The incessant noise of everyday life is damaging our health and our IQs.
Saturday morning I was rocketed out of bed by the usual wake-up screech of a car alarm. For a moment, I was poised to reach for my Louisville Slugger and do a “Rectifier” on the offending automobile (if you don’t get the reference, it’s from the Henry Bean film Noise). In my hysteria, I was under the delusion that I still possessed my Little League baseball bat.
Now, today I read that noise is a threat not only to my increasingly fragile mental state, but to my physical health, as well. And not just by damaging what’s left of my hearing.
According to a World Heath Organization report, noise, after air pollution, is the second leading environmental cause of ill health. Noise (from the Latin nausea) reportedly contributes to heart disease by “raising blood pressure and blood-borne concentrations of stress hormones and fatty materials. These accumulate over time to clog blood vessels and trigger a heart attack.”
Noise makes us dumber, too. The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once claimed the amount of noise anyone can tolerate undisturbed stands in inverse proportion to one’s mental capacity:
Noise is a torture to intellectual people. In the biographies of almost all great writers…I find complaints about it; in the case of Kant, for instance, Goethe, Lichtenberg, Jean Paul.
The only slightly less pessimistic Theodore Dalrymple agrees:
I fear the effect of constant noise on the development of human inwardness. I find it difficult to believe that those who live in constant noise can ever reflect very deeply upon anything. Their taste for noise, that becomes almost a physiological need for them since they grow anxious without it, seems to me to bespeak a fear of being left alone with their own thoughts.
The problem, as I see it, is noise is doing in the wrong people. It should be snuffing out those responsible for it — only that never happens. Like Frankenstein’s monster, noise goes about slaughtering everyone but its creator. And sadly you cannot eliminate noise via a bunch of villagers with torches and pitchforks, although sometimes a baseball bat works to wonderful effect.
LIVING IN THE CITY like I do, one is continuously assaulted by noise. And not just the rolling gun battles and the sirens that never sleep. My neighbors across the alley thoughtfully regale us with their ranchero music, while those across the street have introduced us to the sublime cadences of hip hop. Every night is like a ghetto battle of the bands. Just try calling the police in the nation’s most violent city to complain about loud music and see where that gets you.
But even that vile cacophony is not enough for some people, so my neighbors have adopted an assortment of pit bulls that bark idiotically 24/7. And thanks to the urban farm movement, roosters now give an added bit of color to the block. Why can’t these people live in the country like normal farmers? Or better yet, why can’t I live in the country?
But even that would be no guarantee of tranquility. Even in the supposedly peaceful suburbs there rumbles the incessant roar of lawnmowers big as combines. My favorite scene from Noise occurs when the Tim Robbins character, who has fled Gotham for the leafy suburbs, angrily confronts a neighbor over his raucous leafblower. “Did you ever hear of a rake?” he screams.
The neighbor punches him in eye. Deservedly, since he is, after all, Tim Robbins.
Small towns? Half of my life has been spent in various villages and hamlets. The myth that they are peaceful is just that. Small towns always seemed to have a biker bar across the street from wherever I happened to be living at the time. The odd thing was the bikers were mostly in their fifties and sixties, that time of life when people are supposed to become increasingly intolerant of noise. Instead, nearly all the elderly bikers had removed their mufflers and replaced them with Screaming Eagle straight pipes, which are literally noisier than a jet at take-off. Keeping my windows shut tight on pleasant spring evenings did nothing to alleviate my suffering, which was the noisemakers’ whole point.
What to do? The expectation that a swelling, graying population will refuse to tolerate excessive noise seems unlikely (based on my experience with the aged Harley riders). And we certainly do not need more legislation. More laws breed more lawyers and we need more lawyers like we need more taxes¾which also breed tax attorneys, come to think of it. Besides, the cops can’t enforce the laws already on the books.
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