De Leon: Wanderers (With inspiration lifted and borrowed from author Paul Greenberg)

My father, as an artist and media man, liked to come to town to photograph people’s faces. I didn’t see him come in much anymore. Everyone is looking at their phone.

This raises an essential point: the loss of random encounters which are the basis of being what the French call a flâneur.

What is a flâneur and where does this kind of person come from? It simply means a wanderer. When the term flâneur was coined by Charles Baudelaire in the 19th century, it was coined in direct opposition to capitalism’s encroachment on humanity’s free time and space.

Human identity has always been intimately linked to strolling. We were born wanderers. Our prehistoric predecessors traveled dozens of kilometers a day, sometimes in search of game. Sometimes looking for a warm place to sleep. But often it is enough just to move around the territory and observe. To be in constant motion, head held high, eyes and ears tuned for serendipity, was and should be our natural state of being.

Wandering aimlessly, stumbling upon random encounters, improvising upon those encounters is the real stuff of life; properly executed, the days of a flâneur should be experienced as notes played in a jazz ensemble. But today, capitalism is taking over our space, it has started stealing our time. The rise of the factory distanced the workforce from more fanciful craft pursuits and institutionalized the working day. He does not tolerate “free” time and space.

And, so, finally, we have the smart phone – a device that forces us to look down and ignore changing light. We have the airpods, a headband for the ears that encourages us to ignore the whispers of the planet. And of course we have “Waze and Google Maps” that conspire to take up our time and space at the same time.

It is no longer enough to roll the dice and leave. Instead, one chooses a destination and walks towards it. Along the way, the road is commodified. Restaurants suggested instead of found. The parks are digitally delineated instead of being delineated by the outlines of our parkways.

Taking up philosophy and being in the Seminary for nearly a decade taught me that sometimes we need to walk. But more importantly, we have to walk around. Wandering without intention, without supervision, without anticipation of acquisition and without any expectation that walking will benefit anything other than our own freedom of mind.

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