Sunday, May 27, 2012

Metronalysis – On Fairytales and Freedom

I like politics – the drama, the clash of ideas – not so much the score-keeping (I’m not a sports fan). One piece of the ever-interesting political puzzle has always eluded me – why is it that you can look at a political map and clearly see that the bastions of left-wing ideology are the giant cities.  What is there about City-ness that produces that frame of mind? This last trip to New York finally coughed up some answers. I’d like to know what you think – these are my thoughts:

·      Big cities are fairytale worlds. The ramparts are beautiful, sparkly, gold-tipped. Food just appears. Water is always hot. Transportation – I’m thinking subways here – is magic – hectic and uncomfortable, but fast and no one seems to be driving the thing. It just goes. Maggie and I, as we visited modeling agencies, kept finding ourselves in Narnian places – elevator doors in questionable looking buildings opening into splendiferous spaces with ornate red chandeliers and white leather furnishings. Enchanting. Under those circumstances it would be easy to go on imagining a completely utopian existence. Why not? Is this not already Neverland?

·      Go back to transportation; in big cities going anywhere distant independently requires the punishing expense and fuss-n-bother of owning a car – to say nothing of the nerves of steel it takes to drive through LA’s freeway tangles or the clogged capillaries of New York --- or you hail a cab and pay twelve prices for the thrill of hyper-aggressive driving by someone who’s only been in the country for 3 months. Your only other option is public transportation – cheap, available, but here’s the effect: you lose the idea of being in complete control of your own movement. You wait patiently for the vehicle to appear. You sit obediently in your seat (or stand and hold on for dear life) and you go where the thing takes you, which is rarely exactly where you want to end up. The idea of independence would get shaky after too many years of that. Some freedom gets sacrificed for the advantages of living in a phenomenal city, making it easier to give up a little more, and a little more, and a little more.

·      And just the constant contact with so many other people tends to erase some of the sense of responsibility for managing on your own. It’s a delicious thing in many ways, but nowhere on earth are you more separated from the source of all Being than you are in a City. Other people – quite obviously – are making things work for you.  The doorman in your building keeps you safe.  The deli owner on the corner cooks your breakfast. There’s a guy who comes to walk your dog, a nanny who takes your kids to soccer practice, a bus driver who’s always on time. It only takes one little slide to the left to assume that government is just another one of those reliable folks who make your life function; one could easily forget the dangers inherent in political power.

·      Any metropolitan area attracts the best – the best architecture, the best theater, the best food, the best music and art and fashion and literature – the best tend to congregate in the Cities where it becomes pretty easy to get big headed about being human. Human beings built the Empire State Building in only 17 months. They carved out tunnels to make the subways. They built giant harbors, complicated road systems, amazing bridges. It would be easy being surrounded by such grandeur to assume that man does not need God, that he is capable of doing anything, even legislating a perfect society. 

·      Big cities are cool. Sophistication, both real and imagined, seeps out of every pore; I feel thoroughly debonair just having walked down 5th Avenue. And nothing is more cosmopolitan, more urbane, more suave than going against the grain, being on the cutting edge of whatever hair-brained, and often immoral, idea comes down the pike. Tradition is stodgy, concern for the Constitution old hat, respect for the Bible provincial. Being cool and being right wing don’t fit together in the metro mind, and when you have available several million others subconsciously wanting to be cool with you, or cooler than you – that’s a tough one to beat.

·      And lastly, a metropolis is anonymous. This gets us back to my first point – a lot of City-ness is pretend, is smoke and mirrors. New York, for all its beauty, sits on top of a dark web of underground tunnels and cellars – a phantom-of-the-opera blackness full of sewers and water pipes and sub-sub basements. We shopped at a store in Times Square that was four stories – down. The city also sits on top of another kind of darkness – you can reinvent yourself there, be someone you are not, and do so with great ease. It’s nearly impossible to know who anyone really is and so it is easy to be fooled by those who tell you one thing and mean another. Rural folk get fooled, too, but not so easily – the six degrees of separation dwindle to two in a small town.

I’m so glad to have realized these things. I suffer from an apparently unrealistic desire to have things make sense, and I’ve never understood how the smartest, most creative, most sophisticated people could make such dire political misjudgments. But I get it now.

After only a week I was starting to feel like an obedient ant in an anthill – a glorious, astounding, fascinating anthill, but an anthill nevertheless. If only the queen of the hill would just issue a decree, all would be well – the poor, prosperous and happy, the halt and lame, finally hale and hearty, the enemies at the gates, our friends. That would start to seem reasonable in a place so fanciful as the fairytale that is the City.


  1. Interesting perspective. I agree that the big cities, especially on the two coasts, are centers of socialistic elitism and I also think that large cities are sanctuaries for illegals. It's much harder to hide being illegal in Cedar Bluff, Iowa than it is in New York or LA. And oh yes, there are thousands upon thousands of people that live here (many are transplants who are IMO the real fairytale dwellers) that think they are way cool because they do.

    And for sure, the large populations in cities make them juicy targets for all kinds of lowlifes. There is always somebody whining that there "ought to be a law" about something and when they do there is always a Chuck Schumer or Bloomberg type lurking around somewhere, ready to jump in front of a camera and make an issue and then another law.

    But for millions and millions of hard working, honest American New Yorkers this is the only home they have ever known. In their eyes there's nothing fairytale about their city. Steamfitters, construction workers, bus drivers, garbage men, policemen, business owners of all kinds have lived and have successfully created lives for themselves in the city.

    Oh, and make no mistake, we do love our service industry here in the city. You can get anything done, delivered, prepared, created, performed FOR you here in the city, but for a price and therein lies the un-fairytale aspect to the City.

    One week in the city running around to various appointments, enduring the crowds and trying to find a bathroom (lol-I always hit the head before hitting the subway) may not be the best perspective from which to label the city as a "fanciful fairytale."

    1. You've got me there! I figured you'd call me on that. :-) I know I'm making sweeping generalizations on very little evidence, but sometimes a fresh view yields some fresh insights.

      I don't mean the "fairytale" thing as a put down at all. I mean that big cities are showplaces for the culture -- under-girded by all the workings, to be sure, but under-girded so flawlessly, so smoothly that unless you are part of that process, it would be easy to gloss over how it all happens. The meat-in-the-plastic-tray syndrome; all of us forget the realities -- I just think it may be easier in a big city.

      What do you think causes the liberal tilt in most big cities?

  2. Liberal tilt? It's not easy to explain. I think perhaps the uber-rich philanthropists have driven a lot of this elitism, and they've always had a presence in the city, which could go back for generations. I'm sure that they have carried these huge guilt complexes for a long time because they created so much wealth and perhaps they were rather ruthless about it, or at least some of the later generations thought that way and decided to give it all away, lessening the guilt.

    Fairytale - I know you don't mean it in a put-down way. But I also know that I am awash in liberal minds in this neck of the woods. Voting seems so pointless here, but I vote anyway and I tell myself that I offset somebody else's vote. It's all I have.

    1. I think you're right that the intellectual elite and the super rich, drive a lot of it, but how? The guilt piece is part of it, I suppose, but you'd think they could take care of that with private philanthropy.And neither explains why the regular folks in big cities are also mostly liberal.

      I know you feel outnumbered big-time -- I would too. Actually in Oregon I am. Portland so outweighs the rest of the state that we really have very little say in things. Portland is not even that big, but it's really over the edge.

      Writing this blog is what keeps me from feeling powerless -- even if I'm wrong now and then. :-)