It's weird to live in a town like Amherst. In most of the country, people would call me a socialist, left-wing freakshow but, in Amherst, I sometimes feel like I'm on the right-wing fringe. You see, I believe that it's possible, through thoughtful effort, to improve the town. There is a vocal subset of the town that very strongly does not believe this.
I think part of it is anti-capitalism. I'm pretty anti-capitalist myself -- I can get my socialism on with the best of them. But I recognize that spitefully trying to prevent people with property using their property to make money, in the long run, hurts us as much -- probably more -- than it hurts them.
I think part is just fear and doubt -- fear that any change will be bad and so should be prevented. But simply preventing change is not conservation -- it's stagnation. Do people really look at the town and say that this is best of all possible worlds? Really? We can do better.
The most frustrating thing is the difficulty in having a meaningful conversation when the focus becomes questioning other people's motives, rather than articulating a positive vision for the town. I may be biased, but there seems to be a special reserve of venom directed at the people who are engaged with, and who do the hard work year round making town government work. Too many people seem inclined to snipe from the sidelines and try to be sand in the gears than expressing a willingness to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work necessary to move the town forward productively.
At one time, I was seduced by the idea of opposing development, but then I read The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler, which talks about how bad things have gotten by people simply trying to stop bad things rather than trying to build good things. 'The future will require us to build better places,' Kunstler says, 'or the future will belong to other people in other societies.'