That everyone has a right to their own tastes does not preclude my arguing that some of their tastes are bad by mattsteinglass
August 12, 2008, 2:29 pm
Filed under: Transportation

I note Matthew Yglesias saying that to argue for less cars and more urban transit doesn’t mean arguing for eliminating all cars, and I think: well, sort of. Yglesias is moving to a fallback position, that he objects to his own resources being spent to subsidize other people’s love of cars. If that’s as far as he’s prepared to go, then fine for him. But personally, I am not satisfied with stopping at “Hey, if you want to live in a subdivision and drive everywhere that’s fine, but you have to pay the costs of your own negative externalities.” I could stop there, but it doesn’t fully express the honest truth of my aesthetic and moral judgment, which is that car-based suburbs are terrible. That is my judgment, as someone who grew up in an essentially suburban neighborhood (though technically inside Washington, DC — the very fact that we used to insist on the distinction tells you something), and it is grounded in evidence both quantitative and qualitative.

Hilary Putnam has a terrific book called The Collapse of the Fact-Value Dichotomy in which he argues that people have assimilated, through a series of confused misunderstandings, the notion that there is an absolute distinction between facts and values, and that while you can have arguments over facts, you can’t have arguments over values. Putnam tries to show that this isn’t true, that most of the things we think of as “facts” are actually “thick” concepts which come with values already built into them, and that the way we learn and believe in values isn’t categorically distinct from the way we learn and believe in facts. He thinks we can and should argue about values, too. I think Yglesias may be buying into the dichotomy, and I don’t think he has to. In fact American culture is a constant and never-ending argument about values, and arguing for good urban values and against the bad aspects of the exurbs is part of the common decisionmaking process about how we’re going to construct our society in the future. Which, whether it’s building highways and offramps or maglevs and bike trails, is inevitably a common decision.


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