As I was doing get-out-the-vote work for a political campaign here in Houston, I was thinking about this study I read about recently that looked at the “Wild West mentality”:
The researchers found that living at both a higher altitude and an elevation relative to the surrounding region—indicating “hilliness”—is associated with a distinct blend of personality traits that fits with “frontier settlement theory”.
“The harsh and remote environment of mountainous frontier regions historically attracted nonconformist settlers strongly motivated by a sense of freedom,” said researcher Friedrich Götz, from Cambridge’s Department of Psychology.
Now, let’s forgive and forget what the “wild west” even means for a minute. What I find fascinating about this study is the way that what was once a purely qualitative investigation (from de Tocqueville’s America to Debord’s urban dérive, for instance) opens out into impersonal data points. That a psychological profile can be quantified on a massive and fine-grained scale is … I don’t know, astonishing? Vertiginous?
It certainly induces a sense of vertigo in me. And that’s despite my skepticism of both psychological profiling and big data, each, in general, and the categories specifically deployed here.
In any case, geography as psychological ecology, nourishing mental niches that persist of over transgenerational human time. Wild indeed.