Daily Archives: 12/20/2015

Consensus – Austin as a community, not just a political jurisdiction


(Community Matters) Civics once taught us to look for the intersection of interests and sensitivities of the minority in crafting public rules. It hurts my head and tears at my heart that we’ve become such a divided society where consensus has been replaced with a Ninja fighter, Samurai warrior, adrenaline-winning strategy – how to beat the other side, execute the win-loss strategy and make it hurt. Ha, I hear myself and acknowledge I have subscribed to that path in business and find it unhealthy in civics – hmm questioning whether always right in business but that’s another post.

The echo chamber we hear in national politics is alive, appears growing, in local politics, even Austin’s. Since so many of our friends and colleagues are from rather homogenous communities (industries, economics, educational attainment, geography), it’s too easy to confuse the echo chamber for a jurisdiction’s consensus. I hear dear friends proclaiming . . . but we’re the high tech/entrepreneurial city . . . not realizing that this moniker is not proudly shared by all Austinites – certainly not by many struggling under income inequality, rental pricing spikes, a slowing growth (or decline) in wages, gentrification and other worsening affordability. And, friends who resent any regulatory obstacles, any questioning of their entrepreneurial ambitions. . . Austin didn’t become the city you love without pushing the limits of regulation, ordinances allowed under Texas jurisdiction and public/private partnerships. If neighborhood and environmental activists hadn’t won SOS, there’d be a whole lot less green space. If government, the universities and businesses hadn’t collaborated and intervened to bring to town IBM, Tx Instruments, IC2, ATI, MCC & Sematech, and the various fabs, it’s doubtful we’d be the high tech hub you see today. Nor if artists and musicians (several who resent our, the high tech community’s arrogance, and who endure the spikes in prices we’ve brought) hadn’t built such a thriving arts and creative arts scene, it’s quesitonable whether we would be such an attractive resettlement location given the reputation of our state among young progressives where it not for a very progressive local government, green spaces, the thriving economy and the arts scene.. And, hey, yes, these other stakeholders are enjoying some of the fruits of the high tech/entrepreneurial world’s labor. Before we take such strong positions, shouldn’t we consider the other side – who are the least empowered in this argument and which decision might favorably impact their outcomes? Those most enthusiastically arguing the other side, what, how can we understand their perspective, is there something other than a win-loss here? What’s the win-win? The questions might or might not yield different answers, different positions, but what if in Austin we strived for consensus over an up or down, win/loss. We must tend to our civic culture as it were a delicate, precious living creature – it is.

[edit: a friend pointed out the inconsistency of framing our state as neaderthal-headed in an essay about civility]