The development of the modern city is always a concept looked upon within both contemporary and traditional right-wing circles with disgust, because of its outpour of debauchery. However, the criticisms of the city never get to what is the main cause of the degeneracy that outpours from it, which will make us incapable of solving this issue. In reading the book, Climate and Culture: A Philosophical Study, written by the famous Japanese philosopher, Tetsuro Watsuji, I believe I have found the cause that makes the City a factory of decadent goods, and how it creates a divorce between man and nature.
In Climate and Culture, Tetsuro Watsuji explains the role of nature in shaping the people who reside there, using common mediums of expression, such as art, architecture, and religion, as examples of the way climate and environment shapes a people. For example, staunch contrast can be made with the art of Europe and the art of the Middle East; European art prominently features portrayals of landscapes and people, while Middle-Eastern art focuses predominantly on geometric patterns. The harsh desert environment of the Middle East causes an antagonistic relationship with the nature of the land, which can be seen as anti-life because of the harsh conditions organisms have to put up with in the area. This antagonism they face explains their focus on mathematical patterns, an almost metaphysical abstraction that separates itself from the harsh environment of the land. This could also explain the extreme devotion the Middle-Eastern people have to their religious deities, as the promise of something greater that is removed from the harsh environment becomes a sort of escape from it. Art of Europe shows harmonious relations with nature and with life in general, because they live in a well-tempered environment that allows for a symbiotic relationship with nature to occur. Therefore, the European has a view of nature built on harmony, while the Middle Easterner has a view built on inherent antagonism.
This serves as a brief outline and summary of the book; for anyone who is interested in this topic, I would highly recommend reading this to get a deeper understanding of the distinctions in nature and examples that help build this concept better. For the purposes of this article, I want to use the concept of Climate and Culture as a premise to develop an analysis of urbanism, and more specifically, the modern conception of the metropolitan city. For this analysis to work, we will assume the truth of this premise: man derives being and meaning from nature.
Working from this premise, the city cannot be considered a place of nature, because the concept of the metropolitan city was developed not out of pre-existence, but developed after the establishment of nature. The city is an area of man, because it is ultimately a creation of man. Every city built is man’s attempt to play God, a great Creator of sorts, designing all nooks and crannies of the area in an efficient way that will sustain the goal of material accumulation that is sought after by those who interact on a daily basis with the city on some level or another. Man, therefore, has to derive their own purpose from a world that exists as a creation of man, rather than a creation which credit for its making is usually given to a metaphysical being or natural phenomena of the Universe.
Now, the city naturally becomes the replacement of nature in its role as the provider; nature gives us the means we need to survive, such as food, water, and living space, and soon, the city gives us the same as well. However, in order for the city to provide you with your basic necessities for survival, you must be obligated by an economic contract, and forcefully participate in games of capital accumulation and movement. Nature provides so long as you exist within it, however, participation in nature does not guarantee the longevity of your own life; thus, the promise of longevity in the city is what attracts most people to it, and makes it easier for them to accept the contract as a means of promised living.
This causes cowardice to be integral in the city dweller’s personal philosophy, as we can see with the observed psychological phenomenon titled the bystander effect. When a person cries for help in a crowded area, people will be less inclined to go help them, rationalizing in their minds that someone within the vast crowd of people will help them instead. Delving deeper into that phenomenon, man comes to the city only pursuing pleasure-comfort, and therefore, becomes unwilling to help others on the street as we usually would expect of someone. Helping the person contradicts the pleasure-comfort, as it leads to the possibility of the helper putting their own life at risk without immediate reward or gratification, and will then subsequently choose not to engage by rationalizing their cowardice and addiction to pleasure and comfort provided by the City with the belief that someone will go help them instead. This also explains why people who see someone assist another crying for help are more apt to go help them as well; the first person mitigates the risk of losing in pleasure-comfort, and therefore, allows for the hesitant addict to make a move without risk to their own person. Going to help will then give the person the ability to justify to themselves that they are fulfilling a basic moral obligation, and can go home at the end of the day thinking that they are a good person.
As we see here, the general goal no longer becomes the survival of the collective, but the individual’s pursuit of pleasure. The artificial climate that can be created using complex ventilation systems in order to help the people of the city avoid the realities of nature, and live in relative comfort without true challenge to their physical being. The lifestyle of the city dweller then begins to mimic the life of a people living in a tropical jungle climate as described by Watsuji. The people of the tropical jungle have everything provided for them by the land, and therefore, have no need to go above and beyond for the pursuit of resources; the food, the water, and the shelter is plentiful. The difference with the city dweller is the tropical jungle people are free—free from economic contracts, as mentioned earlier when describing the City’s replacement of nature, that force them to maintain the structure, economy, and the pleasure-comfort culture of the City. The elaborate, ambitious nature of the City, requires it to be constantly worked upon in order for its pleasure-comfort to remain available to its citizens. Therefore, that economic contract becomes a promise to uphold the structure of the City, so long as the City is able to provide its residents with pleasure-comfort. This explains why people in the City are able to put up with so many of its flaws; it is dependent on whether or not the pleasure-comfort is more withstanding than the actual disadvantages, and also on how much the individual has invested into the City. Take modern day San Francisco for example: the city is littered with human excrement, used needles, drug addicts, and rampant crime, yet there still exist people who live there and wish to live there. This is because there still exists that chance for one to pursue pleasure-comfort, such as the “bathhouses” in San Francisco. But for those currently residing, they have invested too much into the City so they cannot justify to themselves withdrawal from it. Here we can see the difference in the pleasure-comfort of the tropical jungle peoples and the City peoples. The tropical jungles peoples are able to pursue a pre-industrial form of pleasure-comfort which gives them more maneuverability, since they do not need to put in a systematic effort to maintain the structure of the jungle; the jungle will provide a limited form of pleasure-comfort compared to what the City dweller enjoys, so long as the jungle exists. The City dweller’s pleasure-comfort only exists as far as the City exists, similarly to the jungle, but the City cannot exist naturally without the constant maintenance its inhabitants provide, creating a parasitical relationship between the two entities.
The City will always change constantly in a way that almost makes it formless, as the City must always adapt in order for its pleasure-comfort principle to be maintained or expanded upon in order to attract more inhabitants. The inhabitants do not have a strict form to attach themselves to in order to have a level of pre-existing structure to their lives, such as religion or ideology, but, as said numerous times, only have the vague goal of pleasure-comfort pursuit. Therefore, their lack of structure makes them easily malleable to the forces of the City and those who are ultimately in economic control of the City. If the City is by its ability to let people pursue pleasure-comfort, then the only taboo within this society becomes restriction on a person’s ability to indulge in pleasure-comfort. There will obviously be limitations on the extent to which one can pursue their desires and what kind of desires are able to be fulfilled, but as the City increases in its age, it soon will allow taboo pleasures to be pursued in order to fulfill the growing appetite of its debaucherous population. Take the development of the gay community in cities, for example. The gay community will initially begin as an outgroup within the City, whose subject of pleasure is viewed with disgust by the other inhabitants of the City. Because this denies them the pleasure-comfort promised by the City, the gay community will slowly make its case for their involvement in the mainstream culture of the City community, and will eventually win the City and the other inhabitants over to their position, hence the modern association with homosexual culture and large metropolises. Now as the community has achieved normativity in popular consensus, fringe groups within the newly established pleasure-comfort community can ask for their integration into the mainstream culture, hence the development of public fetish display, and at times, thinly veiled pedophilic expression, in “Pride Parades,” what can be now considered a staple of expression in the homosexual community. Having the foundation of shared values based on the pursuit of pleasure-comfort, makes a formless virtue system that can be amended with enough pressure by any fringe population, thus allowing for any semblance of what one might call culture to die within the City because of its constant changing in form.
This is why multiculturalism does not work, because cultures require a solid structure so the various practices and rituals it has can be passed on to the new generation with relative ease, with changes only being a result from external forces that make it necessary for the culture to change. The cultures of other lands come to the City to die, especially in an enclosed and artificial place such as it, because the various cultures are removed from the pre-existing conditions of the climate that they were created from, thus each person begins to forget the origin and purpose of their initial culture. The climate is what maintains the formation and the structure of the culture as it helps maintain the survivability of the tribe. Because the City wishes to create an artificial climate that only seeks to comfort people, the challenging conditions most cultures are born into will not be present there, causing many people who were born in those conditions to escape them by moving into the City; thus, the subsequent death of their culture will occur, and its internal structure will soon be replaced by the virtues of the City. The superficial aspects of that culture will be maintained, but the deeper parts of its being, which ultimately give the superficial portions its meaning, will be replaced by the virtues of pleasure-comfort that are crucial in the city’s maintenance of its legitimacy.
Here we can observe the phenomenon usually titled “liberalization,” a classic example of such being Muslim immigrants who come to live in the city. The religion of Islam can be simply defined as strict in its denial of pleasure and comfort, which can be attributed to the climate that it was born in as was mentioned earlier. This puts it at odds with the pleasure and comfort seeking values of the city, which can cause large clashes between the existing population and the foreign population, if immigration becomes too large, such as the current state of London. But immigration on a level that allows individuals to interact outside of its culture is where we begin to see the subsequent transformations, especially in the younger generations of the immigrant culture. The Muslim immigrant child will begin to explore the City, slowly taking in its principles, and allow for it to take over who they are as a person. The child, as it develops, will still maintain a usually proud identification with their culture, but begin to compromise in order for them to indulge in the pleasure-comforts of the City. The supposedly devout Muslim girl, coming from a culture that encourages women to completely cover themselves, will slowly remove their cultural garments with their hijab, soon becoming the only article of clothing that separates them from the inhabitants of the city. This becomes a physical example of cultural superficiality that the new urbanites establish; the culture no longer becomes a way of life that expresses a people’s relation to nature, it now becomes a form of status to differentiate themselves from other inhabitants of the City so they can better indulge in the pleasure-comfort virtues of the City. In their deeper psyche, they are no different from the other City inhabitants, but still wish to maintain that difference in order to create a pseudo-complexity within their own identity. This helps them indulge in pleasure-comfort because they themselves become a form of pleasure-comfort by doing so. Pleasure-comfort becomes old when one indulges too much in one aspect of it; soon, the City inhabitant will chase what can be seen as variation and possible exoticism that allows for pleasure-comfort to be indulged in a completely new way or superficial new way. Thus, the attempted distinction through cultural superficiality by the immigrant culture fills the void of exoticism, and helps keep principles of pleasure-comfort seem fresh and exciting to the City inhabitant and the immigrant culture. Obviously, involvement in pleasure-comfort destroys the cultural values in the immigrant culture, such as those considered strict like the previously mentioned Muslim culture, and is especially degenerated when it is used through superficial means by one of its supposed members as a way to indulge in the pleasure-comfort.
It could therefore be said that the City becomes a place divorced from natural reality, only focusing on creating an excess in desire satisfaction, even going as far as to look down on any deviation that focuses not on desire fulfillment, but desire denial. The desire is also limited only to one’s desire of pleasure-comfort; the desire for living an ascetic lifestyle divorced from excess will be actively looked down upon, or perverted in a fashion that makes it fulfill the pleasure-comfort that it actively tries to avoid, usually in the form of creating differentiation from others only for status, such as the contemporary “minimalism” movement in fashion, furniture, and architecture.
The City’s existence can only be described as man’s denial of nature, an arrogance believing that we can make a utopia separated from the very place we originated from. The degeneracy crisis can only end when we get rid of the City, or at least the pleasure-comfort principle it operates from, and return back to a life of harmony with nature.
For you are dust and to dust you shall return.Genesis 3:19