Thursday, June 3, 2010

Engineering Degrees

I was reading something in the last couple of days about how this administration is going to support more transportation funding for things like mass transit, biking and walking. Whatever it is I was reading included a derisive quote from George Will about how Obama is practicing social engineering and trying to take away Americans' freedom to drive wherever they want.

I can't remember where I saw this and an internet search didn't turn up the exact quotes I read. I did find a George Will article from last year that basically says the same thing, where he calls Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood the "Secretary of Behavior Modification." (There is a fairly decent rebuttal to this article here)

This yet another one of those silly conservative talking points to try to disparage a progressive policy by giving some creepy-scary sounding label. Usually these labels aren't really anything bad, but conservatives use them in bad ways enough to give them a negative connotation whenever people hear them. They've done this, with much success unfortunately, a lot in the past; creating vocabulary bogeymen out of liberal, secular humanism, progressive, Socialism..... The list goes on and on.

And of course you can easily make social engineering sound bad, it is something the Nazis did! (Gasp!)

Of course it is social engineering. That doesn't make it a bad thing. Conservatives don't have a problem with other forms of social engineering, just progressive versions of it. Playing the Stars and Stripes before baseball games is some serious social engineering. And when the right-wing religious types accuse us of social engineering..... really? Can you even think of anything in the history of mankind that is a better example than religion.

Desegregating the schools was a heck of a job in social engineering and behavior modification. Does any non-crazy conservative argue that was a bad thing?

Fact is, social engineering has been a part of civilization since there has been civilization. It has certainly always been a part of any government that has ever existed, both good and bad.

Will doesn't seem to have a problem with the social engineering that resulted from the highway and freeway systems built by our government. And that is the kind that conservatives are supposed to hate - a big, bloated government program comes in, gives direct and fully subsidized competition to private industry (passenger railroads) and drives them out of business. That was OK?

Take away Americans' freedom to drive? Are you fucking kidding me? Nothing that has been proposed comes even close to that, much as I personally would love to see that. What we are looking for is some equality in how the money is divided up among transportation modes. 'Cause you know what? 90% going to roads and only 10% going to all other options (rail, bike, walk, etc) combined just isn't very fair. What's more, polls show that this is exactly the kind of thing that a vast majority the Americans that George Will professes his love for say they want. Isn't choice a freedom?

And what about our freedoms, those of us that live in the urban areas that are the most affected by congestion? Don't our rights to clean air, bikable and walkable cities, open space and the ability to get around without a car matter? I assume that George Will lives in the suburbs, because there is no way that guy can be a city dweller. A lot of us who live in the city feel like we have a right to not have our homes invaded by bumper to bumper cars from the suburbs every day, ruining both our air quality and the general livability of our neighborhoods. We should also have the right to have sidewalks that are wide enough for the amount of people that use them instead of the narrow slivers of concrete next to 4-6 lanes of traffic whizzing by that we so commonly have to deal with.

The American people also have the right to have the freedom to move about the country without being tied to car ownership. People unable to drive, the blind for example, should also have the freedom to get around. Like I said, the American people overwhelmingly support these ideas. It's why when they build a new mass transit system that people flock to use it, even in cities where critics claim that no one will ever take it. Light rail systems in Charlotte and Dallas (yes, Dallas!) are years ahead of their ridership predictions for a reason. Yes, there are going to be people, like George Will, that will cling to their love of the car and pooh-pooh public transit. I call them assholes. But they might best be described by one of the accusations that gets thrown at us on the left all the time. Elitists.

I believe we also have the right, and responsibility, to not leave our children and grandchildren a country that is completely paved over. The is the ultimate result if the automobile continues to be the main transportation option. There needs to be a place to put all those cars as the population grows and grows.

The article that George Will wrote last year included taking potshots at Portland, OR for their anti-sprawl regulations and pro-biking and mass transit policies.

That just goes to show what a different planet George Will lives on from me.

All other things being equal (basically meaning you could have your job wherever you wanted) would you really make the case that Houston, L.A., or Phoenix would preferable to Portland?

If Portland is an example of social engineering and those other cities an example of whatever the opposite of that is, I'll take social engineering policies every time.


(S)wine said...

Nice! Another great column on transportation. Again, there is so much good that can be achieved funding alternative methods of transportation in the States. Everyone is pissed off, fuming, wasting hours upon hours in traffic, yet people recoil at anything resembling a progressive alternative run by a centralized government--FREELY ELECTED BY PEOPLE, might I add (well...insert your criticism of the Electoral College here--but you know what I mean). I am thoroughly convinced that the combination of fear, lack of education, lack of curiosity to learn, and overall comfort have created this particular generation or...society of status quo. People are afraid of everything and anything and I don't understand that. People are ill-educated because they are not willing to stretch just a bit and learn. It's not super easy, you know, to actually think critically...and so why do it.

Anonymous said...

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