The idea that something isn't what it seems fascinates us.
The mediocre movie The Usual Suspects has become a classic because of the final 10 minutes shifting the audiences' perspective on the previous hour and a half.
The Matrix franchise popularized this concept through its idea of liberating oneself from the world they think they know into a drearier but freer reality and the film got two more sequels than it deserved to keep telling that story.
The inspiration behind the Matrix movies is credited to a novel called the Necromancer published in 1984 by William Gibson who calls his Cyberspace matrix a "collective hallucination." This term is of particular interest to me as someone who just ranted about mirages in Tuesday's podcast.
The big news of the week to follow that podcast, though, was the state officially pausing the exploration of the northern turnpike extension. Previously, four routes had been proposed with two crossing through the county and two stretching north of Citrus, but all of that came to an end Thursday.
The cause of this outcome seems obvious to many: a win for the little guys. Chronicle reporter Michael Bates quoted the president of the Sierra Club who was quick to give the Roads to Ruin organization kudos and blogger Mike Wright credited the public as well after some extensive self-congratulatory remarks.
But what if this is not what it seems?
“I know where you’re going with this,” you might be thinking, “you mean this is just a stall tactic until after the election and then they'll try it again!”
That is a possibility, but it's not at all what I'm getting at here. Like Keyser Soze straightening his limp or Neo swallowing the red pill, let's shift the way we see last week's events.
The argument solely crediting the grassroots efforts commits a logical fallacy.
A recent global news example helps explain which fallacy. Many pundits have pointed to basketball star Brittney Griner’s 9-year, hefty fine sentencing in comparison to a 2019 Staten Island teenager who received a 2 month sentence and a fine 1.5% for the same crime as an example of Russian racism.
“Y’all surprised” one Twitter user asked with a clear implication: the teenager was white and blonde while Grinier is black and covered in tattoos so the sentence is significantly harsher to Grinier based on appearance.
This is a straw man argument. The premise is based on propping up race (the straw man) as a reason for an outcome (the harsh sentencing) when really the geo-political climate of tension between the U.S. and Russia now versus 2019 is to blame (think Ukraine).
The idea that public pushback is the sole reason for this project pausing is the same idea as saying Griner’s harsher sentence is because of racism.
This turnpike situation wasn't an outcome of a debate but rather a completion of a comprehensive study. Admittedly part of that was due to the political will of elected officials who would be held accountable just as racism may have played some small role in Russia’s sentencing, and the media release cites public pushback as a concern, but a much larger part had to do with the entirety of a comprehensive study.
Crediting the whole study for the decision is a good thing even if it minimizes the public’s influence. That’s what we should be celebrating.
We should want decisions to be made based on merit rather than opinion - even that of the public, yet many in the media are glorifying the latter.
The idea that “governments crumble[d] to citizens” paints a ridiculous picture of public affairs that is so short-sighted because it overlooks the question of any idea’s inherent virtue and puts its viability solely in the context of people vs. government. Remember: a bad idea that the majority supports is still a bad idea.
While public input is a critical part to any project, we should extend cautious trust those who work as experts in their fields and certainly not vilify them if they do propose a bad idea like in this case. This will discourage more ideas from coming forward, and society benefits from all ideas reaching the table even if they do get rejected as bad.
Like Neo waking up outside the Matrix for the first time, this view of the issue might be dreary but learning how to not view everything in terms of struggle between good and evil will actually make you freer.