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Obstinate people and their fairy stories

Phil shared an article with me today about two towns in Colorado where there's a cultural conflict: the hardscrabble mining town of Nucla with the wealthy, cosmopolitan Telluride right next door. There's a lot of fascinating history (the town of Nucla was built by socialists), but the central point of the article is the cultural differences that form the flashpoint for conflict.

Residents in Nucla want to re-open a uranium mill which the people in Telluride oppose. A Nucla resident says, “They’re the most wasteful people, yet they tell us that, you know, we can’t have our uranium […]." Which made me think of other ways to complete that sentence “They’re the most wasteful people, yet they tell us that, you know, we can’t have our ebola factory" or “They’re the most wasteful people, yet they tell us that, you know, we can’t have our africanized bee colonies." (Or "sarin gas storage tanks." Or "rabid raccoon breeding facility.")

One woman says, of her grandfather who died of cancer (from smoking and working in a uranium mine) “If you had told my grandpa that he was going to die when he was 70 a horrible, painful death, he would have continued to mine. That’s how he supported his family."

It reminded me of miners in West Virginia during the presidential election. I remember that Hillary told people, pretty frankly, "Look. The coal jobs ain't coming back, so we need to do retraining and get people into other jobs and careers." And they said "Fuck you, bitch!" and voted for Donald Trump. Yet when you ask them today they say, "Yeah, he said he's bringing the coal jobs back, but we know it's not going to happen." Hillary actually understood the problem and had the right answer, but people didn't want to hear an actual solution to their problem: they would rather have someone lie to them and tell them the fairy story they want to hear.

Compromises: better than nothing

At a contentious session of Town Meeting on November 14, opponents of the plan to replace the aging school buildings in town, succeeded in shooting the plan down. This is an ongoing problem in how the system of government is organized in Amherst. Too often, self-appointed and unaccountable people succeed in throwing a wrench into carefully made plans that took thousands of hours to construct.

Compromises like the school plan are difficult because, in the end, they don't give anyone what they really wanted. And people that come in at the end or that look only at one piece of the project can always find reasons to shoot it down. But a complex plan like this can only work if everyone is respectful of the process.

That means that people need to ensure that the process is constructed correctly at the beginning: that it identifies the appropriate stakeholders, selects competent representatives, and that those representatives are empowered to act in the interests of the stakeholders. And then, if at the end, the group can't reach a compromise, then the project shouldn't go forward. But if the group does reach a compromise, its the responsibility of those who empowered the representatives to respect their judgment.

What *shouldn't* happen is for people outside the process to come at the end and reject the compromises that were reached. That just ensures that no-one competent will be willing to do the work going forward. And that will make it impossible to make the process work.

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