I’ve always joked with friends about how I might actually live a happy life if I just moved into some rural town and became a fisherman or a farmer. Though I had not anywhere near clarified the things I see now about families and teams, that was my reasoning: if I went and lived in such sparsely populated areas, surely I would have better friends? There was no understanding. It was simply blind belief. When I learned of the concept of Dunbar’s number, it only reinforced that belief. If you can only recognize 150 people as actors and not environment, then clearly, cities in the hundreds of thousands of people overload your sensibilities.
The argument that cities should therefore be ~150 or fewer people didn’t make sense though. While I hated New York City, it wasn’t because I had read somewhere that it was a city of who knows how many digits. I really didn’t care that I didn’t know any of them either. Being the only person you know out of a crowd does not actually make me feel uncomfortable. Indeed, strictly comparing the best of all worlds, it feels much better around lots of people than it is alone, or only with a group of friends. Certainly there are crowds I do not like in the slightest.
But given the best case scenario, I prefer being amongst more than less.
I’ve spent time in fantasy worlds lately, all of your fairly standard recognizable “feudal” style world. A couple of games, a couple of books, a couple of TV series – all with their differing premises, yet all depicted in worlds before “technology”. Stone walled cities, cobble-stoned streets, narrow curved alleys; barrels of furs, covered wagons of various goods, tavern cellars; young maids flirting with a long table of dock workers after a rainy day, lonely merchants in the land between civilizations, a wide and uncharted world. In this kind of story, the cities are truly the best. There is no better place to be, for here is where all activities of all kinds meet. People came to the city from it to see the sights – the festivals, the amazing crafts and foods of guildsmen, the stories and gossip at tavern, the goods and artifacts from distant lands.
In stories which take place “after” such a medieval setting, people dream about leaving the city. It doesn’t matter if they have a family/team or not, one could be the father or mother of five or a member in a squad of twelve for sports or military, the ideal place to go is in “the wilds”. It could be camping, going to a beach in some foreign country, or to a ski resort. There is no particular desire to actually stay where we go when we vacate our regular position; it’s even thought about as only a “getaway”. Whatever it may be, it is chosen from a sense more familiar to us today: a dislike of the busybodying of a multitude of nobodies. Or, for the more even tempered: a way to relax.
“A way to relax” however is exactly why people of fantasy desire to join the city. Guarded gates, easy access to water, and any good you’d ever potentially want or need basically at your fingertips. It matters not if you are a simple artisan or the head of a rich trading company, whether you have many connections or few, the fact is that with the correct connections or amount of gold, you could get that obscure thing you needed to heal the humor you contracted. In the villages or on the road, whatever financial power or number of influential people you knew mattered not, for there was no way to get you what you needed when you needed it. You cannot call for State Farm roadside help to get a jump or a tire. There are no such things as helicopters which can lift you and your broken leg out of an inaccessible ravine. If a wheel on your wagon broke and you can’t replace it, you better hope you can carry your cargo on your horse and your back; if you’re snowed in a cave in the mountains, pray to God that you stay warm enough to not lose your feet. In the city, people could get you what you need. Where there are people there is material, and where there are materials there are possibilities. Today it is not “people can get me what I need” but rather “people can get me what I need“.
And while there are certainly busybody types in these fantasy worlds, they are simply that – a certain type of person. A curious exception. Only a very few people could afford to be good friends with no one and still survive -(tax collectors and sons of royalty are the obvious examples). The general rule, however, is that everyone has to be a someone to many others. Everyone knows this, and the lack of a universal belief that most people are busybodies allows for many fluid and ultimately living overlays, regardless of if you are a stranger or not. If you can believe that any random person (excluding obvious wanted posters, carrying of a spike with human skulls, and other taboos) has THIS same need that you do, you would be inclined to help them with any need they might have. It would be a given to you that they would repay your debt at least once over and spread tales of your benevolence or hospitality, for you would do the same in their position: the greatest repayment someone can give in a world where people are the most important is putting in a good word for them. This not only turns two strangers into two acquaintances, but raises yourself as well, for those who heard your tale are more likely to believe your words – and thus future requests. It’s a wonderful world.
You are not inclined to begin any step of this process if you believe everyone – regardless if you recognize them or not – is a busybody, a no one; when you believe the world is not full of wonder, but of guaranteed occurrences.
That’s why I hate cities. It is not because [I see]/[there are] too many people, but because [I see]/[there are] too few.
I think it isn’t a coincidence that all the stories where the urban city is a wonderful place occur in a time where machines are not present. Or, to put it more precisely, there is no automation. All machines are either in direct control or nearly out of control of humans – the carriage needs to be manned, the windmill depends on the wind; high quality flour and a well-built oven means nothing without the chef, a ship can always be lost at sea. Man always had to be vigilant to hold his ground against the forces of nature and chance, and even then it was up to the Gods whether or not he succeeded.
But with the advent of automated machines came mechanism. Suddenly, the arts of alchemy were no longer mystical – they were givens. It’s a given that the watermill has this amount of power all the time. It’s a given that this engine will produce heat. It’s a given that with the pull of this lever, all these amazing things will happen The posit was that everything can be understood in terms of its components, each relation a process. Is that not how we understand people today? “Incentives” and “Rewards”? It’s not as if humans have never used logic and exploited advantages until the invention of the steam engine, but today we exclusively use “logic” to the point where people pride themselves on being “rational”. We talk about requiring “new evidence” and avoiding “logical fallacies” like everybody was dreamwalking right up until the scientific revolution and the enlightenment.
And yet, that’s exactly what we say about ourselves today. As much as people like to take dumps on the dark ages, they can never bring themselves to complete a depiction of those times as equivalent to apes throwing stones at birds and at each other. It is always shown as great wars with great warriors, fighting for honor, their homeland, and their families – or for the less gore-intensive, the lively and bustling city. What do we write about our own time? Zombie stories. About the future? Smoggy skies, dirty skyscrapers, crowded and lonely streets. “Correlation not causation”?
Science has always been used in one form or another for continual improvement of various activities, but it is only after mechanism where its attitude changed. One can talk about needing more facts and numbers, but it can easily mean something very different from another saying the same thing. What kinds of facts? How many numbers? The fact that these questions seem trivial and irrelevant is what spells out the cause of failure: for all its correction mechanisms, science ultimately requires some one to correct it. It is a manned action, and the quality of its results are inevitably tied to the wielder’s skill.
But no longer. Once a
belief theory is made, we believe it will just correct itself. That’s the point isn’t it? That’s why we believe know this is better than all the other superstitious and voodoo stuff out there. So long as people eat food according to this pyramid, say these things in a politically correct manner and act in such a way according to the television, everything will be perfect and fine. The self-proclaimed enlightened talk about how the religious will always try to fit whatever evidence there is into a prexisting dogma, and talk about how they’re “open minded”. What they actually are is lazy-minded, or rather, non-minded.
loving couples are disappearing “divorce rates” are going up. I wonder what’s causing that. No one understands the joy of having children “Birth rates” are declining and children aren’t respecting their elders. Interesting. I walked miles to school, didn’t graduate high school, worked my whole life, and am fine. But my son hasn’t done any of that. I guess science and statistics will explain that.
Eventually. “They” will probably get around to it sometime before mankind goes extinct. But that’s okay. As long as the truth is found.
Someone thought of some system where the behaviors of people can be explained in XYZ manners, and everyone adopted it because it fulfilled some condition. But it remains in everyone’s way of understanding and operating with the world, because it hasn’t “been shown conclusively to be inaccurate”, and all attacks against it are “not substantiated” or have [insert logical fallacy here]. It doesn’t matter if you and I and whoever’s army feels that something about civilization is declining, that something has been lost, that the numbers are telling us something. It’s just “narrative” and “personal anecdotes”.
Meanwhile, this is why the world ends.