The biggest cognitive divide in politics

This was something I wrote as a comment on another thread, but I think it deserves its own post.

We were talking about the Midlands transit system, such as it is, and Stephen, making the sort of “me vs. you” argument that we generally hear from Doug, protested that “It’s not my responsibility to make sure an employee gets to work.”

I responded along these lines…

Stephen, it’s not that it’s your “responsibility to make sure an employee gets to work.” It’s that it’s in your interest (and everyone else’s in the community) to do so.

But if you’re like Doug, I’ll probably never convince you of that. You either get it or you don’t.

And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is the biggest cognitive divide in politics. It’s not between “liberals” and “conservatives.” It’s between people who see the interconnectivity, and those who don’t.

Note that I don’t say “believe in” interconnectivity, or “advocate” interconnectivity. It’s not a matter of “should be” or “ought to.” The interdependence, the complex way in which our fates are intertwined in a modern economy, simply IS. And we either have policies and strategies that acknowledge the fact and address it effectively, or we don’t.

39 thoughts on “The biggest cognitive divide in politics

  1. Silence

    This post brings up a good discussion. Is it in our individual or collective interest(s) to provide certain benefits?

  2. Brad

    Indeed, that is the question.

    And when it comes, for instance, to access to health care, the answer is “yes.” The only remaining question is, what’s the best way to do it?

    I’ve never subscribed to the “health care is a right” way of looking at things. The reason I want a single-payer system is that I think it’s the most sensible way to address this issue, to the overall benefit of the society. It’s not about the individuals’ “rights;” it’s about the fact that we’re all better off in a society in which medical insecurity has been taken off the table. It gives you the opportunity (which you then have to seize) to moderate costs. It provides the opportunity to shift people from super-expensive too-late care and prevent catastrophic conditions. It spreads the cost burden as broadly as possible, setting up a situation whereby the momentarily healthy pay for the care of the momentarily sick. It puts everyone in the largest possible cost-negotiating pool. And it unleashes tremendous energy in the economy as suddenly no one is clinging to a dead-end job just for the benefits.

    It’s simply the approach that makes sense for the whole society. Which our current approach does not.

  3. Tim

    It may or may not be in your interests. You get a voice and a vote, not always a choice and a veto.

  4. bud

    Brad, I agree totally about the healthcare issue. Not sure why that’s such a controversial position to take. It may be possible to achieve the same goal without single payer but a medicare for all system makes the most sense.

    Public transportation is a comparable issue. We really should have a good system of public transit funded by the taxpayers to ensure a vibrant metropolitan experience for all. I’m 100% with you on that.

    The problem is when we have other stuff that is completely ridiculous that we have to pay for on top of the necessary stuff. And I don’t think you EVER acknowledge the HUGE burden the creates for people. We absolutely have to get rid of the crap stuff (or at least as much as we can) BEFORE we fund additional good stuff. Otherwise I would suggest we really do live in an us vs. you world and I would oppose a bus tax. But if a good faith effort is made to get rid of a significant amount of crap stuff then count me in as a supporter.

  5. Steven Davis II

    Just an FYI, my made-up name isn’t Stephen, it’s Steven. Stephen is used for guys who like to do things like critique cob salads and buy clothes at a haberdashery.

  6. Tavis Micklash

    “Stephen, it’s not that it’s your “responsibility to make sure an employee gets to work.” It’s that it’s in your interest (and everyone else’s in the community) to do so.”

    There is an advantage in getting people to work. I totally buy that.

    There are elaborate plans out there to drastically increase bus route and try to establish Park and rides.

    These are solutions to problems we dont have. While traffic sucks its NOTHING compared to other cities. Lets just keep what we got with maybe a small calculated expansion.

    From my talks to the candidates I gather that a penny bus tax might not even go on the ballot much less pass. Cola has no control its a county issue. So there needs to be a serious discussion on funding if that doesnt go through.

  7. Doug Ross

    What would happen if the bus system was eliminated tomorrow? Would mostpeople find a way to get to work? Yes. Would businesses suffer temporarily when some employees couldn’t make it to work? Yes. Would they try to come up with a solution? Yes. Might it be better, more efficient than the current bus system? I would bet it would. I would guess you would see a rise in company run shuttle buses that better met the needs of their employees… or companies paying employees more so they could afford alternative transportation methods. Or people moving to where they didn’t need to ride a bus to work.

    What the bus system creates is a class of people dependent on a bus system. Once you get on, you probably don’t get off. Much like the public school systems in poor areas, you get into the class, you do your time, you drop out, and you go get your bus pass.

    If you’re riding the bus in Columbia its because someone else is covering most of the cost (I think from the numbers I saw it was around $4.50 per trip per rider).

    Show me where the current bus system has an issue with too many people riding them and then we can talk about how or why we should expand the service. Right now, it appears the bus system is just another welfare system creating dependency.

  8. Silence

    Right now we don’t have a class of people dependant on the bus system. We have a class of people driving around clogging up my roads in old cop cars with gigantic rims and probably no car insurance.

    Has the CMRTA/City of Columbia done a shameful and awful job of running the bus system? For sure. What happened to the millions that SGE&G was supposed to pay to unload the buses on us? Did we ever collect in full? Did CMRTA spend it all on fancy brand new buses and a new gigantic bus barn on Lucius Rd? Did they save any of it for operating expenses, or use it all for capital purchases?

    By my math it costs $5.29 for each passenger/trip.

  9. Karen McLeod

    Isn’t DART part of the bus system? What do you do with people who are unable to drive a car, but are gainfully employed? What do you do with elderly folk who are still living in their own homes, but don’t drive, and don’t have kids able or willing to drive them?

  10. Doug Ross


    Taxis? If it’s 5.29 per passenger trip now, why not hand out vouchers for taxis? I bet there’s plenty of entrepeneurs who would set up a low overhead shuttle service at $5 per trip or less.

  11. Silence

    Karen- I believe that DART is part of CMRTA, I mentioned it in an earlier thread today.

  12. `Kathryn Fenner

    @ Karen–push them all onto ice floes….what’s this you say–there aren’t even enough left for the polar bears with global warming? hmmmm

  13. Doug Ross

    Nevermind the taxi idea. It can’t happen because the government has so many rules and regulations that inhibit job creation, it wouldn’t be worth trying.

    Can you imagine the bureaucratic hoops an entrepreneur would have to go through to try and establish a shuttle bus service?

  14. Scout

    Doug, you talk as if being dependent on a bus system would be shameful or embarrassing for some reason. What reason?

    What would be so terrible about having a class of people dependent on a bus system, as long as there was a dependable bus system? Do you think all the businessmen in NY that are dependent on the subway should be ashamed and go buy a car right now. Please tell me how the increased emissions and traffic standstills of every employee owning their own car would be more beneficial to a community than a dependable mass transit system?

    Until we can travel by apparating, flue powder, port keys, or broom, we will have to deal with this problem in some fashion. Dependable mass transit seems like the best way to deal with it to me.

  15. Burl Burlingame

    It’s not a constitutional right for municipalities to have an operable sewage system either, and even if you yourself never flush, I think most would agree that it helps the community as a whole to have such a system.

  16. Herb Brasher

    What ought to happen is that everybody get out of their cars and trucks, live out some inter-connectivity, and ride to work or wherever on public transportation. It would improve the quality of our air, force some of us to get up and walk somewhere (to the bus stop, for example), and reduce fossil fuel consumption.

    But human nature being what it is, we will continue down the same path of increasingly isolating individualism, unhealthy lifestyles, and generally doing what comes easiest instead of what is best for everybody.

  17. SusanG

    Shuttle buses exist all over the place. I take them to and from airports all the time.
    Why is the lack of one around town the fault of the government?

  18. Karen McLeod

    I know that in New Orleans, way back when, the bus/trolley system would take you cheaply and convieniently wherever around town you wanted to go. I had a car my senior year, but continued to use the bus system unless I wanted to go out to Lake Ponchartrain. It’s nice to go downtown without worrying about finding a place to park. I suspect that if there people using a transit system to get to the downtown area there would be thriving businesses where people could stop, get out of the weather for a minute, and have a snack or shop.

  19. Steven Davis II

    @Doug – “What would happen if the bus system was eliminated tomorrow?”

    Nothing but maybe a couple dozen (drivers and mechanics) more people in the unemployment line. But since unemployment is dropping per the Democrats, the lines still shouldn’t be that long.

  20. Steven Davis II

    @Burl – “It’s not a constitutional right for municipalities to have an operable sewage system either”

    I believe it is, once they institute laws against homeowners having septic systems and wells.

  21. Steven Davis II

    Herb have you seen the people who ride the bus system (the few times the bus isn’t driving around empty)… it’s not a bunch of ladies going to church. More than not it’s bums who have found a cheap way to stay out of the heat or cold with no real final destination.

  22. Steven Davis II

    @bud – “Do the Steven’s of the world engage in identity politics as a general rule?”

    Do all buds smoke bud?

  23. Silence

    I’d argue that we do good things when it is in our individual interest to do them – taxpayers subsidizing a money-losing bus system, for instance. Funding citywide law enforcement and fire protection. Disability and old-age insurance schemes. Public Schools, Roads and other infrastructure, sanitary and storm sewers, safe water supplies and even zoning regulations all benefit us as individuals to the extent that we fund them, even though they also benefit society as a collective.

    Sometimes these things are done poorly, inefficiently or at too high a cost (schools, social safety net, some roads) and we balk at funding them further.

    Generally though, we don’t do a lot of things for purely altruistic reasons.

  24. Michael Rodgers

    SD2 (and others, but especially SD2) says way too much for an anonymous poster. If he wishes to remain anonymous, then I suggest you allow him one and only one comment per post, unless someone engages him, and if so then please let him respond.

  25. Michael Rodgers

    You guys are too hard on Doug. I think that he understands interconnectivity. Doug is concerned that money is being wasted and that oversight is not occuring. He’s right about both of these things.

    He generalizes from there and says a bunch of stuff about how inexperience in government is better than experience in government and about how awesome Ayn Rand’s theories are and about how private companies are always so, so much better than government, blah blah.

    Instead of arguing about the generalizations, lets figure out how to address the real problems. When does the bus commission next meet?

  26. Doug Ross


    I can take it. Because I know I’m right. Show me the most efficient government agency you can think of. Most citizens have come to expect mediocrity as the highest level of performance for government and it comes from the fundamental difference between government and private sector entities: private businesses fail when they don’t perform while government agencies just go back and ask for more money or raise taxes. The hardest thing in the world to do is to stop a government program once it has started. There’s no accountability, no incentive for excellence.

    There are those who want the bus system to be something it isn’t and can’t be. They can do that because they don’t actually have to demonstrate value for the expenditure. They couch it in feelgoodism and altruistic guilt trips.

    I’ve been in Chicago for the past month and walk to work about a mile each morning. I see full busses going all over the place. Why? Because there are places for the riders to go and enough people to justify the service. Columbia is not Chicago. It’s not Atlanta. It’s not Charlotte. A money losing bus system for low paid workers to get to work is just another form of welfare.

    Someone with some fresh ideas needs to approach the issue for what it is: How do I get certain groups of people from point A to point B cheaply? And there may be different solutions for different groups of people. Unfortunately, there are too many people in power who start with the idea that “we need a bus system, how do we pay for it?”

  27. Herb Brasher

    Michael, the real problems are much deeper:

    1) We are scared to death of being inter-connected. We’d much rather drive a 3 ton pickup truck around at 5 miles per gallon (excuse the exaggeration, please) than be even in a car pool, let alone on a bus with other people. America is about rugged individualism. I want to move from my home in my own car to the grocery store and back to my home and put down the garage door, if you please.

    2) We have become in general very lazy. And our whole infra-structure is built on being lazy. I catch myself deciding to drive over to Home Depot or Walmart, when I can get there by foot in 10 minutes. I could get there even faster by bike, and I would have one, if I still lived in Germany. But try walking or riding a bike across Sunset Blvd in Lexington. I do the former, but the only sidewalk is on the east side of 378. For the rest, you’d better get out of the way quick if you want to survive. No bicycle lanes to speak of in Lexington, either.

    Our democracies faced fascism with our backs to the wall and did what we needed to do. But I’m afraid that now with the slow build up of infrastructure and environmental problems we cannot bring ourselves to do what is good for ourselves, or the planet, because it would call for sacrifice. Leaders probably know this, but they also know that they won’t be elected as leaders if they call for cutting back for the sake of others.

    And living sacrificially, which is the basis of being inter-connected in significant ways, is not what our society is about. We’re about the pursuit of individual happiness. period.

    So I pessimistically predict that inter-connectivity in all areas, including transportation, health care, and most other areas will never happen until disaster strikes and we are forced to change in ways that we are not prepared for, when we could have been with a little foresight.

  28. Steve Gordy

    Have a little patience, Michael. I’m just waiting for the next time SD2 ridicules people named “Stephen” (like me).

  29. Silence

    You are right that Columbia isn’t Chicago, CLT or ATL, and thank goodness it’s not.

    Columbia (The Midlands) has some major impediments to overcome in order to have a more efficient public transit network, whatever mode of transit that might be.

    We’ve never done a good job of encouraging growth downtown, in fact, we’ve done everything possible to discourage it, while encouraging growth elsewhere. Out of all of the major employers in the region, very few are downtown. USC, Some SC offices, Palmetto Health Richland/Baptist, and that’s about it. Many of our biggest employers are suburban – Shaw Flooring, Westinghouse, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, SCANA, Ft. Jackson, McEntire JNGB, Square D, etc. This makes them significantly more difficult to service with public transit than if they were generally downtown. In addition, the State of SC has been moving offices out of downtown – out to Blythewood, Farrow Road, Broad River Road, Farmer’s Market, etc.

    A lot of the remaining workers downtown aren’t likely to be public transit commuters. Lawyers, MD’s, bankers, CPA’s, state legislators, executives, top management and other highly paid folks aren’t going to ride, period. Ditto for people that work odd hours, or are on call or on a shift of indeterminate length.

    We’ve been very quick to rezone farmland and forest to industrial, commercial and residential uses without considering the big picture. I don’t blame our elected politicians though, they will bend over backwards to bring in a large employer, and who’s to blame them for that? To transport people to these ex-urban business locations would likely take a long time, involve transfers, and generally discourage folks from using public transit to commute.

    New urbanism (Sandhills, Bull St.)isn’t the panacea either. Most people don’t want to live across the street from a shopping center, or above one. Ultimately, we still like decent yards, single family homes, and the privacy that accompanies them. People will generally still need to own cars, and people prefer to park conveniently – not blocks away.

    Columbia doesn’t lend itself well to walking or biking. Parts of town are pretty hilly, and it gets ridiculously hot for about half of the year, bike lanes or no. Nobody wants to go to around all sweaty, if they don’t need to.

    We keep building parking garages downtown… I know these make money for the city, but if we were serious about encouraging people to use public transit, we wouldn’t be building them. We’d charge more to park in them, and the byproduct would probably be to kill off the few remaining merchants and restaurants we have left downtown.

    Our entire system is pretty much set up to cater to cars. The distances, our homes, shopping areas, our appliances, our food packaging, everything. Imagine hauling a week’s worth of groceries on the bus? A couple of cases of Coke (or beer!) and a 40lb bag of dog food? Never gonna happen.

    There’s also a (maybe rightly earned) perception of danger with both walking in certain areas of town, and also with using public transit. Mrs. Silence won’t walk to work downtown, although she could, because she doesn’t want to be sweaty at work, she often doesn’t leave until after dark and because there’s lots of vagrants she’d have to walk past. I think many other women, and probably a lot of men too would feel the same way.

    Fixing the transit system is just one piece of the puzzle. There’s a lot of other systemic issues that will need to be solved if we want things to be efficient.

  30. Steven Davis II

    “Have a little patience, Michael. I’m just waiting for the next time SD2 ridicules people named “Stephen” (like me).”

    Then shouldn’t you be going boy “Stephe”?

  31. `Kathryn Fenner

    I <3 Herb!

    The USC Police Department, in response to a rash of armed robberies, advises that the safest way to travel is by vehicle. True, if one is avoiding drive-up robbers, but if everybody were on foot or bicycle, it would be plenty safe on foot or bicycle.

  32. Steven Davis II

    Speaking of Columbia and the problems facing it… does anyone think Detroit will ever come back? Or is it lost as a 3rd world country?

  33. `Kathryn Fenner

    @ Silence–
    “New urbanism (Sandhills, Bull St.)isn’t the panacea either. Most people don’t want to live across the street from a shopping center, or above one. Ultimately, we still like decent yards, single family homes, and the privacy that accompanies them. People will generally still need to own cars, and people prefer to park conveniently – not blocks away.

    Columbia doesn’t lend itself well to walking or biking. Parts of town are pretty hilly, and it gets ridiculously hot for about half of the year, bike lanes or no. Nobody wants to go to around all sweaty, if they don’t need to.”

    Well, I think a lot of people like living near mom-and-pop stores–maybe one block over–not “shopping centers” like the Village (where am I? in the Village)….and folks in rainy San Francisco walk and bike and take public transit, as do those in Boston/Cambridge–where it is ridiculously cold half the year–but you have a point about the heat…

  34. Nick Nielsen

    Downsize. Not the routes, the buses. Instead of the (usually almost empty when I see them) full-size buses, get a bunch of 10- to 15-passenger buses or van hybrids for use during off-peak hours or on routes with fewer riders.

    Cost per mile drops, cost per passenger drops, much more maneuverable in traffic.

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