What is “City of Being?”
One of the most influential books in my life was Erich Fromm’s 1976 book To Have or To Be. In the book, Fromm explores the ways in which society in the later 20th century (and, I would argue, in our own time) became obsessed with a “having” orientation to life. In simple terms, we define ourselves and our lives by the things we have (possessions, property, feelings, illnesses, etc.) rather than by who we are. The final page of the book used the metaphor of the “City of Being” for his solution to the issue.
Later Medieval Culture flourished because people followed the vision of the City of God. Modern society flourished because people were energised by the vision of the growth of the Earthly City of Progress. In our century, however, this vision deteriorated to that of the Tower of Babel, which is now beginning to collapse and will ultimately bury everybody in its ruins. If the City of God and the Earthly City were thesis and antithesis, a new synthesis is the only alternative to chaos: the synthesis between the spiritual core of the Late Medieval World and the development of rational thought and science since the Renaissance. This synthesis is The City of Being.
I was so taken by the image that I photocopied that page and had it pinned to a bulletin board in my office. I even started planning a site such as this one at the time (about a decade or so ago). It didn’t come to fruition at that time, however. I eventually created a free WordPress.com blog using the title “City of Being: Notes from an Uncertain Pilgrim,” but I lapsed in my upkeep of it. After a brief stint of using Github pages, I’ve come back to a paid WordPress site so I can use my domain and have more privacy options. Posts older than November 2018 can be accessed at the Github Pages site.
By launching this website, I do not flatter myself that I might construct Fromm’s City of Being on my own. Rather, this site is my attempt to grapple with the challenge to live as an individual and a member of various communities and of society in a way that is more and more consistent with “being” while becoming less a creature of my desire to “have” or to possess. The site will contain both static pages related to this topic and an ongoing blog of essays, poems, and other writings that may (or may not) be directly related to the struggle of being and becoming who I am.
Why “Uncertain Pilgrim?”
The image of pilgrimage has long been one that has resonated with me. Although I consider this earth to be my home, my sacred ground, I also believe that life is a journey of sorts. I’m not even sure that it’s a journey to anything. As in all pilgrimages, the journey is very often more important than the final destination. I’m not a stranger to this earth, but I am journeying through a life on it.
The “uncertain” part is not to be taken negatively. I believe that absolute certainty is dangerous. It amounts to a “clinging” to things – concepts, possessions, idols, whatever – and it can blind you to the important things along the path. I do not wish to finish my explorations or to close my mind to the wonder, miracles, pain, confusion, difficulties, or moments of joy that I encounter. I do not wish to stick my stake in the ground and say, “This is it,” and stop growing. By uncertain, I mean open-hearted, open-minded, open-armed.