Rural people are closed, and city folks are open. At least, that’s the message urban-centric media keep repeating over and over. But the false dichotomy of open vs. closed is an urban misconception. Instead of accepting it, we should consider the two sources of openness — an openness to new worldly experiences, and an openness to our spiritual inner world.
Documentary filmmakers, like most people in media and journalism, tend to come from the big city. And when they go out to document rural or nomadic peoples, they invariably call their subjects ‘closed’. They say rural people yet content with living in small communities have closed themselves off from the greater world. Nomads, too, still clinging to ancient traditions, have turned their backs to progress.
The Non-Urban Other
So, they say. Whether Mennonite, Amish, Roma, Inuit, or American Redneck, cityfolks and their tv audiences generally consider the non-urban “other” as backward and uneducated. As people who have yet to learn about the cosmos.
What urban dwellers consider open is ‘good’, as in: casual sex with random strangers is good fun. And ‘closed’ is bad, as in: bad people are fascists.
Isn’t it ironic, though? City dwellers who live in concrete jungles hardly ever catch a view of the horizon. Buildings all around them stand in the way of getting to know their landscape, as though they were troglodytes living in caves. Urban peoples never see the sun floating gently across the mountain ridge, either. There’s no fresh air to breathe, and the constant noise from never-ending constructions deadens the soul.
By day, urban skyscrapers blot out the sun. At night, commercial signs drown out the stars and the constellations. With its artificial rooftop gardens, the urban world has all but shut itself off from the natural world. Yet the city prides itself for its openness!
People who grew up in Downtown Manhattan, have to Google what natural landscapes still look like. They have to watch tv-documentaries about what it’s like to live with animals on a farm. And they have to look up YouTube videos to learn about the Milky Way.
Indeed, few people who grew up in our overpopulated world’s urban areas have ever seen the Milky Way with their own eyes. City lights are too bright to allow the faint forces of the universe to be seen. And so, city folks, not rural folks, have lost any and all connection with the cosmos.
A World Within
Anyone who has seen the Milky Way with their naked eye, knows the overwhelming sense of connection to humanity’s most ancient spirits. For once you’ve seen your own galaxy splashed accross your full range of view, there is no more denying that the open society we seek lies not in Tokyo, Tel Aviv, Chicago or Paris. The open society lies out there, namely: within ourselves.
It turns out that being open to new worldly experiences (drugs, alcohol, and casual sex) is quite a different thing from being open to one’s spiritual ancestry, to Mother Nature herself, or to God. People who still believe in God aren’t closed. People who enjoy spendings days camping out in the wilderness aren’t ignorant. They simply draw from a different source of openness.
These two sources of openness are:
an openness to the material (man-made) world
an openness to the spiritual world (of the cosmos, God, one’s ancestors, or Mother Nature)
Mind you, both these types of openness serve healthy purposes. Rural peoples, certainly, should explore new worldly experiences to enrich their understanding of the greater world humankind has to offer. But city folks, in turn, have almost completely lost their spiritual connectedness to the universe. They have been cut off from the lands of their ancestors and consequently, from their ancestors’ spirits as well.
An Open Mind, an Open Soul
Urban filmmakers too often confuse a spiritual openness with an uneducated closedness, as if rural peoples shun material delights for no other reason than being stupid. In reality, rural peoples may feel apprehensive to the city’s progressive advance, particularly due to the city’s humiliating rejection of a more spiritual connection.
As shiny as the Big Apple may look to some, it still looks like a dump to others.
Calling rural and nomadic peoples ‘closed’, simply because they’re not as well connected to people from the Big City, is an insult. And the insult stems from a particular kind of urban ignorance, a spiritual blindness. It is perhaps evidence of the progressive closing of the urban mind.
People from the big city are not saving anyone from ignorance by migrating more rural folks to the city. Introducing a nightlife culture of drugs and casual sex among the Mennonites or the Amish won’t make these unique peoples less closed. It will make them more closed.
Urban documentary filmmakers who, out of their ignorance, look down upon more traditional peoples living beyond the city’s perimeter, have yet to discover the gaping void in their own souls.