Moving to the city seems to be a one-way trip, and a couple of new studies sheds some light on why.
People re-normalize risks that they are exposed to on a regular basis, while often over-estimating novel risks. Driving is vastly more dangerous than flying, but it’s much more common for people who drive regularly to fear flying. In the same way, “crime” is often cited as a risk associated with city living, but once you’ve been exposed to the risk for a long time, and it is familiar, the perceived severity of that risk decreases significantly.
At the same time, it turns out your mode of transportation — the way you pass through the world around you — affects your snap judgements about the people you encounter. Driving makes it much more likely that you will assume the worst about others, while walking predisposes you toward relating to them as human beings.
So once you’ve moved to the city, and begun to live an urban, walking life, it feels like a safer, homier, more human place to you.
Dave Roberts at Grist picked over a recent Nature paper examining the fact that climate change doesn’t spark moral outrage, the same way terrorist attacks or even oil spills do. and the ways we might try and work around those cognitive issues if we’re going to get sustained political support for dealing with it seriously (original paper here).
In a related vein William Gibson recently commented:
I assume that we live in the first era in human history against which all posterity will have reason to hold a sad and bitter grudge.
Many people responded with things to the effect of “What about slavery?”, referring to past egregious social and economic injustices we’ve inflicted upon each other. I thought his response was poetic:
The difference between knowing murders were committed in your ancestral home and knowing fools let it burn to the ground. Hence your tent.
Thankfully that Nature paper also included potential cognitive and messaging work arounds, so we can hopefully get people to react, and then respond appropriately. Now if only we can bring ourselves to use them.