We are seeing a lot of ugliness in our society. Violence, cruelty, narcissism, poverty, and apathy abound. There are many reasons for this, but in this post, I’m only looking at our physical environment.
I spend a lot of time reading about and researching the past, and it always shocks me to see how clean and open the living conditions were a century ago.
If we look at public life 120 years ago, the buildings, decor, architecture, signage, currency, and other aspects of our shared public life were designed to be beautiful and they were well maintained. It was not acceptable to have dirty streets or to abandon our public places to ruin.
This isn’t intended to be a pessimistic post, nor to suggest the past was perfect. It’s a suggestion that we resurrect what was good and lovely in our past with the aim of softening and improving our world today.
Are our external conditions responsible for the crime and lowered standards? Not entirely, but they make a difference. Our behavior tends to match our environment.
We replaced the ornate and dazzling Victorian and Art Deco structures with brutalist architecture. We discarded beauty for a sanitized uniformity.
We substituted distinctive and elegant signage and currency with bland, mundane alternatives.
And in this new setting, we overcrowded. In our cramped conditions, our standards for cleanliness, behavior, accommodations, and nearly everything else greatly diminished.
What would be the good of recapturing our lost elegance? It wouldn’t make things faster or cheaper, but is that what we need right now? My theory is that generally speaking, people treat each other more kindly when they are in lovely places.
We make wiser decisions, including in how we choose to govern ourselves, when our environment is serene and conducive to happiness. We behave better when we dress better.
I don’t know how we could do it. But I think we should try.