Street Lights & the Oppression of Illumination

Can a person not even enjoy the darkness of night without the excessive polluting influence of mostly symbolic security measures?

This used to be a quiet neighborhood. At night when the sounds of children playing and lawn equipment stilled to silence and the sun disappeared far over the horizon, you could almost believe you were in a small rural town. Well, except for all of the sirens, train and airplane noises that seep in from the surrounding city. Yet for the most part at some point in the night it reached a low enough level of sensory invasion where you could finally get a sense of solitude.

Sometimes I like to step outside and stare at the sky. Just me in my backyard under the cover of darkness, quietly contemplating the cosmos and searching for anomalies and mysteries. One of the things I miss most about smoking cigarettes is that these excursions used to be more frequent; numerous nightly visits to the great outdoors in order to accommodate my habit and the rental code. Even since quitting, I still require some of that sky time, but recently it has been stolen from me in its entirety.

Over the past few months Iowa City has deemed it necessary to install extremely high output streetlights in my neighborhood. For the first week I could barely even sleep because the lights were so bright they burst through both my shades and curtains. My entire neighborhood became like a football stadium on Friday night. To step out into my backyard is no longer to step out into the dark cover of night and its natural privacy, but into spotlights that turn anything outside into a subject on the neighborhoods stage. The small bit of intrusion from prying eyes that darkness had afforded me was now drowned out in an obscene flood of fake safety. And even if that sense of privacy was just a a feeling, just a naive perception, it was one I took great pleasure and comfort in.

However it was not just my comfort and privacy that was lost. So were hundreds to thousands of stars, now washed out in the ugly illumination of electric noise, like a symphony of the cosmos drowned out by never-ending paranoid screams.

Yes, there is evidence that lighting deters theft. Should we deter theft at any cost? Should we steal away the night, and blanket it in eternal light just to save a few bicycles and lawn ornaments from non-voluntary redistribution?

Then why stop there? Why not just lock everyone into their homes at night? Why not just lock each and every human being in a lead box a mile underground with food, water and air piped in and the occasional conjugal visit chaperoned by armed guards? Surely we can take even more extreme measures and be absolutely safe from one another. Who cares what is lost? Who cares how much of the world is drowned out and tamed, so long as we have the warm fuzzy false sense of security that symbolic dominion over the chaos would afford?

Despite the fact that we late night humans provide indispensable services to the daytime world, we are often regarded as secondary citizens against the singular minded nine-to-fivers. The majority of people do not really suffer from the oppression of illumination. These are the same people who made these decisions, backed those people and then installed them. The daytime world’s assault on the night is done under complete ignorance of what their actions mean for those not just like them. Their $16 lawn globe that they had to replace twice last summer means more to them than the collective sensory experience of us night dwellers, who they do not even consider or consult when marching forward with their misguided safety blitz.

There is nothing anybody owns more precious than the night. The night has piqued the human imagination for a million years and pushed every bit of progress from the use of fire to navigation. And yet it is being stolen. Its darkness and solitude have been robbed by the imagination-free day people who care more about the things they own than an entire half of our existence. They have traded night, because they themselves do not use it, for the delusional safety of their stuff.

I struggle daily to deal with the fact that I live in a world in which you can be imprisoned for altering your own consciousness, but can literally steal the night from people and get paid to do it from funds raised partially by people who you are stealing the night from.

And if I want to be brutally honest about it, I doubt that it is just a coincidence that these new lighting measures have increased proportionately with the number of non-white people moving into my neighborhood. This is just the politically correct way of making the night white again. Light supremacy.


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