Su Lum: Slumming | AspenTimes.com

Su Lum: Slumming

Su Lum
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

I read the article “Can’t we all get along?” in the other newspaper and then went online to watch the source of that story, a work session wherein the City Council was approached by representatives of the Community Forum for Civil Discourse for $10,000 to kick-start a major effort to bring harmony to the valley.

The Community Forum is under the auspices of the Aspen Institute, and Terry Hale, John Sarpa, Helen Klanderud and Cristal Logan made the case that there is trouble right here in River City and asked for council support to hire experts in the civility field in order to make us a healthier, happier and wealthier community.

I have three problems with their proposal: the premise, the pledges and the funding.

The premise is that Aspen has a serious enough civility issue to warrant the expenditure of $50,000 (just for starters) to bring in advisers and to garner wholehearted community support to fix the problem. Is it a problem? Really? Is that true?

My perception is that we’ve become so civilized that we’re downright boring compared to the feisty community we used to be.

Terry Hale pointed out that residents should be able to say, “I get your point. I disagree. Let’s go get a beer.” We already do that, don’t we? We’ve always done that. If we didn’t, nobody in town would be talking to one another.

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The forum members suggested that most residents agree on core values and that we should work together to further shared goals. Don’t we already do that? Isn’t that what the community plan was all about?

There will always be an issue between those who want to preserve Aspen and those who want to exploit it, but basically, we’re a lily-white rich community without a fraction of the problems other towns and cities have to cope with, and we should count our blessings rather than inventing problems.

Along the road to community harmony, beware of signing any pledges. Look what happened when Grover Norquist got all those Republican Congress people to sign pledges to never vote for any increase in taxes.

Starting with the false premise that the taxes (especially on the rich) are the problem, Norquist collected signature after signature. The first ones were the hardest to get, but then the Congress people saw that everyone else was signing it and were afraid that they would be odd man out and wouldn’t get re-elected, and now look where we are.

There is an extreme pressure in asking anyone to sign a pledge about anything, no matter how worthy. Just say no – it can come back to bite you. If we’re going to have peace in the valley, it shouldn’t start with asking anyone to sign a pledge.

If I were Steve Child, I would be highly offended if anyone asked me to sign a pledge to be civil.

As for the funding, if the Aspen Institute wants to try to fix alleged problem (or, as we would say today, “challenge”), let it take a whack at it, but not on the public dime. Spending public money on a proposal like this is the same thing as signing a pledge. If, in its efforts, the forum can verify that local incivility is truly a problem and can come up with the means to find a solution, it might have a reasonable platform to ask for public assistance.

I doubt that this will happen.