David Crossley is Smarter Than You

This post was originally written in 2010. The points made remain true today. Houston Tomorrow remains active in promoting the same ideas as it did in 2010.

David Crossley, president of Houston Tomorrow (HT), demonstrates what happens when one drops context in an attempt to promote a political agenda:

Standard of living is basically about stuff and working hard to get it, while quality of life is about human thriving with vitality and contentedness. It just seems totally rational that an individual’s top priority should be the quality of his or her life followed by the quality of life of family and friends. In fact, it’s rational to want everybody to have a high quality of life.

For me the biggest leap forward toward sustainable societies would be if entities in the Houston region, the US, and the world set improving the quality of life as their top priority. Job creation and economic development will follow, but it would be much more about ‘better’ than about’‘more.’

Taken out of context, this might seem plausible. It is certainly possible to have a high standard of living and live a miserable life. The endless parade of celebrities making a mess of their lives provides ample evidence of this. However, taken out of context, just about anything might seem plausible.

For example, Crossley states that “it’s rational to want everybody to have a high quality of life.” Since I am not a misanthrope, I have no problem with others enjoying a high quality of life. Nor do I view the quality of life enjoyed by others as a threat to the quality of my life. But why should I care about his quality of life, or vice versa? Why should I, or anyone, care about the quality of life of strangers? And perhaps more importantly, what would this mean in terms of our own individual lives–how should we manifest this “care”?

We don’t have to look very far to find the answers. HT advocates, among other things, “smart growth” and “public transit.” On both of these issues–and many others–HT advocates the use of government coercion to achieve what it regards as “rational” ends. To HT, compelling you to act contrary to your own judgment is ultimately for your own good. As an example, see an article on their web site titled “Transit tax saves you money.” In other words, you aren’t smart enough to make such decisions on your own, nor is HT able to present an argument strong enough to convince you to act voluntarily. Instead, government must force you to act.

This is how Crossley believes that a high quality of life can be achieved. This, he believes, is rational.

But force is the antithesis of reason and the use of one’s rational faculty. Force negates reason, rendering one’s own judgment irrelevant. If you conclude that your money is best spent on a private automobile, Crossley doesn’t care–he knows best, and he intends to take your money to prove it. If you conclude that a particular use for your property is best, Crossley doesn’t care–he knows better and he will force you to include green space, set backs, and whatever else he deems necessary to create a “livable” development. That is “smart growth,” and if you don’t believe it, you can ponder your “indiscretions” while sitting in jail for violating his edicts.

There is nothing smart about using force to impose one’s values upon others. There is nothing rational about replacing the syllogism with compulsion. If Crossley truly wants to promote the rational, I suggest that he try beating us with logic instead of a club.

2 comments to David Crossley is Smarter Than You

  • James

    Part of the problem is that the definition of “quality of life” is highly individual. We have different optional values. My grandfather grew up on a farm, and considers a day spent caring for pigs and chickens, repairing equipment, hoeing a garden, etc to be the best day possible. I consider a day spent in a museum collection, reading, and debating nuances of epistemology to be a fantastic day. Some people consider a day spent at swordplay, then feasting and drinking and telling stories long into the night to be fantastic. Others consider a day without the internet to be Hell on Earth. These views are often incompatible–to provide one is to preclude the others.

    Further, there is no way for a central planner to provide everyone with a high quality of life, because there’s no way for them to determine what that answer means. At best, they will approach it from the perspective of the average–and since the average is a mathematical abstraction and not a real person, all you end up doing is dissatisfying everyone and appealing to the lowest common denominator. You see this in every form of entertainment that attempts wide appeal, which is why so many TV shows, movies, and video games are flat, lifeless husks. (Literature, painting, sculpture, architecture, etc actively seek to alienate humans these days.)

    The only rational answer is to permit everyone to seek to maximize their own quality of life in a society that holds rights to be inviolate. We need not worry about anyone else’s quality of life, because our definition is not relevant to their life. Any other solution inevitably enshrines the average and offers as bloody sacrifice the lives of all the actual human beings in the society.

    • Brian Phillips

      I agree with you. But the David Crossley’s of the world think that they know better than others, and they want to impose their view of quality of life on everyone else.

      As you note, the central planners ultimately try to appeal to the lowest common denominator. More significantly, the innovators–the one’s who truly improve our quality of life by offering new products and services–are shackled and stifled. Not only are we forced to abide by the demands and dictates of the planners, we are forced to do without the life-enhancing values created by the innovators.