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Originally Posted: 2006-01-25 15:24

The Magic Nine Factors That Cause the "Seattle Chill"

CL R&R is divided into two camps: those that have seen the Seattle Chill in action and know it exists, and those who reflexively scream at the first camp to fuck off or move out of town.

The Seattle Chill IS an established sociological phenomenon that has been extensively documented, written about and attracted academic interest. A growing number of research professionals are interested in learning why Seattle is such an angry, unwelcoming, repressed, socially backward little city.

As a personal experiencer and student of the Seattle Chill I believe I have isolated the nine key factors that generate it. Few are unique to Seattle. No single factor, or even two or three together, would affect the culture profoundly. But stir them all together and they have a Chilling effect.

Seattle is the only city on earth where all nine key factors intersect in a perfect Big Bang -- a quintessence of dysfunction. It's like seeing the atom split, a borderline mystic phenomenon, with the results being neighbors who won't talk to you and strangers who tell you to fuck off when you smile at them.

1. TECHNOLOGY. Wired/Internet culture is inherently isolating. People use the anonymity of e-culture to dodge the work of human relationships. Every office knows the downside of substituting email for face-to-face communication. Impose that culture on a highly wired metropolitan area and it's disastrous.

2. DARKNESS. Admittedly a seasonal factor, because the summers are glorious, but Seattle is characterized mainly by endless, gray, wet, dark winters. Nobody feels like connecting when the sun is gone for months. Seasonal affectedness disorder is a known mental condition, and the whole city suffers from it.

3. GEOGRAPHY. Surrounded by water on three sides, the city is difficult to get to. Commute times are longer. Errands take longer. Traffic jams and basic life maintenance tasks snuff out hours that could be used to establish and maintain human relationships. Consequently people do not feel they have the capacity or energy to maintain the ones they've got, let alone start new ones.

4. PARALYSIS. Too few roads and a lame transit system mean we all spend too much time in our cars, alone and stationary. This isolation becomes second nature.

5. TRANSPLANT PRESSURE. The townies resent the newbies for ruining Seattle's imagined Podunk innocence. The Chill tends to segregate Seattleites into groups of locals who went to Garfield High together... and knots of transplants who find each other and share their perplexity about the townies.

6. INSECURITY. Seattle is a sort of Potemkin world-class city, with a lot of gnawing, provincial fears and small-town, small-bore sensibilities behind the 21st-century facade. (In no other city have I heard so many natives proudly proclaim their disinterest in discovering other places, because "everything I could ever want is right here.") Any seventh grader will tell you insecurity impedes social interaction.

7. WEALTH ENVY. Too much new money from quick tech fortunes and unnatural real estate appreciation. It's divided the Seattle population into haves and have-nots that hate each other -- not on the basis of intelligence or faithful hard work, but on arbitrary, lotterylike terms: who lucked into the right employer or neighborhood and who didn't. The wealth lottery is a key destabilizer and anger-breeder. That's why your neighbor just stares at you instead of saying good morning. Maybe you bought your place outright on a whim while she's drowning in a 30-year mortgage. She hates you for it.

8. INSTANT GRATIFICATION CULTURE. Thanks in part to dot-com culture, in part to a general decline in societal structure, people expect to achieve all manner of material rewards -- BMWs, Thai diving holidays, granite countertops -- virtually overnight and become angry when denied. I've seen 27-year-old tech-world workers fly into rages or sink into funks because they couldn't have exactly the Mercer Island house they wanted. When people lose the concept of investing and earning to achieve things, they lose the ability to relate to people. (And it's not only young people; as someone smarter than me has observed, if you want to see raw anger, try telling any upper-middle-class American woman she can't have something.)

9. POLITICAL IMPOTENCE. The liberal/progressive paradigm is virtually overthrown in the US. The Democratic leadership is inept and incoherent. Some of the movement's last angry avatars are out here clinging to the country's leftmost, jagged edge. Having failed to change the country they are now reduced to snatching cigarettes out of people's fingers and, like the hard right, screaming insults at anyone who disagrees with them. These people have never exactly been relaxed anyway. Now that their eclipse is about total, Seattle's air is weighted with their general rage and disapproval.

Thank you for your interest in the root causes of the Seattle Chill. Anyone who responds here by telling me to fuck off or move away is personifying Factors 1,5 and 6.

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