As I mentioned in my last post, one of my most deeply seated research interests is in federalism. It would probably be more accurate to say that my MOST deeply seated interest is my fascination with how the basic structures of societies control our lives to such an extraordinary extent while remaining essentially invisible.
I typically focus on the social variety of structures – hence my fascination with federalism, government design, secession movements, business organizations, and the like. But I’m also really fascinated by how our physical environment shapes us, which I picked up from Jane Jacobs’ mind-blowingly satisfying The Death and Life of Great American Cities. The extent to which our behaviors are channeled by our physical environment – and the extent to which we’re oblivious to it – really blows my mind. Some vignettes:
- In a recent conversation with Beezy, we both noted how our university’s current ban on smoking within 30 feet of a building entrance has led to a sharp increase in cigarette butts littered around campus because they didn’t move the damn ashtrays. I speculate that they could have caused the desired change in behaviors while skipping the heavy-handed legislation by simply moving the ashtrays further away from the doors. It’s now irrelevant, as a full ban on smoking is coming through (No smoking in the middle of that giant field in the middle of campus! You might give someone cancer!). I can’t help but wonder if they’re going to move the ashtrays.
- The designers of prisons get it.
- Although Citizen Jacobs was onto it decades ago – and surely wasn’t the first – designers are starting to catch on to the idea that making cities friendly for cars makes them totally inhospitable for pedestrians – and life in general.
- Um… so there are these windows on both walls of the corridor leading to our graduate student offices, right? They have these lovely handles on them, and I like to go out into this corridor and yank them open to bask in the cool breezes that flow through. Turns out, you’re not supposed to do that because it lets in things – things like giant moths, torrential rain, and bats. Oops. But if I’m not supposed to open these windows, why the hell do they have these big handles? Why are designed to be so gratifying to open? Why are there only four other windows in our offices? It can’t be for escape purposes. They are too small, open inward on a bottom-mounted hinge, and drop four stories to pavement. Madness.
- Seasteading. You know I’m going to write more about THIS one.
What’s your favorite way to manipulate the feeble-minded by shaping their physical environments?