MANN TALK: Mankind's Contract With Mephistopheles

by Perry Mann
Perry Mann
Perry Mann
In the Faust legend, Faust contracts with the Mephistopheles, the Devil by another name. Faust’s consideration is his soul and the Devil’s consideration is that Faust will have youth, knowledge and magical power.

 In modern terms, the contract is between half of Mankind, whose soul is pledged as consideration to the City, in exchange for the City’s promise to Mankind of youth, knowledge and magical power and, of course, gilt and gold and riches and rank and pleasure and leisure and a fulfillment of all the dreams of many who till the earth: Bread without sweat.   

Implicit in the agreement is that the human signatories would migrate to the City, for there is where the people would find the agreed upon benefits, benefits that the party of the second part, namely, the City, binds itself in solemn contract to supply to Mankind, benefits basically different from the those of the hinterland, in that the benefits of the City would have no downside, no something for something else, no quid pro quo, but something for nothing. 
 Ditches would be dug by machines; food would be produced  by those who didn’t sign the contract and be sold for cheap to those who signed; housing would be provided for rent, the amount of which, however, would be all the market could bear; and those without compunctions could by shrewdness, calculations, equivocations, legalisms, cajolery, fraud, misrepresentations, and no ends of nefarious means, get rich with no sweat at the expense of the land and of those still on it  and  naive newcomers.

Those members of Mankind who have signed the contract with the City now are equal with those who have not. In 1900 in this country ten percent of the people lived in the city and the others lived on the land. Today, in the U.S. the  percentages are reversed. In the world, just recently the cities had as many inhabitants as the land. This in the March 24-30 edition of “Guardian Weekly”:

 “At some point this year our species will prove Darwin wrong. For the first time since the dawn of civilization the human being is about to become a predominantly urban creature: humans have not evolved to fit our habitat, we have changed our habitat to suit ourselves.

 “According to the UN, the planet’s population is currently split almost right down the middle: 3.2 billion in the city, 3.2 billion in the country-side. But by the start of 2007 the balance will have tipped decisively away from the fields and towards the skyscrapers.”

Woe is to that half of Mankind and woe is  to all Mankind  that such has happened and that the skyscrapers will eventually have all within their shadows but those few necessary to plant, cultivate and harvest for those who live and exist in an environment of  concrete and  glass, streets and skyscrapers, cardboard hovels and corrugated-metal shanties, who dwell in  an environment where each lives off the other, where  exploitation of others is omnipresent  and the absence  of   Mother Earth is pinpointed pitifully by the presence of   parks, a trifling memento.  Those who “succeed” in the city have estates in pristine places, imitating the knights of old who used serfs to build castles; and they retreat there, after a week of creaming currency on the exchange, to impress guests with the marvels of their manors.   

The risk that they who live in the confines of a man-made environment---an artificial environment, an environment antithetical to nature’s---take is that in time there will not be enough of those on the land to supply cheaply what they need to eat. All need to eat. Even Einstein had to eat. Then, the City’s citizens  become victims of a monopoly: Those still on the land who plant, cultivate, harvest and conserve can demand a price for  whatever the market will bear for that which they have and  the City’s citizens haven’t but must have to survive.  The urbanites, who cannot garden on blacktop or concrete or range cattle on Broadway or raise chickens on Wall Street, will be at the mercy of those whom they have exploited immemorially. Poetic justice will reign.  

 Also, there is the risk for the rich that, as they get richer from the expropriated value of what labor produces, that is, from surplus value, and the poor get poorer---a clashing social condition indigenous to urban life--- the proletariat, exasperated, frustrated and used beyond that which is endurable, will fall upon the wealthy with a vengeance comparable to that of the Jacobins of the French Revolution. Those who own the land upon which the city rests wrest from those who create the wealth through the exaction of rent, which is  a portion of the created wealth that increases in direct proportion to the increase of wealth produced by labor and capital. If labor earns five dollars an hour, rent will be hundred dollars a month; but if labor earns ten dollars an hour, rent will increase to two hundred dollars a month and so forth.   

There is further the risk, nay, the probability, that most of those who migrate to the city will fall into a hell of a life. They will either be unemployed or employed in work that they hate and be paid just enough to keep body and soul together. They will seldom see the sky or the stars or breathe fresh air or see pristine streams or know leisure and quiet and time alone.  Many will live in squalor, in slums, in tenements--- cubicles floors from earth---that are spaces animals in a zoo would find repellent and  far beneath the comforts of their lives.  And then there is crime. Cities spawn it like swamps do mosquitoes.

The worst is that those who enter the city divorce themselves from Nature’s environment--- an environment in which they were conceived and nurtured  and which inscribed on every cell of their physical being  the history and life-enhancing  experiences of  its evolutionary struggle from    primordial stew of  billions of  years ago to a state, in man, of self-consciousness---and enter  an environment man has conceived and created---one that suits him---an environment he believes, with  his short  view  of centuries, is superior to that of Nature’s with her  view  of  billions of  years, a view from day one of life to now.
 The divorcement from the Nature’s land, from fields and forest,  from a way of cooperation, from needful, physical work to the City’s canyons of concrete, to icy competitiveness, to needless work for wages---produces physical and mental stresses of a basic kind, the evils from which are incalculable but are inferable to some extent from what the drug industry peddles and pushes, both legal and illegal, to mitigate, palliate, and relieve the diseases resulting from the alienation of  those who are  living in streets but  who were created to live in the  fields.  
It may be that progress is an illusion. It may be that wealth takes away as much as it gives. It may be that happiness is relative. The measure of the joy of slackening a thirst is how long one has had no water.     
                  * * * Perry Mann is a former teacher, a lawyer, a former prosecuting attorney of Summers County and a columnist for Huntington News Network. He lives in Hinton, WV. He turned 90 earlier this year; he was born in Charleston, WV in 1921.
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