The Babylonian Tower of Modernity

  • The Babylonian Tower of Modernity


How our religion of capitalism and central believe in mechanical progress has led again to confusion of speech, and how society, accordingly, ends up divided in multiple romantic reactions. Or, a map to find our way home within the modern dream of progress.

In collaboration with Piet Vollaard and Edwin Gardner
Rotterdam 2017

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
— Genesis 11:4

Why does a man build a tower? To fight off enemies? To transmit TV programs? To house more inhabitants and to economize high costly earth? No, no and no! That’s a lie, and the masking of the real and the only true function of a Tower – to shout as loud as possible “Here I am! Look how strong and mighty I am!

This time we are building a tower to reach for the heavens of progress. Organized around an oil engine, we deploy, we produce and continue to grow. But somehow along the way, dissonance emerged on the exact direction we are heading. And while trying to reach for these heavens of progress, we forgot why we actually wanted to go there in the first place. And once we finally reach the skies, our sight is clouded with smog.

Almost everyone inside the tower – or maybe even everyone – secretly dreams of being better. To be smarter, richer, more liked or more powerful. And in order to become this better person, and move up inside the hierarchy of our society, a man will face competition. Most of us get stuck somewhere in some layer of accomplishments/success, but for the lucky little few, who can make it to the top, the world beneath is a playground.

But first of all, down in the center of the drawing, to be able to enter the tower at all, a man has to have the right papers. Like the lottery you can win a ticket for access, if born in the right country at the right time. If not, we are very sorry to tell you, but I’m afraid today we are full. But if you happen to win and you have made it inside, you can walk the ramps, that circle up, and eventually aim for the skies. But again, like everything else in this world, not without resistance.

Inside the tower, at the bottom of it all, we find the working class. We call them the lower educated, and they perform practical tasks, such as taking the oil from the earth. To transcend and move up inside the tower of success, perhaps to the service based practices, you need first to pass through an educational gate, to prove you are worthy of the task. But to reach for the skies, it doesn’t stay there, there are multiple thresholds and gates. Although the gates of global borders now seem permanently open, you will soon walk upon some more, judging your ethnical background, your gender and family name. And finally, for the engineers and programmers who work inside the building for bigger trade, to become a god in our own little world, to become director of the the political muppet show and to rule, point and divide, there is a gate to pass only with money.

view here ( in Dutch)

It all might seem unbelievable maybe, but don’t think for a moment we are non-believing men. For all I know there is much and more to say about our central believe in mechanical progress. We have gods of progress to turn to and to worship. Zeus, with his pointy arrow in arm, ripped right of the growth chart. Or Hermes, playing an arithmetic song about how we can reach for the innumerable/uncountable.

Imprisoned within the eternity of our daily routines, in fear of losing our spot in the line to another person or to a robot perhaps, we solemnly move from one task to the next. In blind procession, trying to keep the engine of capitalism running and do what is expected of us, we have all become creatures of habit and convention.

We work eight hours, we sleep eight hours, and in the eight hours left we work a little more. While night we secretly dream of descending, up to nobody knows where. Inside our man made dream of housing, we happily decorate the concrete cells like cabinets of homely attributes. But somehow, everywhere within the tower, from the exiled migrant to the footloose networker, people have lost their notion of home. Our bedrooms become a product on the market, while work has been move to the kitchen table. Home has been displaced by an idea that’s both elusive and contested. And we feel lost and displaced inside this rational concrete dream.

Note: The Tower of Babel by Breughel

Building the Tower of Babel was, for Dante, an example of pride., Canto 12.

 Purgatory in the poem of Dante Divine Comedy  is depicted as a mountain in the Southern Hemisphere, consisting of a bottom section (Ante-Purgatory), seven levels of suffering and spiritual growth (associated with the seven deadly sins), and finally the Earthly Paradise at the top. Allegorically, the Purgatorio represents the penitent Christian life In describing the climb Dante discusses the nature of sin, examples of vice and virtue, as well as moral issues in politics and in the Church. The poem outlines a theory that all sins arise from love – either perverted love directed towards others’ harm, or deficient love, or the disordered or excessive love of good things.

The gate of Purgatory, Peter’s Gate, is guarded by an angel bearing a naked sword, his countenance too bright for Dante’s sight to sustain. In reply to the angel’s challenge, Virgil declares that a lady from heaven brought them there and directed them to the gate. On Virgil’s advice, Dante mounts the steps and pleads humbly for admission by the angel, who uses the point of his sword to draw the letter “P” (signifying peccatum, sin) seven times on Dante’s forehead, bidding him “take heed that thou wash / These wounds, when thou shalt be within.”

With the passage of each terrace and the corresponding purgation of his soul that the pilgrim receives, one of the “P”s will be erased by the angel granting passage to the next terrace. The angel at Peter’s Gate uses two keys, silver (remorse) and gold (reconciliation) to open the gate – both are necessary for redemption and salvation. As the poets are about to enter, they are warned not to look back. Read more here

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