Pittsburgh’s bridges crumble owing to decades of deferring maintenance year-by-year in favor of more exciting or profitable projects. Its ancient housing stock molders from our ambivalence towards forgoing tax debts or transferring dilapidated property to anyone with the means of improving them. Scandal and court order have finally kickstarted the upgrade of old water and sewer systems, but now the scope of work will take decades and billions. We sacrifice air quality for jobs, even though further economic growth suffers for it. Our public schools are crippled by poverty and political paralysis, our jail is better at wrecking lives than rehabilitating them along with the rest of our criminal justice system, and even the span separating these has failed.
When we do summon the unity and gumption to confront such common challenges, the “non-profits” which dominate our regional economy ensure local governments have little to bring to bear, and the wealthiest private property holders cling to the rest at the expense of everyone else. Meanwhile state and federal Republicans hardly even recognize these as problems (at least when they’re in cities) so keep an austere lock over our share from the top. And if these political hurdles were ever surmounted, autocratic bullies across the world would keep us focusing on defense.
It takes a lot of naivete or hubris to believe we’re just a few clever ideas, call-outs and moral pep talks away from resolving these contradictions. In what is objectively the best system humankind has ever devised for these tasks, candidates for office summon all five, form into cliques like reality show contestants, and plunge into an orgy of confidence- and endorsement-seeking from voters and organizations at best mildly ignorant of complexities and basing their judgements upon vibes, or at worst content to trade support for jobs, contracts, direct funding and other special interest, or simply for feelings of status, access or vindication over contenders who previously struggled and failed. They are armed with information from a professional news media relentlessly defunded by the Internet (even as now the most robust news source in town is a cancelled pariah) and an Internet discredited as a sea of lies, noise and ego. In 2016 its antisocial algorithms ripped the fig leaves from our very self-perceptions and pitted pragmatism against idealism like gladiators from Mad Max: “Two thoughts enter, one thought leaves” from which both emerge debilitated and unable to stand against cynicism.
That is the dim, world-weary view of course. In reality we’re usually just a collective emotional gear-shift away from recalling life itself is struggle but our differences are not as great as our mercenary Overton-window hauling politics suggest, and that if we apply a little humility, humor and good will, we can at least slow everything from getting worse and allow space for improvement. What follows is just one blogger’s framework for applying that measured optimism to make the most of our upcoming local primary election. Use it or lose it…Continue reading