The suburbs, if we read history, are not a new phenomena. Anywhere civilization has expanded dwellings of their nature have arisen and for the same reason: the newly-wealthy merchant class, the last to arise because merchants unlike farmers or artisans have no direct connection to the production of goods or services but are resellers and marketers by nature, wish to be like the rich and have houses in the city, but as in all cities land is at a super-premium, cannot and so settle for outer rings of houses paradoxically away from both rich and poor.
Interestingly, this is not the foundations of the middle class; the middle class arises from those who perform functional jobs in some leadership capacity but are not rapacious enough to be profiteers. The merchants are a hybrid between middle-class and profiteers; where the middle class traditionally is familiar with wealth, and thus avoids get-rich-quick marketing scams, those who are new to wealth rise by becoming merchants, resellers, advertisers, spammers, etc. The middle class is entrenched in professional function, but the merchant class are basically unspecialized labor with an inclination toward profit.
Of course, over time the suburbs become accepted, and thus since most people want to buy a house in the suburbs they crowd out other markets and soon if you are between poverty and riches you buy a suburban house. Thus the middle class gets blamed for the suburbs, and for the "bourgeois" mentality following, when really, it's a consequence of newly-enfranchised people seeking to assert their wealth. Unfortunately, the bourgeois rapidly develop political opinions as well: at first they are conservative, because they are self-congratulatory about their new wealth and wish to assert social darwinist rhetoric (conservativism is a liberalized adoption of the ideas presented by aristotle, and as such has no legitimacy to a philosopher).
Think about life from the perspective of the new generation, those who have grown up in and know no other reality than the suburbs: everyone you see is about of the same ability, and is making a living in fields that are "easy" because they do not involve physical work; they're desk jockey jobs. As a consequence of having nothing substantive to do, a process which only gets worse as the number of desk jobs proliferates and thus competition equalizes them to a lowest common denominator, the suburbans have a unique morality: they believe that all people are equal because to them all functions are equal, performed equally by those of mediate ability but not exception or decreased faculties, and in their boredom they assume everyone is like them (boredom, paradoxically, gives itself to less in-depth study of a problem, as to be bored is to be accustomed to unsatisfying distraction, thus one gives every idea a singular glance and moves on).
The suburbs thus invent their own morality not out of any special purity of the heart or mind, but out of the kind of boredom that comes from utilitarian, interchangeable tasks. Further, they treat all problems like those encountered at suburban jobs, namely ones where a change in method can produce better results. How many movies/books from the 1900-1950s rise of the new merchant middle class in America featured a hero who found a new method of separating corn, or of knitting socks by machine? The merchant middle class approaches morality the same way: everyone I see is of equal ability in equality simplistic jobs, therefore we must all be equal.
Note that the honest worker revolts do not embrace equality until some college-educated suburbanite slips among the darker, dirty-shirted forms at a meeting and begins speaking in that clear accent... "I lower myself to your level to help you, because it's the right thing to do" -- but inevitably that suburbanite has had a failed marriage, is impotent, is perverse, is addicted to drugs, and is thus not raising the lower so much as raising its own lowered self. They are fallen angels making themselves feel better by "helping" others. But the normal worker revolts have a simple demand: they are being mistreated, and they want better working conditions and more money. "Equality" to the worker makes as little sense as depending on angelic aid, because they are aware of their own failings and limitations. It's only when some suburbanite descends and makes itself feel like an angel by raising their expectations that they get the notion of "equality" at all.
Suburbanites embrace equality because they assume that method will make us all function the same. Surrounded by wealth, they look at the poor as a question of our method of dealing with them, and by that very "us" and "them" dichotomy designate the poor as non-autonomous, something we the "us" -- with power, good graces and wealth -- must act upon because they cannot act for themselves. Suburbanites embrace equality, in other words, because it affirms their power and leadership. Equally importance in their embrace of this illusory idea is that surroundings in which it is created: suburbanites work in jobs that involve manipulating other people, socialize in unrealistic circumstances centered around money, and have goals that are entirely realized externally to the individual but internally to the socialized mentality of the individual, e.g. society at large. This unreality created the suburbs, and the people who adapt to the suburbs thus in turn pass it on.
Think about what people, black and white and yellow and red, have done when they've gotten into the suburbs. They buy a house, and immediately become interested in defending their own interests against those of all others, because to have something in this world is to immediately become a target for parasites. After fighting off the scam artists, the realtors, the tax men and the school board, they're sick of the goddamn world and assume it is always wrong and they are always right. And why wouldn't they? Next, they cluster in social groups where the goal is never to offend, because these social groups exist to perpetuate advantages at the job or in the business. So they talk about things that are horrifying but cannot be fixed.
Soon the paranoid suburbanite is buying insurance and scrambling for more wealth. Since they talk about wealth anyway, and pass on opportunities to one another as a means of socializing, this rapidly translates into a fixation on wealth at the expense of others. However, this is far away from home, and thus whether both partners work or not, they begin to view the world differently, from home: with pity. They see their own wealth and the poverty of most, and because they exclusively watch and listen to and read emotionally-wrenching material from Disney movies to newspaper exposes to books about death, they feel a leaden guilt... so they make a sacrifice to that guilt, and give away not more than one-tenth of their income.
Do they give it to effective causes, like finding a saner path for humanity? Heck, no. They're doing this to make themselves feel better, so they give to visible charities with heart-wrenching causes, like disabled orphans or African-American Republicans. In doing so, they usually make the world worse off, because these charities are parasitic; their goal is to perpetuate themselves, which does not involve solving the problem. And so on -- on and on, South of Heaven (and east of the Beltway).
The suburbs, like other examples, show us that modern society is a mindset more than a tangible entity. Thanks to our wealth based on the inventions and struggles of the past, and the passive imperialism of world capitalism, we can live in luxury in exchange for working most of our free time on jobs where most of our work is not only not essential but devoid of actual, Realistic value. It is simply pushing papers around and "generating" wealth. Recognizing our uselessness, and feeling guilt, we diverge further from reality.
If we had to summarize this process, whether modernity or the suburbs, we would say that convenience and socialization obscured realism while technology equalized the lowest with the highest, and the result was a civilization without leadership that rapidly consumed its resources and sank to a third-world level. The suburban mentality, like modern society, is a method of control dependent on this unreality subsidized by technological equalization, and like all illusory things, leads to eventual destruction. But that's getting ahead of ourselves, and you can bet it won't be mentioned in the suburbs until it's too late.
June 19, 2006