City Versus Country Mindsets and Expectations, by Inyokern

As we all know, City people and Country people have a very different outlook on life. Some of that is opportunity, some is envy, some is ignorance. For the last 120+ years, the US economy (and much of the world economy) has been one of capitalism and materialism. Making stuff and selling it, making the economy grow until the physical limits are reached. Well, they’ve been reached. Peak Oil has led to the beginning of what is probably a pretty long collapse, but I can only judge based on the Roman Empire and the 1929 crash, history, rather than compare the USA to places like Zimbabwe where collapse has advanced at a rapid rate due to deliberately destructive policies by a madman. We’re not really like that, and we have the advantage of a serious food surplus, even post oil America will be able to feed itself, provided that it doesn’t starve its own population to meet foreign debt payments like Argentina did. America isn’t like Europe and I’m very grateful for that.
City people have a fundamentally different approach to life. They have high expectations for their lifestyle: the power doesn’t go out, the water is hot in moments, the mail comes every day, and the supermarket is full of food which is fresh and exotic. City people work, usually very hard in often humiliating jobs to pay for a tiny apartment, a high car payment, and those luxuries they’ve grown used to. Their view of the country is from a 75 mph window on the way to somewhere more scenic. City people want it all now, and they don’t want excuses about why they should have to wait. Don’t blame them for this. The city is a very competitive place and it is our nature as a species to compete for resources.

The Country outlook is one of perseverance and hardship. Its about flexibility and disappointment, debt, and a slow pace of life. Watching the seasons turn. Flowing life closer to nature and its hardships. The closer to nature they live, the more they perceive the cyclic nature of things. Compared to City people, Country people seem out of touch with modern culture. However, in general, country people have far more important context and contact with their neighbors. Elbow room changes how you think. There is a great deal of independence in Country living, but the kind that supports ones neighbors rather than necessarily blames them. Its not perfect either. Kids raised improperly on MTV and WB want what they see on TV, and that envy, that materialism leads to all kinds of misery, and either has those kids grow up to be city people or turn into junkies hooked on Meth or Dope trying to flush away their disappointment. When it comes down to it, TV commercials, the seed of materialism, are the real enemy for country folk. They’re designed to make people buy things and they’re very good at it. Much of TV is really commercial advertising. Some programs which repute to “review” products are little more than thinly veiled informercials selling this product, [and by extension] selling debt.

City people see the countryside as a source of food, of momentary scenery, and as real estate, future subdivisions and Wal-Marts, Taco Bell and McDonalds. They can’t help that. They hate the emptiness. It makes them afraid, or bored. They’re used to the frantic pace and tight quarters that the city offers. The countryside is slow cycles and peace and quiet, for the most part. I was raised at the edge of a subdivision in the middle of the countryside, surrounded by cows and rangeland. We often had deer, and sometimes had coyotes, wild pigs, and I once witnessed a mountain lion scurry by in the early evening. Now I live in the suburbs, which is basically the city just with smaller apartments.

The basic conflict between the City and Country folk is one of money. The City sees the countryside as a life support system for them, and considers the people who live in the countryside to be socially incapable, thus they are “forced” to live out there. They don’t feel bad or think much about their city-based issues destroying the harmony of country towns, or what that means to the bigger picture.

Thanks to Peak Oil, the conflict will get more aggressive. Extreme Exurbs, subdivisions 100 miles from a city where the population commutes for work are going to die due to the rising cost of fuel, a problem that will never go away. Eventually it will cost too much to drive to work to make the pay worth the price of the fuel. Yes, carpooling and hybrids and mass transit will delay this, but there’s a limit to everything. Without income, they won’t be able to pay a mortgage on an unwieldy and badly located home. These people will either accept debt slavery (now that Bankruptcy isn’t protection anymore) or try to find work in the countryside. Perhaps they’ll prove to be flexible. Maybe they’ll surprise us. Maybe they’ll wade around in cow-muck, dig post holes by hand, haul compost/manure, or do any number of semi-skilled labor the countryside always needs done. And do it for minimum wage. Somehow, I think the City People are going to have to come to terms with much lower expectations than they’re accustomed to.

Country People won’t have it too great either, in case you’re thinking they would. As heavy users of fuel to get to jobs which pay for their own high costs of living, often on very tight budgets, Country people are going to hurt, probably even sooner than the Supercommuters in the Exurbs do. Home Loans are defaulting at a surprisingly high rate in Exurbs and countryside here in California. Those envious kids will hear about how bad things are in the City, but see how much worse they are next door and have even fewer options than before. Reasonably, one can expect the drug problem to dramatically worsen, as well as spree killing incidents. If they’ve got nothing to lose, why not? This destructive trend is magnified by causing distrust in the countryside, and murder of neighbors’ junkie kids burglarizing and killing for sport will become an ugly fact of the countryside. Many of the people defending themselves will be tried and convicted of murder because the DAs and Judges are often prisoners of City Morality, which has little to do with justice. Shoot first, bury deep and keep quiet will end up the rule of thumb for two-legged pests in the countryside. If it isn’t already. I’ve met enough ranchers who had the look of men who’d killed that I think its been fact for some time now. Always be on your best possible behavior with ranchers. They’re not as patient as their reputation implies.

City people who love the countryside and want to move there but lack the training in Country Social behavior are going to have a hard time of it. (Believe me when I say that. I’m very fond of privacy which is easily achieved in the city but hard to get in the countryside.) Lumped in with other city people, they’re going to have a steep learning curve and will need to make a lot of very positive First Impressions (how many times can you make one?) and take on permanent local volunteerism to build good will and avoid becoming [seen as] “Them.” Even that may not be enough. Part of the beauty of the countryside is everybody has a very long context, often decades worth, so communication (and bitterness) has a serious intensity that Shallow City People will never have.

This insight into the difference between City and Country mindsets is really important. As the suburbs continue to citify and the exurbs die, the difference between the two becomes more and more pronounced. Material differences will matter too. Peak Oil means power outages, not just fuel. True, power will probably just get more expensive where coal burning power plants exist, so the Midwest and East will see few changes. The West, however, is going to take it in the shorts. The power will be off more than it will be on, and it will be on the cities, not in the countryside. I fully expect laws to be passed, under Federal or State emergency approval, to deny basic utility services to the countryside. That means phones, electrical power, ambulance, police presence, paving of secondary and tertiary roads will fall on the county or private associations to provide. You see, the cost of maintaining these systems exceeds the income gained from their fees. Either the country person pays something like $500/month for phone service, or they give it up after the next winter storm drops the lines. The focus for luxuries like phone service and electrical power will go to the towns and cities, and maybe the towns will be up the creek too. This is a fairly logical and practical progression, even in a first world country like the USA.

Copper is a precious metal again. Its being stolen all the time. If, for instance, you’ve lost your job thanks to economic collapse and you can’t feed your five kids at your ranch which never made money anyway, you’re going to need to pay for it somehow. You lost phone service and power last winter and the local power utility company won’t fix it. Steal the cable, sell it for scrap, pay your mortgage, put food on the plate and when harvest comes, charge a fortune for the now more expensive food thanks to the end of cheap fertilizers and insecticides. Peak Oil is forcing a morality decision and the city people have already chosen materialism rather than connection to their rural roots.

The City Person with their inbred city morality created by the good intentions of liberal intellectuals in New York and Boston can’t conceive of a life where stealing is not only justified but is moral. When you’re abandoned by your country, you survive or perish based on actions not good intentions. I foresee that the Cities will continue to grow until they can’t, and the population will continue to Hive and Specialize like insects because that’s what cities thrive on: specialists. They offer specialized goods. Keeping City People out of the countryside is a minor advantage, but Post Peak, that turns into an ugliness that we can barely imagine now.

I keep talking about this subject because the public still doesn’t get it. I hope to eventually refine this description in a shorter but still effective essay. Someday I’ll get it right and people will stop being dumb, and stop disconnecting their behavior from the consequences. – Inyokern