Thursday, August 20, 2009

Lies, Misrepresentations, and Scare Tactics

During the debate over zoning in Houston in the early 1990s I sponsored a booth at a convention on Houston development. Among the literature we distributed was a pamphlet that described how zoning operates in other cities. One of the leading proponents of zoning picked up one of our pamphlets and began reading it as he walked away. He quickly returned, accusing my organization of spreading lies.

The pamphlet had stated that under zoning all land-use in the city would fall under the control and dictates of the zoning board. This zoning advocate was irate--the proposed zoning ordinance did not call for a zoning board. Instead, land-use decisions would be decided by city council. Because we had mislabeled the political entity that would have dictatorial powers over land use in Houston, our entire argument was regarded as a lie.

In the aftermath of the referendum on that zoning proposal, its advocates cried foul. Opponents, they argued, resorted to lies, misrepresentations, and scare tactics because, among other things, we pointed to examples of corruption, racism, and economic decline associated with zoning in other cities. That would not happen in Houston, they insisted, because our fair city would have "Houston-style" zoning, and therefore, my arguments were invalid.

This same attitude is now being exhibited by proponents of ObamaCare. Claims that the proposed health care reform will result in "death panels", drive private insurers out of business, and lead to rationing are dismissed with angry cries of lies, misrepresentations, and scare tactics.

When I heard these claims in regard to zoning, I concluded that zoning proponents were simply sore losers who were blinded by their power lust. And while I still think that there is some truth in this, the real cause is much deeper and more profound. The real cause is pragmatism, which holds that
there is no such thing as an objective reality, men’s metaphysical choice is whether the selfish, dictatorial whims of an individual or the democratic whims of a collective are to shape that plastic goo which the ignorant call “reality,” therefore this school decided that objectivity consists of collective subjectivism—that knowledge is to be gained by means of public polls among special elites of “competent investigators” who can “predict and control” reality—that whatever people wish to be true, is true, whatever people wish to exist, does exist, and anyone who holds any firm convictions of his own is an arbitrary, mystic dogmatist, since reality is indeterminate and people determine its actual nature. [emphasis added]
This is the cause and source of the anger directed at anyone who asserts his own independent judgment. How dare anyone be so naive and arrogant as to believe that his own judgment is superior to the mob. How dare anyone have the audacity to reach a conclusion without consulting the latest opinion polls. How dare anyone think for himself.

On every level, an independent thinker is a slap in the face of the pragmatist. The independent thinker asserts that reality is objective, not a creation of the "collective consciousness". The independent thinker asserts that he can learn the facts of reality, and need not consult the mob to do so. The independent thinker asserts his moral right to live for his own sake, rather than sacrifice his life to the demands of the group. Both physically and intellectually, the independent thinker asserts his sovereignty. Such an assertion denies everything the pragmatist believes about the world and himself. Having surrendered his own mind to the collective, he loathes anyone who has not done likewise.

Zoning proponents conducted hearing after hearing, soliciting the input of the public in order to build a consensus. They posed as saviors of the city, promising a glorious future of economic growth, "protected" neighborhoods, and an improved "quality of life". But a recalcitrant few disputed the consensus, denied their claims, and stood on principle. We were attacked as liars and fear mongers, just as the opponents of ObamaCare are attacked today.

Pragmatism blinds the statist to the consequences of his actions. (Not that he really cares, because intentions are all that really matter.) We cannot discuss how zoning operates in Detroit, or Miami, or New York City, because they aren't Houston. We cannot predict how zoning will play out in Houston--nobody can predict the future. We cannot state with certainty that Houston will experience the horrors that plague other cities with zoning. These are all based on theory, and to the pragmatist, all that matters is the specific, concrete issue of the moment.

To the pragmatic proponents of zoning, a claim that the zoning board would control land-use is a lie. A claim that zoning is used as a political tool is a misrepresentation. A claim that zoning increases the cost of housing is a scare tactic. They could not, and cannot, refute the factual evidence that damns zoning (and ObamaCare), and so they resort to the tactics of child. That anyone takes them seriously is what is truly scary.

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