01 January 2006

Ideology destroys neighbourhoods

By applying theories from the incipient quasi-sciences of psychology and sociology, architects invented new forms of buildings and cities that they believed would transform their inhabitants into the most benevolent of creatures. Suburban Nation (page 238)
The excellent source of that quote (subtitle: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream) makes painful reading. I wrote below about one of the consequences of government policies that systematically favour suburban sprawl and car-based settlement patterns. Others are equally tragic: for instance, the excess deaths from air pollution in the US (estimated at between 50 000 and 125 000 annually).

While vested interests, such as those of developers and highway construction firms, play their part in this dolorous tale so too does ideology, as the quote shows. You might think that urban and architectural planning disasters are so obvious we’d stop building them. But the organisations responsible, whether government or private sector are just like any others. They are poor self-evaluators. Myths, false propaganda, and anachronistic beliefs persist in the absence of strong evaluative institutions to test ideas against logic and evidence. Organisations turn against their own evaluative units as they threaten jobs and the status of incumbents. Organisations will attack their own thinking apparatus if that apparatus ever does become effective.

Ideology and organisational survival become ends in themselves. The consequences for ordinary people and communities, conscripted into the ideological experiments of people like the architects referred to above, can be disastrous.

A Social Policy Bond regime would not be driven by any ideology with its theories and abstractions. Instead it would stipulate and reward only transparent, explicit, targeted social and environmental outcomes – outcomes, moreover, that are meaningful to natural persons, as distinct from corporate bodies or ideologues.

Mike Linksvayer has kindly named this blog his best policy blog of 2005. Thanks Mike!

No comments: