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Manifest Density and American Politics

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 28, 2020

I ran across this Facebook post by Shannon Welch the other day and while I don’t agree with some of it (more about that in a bit), I do think there’s something to her argument that the density of the place you grew up in or have spent a lot of time in has an effect on how you view the world, your neighbors, and your political situation.

So why does this matter? Because how you were raised and how you live has a huge impact on what matters to you from your politicians and your government.

Those I know that grew up in less dense areas had to be self-reliant. When calling 911 means you’re likely waiting 20 minutes or longer for police, an ambulance, or a fire truck. You have to be able to defend yourself, handle your own first aid, and rely on your neighbors to help in critical emergency situations. When I tell people in Southern California that where I grew up had volunteer firefighters and EMTs they don’t believe me.

The more rural you are, the less you rely on government entities for your day-to-day needs. The most rural have well water, septic systems, take their trash to the dump, if it snows, they have a vehicle that can plow, and the truly rural use propane for power and heat. They are not reliant on most services provided by the public utilities. They use guns as tools to protect their animals and their family from prey and from vermin. They do not really encounter homeless people, as even the poorest can usually find a shack to live out of and require a vehicle to get around. These people in less dense areas do not depend on the government to solve their problems. They’d prefer government stay out of their lives completely. Less taxes, less oversight, less being told what to do. To the rural, it seems like every time the government interferes in their life, they lose another freedom, and their quality of life diminishes.

Those I know that grew up in more dense areas are used to calling 911 to handle emergencies. Their streets are swept in the summer and plowed in the winter. Their trash is picked up on the same day weekly. They don’t have space for cars and tools, so they tend to take public transportation or walk. They call someone when something breaks that requires tools they don’t own. They are used to encountering the homeless on the streets as part of their daily life. The truly poor and homeless usually end up in cities as the services to help the sick, mentally ill and the poorest among us are more available in dense areas. So the wealthy interact with the poor in cities far more than they do in rural areas. Those in higher density areas are willing to pay for government services because they are a regular part of their daily lives and make life more manageable. Without these services, the quality of life they know would not exist.

But I don’t think the following is at all accurate though — perhaps a case of overstatement to prove a point:

I truly believe our population density experience matters more to our political views than education, income, race, gender or sexuality.