Noah Millman has a characteristically thoughtful response to the reader of this blog who blamed himself for aiding in America’s decline; the reader said he left his small town for the big city, and in so doing is making America a worse place. Millman says, in part:
I strongly question the identification of the city with rootlessness. I’m a city person – a New Yorker – and as a consequence, I’m extremely provincial. I’ve lived nearly my entire life within the New York metropolitan area. By the same token, I’m very rooted. I know my neighbors (some of them), and my local neighborhood merchants, but I also know the larger canvas of my city, its rhythms, its moods, something of its history. I am part of its life. If rootedness is what staves off decline, I am not the problem. And I am not exceptional. The problem of the city – following Ibn Khaldun – is not its rootlessness, but its complexity, and the effect of this complexity on social cohesion.
Read the whole Millman. My sense of the reader’s self-accusation is that he, and so many like him, left a place where they were known and had roots to move to a place where he has no roots, and finds it hard to put them down. Obviously this is not a problem for a New York native like Noah Millman, or anyone raised in a city who remains there. I think the problem is not that people in cities don’t know each other, but that city life makes it much more difficult for newcomers to establish and tend the human bonds that lead to social cohesion. The strong tendency in contemporary life, for a number of reasons, is toward atomization. Cities are great places to be atomized. That is part of their allure for people who feel suffocated by a small town. If I had stayed on for 20 years or more in Washington, the first big city I moved to, I would probably feel some real roots there. But I didn’t. I kept moving, and moving.
The problem is not really the city; the problem is rootlessness. If Millman had left his native NYC and spent years living as a forest ranger in the Pacific Northwest, he might have the same kind of deracinated thoughts as this blog’s reader.