Magnifying Lens.– Everything that is ugly, corrupt, degrading, demoralizing, and cheapening about modern life (or is it just human nature?) is deepened and broadened in a big city. My rough calculation, after a few recent visits to Seoul: For each million people added, the vices and ruptures in civil society that are intrinsic to city life are multiplied in severity ten times. More lost souls in the streets, more women who equate prostitute sexiness with beauty, more young couples oblivious to the people around them as they flaunt openly sexual behavior in crowded cafes, more frenetic racing toward nothing but more self-delusional nihilism.
Or perhaps cities merely magnify the prevailing conditions of the age, be they good or bad; if so, then today’s cities are the elephant in the room, the most inescapable and obvious indication of modernity’s late-stage decay.
The Polis.– Ancient Athens would be considered a very small city today, little more than an oversized town. A large percentage of the citizenry could easily gather in one place and listen to an orator or general speaking in the open air, without technological amplification, and understand, applaud, or reject him. They could make democratic decisions together, as fellow men, face to face. The city as a fortified, united, and self-governing community.
Today, a city is nothing but a million regulations and a million perversions governing a million people who are increasingly oblivious to, or spiteful toward, one another’s existence, and increasingly inclined to live as would an unambitious and hedonistic amoralist who came into possession of a ring of invisibility.