I recently had the occasion to watch Detroit at night from an airplane, while in a holding pattern. Contemplating this view offers insights into other perspectives.
There were lights as far as I could see, in all directions as the plane circled before finally landing. There were many stationary lights, from street lights and buildings. There were also many moving lights, from the cars and trucks traveling about. There were some dark areas as well, from the parks or less developed areas of the metropolitan area. From this altitude, where many details are not visible, Detroit looked much like a very large (and flat) ant hill, with much activity in possibly random directions.
However, as everyone knows, a human community is much more complex than an ant hill.
Some of those individual lights were probably house lights. A household is the smallest social unit for a community. The family consists of the parents and children (with differing numbers of either). The parents instill their beliefs and values on the children as they prepare the children for adulthood.
The well-lit thoroughfares probably delimited many of the neighborhoods of Detroit. Some of these neighborhoods are more tightly knit, where they get together for block parties and the like. Others are probably less linked, especially where there are more trees, fences and so on for more privacy. Each neighborhood will have a number of schools and churches, to reinforce the local values and attitudes.
Both large and small businesses are visible. These entities provide a livelihood for their employees while providing goods and services to the community and beyond.
A few interstate highways are also visible. These link the suburbs with the downtown area as well as linking this metropolitan area with other cities, the surrounding states and even another country across the river - Canada.
The area holds a number of colleges. These develop some individuals for more complex occupations, such as teachers, scientists, doctors, business managers, etc.
A metropolitan area like Detroit has a number of complex social structures, from a family, neighborhood, chruch, city to metropolis.
Other cities have even more activities to note. My flight to Detroit had left Philadelphia earlier in the afternoon. From my terminal I could see the shipyard on the Delaware River, with a huge ocean-going vessel moving South. These ships link the area to countries across oceans.
The serene night view of Detroit concealed all the activies within it.
Some households will be doing better than others with the raising of their children. Some children will have a natural ambition to succeed while others will require much reinforcement to achieve their dreams. Some will have even temperaments while others will have difficulty restraining their emotions.
Some communities will do better than others with their children. Gangs can corrupt the morals and values of their members. When the lack of jobs leads to idle youths, trouble sometimes follows.
Crime in a community like Detroit is like a disease in an organism. Crime can sap the strength as it must set aside resources to deal with the problems. Crime makes the community less efficient and less resilient to new challenges (whether they be natural like storms and droughts or man-made like business downturns).
Any child born into such a community has a future course that cannot be predicted, even if much is known of his/her parents and extended family. A friend or teacher could affect that course, for better or worse. A close friendship can change the values learned from the family. An influential teacher could result in a career selection. A marriage will certainly affect those childhood dreams. The decisions involving college (whether to attend, and which one is chosen) will influence the career path.
From the big picture (above the family), much of the above descriptions could be worded with terms to make it sound like a large organism.
Compare the above with the probable description that might be developed by a Christian fundamentalist.
God decides who is born to whom, with what qualities, and with what future. Everyone is assigned a role in God's master plan. Whatever happens, both in human activities and in nature, is part of this master plan.
In this context, the community is just a bad made-for-TV movie. There is no suspense or challenges, other than trying to guess at this undisclosed master plan. Everyone is just living their life as prescribed by God. Their destiny of heaven or hell is based on their life's course, which was preordained by God.
This depressing description actually makes a large human community seem like an ant hill that is under the watchful (and bored?) eyes of God.
I believe that a human life has more meaning and significance than that. Each of us is an integral part of a larger community and at different levels (socially and economically). This community is, in turn, part of our larger global human community. Each of us has a free will to determine our life's path and each of us is responsible for that path we have chosen. Being just part of a supernatural master plan denies our accountability for our actions and also takes away our incentive to help ourselves and others.
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