Friday, August 15, 2008

Nanny Cities

My favorite Robert Sheckley story is "Street of Dreams, Feet of Clay," in which a city equipped with AI nags its inhabitants for their own good, causing all of them to move out. I thought of this while coming across a news item yesterday. REASON magazine recently ranked "the worst nanny cities in America" by their municipal ordinances designed to save people from themselves: laws against smoking, drugs, guns, sex, alcohol, gambling. What interested me especially was that different cities target different vices.

Seattle and L.A. are hard on smokers -- Seattle bans smoking not only in public places but also 25 feet away from doors -- but (according to the magazine) "mostly looks the other way on pot." Nashville and Memphis are death on pot but let you smoke anywhere. Houston and El Paso are tough on both substances but easy on guns, whereas Chicago tries to control guns and has some alcohol-free, "dry" districts.

The least nanny-like city (no surprise) is Las Vegas. It allows gambling, guns, smoking, drinking, and may legalize prostitution. Next unrestricted is Miami, although maybe because nobody can keep up with all its vices anyway.

My city, Rochester, is hard on smoking, soft on alcohol, allows a state lottery and church bingo, and is up to 24 homicides this year. Per capita, we're more dangerous than Manhattan. Guns abound. Several of the homicide victims were by-standers. The most recent, a few days ago, was deliberately run over with a car.

All Sheckley's city did was nag the story's protagonist about eating enough fruit.


Mark said...

I love that Sheckley story! I read it when I was a kid in a Best SF Of The Year 196X anthology. And Reason’s one of my favorite magazines too.

The “Nannytown Index” is a great start, and I hope other people continue along the same lines. I made my own matrix using the information the Reason researchers gleaned to form my own ordering of cities I’d like. Not surprisingly Las Vegas is still on top, maybe because I’m a philosophical Anarchist and political Libertarian  I miss so much about living there.

I figure that if there are plenty of these no-punches-pulled guides to what places are really like to live in, more people would be able to use them to pick a place to move to where they’d be happier. With improvements in telecommuting and tele-presence a society wouldn’t even necessarily have to give up the economic strength of a large base of workers/resources.

For my own matrix, BTW, I only used Guns, Drugs (including alcohol) and Sex on the plus side, and actually subtracted the “Mobility” column. This is because for the last year I’ve lived in Mesa, Az., home to some of the absolute worst driving in the world. I’m old and cynical enough to know that homo “sapiens” doesn’t yet have the personal responsibility, tolerance, or courtesy/generosity for true anarchism yet.

Mark S.
Mesa, Az.

PS. I couldn’t help but think as I was reading your Beggars series that this is the story Ayn Rand might have written had she known more science, been a real fiction writer, and been less full of herself. Great job Nancy!

Nancy Kress said...

Thanks for the praise, Mark -- but I think a closer reading of BEGGARS would reveal that I'm not a Libertarian. Leisha ends up rejecting both Objectivism AND a tightly controlled society. But she is a lawyer, and believes in law.

Mark said...

There're "ls" and there are "Ls". I still vote for the "Ls" almost all the time because they come closest to my own views. This isn't a "wasted vote" in any way, as voting isn't about betting on the winner, rather voicing one's own thoughts.

I've expended much of my own energy (and GPA in college) on trying to change the world, and have come to the conclusion that it's just plain best to put my energy into improving the freedom, security, etc. of my own life (and those around me). I've seen anarchism work (small groups and for more or less limited time), but also monarchy (after all, "Father Knows Best", etc.), democracy, and I don't even have anything against Communism amongst consenting adults :-)

In the end, no matter the surface description of how a society or subset of one is organized is not as important as the sum values of the individuals making up that society. It doesn't matter what laws are on the books, only which are enforced.

mas in mesa.