Random Ideas For Interesting Times

Follow the musical adventures of that lovable psychedelic entity, Gliftor Draken, at gliftor.com.

Dead Planet stuff that doesn't belong there may end up here....

Outside the Cities

People who live outside the cities can cut trees, build fires, and shoot guns more or less whenever they want to. People in the cities can't even park a car without the approval of city government and property owners. Because of this, city people and country people develop very different intuitions about freedom and personal responsibility.

Different attitudes toward politics follow from this. In the country, the nation is an abstract thing like religion; the flag and the anthem are mythologized, while the actual government is resented whenever it shows up to outlaw something or to collect taxes. In the city, where government at some level is involved in negotiations about everything that gets done, there's no natural tendency to romanticize any government entity or process. Property rights are unquestioned in the country, because to each landowner they mean MY property rights - what other people do with their property is their business. Personal responsibility seems obvious: if you do something stupid with your gun or your chain saw, well, you did it...

But for city people, especially renters, life is thoroughly entangled with other people's assertions of their property rights. Asserting their own right to exist means pushing back against property rights. "Personal responsibility" means something different in a city shared by hundreds of thousands of people, divided among different classes and communities that expect wildly different levels of privilege and opportunity.

We can argue about which way of life we prefer or which set of values is "better," but we can't argue about which runs the world. To the people who run things, rural land, like an urban slum, is simply a resource that isn't currently profitable to develop any further. Companies like Perdue Farms and Walmart will move in whenever they find it profitable, displacing whatever is in their way. City-based media companies have little connection to rural life, which therefore becomes almost invisible in popular culture except for a few stereotypes.

The city-country split, in various forms, has been a constant feature in American politics. However, as urbanization has advanced, the economic and cultural position of rural America has been in decline. The resentment this fact creates in the countryside has become a resource that can be exploited in national politics. No political movement exists to de-urbanize America, and no economic theory exists to support such a thing. But rural values, which make sense within their original context, are being employed by modern politicians to distort the political debate about situations to which they don't apply at all. In particular, by bringing the ideas of unlimited property rights and absolute personal responsibility into complex situations that involve the interests of many people and institutions, the intended result is to tear away the government's power to provide some balance among those interests, leaving only the most powerful in control.

We now have what has to be the ultimate cynical example of this exploitation and distortion. The current champion of the common-sense values of rural America is a New York real estate developer and reality TV star, who is standing up for his own right to make any deal he feels like making, regardless of its consequences for his customers, his employees, and everyone else - and of course for his right to pay no taxes on any profits he obtains from this.

If we can't learn from this, we're finished.