How to Do Nothing

As articulations of retreat, both Thiel’s essay and Walden Two seem almost to have been reverse-engineered by Hannah Arendt’s classic 1958 work The Human Condition, in which she diagnoses the age-old temptation to substitute design for the political process. Throughout history, she observes, men have been driven by the desire to escape “the haphazardness and moral irresponsibility inherent in a plurality of agents.” Unfortunately, she concludes, “the hallmark of all such escapes is rule, that is, the notion that men can lawfully and politically live together only when some are entitled to command and the others forced to obey.” Arendt traces this temptation specifically to Plato and the phenomenon of the philosopher-king, who, like Frazier, builds his city according to an image:

In The Republic, the philosopher-king applies the ideas as the craftsman applies his rules and standards; he “makes” his City as the sculptor makes a statue; and in the final Platonic work these same ideas have even become laws which need only be executed.

Funny enough, this brings to mind Cities: Skylines as a means of escape from the realities of urban planning. Instead of the design work of negotiating competing interests, the city is built according to an image in the player’s mind and “‘makes’ his city as the sculptor makes a statue.” It’s even the case that the policies and laws enacted by the player are never challenged or broken; once an ordinance is put in place to, say, reduce air pollution, the population dutifully reduces their air pollution.

One more thought here: while the modding community for Cities: Skylines is robust, had anybody created mods that flesh out the political reality of place making? While there’s mods to improve the traffic simulation or make it easier to sculpt the city as an aesthetic object, I’d be surprised if any programmers put time into making the systems of control messier and harder to enact.