Why City People Are Less Friendly

I think most people probably realize that cities are less friendly places. For instance, there have been experiments done where a person falls down in the street and they count how many people pass them before someone helps them, or how long it takes for someone to help them. The numbers are always higher in cities. That's just a small example, but you get the idea. The real question is, why?

I think there are a few reasons that all converge. And, it's a bigger issue than some people realize, because it's a massive cultural divide.

In a city there are masses of people. It only makes sense to think of people in groups rather than as individuals, there are too many individuals to think about. So humans lose their individuality and become perceived of as part of a mass or group, unless you happen to know them closely like family, friends, or co-workers. In the country there are fewer people, you can think of them as individuals because you have the mental capacity to handle those numbers.

There's also a time constraint here. In the country you can greet every person you meet. You can't do that in the city. You have to ignore almost everyone or you would never get anywhere. You have to treat people as objects rather than as people. They become tools or obstacles, and that's it.

Because people in the city are in such tight confines there's bound to be more interpersonal conflict. Because of that there is more aggression over the scarce resource of property and personal space, more laws, more rules, and more law enforcement. The power is more centrally controlled, and it is more overwhelming. In the country there is some space to exist in, you don't always feel boxed in. People are less pressed together and thus have fewer conflicts. There's less of a need for so many laws and rules, and less of a need for law enforcement. Also, if you're in the country you probably know some of the police, you probably know some of the government officials, and they have less power. (This applies less and less to the police in the United States because small governments pay money to larger governments to use their police.)

Differences in the social hierarchy offer less of an advantage in the country. In the city the rich person lives in a completely different world from the poor person. The rich person shops at different stores, lives in a fancy place that the poor person will never see the inside of, works somewhere that the poor person will never go. In the country the rich person and the poor person shop at the same store. They are neighbors. They both cut wood to heat their house, they both care about when hunting season starts. They both have to plow the snow in their driveway, both wishing that global warming was real. They have reasons to interact with each other as humans, they live in the same world.

In the country you realize that one of the main struggles in life is human versus nature. Rain, snow, wind, dirt, trees, animals. These things are either less relevant or completely irrelevant in the city. The entire struggle of life is human versus human. It is not the humans versus the forest, or the humans versus the snow and ice, or the humans versus the river. In the city it is this human versus that human, this group of humans versus that group of humans. In the city every nemesis is a human.

It's easy to see with just these things that people in the country tend to treat humans as humans, they treat individuals as individuals, they have less central control, they are more self-reliant, they have more autonomy and freedom, and all of this allows them to be nicer. People in the city tend to treat humans as objects to use, avoid, or ignore, they treat individuals as part of a group, they have more central control, they are less self-reliant, they have less autonomy and freedom, and all of this means that they aren't as nice.

The last thing that I'm going to point out is the most complex. I'm applying the economics concept of marginal utility to humans. The basic idea of marginal utility is that more isn't always better, and it isn't always valuable. If I'm thirsty then one bottle of water is all I need. Maybe I'll take two, but the second one is not as valuable to me as the first. Ten bottles isn't better at all, because I can't even drink that much right now. And 100 bottles is a problem because now I need to find a way to transport them and a place to store them. (These are easier to do in the country too because everyone has a car and a garage.)

Marginal utility also applies to people. If I need a plumber the plumber is valuable to me. A second one being around is good as a backup. A third probably isn't really needed. Having twenty of them is just confusing. In the city it seems like there are millions of people, because there are. How many people do you really value?

In the country individual people make a huge difference. If one of the cashiers at the gas station dies, people notice and care. But in the city, does it matter? Probably not. There are already too many cashiers, they have surpassed the marginal utility marker in your head already. That example is at the lowest level of social impact. From there the difference between the country and the city just grows. It's quite disturbing.

This cultural divide between the country and the city is more like a canyon. It's why the political division in the United States isn't regional. It's a difference between the urban and rural populations, the city people and the country people. I'm not even going to attempt offering any kind of solution in this article, primarily because I don't have any good suggestions. But this is a good explanation of the problem.

(I will note that the size of the city makes a big difference. People are still fairly decent in places like Grand Rapids, Michigan or Austin, Texas. But once you get to the size of New York City or Los Angeles, then humanity seems to get lost. (It does somewhat in the smaller cities too. There's a spectrum.))


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