20 May 2009

Explicating the loathing of cities

I really don't quite get what motivates people in basically every newspaper market to flock to the website and absolutely hate on everything urban - (the city itself, public transit, parking issues, etc..). It isn't that my or any city is perfect, or that I expect everyone to want to live in one, but the degree to which people are absolutely enraged by them is entertaining if still puzzling. -- Atrios, here

It's really not that complicated, though I suppose it's a bit mad.

The core common goal of neo-conservativism, in all its odd braided threads—objectivists, libertarians, Christian dominionists, free market supremacists, etc.—is to have it so no one can tell them what to do.

That's led to coming up on forty years of attacking the legitimacy of elected government and any other collective institution, especially the can-be-irritating things like taxes, consensus, and tolerance, but fundamentally it's this mass "if civilization can tell me what to do, civilization has to go" thing.

Living in cities doesn't work unless people can, implicitly or directly, tell you what to do. (Walk left, stand right on the subway station escalators, for example.) So they are by definition awful places to live, irrespective of any possible material or social benefits.

As I said, a bit mad, or maybe more than a bit, but that's what it is, a belief that co-operation is evil because sovereignity is individual.

Responsibility is individual, and sovereignity is collective, I would say.


jennie said...

I think another part of that is that cities are simply teeming with unpredictability and uncontrollability. There are a lot of people. As you note, in order for anything to work, all of those people have to co-operate, sometimes more than they want to. But having all of those people in one place means that it's very difficult to control what they say to each other, what they do, what they eat, and how they interact. So if you're the sort of person who doesn't much mind being told what to do, but who fears and loathes the unfamiliar, a city is a frightening place because it is, by its very nature, full of unfamiliar people, ideas, activities, foods, whatever. And it's very difficult to control that.

Most of the people I know who deeply hate cities are at heart misanthropes. They may love those close to them, but in general they mistrust and fear other people, and mislike feeling like they cannot control the number and type of people with whom they interact.

Graydon said...

I agree that there's a very strong strain of xenophobia involved; wanting to limit all interactions to unsurprising ones has a lot to do with the extreme social introversion exhibited by the various neocon movements, but I think this is secondary to the affronted state at the thought of being told what to do.

Of course, the sense of class and place and propriety that drives the affronted-ness may be driving the desire to control who they interact with, too.

jennie said...

My completely unscientific sense is that xenophobia is a factor for people who may not be quite as averse to being told what to do—members of the congregations of the religious right, for example, who gladly submit to their pastors' telling them what to do. And I admit that I haven't done a proper study of the issue, either by examining right-wing anti-urban rhetoric or by polling urbanophobes.

There's certainly more to the vitriol than a dislike of tall buildings and streetcars.

Graydon said...

I am in no way wishing to say that xenophobia has nothing to do with it! It certainly does. One of the major strains in the neocon movement is a sense that if the government can tell them that Those People are fully human and have to be treated with the respect which accords to that state, that makes the government illegitimate right there, which is sort of a combination of the xenophobia and the telling what to do.

The religious "told what to do" thing is interesting, since it is never socially presented as being told what to do, and this goes beyond the usual conventional politeness of orders. ("You may fire when ready, Gridley" is not meant to give Gridley the option of not firing, after all.)

"It is mete, right, and our bounden duty" -- that's from my memory of the Anglican offertory service -- seems to be closer to the model there; the pastor exhorts the flock to know what is right and to do it. This is very often facultatively equivalent to the pastor commanding the flock, but as social conventions and rituals go it is different. (It is especially different in not requiring any formal acknowledgement of authority or hierarchy in most Protestant denominations.)

But I haven't done the study either, so while it's clear that it's not just hatred of tall buildings, I don't really have anything testable about what it is.

Getting a grant to discover why people hate Toronto would be a very interesting exercise in proposal writing, too, but I lack any of the necessary background.

jennie said...

Getting a grant to discover why people hate Toronto would be a very interesting exercise in proposal writing, too, but I lack any of the necessary background.If I ever go to grad school, I shall see what I can do about this. Assuming I do not go to grad school for something like Ancient Studies, that is.