We’re still in Vienna; heading back to the States on Saturday.
What a calm and orderly place this is! It may be otherwise in corners of the city we haven’t visited, but so far as I can tell Vienna, and the other little Austrian towns we’ve been to, are everything you’d imagine: polite, law-abiding, efficient, and clean (not fussily so, but enough to make it clear to Entropy that he is not at all welcome here). The people are always friendly, without being intrusively familiar, and share a wry sense of humor that is in evidence all around.
Order matters here. Everyone understands intuitively that there are protocols in place that make things work smoothly and easily for everyone, and that such systems break down rapidly when sufficient numbers of defectors fail to honor them.
One example: I was driving on one of the highways the other day and noticed several times that when someone is driving too slowly in the left lane, other drivers will never pass him on the right, even if the right lane is wide open. Instead they will pull up uncomfortably close behind and flash their lights until the slow driver moves over. (If you relied on that in the U.S., you’d never get anywhere, and you might even get yourself a firsthand experience of “road rage”.)
Another example, and perhaps the most indicative of the difference between America and Austria, is the rail-system protocol. You buy a ticket for your train, or a weekly pass for the subways and trams, and then you just get on and go. I have never once seen anyone ask passengers to show their tickets; nor has my daughter, who lives here. This is a system ripe for abuse, and mass defection would doubtless be fatal to its economic survival — but it just hums along. Imagine trying such an arrangement in New York!
I think it’s safe to say that a major reason all of this is possible is that, despite the chaos afflicting other parts of the Continent, Vienna is still a very homogeneous, and very European, place: most of those living here who are not themselves Austrian are from other parts of eastern Europe (in particular, from other parts of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, of which Vienna was the capital). They have a great deal of culture and history in common, and assimilate easily. The place has all the ingredients for a high-trust, low-time-preference, safe and productive community. I can easily see why it is so often ranked the best city in the world to live in.
With that in mind — of course, readers, I won’t miss an opportunity to slip you a red pill whenever possible — I have for you an excellent essay on why high diversity destroys social capital. It starts with a quote from Robert Putnam’s now-famous 2007 paper “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century”:
…inhabitants of diverse communities tend to withdraw from collective life, to distrust their neighbors, regardless of the colour of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, to give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more, but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television…
The essay then builds an argument based on the philosopher Ruth Millikan’s work on the contextual and developmental foundations of meaning.