Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. The Unhappiness of Cities: A Small Speculation

 

There appears to be a growing geographic polarization between conservatives and radicals. Conservatives (those of us who largely favor maintaining the status quo, or what was until recently the status quo) are increasingly represented by rural populations; radicals (those who are eager to replace the status quo with something new and quite different) are increasingly concentrated in our urban and near urban areas.

A glance at the familiar 2016 votes-by-county map of the United States makes that division stark and obvious.

So here’s a thought. If we assume that conservatives are expressing, in their voting, a general contentment with the way things are and a desire that those things not change significantly, and if we assume that radicals are expressing a general discontent with the way things are and a desire for substantial and rapid change, then it’s hard not to conclude that the folks who live in cities are less happy with their lives than are their country cousins.

If that’s the case (and I admit that there are other possible explanations, though this one seems reasonably parsimonious), then it seems one of two things is likely true: (1) unhappy people are drawn to cities and happy people are drawn to the country; or (2) living in cities makes people unhappy, whereas living in the country makes people happy.

I’m not aware of any recent national migration that would explain why folks who are blue (ahem) might have accumulated in our cities, and so I’m leaning toward the idea that living in big cities makes people sad — this despite the perplexing fact that people who live in big cities seem to feel sorry for people who don’t.

[ Disclaimer: I’ve done both, owned a very rural farm and lived in biggish cities (Denver, Kansas City, Cleveland, Tucson, a few others). I’m a city person at heart… but a happy one. ]

Published in General
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

There are 26 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. DonG (skeptic) Coolidge

    Many people live in cities for the amenities like museums (closed), theaters (closed), sports (closed), restaurants (closed), and nightlife (closed). 

    I am a conservative, but I dislike the status quo, because it is not trying to maximize liberty and prosperity of the people.

     

    • #1
    • June 28, 2020, at 7:15 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  2. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    An interesting speculation.

    • #2
    • June 28, 2020, at 7:33 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  3. Bob Thompson Member

    How about if some people are just happy and some are just unhappy? Now, who might feel that a change might take unhappy to happy? The city certainly appears to offer more opportunities for effecting such a change. More people, more variety, more money, more of many things, except maybe tranquility, peace and quiet. The country offers less of most things. But where does one get happiness? I think it comes from inside the individual and not from things or other people.

    • #3
    • June 28, 2020, at 8:34 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  4. Joseph Eagar Member
    Joseph Eagar Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I’m not sure I agree. Status quo conservatism hasn’t been doing all that great since Bush left office. If anything the Democrats are a lot more wedded to the status quo (e.g. on trade and immigration) then conservatives are.

    • #4
    • June 28, 2020, at 9:18 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  5. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette

    Joseph Eagar (View Comment):

    I’m not sure I agree. Status quo conservatism hasn’t been doing all that great since Bush left office. If anything the Democrats are a lot more wedded to the status quo (e.g. on trade and immigration) then conservatives are.

    Unfortunately, our sense of what the status quo is, beyond our narrow experience, is largely influenced by media and our institutions. And, unfortunately, our media and our institutions have been busy making not-normal things seem normal. Young people, raised in a wildly inadequate educational environment, suffer from this particularly badly.

    Over time, things change: conservatives will continue to grow up holding to the (new) status quo, and radicals will continue to push against the (new) status quo. But that process takes time. Right now, there are a lot of us who remember, or are nostalgic for, a time when government was smaller and less invasive.

    • #5
    • June 28, 2020, at 9:32 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  6. James Lileks Contributor

    I live in the city, and have always been happy here. There’s always some grand urban drama going on – massive highway projects, new towers rising from pits, neighborhoods remade by prosperity and influx, and throughout the metropolis the grand civic monuments tie today to the past. In other words, I am comfortable with the pace and manifestations of change, and they have not made the place unrecognizable or foreign. 

    When the ideas change suddenly, and the old ideas are broken up for kindling, then a place where the pace of change is less dynamic seems appealing, but it would take a lot to get to me to move. I’ll be got-damned if they run me off.

    (FF two years, house is possessed by Committee for Fairness to house six strangers)

    • #6
    • June 28, 2020, at 10:20 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  7. The Reticulator Member

    Joseph Eagar (View Comment):

    I’m not sure I agree. Status quo conservatism hasn’t been doing all that great since Bush left office. If anything the Democrats are a lot more wedded to the status quo (e.g. on trade and immigration) then conservatives are.

    They are also wedded to the status quo of being the governing party, i.e. the one that runs the administrative state, media, celebritydom, and universities. 

    • #7
    • June 28, 2020, at 10:58 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  8. Jon1979 Lincoln

    I think it’s more than angry people who see the great mass of the public as their intellectual lessers who should do everything the angry people want them to do tend to gravitate together in big cities to be angry together … until they inevitably get angry at each other, because they also don’t want to bow down and do what they’re told. That’s why left wing politics is the land of perpetual splitters and warring factions.

    If you’re the type of arrogant, angry personality whose only pleasure in life is trying to boss people around, it helps to have more people to boss and more people who think like you do, and that’s far less possible in rural areas. But it also doesn’t mean everyone living in big cities are bitter cranks who want to use government to regulate everyone’s lifestyle, just that cities are magnets for bitter cranks who want to use government to regulate everyone’s lifestyle, and cities that also are state capitals or are homes to major universities tend to be infected by that problem even above their actual populations (the capitals because the bossy people swarm to where they can make the laws to tell others what to do, and the universities, because people who don’t want to function in the real world can spend their days designing hypothetical solutions they can then try to get enacted into law at the state capitals).

    • #8
    • June 29, 2020, at 5:55 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  9. Stad Thatcher

    Henry Racette: If that’s the case (and I admit that there are other possible explanations, though this one seems reasonably parsimonious), then it seems one of two things is likely true: (1) unhappy people are drawn to cities and happy people are drawn to the country; or (2) living in cities makes people unhappy, whereas living in the country makes people happy.

    I would be happy living in some big cities if 1) they were run by Republicans, and 2) they had a strong law enforcement community who are allowed to do their jobs. Maybe the reason folks are unhappy is because #2 isn’t true for them, and they don’t see #1 as the solution.

    Henry Racette: [ Disclaimer: I’ve done both, owned a very rural farm and lived in biggish cities (Denver, Kansas City, Cleveland, Tucson, a few others). I’m a city person at heart… but a happy one. ]

    I grew up in Raleigh, NC. Whenever I go back to visit friends, I’m so happy I moved to a small town (Aiken, SC). Unfortunately, there are some politicians and people in the business commubnity who want to make it grow grow grow. I hope I’m dead by the time it happens, if ever . . .

    • #9
    • June 29, 2020, at 6:10 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  10. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Cities necessarily depend on a much greater degree of communal service-delivery for their very existence than rural areas do. Therefore, cities are much more prone to government overreach than rural areas. Therefore, cities are much more prone to violent movements seeking to overthrow governments.

    Put another way, urban anarchists seek to tear down the system. Rural anarchists just want to be left alone.

    • #10
    • June 29, 2020, at 7:41 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  11. Full Size Tabby Member

    Misthiocracy got drunk and (View Comment):

    Cities necessarily depend on a much greater degree of communal service-delivery for their very existence than rural areas do. Therefore, cities are much more prone to government overreach than rural areas. Therefore, cities are much more prone to violent movements seeking to overthrow governments.

    Put another way, urban anarchists seek to tear down the system. Rural anarchists just want to be left alone.

    I think this view of communal service delivery is a more plausible explanation of rural/urban voting patterns than is happiness/unhappiness with the status quo.

    I think urban people are prone to vote for more government (not necessarily “change”) because everything in their lives needs someone else to do something for them, and voting once for government to do as much as possible is easier than spending time and energy seeking individual solutions to individual needs. So I think the urban voters are looking more for “more government” than necessarily for “change.” “Change” is just a handy marketing tool for politicians seeking votes, just as any marketer wants to create in a potential customer some level of dissatisfaction with the customer’s current car / soap / television / clothing / kitchen appliances / etc. so the marketer can claim that the marketer’s product is better and encourage the customer to ditch their current stuff for the marketer’s new stuff. 

    Rural voters are more likely to do stuff for themselves, and to know other people who can do the stuff they can’t or don’t want to, and so the rural voter is more likely to trust his own ability to find solutions than to let a government find solutions for him. 

    • #11
    • June 29, 2020, at 9:11 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  12. Bob Thompson Member

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):
    Rural voters are more likely to do stuff for themselves, and to know other people who can do the stuff they can’t or don’t want to, and so the rural voter is more likely to trust his own ability to find solutions than to let a government find solutions for him. 

    This comports closely with life, liberty, and property whereas many urban dwellers pretty much forego the latter two parts. The pursuit of happiness becomes much more difficult then for urban dwellers who have forfeited those important pieces. They live a life mostly devoid of choice (substituting government mandates) and that is a missing piece that is a big contributor to the pursuit of happiness.

    • #12
    • June 29, 2020, at 9:23 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  13. DonG (skeptic) Coolidge

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):
    I think urban people are prone to vote for more government (not necessarily “change”) because everything in their lives needs someone else to do something for them, and voting once for government to do as much as possible is easier than spending time and energy seeking individual solutions to individual needs. So I think the urban voters are looking more for “more government” than necessarily for “change.”

    Cities have a lot of money. Grifters and opportunists that live off “other peoples money” are attracted to cities and work to change policies to support their projects/causes/lifestyles. It is like that old saying about robbing banks, because that’s were the money is. Cities are driven to grow government, because the people that live off government work hard to grow government in cities. Bus stations, light-rail, housing projects,… I live in a large city (soon to be #10 !) and the local government routinely drops 9-figure amounts of money on boondoggles. A hundred million here and a hundred million there adds up. It is maddening. 

    • #13
    • June 29, 2020, at 9:35 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  14. Bob Thompson Member

    DonG (skeptic) (View Comment):

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):
    I think urban people are prone to vote for more government (not necessarily “change”) because everything in their lives needs someone else to do something for them, and voting once for government to do as much as possible is easier than spending time and energy seeking individual solutions to individual needs. So I think the urban voters are looking more for “more government” than necessarily for “change.”

    Cities have a lot of money. Grifters and opportunists that live off “other peoples money” are attracted to cities and work to change policies to support their projects/causes/lifestyles. It is like that old saying about robbing banks, because that’s were the money is. Cities are driven to grow government, because the people that live off government work hard to grow government in cities. Bus stations, light-rail, housing projects,… I live in a large city (soon to be #10 !) and the local government routinely drops 9-figure amounts of money on boondoggles. A hundred million here and a hundred million there adds up. It is maddening.

    It can be very maddening to give up your freedom and be made to pay for having done that.

    • #14
    • June 29, 2020, at 9:53 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  15. Old Bathos Moderator

    I volunteered to work on the John Lindsey mayoral campaign in NYC in 1965. I was staying with my aunt, a GOP precinct captain (or some similar title, I forget.) that summer. Although probably better than Abe Beam, he was still a disaster. New York just seemed resigned to crime and decay for decades.

    Dystopian movies from Death Wish (1974) to Escape from New York (1981) seemed to capture the inevitability of the predominance of violent mindless crime. When the Bronx was on fire during the 1977 World Series not that far from Yankee Stadium to the surprise of Keith Jackson and Howard Cosell, my New York City native friend deadpanned an explanation to others in the sports bar watching the game with us that the blaze was simply the traditional autumn Bronx heat festival in which persons dissatisfied with their current housing options provided by the city arrange an emergency move to a new apartment. Dark humor about NYC crime was his forte. I suspect a lot of New Yorkers were like that in those days. 

    But the city recovered. Big time. Was it just the Giuliani/Bloomberg law enforcement policies or were there also other demographic factors?

    I waded through the NYPD Use of Violence Report for 2018 (so you don’t have to–you’re welcome, Ricochet) and found this surprising chart. NYC cops just aren’t shooting people like they used to. I assumed that what with systemic racism and all that, the figures would be ever-rising. Some TV cop shows now fire more bullets in an episode than New York’s finest do in a year.

    Cities can recover. Maybe this wave of overt stupidity will actually be for the better in the not-so-long run.

    • #15
    • June 29, 2020, at 11:33 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  16. E. Kent Golding Member

    Henry Racette:

    it seems one of two things is likely true: (1) unhappy people are drawn to cities and happy people are drawn to the country; or (2) living in cities makes people unhappy, whereas living in the country makes people happy.

     

    They both can be true, independently.

    • #16
    • June 29, 2020, at 1:32 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  17. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette

    I didn’t really think the happy/unhappy explanation made a lot of sense. I just thought it was amusingly ironic, given the air of smug superiority our coastal elite affect.

    There’s a quality to country living, and most particularly to farm living, of practical necessity. I think life in the country is more demanding in ways that require proactive behavior — in short, responsibility. You have to prepare for seasons, prepare for bad weather, prepare for things running out — propane, feed, power, firewood, groceries, all kinds of things about which people who live in apartments and close to services don’t have to think.

    Rural independence.

    (Having said that, there’s a joke some of my farmer friends like to tell. “Why do farmers wear caps with curved bills? So that they’ll fit in the mailbox when they go out to look for their government subsidy check.”)

    • #17
    • June 29, 2020, at 4:16 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  18. Front Seat Cat Member

    I was thinking along these same lines, but I was way more pessimistic than you – sigh….. i don’t think it is, or will be, city vs. country or ‘burbs – I think it is shaping up to be radical vs. conservative, in a civil war environment. The divisions are so deep, and lawlessness is increasing at a rapid pace. Destroying or vandalizing monuments are taking place in small towns as well as bigger areas. Speech and what is considered “safe” to say, whether on social media or in public, is changing. The picture of the couple outside of their big fancy house, holding guns to stave off a mob, is something you see in movies – I am starting to see a pattern that includes the word revolution……..are you?

    • #18
    • June 30, 2020, at 9:55 AM PDT
    • Like
  19. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    I was thinking along these same lines, but I was way more pessimistic than you – sigh….. i don’t think it is, or will be, city vs. country or ‘burbs – I think it is shaping up to be radical vs. conservative, in a civil war environment. The divisions are so deep, and lawlessness is increasing at a rapid pace. Destroying or vandalizing monuments are taking place in small towns as well as bigger areas. Speech and what is considered “safe” to say, whether on social media or in public, is changing. The picture of the couple outside of their big fancy house, holding guns to stave off a mob, is something you see in movies – I am starting to see a pattern that includes the word revolution……..are you?

    Don’t trust linear projections of chaotic systems.

    Think about that scene of the couple standing in front of their home. What percentage of America was appalled by that, and what percentage thought they were heroes?

    Imagine a few more encounters like that. Imagine people growing weary of the smug inchoate violence and destruction. Imagine a tipping point, after which public support melts away and people are ready to move on.

    I think that’s what we’re going to see, not a continuing escalation. There aren’t very many, proportionately, who actually engage in destruction, and they only do it because they meet no resistance. Let’s see what happens when people grow tired of indulging them.

    • #19
    • June 30, 2020, at 9:59 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  20. Stad Thatcher

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    There’s a quality to country living, and most particularly to farm living, of practical necessity. I think life in the country is more demanding in ways that require proactive behavior — in short, responsibility. You have to prepare for seasons, prepare for bad weather, prepare for things running out — propane, feed, power, firewood, groceries, all kinds of things about which people who live in apartments and close to services don’t have to think.

    Rural independence.

    I agree. We have a well, a septic tank, and we haul our own trash to the county dump. One of the best things about being in the country (even though we’re close to a small town) is the quiet. Whenever I visit a city, there are always sirens going off, especially at night (fire, cops, EMTs).

    • #20
    • June 30, 2020, at 2:10 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  21. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette

    Stad (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    There’s a quality to country living, and most particularly to farm living, of practical necessity. I think life in the country is more demanding in ways that require proactive behavior — in short, responsibility. You have to prepare for seasons, prepare for bad weather, prepare for things running out — propane, feed, power, firewood, groceries, all kinds of things about which people who live in apartments and close to services don’t have to think.

    Rural independence.

    I agree. We have a well, a septic tank, and we haul our own trash to the county dump. One of the best things about being in the country (even though we’re close to a small town) is the quiet. Whenever I visit a city, there are always sirens going off, especially at night (fire, cops, EMTs).

    Right?

    But I’ll tell you. I spent years getting up in the dead of a winter night to check and top off the wood stove, when it was our main source of heat in the old farmhouse. Moving myself and the kids into a house with modern heat was a delight.

    • #21
    • June 30, 2020, at 2:16 PM PDT
    • Like
  22. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge

    Cities and the people that live in them are just smarter, cooler, better looking than the non city dweller. Just go ask a city dweller and they will explain how great their city is and how flyover people are stupid.

    • #22
    • June 30, 2020, at 2:39 PM PDT
    • Like
  23. Brandon Member

    I have lived an ultra-rural lifestyle for well over 90% of my life. For four years, I lived in a small college town and couldn’t stand it.

    I prefer rural life (my closest neighbor is five miles away) because I can have privacy, a low cost of living, and the peace and quiet to think. Once you get way out in the sticks, there is virtually no crime, and you are always in contact with nature (for better or worse!) The snakes, deer, raccoons, possums, insects, and coyotes all share the land with me. I have time to read, time to go on long walks through the countryside, and space to stretch my legs. There are only nine police officers in our entire county, so everyone is armed (and thus friendly). I go hunting every winter on my own land, process game on my own land, and put it in my own freezer. I sometimes go weeks without seeing anyone besides my wife. It’s quite wonderful.

    I suppose people like the cities because of the amenities and excitement. I simply don’t understand that point of view. Anything that I could buy in a city I can purchase online. Any event I could attend in a city I could commute to (and from) in a day’s drive. Any pleasure I might derive from what @jameslileks “grand urban drama” is quickly countered by the general coarseness of the scenery and–frankly–the people. As I am, I wake everyday knowing that I will get along with 100% of the people I encounter. I do not wish that to change. 

    • #23
    • June 30, 2020, at 3:06 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  24. Brandon Member

    As for why city dwellers are unhappy:

    It goes like this:

    1) The well to do are drawn to cities because of the kind of enthralling life one can live in a city if one has the money to do it. The wealthy can live lives virtually free of boredom, as cities seem to offer every distraction imaginable–if you have the money to pay for them.

    2) Meanwhile those on the other end of the economic spectrum flock to cities because of a perceived lack of economic opportunities in small towns and rural areas. The lure of government goodies can be quite intoxicating, and cities behave as if they have limitless coffers to supply perpetual bread and circuses.

    3) Once there, both groups vote for the same policies: high taxes, overpriced infrastructure, burdensome over-regulation, misguided social policy, and terrible schools. The price of these daft policies are clearly evident for all to see, as rent control and lack of school choice lock the underclass into the worst parts of cities. Over-regulation shields the upper class from competition.

    4) Every day, these kids grow up looking at the posh lives the upper crust has locked in for themselves through the graft and corruption of the ruling class. How could such an environment not be a breeding grown for resentment?

    5) So cities have now become an odd paradox: they are magnets for people at both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum who, once they have arrived, are locked into their station in life by the very policies they chose.

    This kind of endless causality loop is what one might have called, in a less enlightened time, “hell.”

     

    • #24
    • June 30, 2020, at 3:30 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  25. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge

    Brandon (View Comment):
    Meanwhile those on the other end of the economic spectrum flock to cities because of a perceived lack of economic opportunities in small towns and rural areas

    You left out how the politicals in the city are creating government policies to create the “lack of economic opportunities in small towns and rural areas” by sending those jobs overseas.

    • #25
    • June 30, 2020, at 5:40 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  26. The Reticulator Member

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    But I’ll tell you. I spent years getting up in the dead of a winter night to check and top off the wood stove, when it was our main source of heat in the old farmhouse. Moving myself and the kids into a house with modern heat was a delight.

    We did that for about 30 years. It started to get tiresome and wasn’t compatible with getting old, so 10-11 years ago we got natural gas run to our house and installed a hot water heating system.

    Earlier, when my parents retired they moved to an acreage on a lake and I noticed that Dad was spending a lot of cutting and splitting wood. That wasn’t my idea of how I wanted to spend time, and told myself I would never want my time used that way. Then we bought the old farmhouse in the country where we did it for 30 years. I mostly skipped the lumberjack part of that operation, though, and instead of finding places nearby where we could cut wood and haul it home, I bought wood that was mostly cut and split. It was still a lot of work, though.

    On cold winter days I do miss that hot woodstove in the diningroom/kitchen. 

    • #26
    • July 1, 2020, at 8:39 AM PDT
    • 1 like