Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Column 124 – Complex Issues

There are a lot of important issues confronting all of us as we approach election season 08. Unfortunately most of these issues are complex and don't admit of simple solutions. We have a government that has lost the confidence of the governed and linked to that a war that has even less popular support than Vietnam. The economy is in the tank, and the dollar weaker against foreign currencies that anyone can remember, and much of the US financial industry has shown itself to be more venal and cynical even than Enron.


As I said, these are difficult problems, and none of them will be solved simply or by a dose of unthinking optimism a la George W. Bush. That means that for many people confronting these problems causes headaches and a strong desire to find something easier to deal with.


We saw a demonstration of that by the national media in the Pennsylvania Democratic debate last week when two journalists who should have known better spent almost an hour of a two-hour debate on such momentous questions as why Obama doesn't wear a flag pin and why Hillary exaggerated the danger she was in in Bosnia as well as other non-issues. That's a lot easier than trying to compare the candidates' health care plans or how they would deal with Iraq.


Back here at home we're seeing some of the same phenomenon – we have a number of complex issues to deal with – the beach law suit has a high potential for disastrous results, the purchase of the Incline Lake property is closing in, the Diamond Peak lodge is due for renovation, the Boulder Bay project is and the long-standing Independent Incline study is ready to recommend that the question of changing from a GID to a town be put before the voters to see where public sentiment lies.


All of these are complex issues, but many residents seem to prefer either to deal with the Incline equivalent of Obama's lapel pin or to insist on simplistic, knee-jerk solutions to the complex issues. To wit:


There has been a regulation in the fire code forever saying that barbecue grills may not be used in multiple occupancy dwellings except under certain conditions; the rationale is safety, pure and simple. Being reminded of that regulation was met by many as if the Fire District was proposing to abrogate the Constitution.


The Diamond Peak renovation is long overdue – the lodge is small, inadequate, and outdated. Diamond Peak is an asset that benefits skiers and non-skiers alike by generating revenue for the District but in this as in so many IVGID expenditures the response is along "whose ox is being gored" lines – everyone agrees that our recreational facilities make living here attractive and enhance the value of our properties, but for many any increase in the rec fee that does not directly benefit their recreation is met with howls of outrage.


There is an long-standing principle in Western law called "the greatest good for the greatest number." There are times and situations where this principle must be abridged – inherent individual rights such as life and liberty, for example, trump the utilitarian principle. In most cases of regulating life in a community, particularly a small community like ours, that principle should hold more often than not. While I don't oppose Crystal Bay residents having access to the beaches, I do think the lawsuit that is pending is a danger to all of us, Incline and Crystal Bay alike, and therefore violates the principle.


I realize that what I'm suggesting is not simple. I am advocating that we, as a community, take a genuinely thoughtful approach to complex issues and that we be guided by "the greatest good for the greatest number." Not everyone will (or should) be happy with every resolution, but if we follow that principle, everyone will be happy with most of the decisions most of the time. If we insist on guarding our narrow self-interest and reject compromise out of hand, I fear that no one will be happy in the long term. As Benjamin Franklin said, "in this time, we must all hang together or we will surely hang separately."

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