The creation of urban centers during the Medieval Ages was the beginning of the end for Western civilization. Urban centers begun the long sliding slope to the current day problems that we see with cities and largely populated areas. Cities have led to pollution, congestion, social anonymity, political corruption, and a degraded culture.
Most people think that the Medieval Ages were a dark period in Western civilization in which people lived under a cloud of oppression and ignorance. The stereotype of the “Dark Ages” is that people were just waiting to be freed by science, Enlightenment and Democracy. We typically assume that our lives are so much better today because we live longer and have better living conditions for housing, diet and education. We look at all of this proclaim that we have attained “progress” in our civilization. However, aren’t we just taking the positive elements of our civilization and using them to mask the real lack of progress made by urbanization and the growth of congregated populations?
Cities in European population primarily began as a way for merchants and craftsman to operate in congregated markets. They demanded more freedom from the traditional Church and State relationship. Local cities created their own political organizations and laws. Local craftsmen, like tailors, butchers, glass creators, and carpenters, all created businesses that offered hand made goods at prices demanded by the consumers. Laborers were attracted to work as apprentices and then to become their own masters. Labor formed guilds, sort of like unions, to create protections for labor and business. Thus, many people could believe that this was a demonstration of the positive aspects of some sort of primitive capitalist economy.
However, take a closer look at what was created. These towns created their own forms of governance placing them outside of the traditional forms of leadership of the government and church. This led to more extreme individualism and competition. The community lost a sense of identity and coherence that simply got worse as towns increased in size and scope. Business competition led to the growth of wealth amongst certain families. These families used their money to corrupt local politicians. Often these families created their own “turf” for business and would literally kill the competition in a mafiaesque style. Towns created problems for sanitation and trash. People in towns tended to use more and waste more since they were not under the limited conditions of the farmlands where farmers had learned to live with what they had.
One could argue that this was simply a part of the evolutionary process. As time would go by, the towns would become more sophisticated and learn from these errors of development. One could argue that we today have progressed over time far beyond these primitive moments. But have we?
We live in a “democracy”. But how many people really feel that they have a personal contact with their government. We get to vote every two, four, or six years. But, most people feel that the wealthy and powerful still influence those in charge. We may have a formal voice in government. But, isn’t this just a sham to cover up the reality of how little influence we have? Yes, it is true that we have become much better about our sanitation systems. But, don’t we still produce much more waste than was ever produced by farmers? Just look at how much your family will produce in trash in one week. Where does all that go? And, what effect does that have on our overall environment? Is it true that we are freer than the peasant of the Middle Ages? Well, yes, we are free in name. But, we actually work more and experience more stress. The peasants had so many church feast days that they actually worked less than we do. Ah, yes, but we live longer! But, for what? Do people have a sense of purpose and meaning in life today? Or is life simply a game to make more profit?
Still, aren’t we more educated? Well, yes, but for what purpose? The most popular shows on television today are Reality TV shows. And, more people vote for the next star on American Idol and Dancing with the Stars than for President. If this is the effect of an educated populace, then what is the point?
For all of these reasons, I would argue that the creation of cities were at best a new form of living and at worst a prison for western civilization. Now that argument is Zucktastic!!