December 9, 2019

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Opinion

The world has forgotten what happened in Babel

THE fictional detective Father Brown observed that looking down from great heights was a dehumanizing experience. From great heights, people on the ground no longer look human; they look like ants crawling along the street, which may be why young boys often think it is alright to stand on the top of parkades and drop pebbles on their heads. They have no understanding of momentum or gravity or how much those pebbles can hurt the actual people on the ground below.

We all know this feeling, that the further we get above the earth below the less real it all seems down there.

It began with the Tower of Babel, perhaps, when, according to the Bible, man's pride rose too close to God's heaven and was struck down, accompanied by the curse that changed the one universal language into the polyglot of mutually incomprehensible speech that we now experience today, its ultimate descent being the incomprehensibly abbreviated gibberish with which our children now communicate on the Internet. Those Old Testament guys have a lot to answer for.

Even knowing this, we continue to build higher and higher. There is kind of an international competition to build the world's tallest building, as if this actually means something. And so we get higher and higher — and not in the best sense either; that's still technically illegal under our present laws — and to no apparent purpose other than to boast the biggest phallic symbol in town.

The CN Tower in Toronto was once considered to be a very tall building, but today, at a mere 553 metres, it is hardly a skip and a jump away from the sidewalk below. It's so blase, in fact, that you can do the Edgewalk around the rim of the tower — it's only 356 metres above ground — attached to a cable for the paltry sum of $175.

Meanwhile, newer buildings around the world are towering above Toronto's main tourist attraction. The Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai is currently the tallest structure in the world at 828 metres but it is soon to be dwarfed by an expression of Saudi Arabian hubris — the Kingdom Tower, which will be built in the Red Sea port of Jeddah and which will almost touch the heavens at a height of at least 1,001 metres, or more than a kilometre — more than half a mile to imperialistic thinkers — in what its creator, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, calls "a financial and economic message that should not be ignored. It has a political depth to it to tell the world that we Saudis invest in our country despite what is happening around us from events, turmoil and revolutions even."

Personally, giving what's taking place in the rest of the Arab world right now, I think the Saudi rulers would be better off looking at their society from street level than from out of the windows of their palaces or down from a kilometre up, where nothing on the street really seems to matter. And even more personally, in the unlikely event that I am ever invited to be a guest at the Kingdom Tower, I'll ask for a room on the first or second floor, within jumping distance of the ground in case fire breaks out, or an earthquake or a Norwegian terrorist happens, or revolutions even.

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