Citizens of Babel: Antisociality and Dystopian Cities

The Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. And the Lord said, ‘Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’  So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore it was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth. 

Genesis 11:5-9, NRSV

I always wondered about and even sympathized with the terrifying confusion the citizens of Babel must have felt. Unity and the ease of monoculture sacrificed at the hands of idolatry for alienation and confusion. Even though the account is only an etiological myth, it tugs at the heart of a timeless anxiety: an inability to connect with our very own neighbors. Only rebellion against the Creator of the Universe could explain something so devastating as our forced disconnection. In this, the biblical account of the Tower of Babel is one of our oldest dystopias.

There’s something essentially antisocial about our great dystopian cities. 

Timon of Athens, whose name gives origin to the word “timonistic” describing antisocial misanthropy, developed his cynical reputation during the Peloponnesian War—a time about as dystopian as it gets. I’m not sure to what extent Athens plays into Timon’s timonism, but, at the very least, it provides an opportunity for his deliberately antisocial behavior.

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