The whole point of this blog is to run counter to the accepted narrative. That is not just to be contrary but rather to point to flaws in the accepted narrative. I searched in vain for a podcast or a blog which addressed just how livable many urban places deemed unlivable really are and decided to start my own. The point is not to convince people who hate cities to love cities, nor is it to celebrate places already viewed as hip, trendy, cool, wonderful, and livable. So people who love life in the ‘burbs are welcome to read this content, but I really don’t see the point, and people with the desire and the means to live in Manhattan, San Francisco, Boston, and the like can read, I suppose, because they enjoy all manifestations of urbanity but the point has always been to give hope and courage to those who want to live in an urban environment but would do so in a less than traditional location according to popular convention.
Chuck Marohn once joked that I should utilize “the royal we” more often in order to give my ideas the aura of emanating from a hive mind of urbanists, but I’ve gone with being open about the fact that this site communicates my own personal vision. Along with that I would readily admit that there is a heterogeneity to the work here; some serious, some flip, some well researched, some off the cuff, some highbrow, some low, some nuanced and subtle, some brazen and offensive, some relatively well written, others not so much. I like it. I speak today what today thinks and do not worry about being misunderstood.
Being outside the mainstream will illicit, for obvious reasons, general criticisms of my work from people who accept the current paradigm. To a certain degree I expect that, but it was surprising yet gratifying to see just how those criticisms would manifest themselves when some of my more rough n ready work was exposed to a broader readership. The blogpost in question (here) had three main ideas:
*If there were a sport played by minorities that accepted and celebrated fighting as hockey does it might be subject to greater and broader criticism.
*That black urban lawlessness is viewed with more trepidation than the white rural equivalent.
*A suburban car accident taking the life of a 15 year old girl and an urban gun accident which did the same could be described almost identically and yet would be responded to very differently by the broader society.
I stand by all three. I was shocked, am shocked, that anyone would argue the first point. I didn’t say that fighting in hockey isn’t criticized, but I’ve never heard hockey fights used to critique Canadian or “white northern” culture more broadly. If basketball included fighting and brawling as normative I find it inconceivable that there wouldn’t exist a body of popular literature connecting it to black culture more broadly.
Point two is hardly an insight, I merely mentioned it because of the Chris Martenson reference to Oakland in the podcast which was the subject of a previous post. I’ll link to a few articles which did a much better analysis of that topic than I am interested in taking the time to do.
It is on point three that I really want to focus. Because the “Privilege” piece was posted erroneously on Strong Towns it was very quickly taken down. I was able to see and respond to some of the critical comments, but before I was able to get to them all, the piece and the comment section disappeared from the sight and clicking on the Disqus link now only seems to take me to a “404 page not found” situation. Having explained that I will seek to describe this one particular, exquisitely crafted, perfectly fractally wrong comment.
His point was that car crashes, being random and un-targeted in nature, are not only less feared but should be so because their victims are not singled out by identity, and that urban violence is targeted and that it should be more greatly feared for that reason. There was a premise underlying his proposition, which he stated to close his refutation of my reasoning, and it was that urban violence is actualized by urban predators who are constantly on the lookout for victims and if you happen across their path you will be targeted.
The premise is incorrect, and any knowledge of the facts in evidence eviscerates his claim.
On a per capita and per vehicle mile basis, roadway deaths are more likely in rural and ex-urban areas and far outweigh random homicide or stranger danger in urban settings. Urban violence, on the other hand is, as he claims, not random, rather the victims of said violence are overwhelmingly people engaged in drug related commerce, have gang affiliation or, as in the broader society, are in or ending a relationship with a violent partner. The “Batman Begins” scenario of the random person murdered in a mugging is, statistically rare(perhaps rising to 3% of the number killed in auto accidents). Even if they did happen regularly they would have to occur at the rate of dozens per year to balance the “stranger danger” of driving on an undivided high speed roadway in the greater Springfield area.
What the poster misses, astonishingly, is that it is precisely the random nature of vehicular death and the targeted nature of urban violence which makes the claim that the former should be much more greatly feared than the latter irrefutable. Vehicle deaths far outnumber homicides to begin with (more or less double). Avoiding being murdered has mostly to do with behavior and relationships (gangs, drugs, partners). There are personal behaviors which puts drivers at risk: consumption of alcohol, texting, sleep deprivation. But these are outweighed by the fact that it is others engaging in these activities which put you at greater risk and which are out of your control. Just in my own experiment, which is merely following up on much more scientific experiments done by much more qualified people, there has not been a single person randomly murdered this year in the greater Springfield area, but 16 people have died after being crashed into by a vehicle controlled by another person. That’s 16 to nothing.
If city homicides were random and vehicular deaths were targeted that would make HIS point: That urban crime is the real danger and that cities are to be avoided. That urban crime is targeted, but not in the way he supposes, and vehicular death is random makes the city safer than the rural, especially when you add to that the fact that even though random, every mile driven by people who tend to drive more miles is more dangerous for the country folk driving on rural roads than for city folk driving on city streets…which the data show.
Finally, off the topic of the three points of my much maligned piece and back to Chris Martenson: Chris also alludes in the interview to the fact that much of the depopulation of post Cold War Russia had to do with despair manifested in suicide and alcohol abuse. Fair enough. My bête noir being his call to move to the hinterlands and flee the cities to prepare for the coming equivalent collapse here in the United States I find the most recent revelations that suicides and overdose deaths among middle aged middle class whites has skyrocketed to be enlightening.
First, as I stated in my previous response to his work, the fact that there was no and has been no corresponding increase in suicides among the urban poor of any race and that violent crime is still in retreat, demonstrates that it is and will be the heretofore privileged classes which are likely to implode as economic decline continues, and second, given the already acknowledged correlation between rural living and suicide, recommending that people move to the middle of nowhere to ride out the impending economic collapse could be a recipe for disaster for many of the people who do so.