Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Transportation, Muppets, and the war on anything

When it comes to development projects and crafting changes in planning and transportation policy, opposition will always emerge. A common form of opposition is "NIMBYism" which stands for "Not In My Backyard". The term refers to folks who generally oppose any form of development in their surrounding area. Not all form of opposition is irrational. If someone was to propose a new freeway, airport or nuclear plant 50 yards from your backdoor, there is cause for concern, and opposition is expected. These proposals do come with real externalities that will negatively affect the area around it, and there is good reason to either relocate the proposal, alter it, or mitigate the negative aspects. At its core, the opposition is selfish, but that doesn't mean it's wrong.

Is it selfish to fight the construction of a new hospital because there will be sirens at all hours...even if dozens of lives will be saved? Yes, it is selfish, but it's also entirely rational.

However, the term "NIMBY" today generally refers to folks who oppose development more so because they fear change than because they fear that their property or environment will be hurt.

So a NIMBY might be someone who opposed a 4 story building 2 blocks away because it will cause shadows, traffic, crime, noise and so forth. A rational person can look at each concern and determine if said fear is likely to materialize or not. A NIMBY, however, presented with facts, is likely to continue to argue because those fears aren't the problem, change is. Once again, the cause is selfish, but in this case, it is not rational.

And sometimes, this lack of rationality manages to morph into an entirely different creature. Sometimes, people become opposed to a proposal not because they fear change or externalities, but simply because of the person making the proposal....and who these people feel that person represents.



If you've been following politics at all in the past couple of years, you have probably noticed that the modern Republican party generally opposes public transit, investment in biking, and movement towards sustainable planning and transportation. This opposition now finds itself at all levels of governance, from city councils to candidates for the executive position.

Many reasons are given for the opposition. The most common these days seems to be some argument along the lines of "we're broke, so we can't spend a dime on that". Much can be said about validity and hypocrisy of that comment, but that's now what I am going to discuss. The reason I won't is because like with NIMBYism, the reason is a masquerade, a distraction. One can pull out a million dollars, say "look, it's being funded by the money tree" and the person will simply find something new to hate about it.

You see the REAL reason they hate the proposal is because what is being proposed is a trojan horse designed to ruin life as they know it; another grenade in the war against them. An attack that must be defeated.

Or so it seems.


This week, a video emerged from a segment on Fox Business News in which some well-paid anchor decided to dedicate a portion of his show on the subject of the new Muppet Movie. Because it is a "business" channel, you'd think the subject would be about costs, revenue, advertising, funding...you know, something about BUSINESS.

But no. The segment was about how the Muppet Movie is an attempt by liberal, leftist Hollywood, to indoctrinate children into hating business men, job creators and success.

If you find that last sentence remarkably absurd, then you clearly haven't seen the piece. I only wish I was joking, or exaggerating.

You can watch the bit here:
Mediamatters.org

(Thanks to the Fresno Beehive for pointing it out)


One could spend time pointing out the absurdities of this discussion. One could list the rich history of cinema and literature in which the plot has been repeated and repeated again, across decades. (Gang of kids/muppets/nuns works together against all odds to save their school/orphanage/theater from being destroyed by a rich housing/oil/parking/government developer)

But that's a waste of time. Like with NIMBYism, there is no logic to combar, as the argument is not a rational one.

The point here is about the mindset that led to adults, getting paid large sums of money, to find a conspiracy in the most innocent of subjects, and then in all sincerity, take such conspiracy theory to the air. And then be able to sleep at night. And of course, how that related to the subject of this blog.



What has happened is that in the mind of some of these people, a war is being raged. A vast conspiracy has been formed and THOSE PEOPLE are working together to infiltrate children's movies, our highways, our government...and really, anything. The battle is happening now, and one must be prepared to fight it from all directions.

Something has happened that has caused a core group of people to sincerely believe they are under attack, and that everything is part of a war. And I do mean everything.

If you're reading this blog, you've probably had the misfortune of accidentally reading the comments section of a major news website. You've probably looked at the first three or four comments and quickly regretted the scrolling. And in those three or four comments, you may have noticed that at least one of them, regardless of the subject matter, will bring up politics and blame the news on the invisible war. Sometimes the subject is political, but most of the time, it's not.

Romney deleted all his governorship documents?
-The article was a plant by the liberal media to smear his campaign.

Dozens of penguins killed as glacier collapses?
-The green mafia using propaganda yet again to shove their agenda down our throat

17 year old local athlete qualifies for the Olympics?
-UN plot to form one world government


I could go on. I won't, because you know what I'm talking about. You've all seen the crazy comments. And for reasons I can't quite understand, this invisible war has managed to capture the attention of people who really should know better. Random-internet-comment-dude is one thing, but more and more, this type of conversation has entered the mainstream. The "thought" process is now visible on what is supposed to be a news channel, what are supposed to be political debates, and what are supposed to be serious conversations about our built environment.

So why bring up transportation? Because unfortunately, like all things, it's been pulled into this magical and invisible war. Because at one point THE OTHER SIDE lent their support for a bike lane, a war on cars had been declared, and no road was safe from the conspiracy to ban cars and force everyone to bike.

The discussion is not about the pros and cons of specific ways to allocate street space. It's about what THEY want, and if THEY want it, it MUST be opposed.

Again, there's no logic behind it. It's a team thing.

It's us versus them. THEY are out to get us. THEY are trying to destroy America.

They, of course, don't really exist. It's a crazy team mentality but no teams were ever picked. No one signed a 7 year contract to play for one team or the other, and no one is bound to defend their team to death.

Studies have shown that it is human nature to form groups and to work to support the group you identify with, even if it's at the expense of very similar people. These groups don't need to have any deep relationships. In one study, groups of strangers were split up, and told they belonged to one group or another. They were then asked to allocate resources and such between groups. The strangers would always place their group over the other one, even though they didn't know anyone. By being told they were part of a group, the people did what they could to defend that group.

And today in America, it seems as if everyone and everything is being assigned into one of two political teams, regardless of the lack of rationality behind it. That includes things that everyone should agree on, like clean air and freedom to chose a transportation option. But it doesn't matter. If the other "team" claimed that idea first, then you must be against it, if only because at best, everything they do is wrong and at worst, it's an attack on your people.

Next time you see someone jumping through hoops to try and explain why a bike lane must be defeated at all costs, think of the Muppets, and the lengths some will go to fight in a war that doesn't really exist.



(PS: That Fox Business News piece on Muppets? They actually went back and doubled-down on the absurdity. The second segment: here )

1 comment:

  1. Spot on, and well argued.

    I think many people often just take it for granted that NIMBYs are "the bad guy," but may not have a ready answer at hand that would satisfy somebody asking "why?" (I think we all sort of know intuitively, but of course it's often more difficult to express such intuitions in a convincing manner).

    This would be a great answer to point anybody asking "What's a NIMBY?" (which often leads to:) or "Well don't NIMBYs have a point?"

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