The Sound Of Things Falling

A few years ago, a novel was published in Spanish about the Colombian drug trade and its effects on the collapsing physical and social infrastructure of that troubled nation called El ruido de las cosas al caer. This book was translated last year into English and recently won a prestigious Irish book prize [1]. Part of the interest of the book, which I have not read (not being someone who tends to read many novels), is in the way it shows how the corruption of the drug trade changes the way that people act in their private and personal lives and not only their public ones. As someone who has lived long enough to see how exterior law and society shape and harm the lives of ordinary people, whether in provoking them to speak out and make themselves targets or causes them to interiorize their concerns and live dishonestly and fearfully, we are all dramatically shaped (and often harmed) by the environments around us, even as we remain responsible for our own responses to that world.

When I was a teenager, my mother was studying for her undergraduate degree in business management (which she would eventually obtain at the same time as I finished my studies in civil engineering), and one of the courses she took used a book called Economics In One Lesson [2] as part of its foundational text (along with “The Law” by Frederic Bastiat). Among the lessons of this particular book is that the funding that goes to try to repair crumbling and broken infrastructure often has a great but hidden cost in a lack of ability to build a better future. Therefore, to deliberately break a system in order to stimulate it via artificial means is wasteful and inefficient, and harmful to the larger well-being of society, even if it looks flashy. Sadly, such behavior is lamentably common in our contemporary society by which complicated systems are broken through (deliberately) haphazard efforts at regulation with the ultimate failure blamed on the wrong parties and served to increase a government with limitless appetites for control and negligible capacity for management.

However, even though it is wasteful to deliberately break a window of a factory (or to celebrate the destructive behavior of others who do so) in order to spur a stimulus in the window industry (which was part of Hazlitt’s lesson), fixing windows that are already broken is a different matter. As we are dramatically shaped by our environments, it is easy for human beings to fall into despondency and languor when the exterior circumstances of our existence are falling apart, because it sends us a subtle but pervasive mention that our lives and efforts are worthless. When we are able, even in small ways, to work in such a way that we can better the world around us, it makes us feel better as a result, and encourages us to further action. Infrastructure is surely not a glorious aspect of life, but it is vitally important in providing people with encouragement and confidence in order to work hard and engage in those behaviors that in the long run lead to success even if they might not immediately pay off.

As a young adult, I was an avid reader of the yearly report published by the American Society of Civil Engineers on the physical infrastructure of the United States. The results were invariably gloomy and grim, as the United States has shown little interest, under any political party, to invest in physical infrastructure, as it can be immensely expensive to do so and also does not have any particularly strong political lobby (as civil engineers are not an important swing constituency in elections). When particularly glaring infrastructural problems are repaired [3], moreover, they often cause short-term hassles like lane or bridge closures, and their benefits are only felt over the long-term. Unless we have disciplined ourselves to except present pain in order to obtain future gain, we will not appreciate these efforts and will only be upset at the inconvenience of construction and maintenance efforts.

Yet the long-term results of an ignorance of and a disinterest and an inability in preserving infrastructure is glaringly obvious to any who are observant about the world around them. As a young adult in my mid 20’s I took a trip to Turkey and witnessed the sad sights of grand old cities that had fallen apart because of the cannibalization of infrastructure for short-term exigencies [4]. When the reinforcement of buildings and columns and walls and statues was removed to create consumer goods, for a little while there was no harm, but when the earthquakes came and the walls and buildings and statues crumbled, there were no resource to rebuild those cities to the former levels of glory and excellence, and so what was once grand was replaced with something a lot more shabby. Those societies that take their infrastructure for granted in the expectation that what was once can be easily replaced or restored often act unwisely because the will and the resources do not always exist when a crisis forces infrastructure matters into the consciousness of people. Unless we have planned wisely, the logistical capacity to act may often be absent when a need presents itself.

This is not only true with physical infrastructure but also with the less tangible aspects of life that we can often take for granted. The state of our families, of our communities, of our political order, of our business culture, of our art and entertainment, of our education system, and of our churches are all aspects of infrastructure that are of vital importance in order to preserve the life that we wish to have and that we feel comfortable in. We are not created to be alone, rather our success depends on the efforts of many others [5], and our success will influence and be influenced by the wider world around us. We cannot help but jump when we hear the sound of things fallen, for the fallen state of our world is but an exterior manifestation of the fallenness of our lives, of our hearts, of our minds, and of our spirits.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sound_of_Things_Falling

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economics_in_one_lesson

[3] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/01/22/the-bridges-of-multnomah-county-the-sellwood-bridge/

[4] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/01/26/scrounge-4-gold-history-repeating-itself/

[5] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/few-people-are-successful-unless-a-lot-of-people-want-them-to-be/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, History, Musings and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Sound Of Things Falling

  1. Pingback: One Headlight | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: The Greatest Comeback | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due: Joseph Bazalgette’s London Sewers | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Book Review: Economic Sophisms | Edge Induced Cohesion

  5. Pingback: Book Review: Jackstraws: Poems | Edge Induced Cohesion

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