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  • The key to a productive debate

       August 30, 2010

    One of the biggest controversies in Wisconsin right now is the proposed high speed rail from Milwaukee to Madison. It's just a train, but people are very emotional about it and they project all kinds of nasty characteristics on people who disagree with them. For example, train supporters are clearly dirty hippies who hate America. Opponents of the train, on the other hand, are fat, racist SUV drivers who pollute the countryside with their McDonalds' wrappers. I'm really not exaggerating. Not even a little bit.

    It occurred to me the other day, though, that the debate shouldn't be about the train. That's taking the debate too far down the line. Rather than starting with a solution, we should start with the problem. In this case, the problem is that our transportation system was designed for cars and that may not be sustainable in the future. The question, therefore, isn't "should we build the train?", it's "what should we do?"

    See how that instantly opens up more possibilities? I read one article on the topic that talked about how unlikely it was that you could completely change America's car culture and that, instead of high speed rail, we should invest in things like electric cars. So, then maybe, future transportation projects could focus on building convenient charging stations on the interstate. I dunno. It's just a thought.

    What I like about this is that you end the perception that disagreeing with one solution somehow means you're denying that there's a problem. I think it lets you discuss the problem without the burden of the emotional investment in the solution you like best.

    One of the most irritating things about politics in America right now is that we're so partisan that we're convinced that the other side is committed to the downfall of our nation. There's no concept that each party genuinely wants what's best for America and that they just have different ways of getting there. I think if you start with the problem you are at least more likely to acknowledge that fact.

    I think you can extend this idea into other policy areas. It would have been great, for example, if the health care debate didn't focus on the features and flaws of Obamacare, but rather than on what's wrong with health care in America and how we could fix it.

    Sometimes digging deeper leads to some uncomfortable questions. I think if you go beyond the surface of the Ground Zero mosque debate, the problem is really something like "How can a country with values of religious & cultural tolerance coexist with religious fundamentalism?" That certainly covers more than the mosque (for example - I think the same question ultimately drives debate on things like abortion & gay marriage).

    There are no easy answers and that's what I love about it. "You're racist!" or "You hate America!" isn't an answer, thank God.

    Posted by kris at August 30, 2010 08:54 AM

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    #  August 30th, 2010 9:43 AM      BVBigBro
    I don't agree with your statement of the problem, and others will see a different problem still. I see the problem as one of having a transportation system that has been designed for heavy trucks.  
    #  August 30th, 2010 9:49 AM      kris
    I don't see how that's different though - it's a transportation system that's not necessarily sustainable for future needs - that could include growth, oil supply, etc. So the question is again really just what do you do with the system now keeping in mind the future?  
    #  August 30th, 2010 9:55 AM      BVBigBro
    It's different because I see the problem as one of economic efficiency. Economic inefficiencies may be the least sustainable of all.

    Freight rail is efficient but competes with subsidized trucking and also has regulated rates. Passenger rail is inefficient.  
    #  August 30th, 2010 1:52 PM      kris
    I think you're still getting too caught up in minutiae. The problem is still - how do we best prepare our transportation system for the future?  
    #  August 30th, 2010 3:01 PM      BVBigBro
    Can you prepare transportation for the future?  
    #  August 31st, 2010 9:41 AM      kris
    So it's like a chicken and egg thing?  
    #  August 31st, 2010 11:34 AM      BVBigBro
    Can you ever have the knowledge to prepare transportation for anything but the present?  
    #  August 31st, 2010 5:43 PM      themandownthehall
    Sorry Kris, you're just a commie hippie who hates America and BV? You're a racist. I win! :p  
    #  August 31st, 2010 7:00 PM      kris
    I think the train, as proposed, is stupid - so actually I'm an asshole SUV driver.

    Get it right.  



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