By Rajeev Balasubramanyam


  1. Earning a lot of money makes you bored, boring, stressed and unhappy.

  3. If you live in the city, you will always be stressed.

  5. In the city, everything you do to ‘relieve stress’ simply enables you to cope with greater levels of stress in the future.

  7. The city is a colony. In the city, we are all colonized. Tall buildings hide the horizon so we forget we are living on a planet and think we are living in a city.

  9. Colonialism makes people do things that make them unhappy. Elite universities do the same.  So do advertising, entertainment (though not art) and corporate (though not independent) news media.

  11. All of these things teach us to maximise our earnings,  maximise consumption, and maximise status (meaning pride, or vanity, of which fame is a  subset). These are the meanings of the words success, ambition. Earning to consume, together with the need to constantly increase the scale of this relationship, is an addiction that does not contribute to our happiness in any way. Advertising, entertainment, and corporate news media all tell us the opposite, every day. So, often, do our parents, who are usually unhappy themselves. They tell us this because they are colonised. Being colonised means you can see no way out, no alternative. This is because the tall buildings have hidden the horizon.

  13. Technology does not make us happier. It does increase convenience, speed and efficiency, however, all of which decrease our awareness and our capacity to think, feel, and love. Technology is diametrically opposed to love. We substitute convenience for emotions.  We stop thinking and everything is done for us. This is why, when something goes disastrously wrong in the high-tech city, people think the world is ending because, for them, it is ending. Their world does not allow for surprise or ‘acts of god’ because, for them, there is no god.

  15. In the city, there is no need for god. This is proved by our choice to replace nature with concrete. We worshiped god out of reverence and gratitude for his creations, which include nature, animals, and each other. Now we worship urban deities out of reverence and gratitude for modern man’s creations. Often, the creation and the god are the same.

  17. Urban deities include buildings, gadgets, celebrities, sports equipment, designers, clothes, models, houses, cars, entertainment technology, military technology, malls and hotels, and money, which is the king of the urban deities. Without money, they would all die.

  19. People in the city all want to make money. People in the city are all unhappy. No-one in the city wants to admit they are unhappy. The urban deities, or objects, that we worship do not make us happier. By worshipping them, we only make them more powerful, which means we need more money. We will never admit that the money (and the things we buy with it) is the cause of our unhappiness.  To admit this is to admit the failure of modernity, and if we don’t know who we are without modernity, then we cannot admit modernity’s failure. To be happy, then, we have to learn to live outside of modernity, outside of the city, and this means we have to stop worshipping urban gods. There is a war on between urban gods and the old gods, between man-made objects and natural ones, which include man. If we take the side of the urban gods, the man-made objects, then we are in fact fighting ourselves. This is why modernity is inherently self-destructive.


Rajeev Balasubramanyam is a member of the Society of Scholars in the Humanities at HKU. He is a novelist, author of In Beautiful Disguises(Bloomsbury 2000) and The Dreamer (Harper Collins 2010)


Published on: Jun 28, 2011 < Back >