Before I jump into this, I’d like to say that I enjoy living in one of the most vibrant cities in the world, and wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, it can feel like torture to spend more than a week in the country, as I well know. I love cities. However, the things we love aren’t always the same as the things we need.
Start by looking at the recent election, at how it showed a stark contrast between the urban and rural areas of our country. You’ll hear it said that “people are people, wherever you go.” But I find that to be untrue. The people in these places, in the country and in the city, are different.
There are many differences, but let’s examine the political. With few exceptions, cities lean left while the countryside leans right. We might start by asking, what lies at the heart of this distinction?
First and foremost, cities are almost entirely unnatural. Even our brains are not made to understand and navigate through a city, to deal with so many relationships and stimuli, to be bombarded with people of so many different tribes all at once, or to move through life that quickly. Now, on the other hand, we have built cities around something that is very central to being human – and that is relying on other people for survival. That’s right, cities are largely constructed around the concept of relying on other people for nearly everything, usually in exchange for something specialized and valuable that you are able to do for others in return. A beautiful woman moves to a city, and it is the simplest thing to trade her beauty and appeal for support, as suddenly she is surrounded by the many machinations that society has built to exchange for such things as luxurious and as rare as beauty. That is why beautiful women flock to New York, while any dude who has ever used tinder in his small town knows that it’s like rifling in the sales bin of the produce section just after the Halloween pumpkins have started to turn.
But let’s stick to men for the moment. Let’s examine the life of a man living in Manhattan. Let’s pick a random, successful, “valuable” city dweller. Think about his life for a second: a car, a bus, or a train picks him up in the morning, takes him to a highly specialized job that has nothing to do with the basics of survival, a job that is likely abstract and niche. He is free to have a job title something frivolous like “Director of Social Media”. He makes nothing, builds nothing, and creates nothing. It is all pixels. He eats his lunch on the fifty-fifth floor (someone brings him his food). On his walk home at night, policemen guard him from physical harm. A doorman opens the door to the lobby of his condo. Security guards protect him while he sleeps. He pays a large amount of his paycheck to the local government to have his trash collected, his street swept, his trains run on time. The government takes his money and tightly regulates almost everything about his life – from what he can rent his own condo for, to the type of people he is allowed to hire, to what the CO2 emission of his car that he never drives is allowed to be – his life is regulated. He is kept, and he is controlled.
This is not to disparage the man at all. It is a good life! The kind of life that most people want. All around him are beautiful women, luxury goods and services, the world at his fingertips. The opera, the art museum, the library.
But ask yourself, is it any wonder if this man turns out to be liberal and soft in his thinking? That he self identifies as a vegan feminist? Generalizing a bit here, but you won’t generally find that kind of person in a small town in Arkansas. It’s not really up for debate.
After all, our Manhattanite is seen to. He is comfortable. He is safe. Safety and comfort is great while it lasts, but it makes him, and anyone else who experiences it relaxed. Not relaxed in the way you might think. I don’t mean he breathes deeply and has no stress and walks around all Zen through the city streets. I mean he is relaxed about the future. When we are relaxed we are free. Free. Liberatus, from the latin. You might even say, liberal.
Is this tin foil hat talk? Perhaps. And yet…
Think about him. The man has everything he needs. So he thinks to himself, “what kind of monster wouldn’t let immigrants into this country.” Or he thinks, “I guess if women say they are oppressed, they must be. Why would anyone lie?”, or he imagines, “Life works out if you just rely on the power of hope and change.” Or “look at those people rioting and destroying Detroit, what victims they must be!” Etc. Etc.
He can afford to think these things, after all. In fact, he can afford not to think in the first place. His education had professors telling him what he needed to know. He has people around him telling him how to feel and what to think at all times, from NPR, to Beyoncé, to the gaggle of ladies in the coffee room. His hunger is gone, and he is satiated on the glut of plenty that is modern western culture.
The countryside, on the other hand, presents a stark contrast.
The country is all about relying on yourself.
No, that doesn’t mean a ton of people in the country aren’t on welfare or have liberal values. It certainly does happen, however, the country has a way of forging characters that are fiercely independent, because it forces people to look after themselves, to regulate themselves, to grow corn, fix cars and site-in rifles. They are not at liberty to wait around for other people to make the future OK. If they don’t do it, they won’t have a future to look forward to. And as such they are scared. Scared people are conservative by necessity.
Ever watch a Great Depression survivor cook a meal? It doesn’t matter how much food is available – they cooked conservatively, careful not to burn or drop a morsel, because they can foresee a future without much food in it quite easily.
Now, it would be unfair to compare the urbane city dweller with a less than affluent country person. And yet, where does one find affluence in the country? It barely exists.
But even the average country dweller – his lack of top down support and options and luxuries – it almost makes it impossible for him to “relax” and to be liberal about a lot of things. He isn’t used to a safety net. At least, not in the same way as the city provides one. Because in the country you are expected to take care of yourself, it is hard for you to imagine why you should have to take care of a bunch of strangers as well.
I live in a city myself, and I feel it making me softer every day. It is a place of relative leisure. A place of high specialization. A place that has license and ease to constantly “progress” towards a relaxation of codes, of moral standards, of what is binary, stoic, a forgetting of who we are as an animal species.
The point is not to say that country people are any better, or that conservative values are any more just and moral, for that matter. It is simply to remind you that you should force yourself to occasionally leave the city, Pitch a tent. Cut some wood. Catch a fish. Build a fire. Be an animal for a while. It will harden your resolve, build your character, and teach you the value of a lot of things that city dwellers take for granted.