such a place? they could. still, grand central undeniably feels much more like a village green than a melancholy nowhere. tourists asking other tourists to take pics of them; cops chatting up passersby; friends meeting up for drinks or what-have-you. John Cacioppo, an author and social theorist, believes that our species wouldn’t have survived without a cooperative social instinct. in his book “Loneliness” he argues that loneliness, like hunger, is an alarm signal that evolved in hominids hundreds of thousands of years ago when group cohesion was necessary to fight off attacks from stampeding predators. it’s nature’s way of telling us to rejoin the group or pay the price. (suicide rates are higher in the rural areas and low in NYC). “nature is connection,” he writes.

a controversial theory but has beguiling consequences for city folks. what i gathered from Cacioppo’s view point is that the human brain did and does not continue to evolve to do multi-variable calculus or compose sonatas. the evolution is such that we become more capable of processing social information, hence to work collaboratively. cities, he says, show we can all work together and trust one another. cities, in other words, are the ultimate expression of our humanity. the ultimate habitat in which to be ourselves. that’s probably why in spite of all the noise and turmoil and the endless hustle and bustle of city life, most people still choose to live in them. including me.

not now but eventually, i shall return. to Manila or New York. for all the reasons stated above and the truth that before i even loved the ocean and the solitude of provincial life, i am foremost a city girl. i am the city, and the city is me.

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