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Noise Pollution is Contributing to
The Destruction of Civilization

I live in what is supposed to be a "quiet" Midwestern American town of about 4,000 people. The word quiet, when used to identify this place, however, is a misnomer. My town, like nearly every community throughout the world, is a very noisy place.

This is the county seat. In this state that means we have three police departments stationed here. We have the town police, the county Sheriff's Department, and the State Police. All three have more officers than are needed, and they spend a lot of time racing through our streets with their sirens turned on. There also seem to be a lot of ambulances. And we have a very active volunteer fire department. I find it hard to believe a town this size can actually generate enough "emergencies" to justify so many sirens and keep so many emergency personnel racing hither and yon. I work for a local newspaper and know how many serious problems occur. We are lucky if we get one major police story or structure fire to write about in a week.

This is a rural farming area, located in the Midwest. There are several towns here, but the one I live in is about as large as they come. A peculiar thing about all of these little towns is that there are sirens mounted on towers in every one of them. They are a spin-off from the old days, before there were personal electronic notification devices, when town fire fighters had to be called from their jobs to fight a fire. Now, even though they are no longer needed the sirens are still being used as some kind of "town crier." You can literally set your clocks to them. In the town where I live the fire siren is blown four times daily. It goes off at 7 a.m., noon, 1 p.m. and again at 6 p.m. every day except Sunday. No matter that some people might work nights and want to sleep during the day. The whistle is blown faithfully. I work in a nearby town where the fire whistle is blown every day at noon. I don't know about the other times of the day. I have friends living in another area towns. They all confirm that sirens are blown daily where they live too. 

I once attended a town council meeting and asked why the whistle is blown. My question was rewarded with blank stares. "We've always done it," was about the only answer I could muster. I felt as if I was in a room full of zombies. It apparently has never occurred to them that the sirens could be turned off.

But the noise goes beyond these "official" machines that seem to come with the trappings of modern civilization. The streets are filled with vehicles that either have no mufflers, or the mufflers are modified to make a lot of noise. Drivers enjoy tromping the gas pedal at every corner, making their engines roar and our windows rattle as they pass. The young people can't just be satisfied with loud mufflers. They also seem to need to have stereos blaring in their cars and in their homes. They enjoy their screaming rock music so much they want to share it with the world. Loud speakers are cranked up to the max, and every car has its windows down. The ground literally vibrates as these vehicles pass. Dishes rattle in our cupboards.

There are gas powered lawn mowers, leaf blowers, hedge trimmers, trucks with loud beepers sounding when they are backing up, chain saws, and noisy garbage trucks.

The noise pollution follows me to my job. There I work against the sound of humming computers, chattering workers, ringing telephones, running motors, more community sirens and a variety of other sounds that clutter the mind. Studies have shown that too much noise in the work place affects performance of employees. Their ability to do mathematical calculations drops and they have reduced short-term memory capabilities. The noise affects people both mentally and physically. High blood pressure, heart disease and various other illnesses have been linked to noise pollution.

In the apartment where I live are numerous electronic devices that make noise. The refrigerator, for example, has an extremely loud motor that is constantly clicking on and off. When on, the television emits a constant assault on the senses. Turn away from the television for a few moments and just listen. . . not to what is being said, but to the noise in general. The sounds that come out of that box can be very annoying after only a few moments. Radios are no better.   Nor are little cassette players with headphones that you can snap on your belt.

There also is a human and animal element as well. Barking dogs. Shouting couples. Crying children.

There was a time, before steam engines were invented and before electricity was artificially created from wired generators, when people enjoyed a more tranquil way of living. As we moved through the industrial and more recently the electronic age, the noises have intensified..

Noise pollution crept into our environment slowly. The change was so gradual we didn't notice its effect. People welcomed the light bulb when it arrived. They couldn't wait to get their homes wired for electric power. They loved the Edison phonographs, the radio, the telephones and later the televisions. Each new invention seemed to make our daily lives more wonderful. We welcomed the noises that came with these new inventions, never realizing what it was doing to us on a spiritual level.

Now we can't escape noise pollution. My wife and I recently lived for a while with a Navajo medicine man in a remote high desert area of northeast Arizona, where you can drive for miles and never see a house. There was noise pollution. The Navajo had electric wires strung all over the reservation. The government built homes for the younger families contained television sets, radios, microwaves, water pumps, refrigerators and all of the other trappings of modern life. Every household kept several dogs that liked to bark at every moving thing. When I would go for a walk down one of the lonely dirt trails leading across the reservation, my senses were assaulted by passing pickup trucks, and jet aircraft flying overhead.

The tragedy of all this is that the human race has inadvertently found a way to go into self-destruct. Humans no longer have the ability, the will, or even the thought of seeking a moment of peace for purposes of meditation and personal reflection. Without this, it is impossible for us to ever look within ourselves and find the real God.

Much easier to fall prey to the addictive trap of loud music and fast paced living, letting the senses be constantly excited for personal gratification on every level. Easier to ignore the nagging warnings from the subconscious that we need to stop and get our bearings. Let the church, with its false promise of an ever-loving external god who watches over us, voluntarily take care of our spiritual needs. Heaven forbid that we might be expected to do the work on our own.

Most societies, and especially the Christian church, share a belief in a pending judgment on the human race. The Christians call it a seven-year tribulation, during which two-thirds of the people in the world will be destroyed. As the end of the millenium draws close, talk of a possible world calamity now makes the daily news. People are concerned about Y2K, sun flares, global warming, the chances of a meteor striking the planet, and they look with alarm at the growing number of serious storms, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

The FBI, in a recent report to police agencies, predicts trouble from religious extremist groups because of their belief in either an apocalypse, or a plot by the United States government to plunge the world into a New World Order. The police appear to be making plans to handle anarchy. As more and more people believe in an impending doomsday scenario, the chances increase that such a disaster will actually happen. Everybody is expecting something to happen. They probably will not be disappointed.

If and when it happens, the survivors will make it because they had their spiritual affairs in order. They will have done the work. And the work does not mean trusting a superficial god of mercy to save us at the last moment. Those who are still alive when the trouble is over will be there because they saved themselves.

An important first step toward spiritual revival is simply turning off the noise.