Monday, October 19, 2009

Brilliant Kid-Liberal Wonk on Tribal Motivations

Matt Yglesias slams down some honesty about what motivates 90% of political bickering -- tribe:

What I really wanted to talk about, though, was the rhetorical device of invoking a “Texas developer” as the bad guy in this scenario because it highlights some of the trouble progressive urbanists have in making our arguments. Roughly speaking, people on the political left tend to have a tribal suspicion of business people. And I’ll fully admit that I share it. At the same time, there’s a tribal admiration of the figure of the activist and the organizer. So when you see a dispute that pits a developer in a suit who’s probably a huge jackass against some community activists who probably love farmer’s markets and good music, you want to side with the activists against the jackass. But from the point of view of things progressives are actually trying to accomplish on a policy level, it’s generally desirable to build as densely as is feasible on already-developed parcels. And that’s often what jackass developers are trying to do, and it’s often what local activists are trying to block. The developers are not, of course, out to save the environment, it’s just greed.

My own feelings are equally irrational, but a bit more complex. Not surprisingly, in school, I never had much in common with the guys who became our local equivalent of Texas developers. In my twenties, I pretty much exclusively hung out with people who liked farmer's markets and "good" (i.e., indy) music. But as a result, I know the organic activist types' faults better, and they are the ones with whom I had roommate disputes, or bad breakups or who owe me money. So frankly they get on my nerves a lot more than developers, who generally seem to be doing something useful with their life. So I admit that before I am in a position to develop a rational and balanced understanding of the merits, I'm against the activists Yglesias instinctively sympathises with.