I can hear it. That gentle hum in the night. The sound of the powerlines. The flash of headlights of cars pushing my window in the night. I couldn’t get used to it at first. Growing up in the country I didn’t need to. I had the sounds of grasshoppers rubbing their legs together and the creaking of a tin roof to put me to sleep. I never heard my neighbors. I never needed to fold the corners of my pillow around my ears or to put my headphones on while someone was having sex. The city took my piece of mind slowly and day by day. But I couldn’t leave. I needed the work. That’s what gets us all. That magical catch 22. The no-win situation.
There was an interview I watched recently with Ben Shapiro. He was being interviewed by Joe Rogan on his podcast and was talking about some school in the Midwest he went to speak at. In the course of the interview, he was talking about the difference between the people in Los Angeles where he lives and the Midwest. He talks about walking through the town he’s visiting, and a woman looks him in the eyes, says hello and good morning. He said he was shocked. “You don’t make eye contact in L.A. unless you’re looking for a fight.” He even joked he had to call his father in disbelief. That brief encounter explains everything in a simple exchange I could spend a hundred pages trying to explain. Cities are centers or art, culture, science, and industry. However, we could never accomplish what we have nor be who we are as a nation and as a species without cities. There’s always a cost for achievement.
Aristotle advocated the idea of a polis. City states of no more than 50,000 freedmen. Lead by a philosopher king who knew what the nature of good was and steered the city like a captain steers a ship. It also had a utopian socialist spin that made it impossibly idealistic and total unobtainable by human beings. The one thing that I do believe he understood, that the ancient Greeks understood very well, was the horror of the tyranny of the majority. The idea that a large body of people got together and literally and physically forced their will on you or caused you physical harm. What they understood even more so is that a large group of people is entirely irrational and can quickly be whipped into an angry fervor that others can control or unleash. That is what cities do for us. The rob of us of a chance for reason or to be thoughtful. Every moment of every day is a dual struggle to get what you want before someone else does and to not lose yourself trying to get it.
Road rage wasn’t something I had coming from my small town. Now it seems every day I’m on the interstate or a freeway I am cussing those around me. As I shout at them, I think to myself these are sub-humans. Why do they have to drive like maniacs? Why are they always in a hurry? More importantly, I wonder why they have to all be going where I’m going? Then I look down at my speedometer and realize I’m doing ninety in a sixty miles per hour zone. I look up into my rear view mirror and catch a glimpse of my creased forehead, the pulsating vein in my face and realize I’ve been shouting for the last half hour. I wonder now, have I become the sub-human that I have so long hated? Where has the small town boy gone? I have lost sight of him in his rush to work.
The city is not a concrete jungle, it is a human zoo.
– Desmond Morris