Stone: Denying reality is not a sign of ‘first-rate intelligence’
A Stone’s Throw
F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
Of course, Fitzgerald also famously fell apart, overwhelmed by his own success, so maybe we shouldn’t put too much faith in his wisdom. In fact, that ability to hold two opposed ideas in your mind might just as easily be the sign of serious mental illness — schizophrenia, for example.
This all comes to mind because certain portions of the Aspen community (and, yes, I still believe there is such a thing) seem to be teetering on the mental-disorder edge of that “two opposing ideas” tightrope.
If I can take all the high-flying rhetoric (mine and Scotty’s) down a notch, what we’re talking about is people ignoring obvious reality while proclaiming their own wildly opposed story.
Let’s start with the reality.
A story in The Aspen Times this week reported that traffic in Aspen has been rising steadily for years — ever since the depths of the recession — and is approaching record levels.
“Well, duh!” as I believe the kids used to say.
The government guys have numbers, of course, but the traffic jams on the highway into town and on Main Street heading out of town are too wretchedly consistent to really require eagle-eyed accounting.
A friend, one of the most optimistic Aspen boosters I know, sent me an email this week setting up a meeting and suggesting we get together at the Aspen Business Center, saying, “You really don’t want to come up to Aspen anyway this time of year — it’s crazier than I ever remember it.”
Along the same lines, I overheard in town the other day (eavesdropping is part of my job): “Tried to go home at the end of the day, but when I got to Main Street, the traffic was so bad I went back to the office and worked until 8.”
Good for productivity, I suppose, but, other than that, it sucks.
I could go on, but I don’t need to. You all know what I’m talking about. Been there, cursed that.
And to take a look at the same phenomenon from a slightly different angle, there’s another Aspen Times story, headlined, “Aspen lodging on pace to set a record for July.”
So, lodging is setting a record and traffic is unbearable.
It all fits together quite nicely. The classic 10 pounds of “stuff” in a 5-pound sack.
Reality with a capital “Cream Pie,” right in the face. You can’t ignore it.
OK. Hold that in your mind, as F. Scott might say.
Now let’s jump over to the other side of the “opposed ideas” divide, where we have loud voices in the Aspen Tourist-Industrial Complex proclaiming — and a lot of otherwise seemingly intelligent people agreeing — that this town is in desperate need of more tourist lodging.
Ignore the zoning code, they shout, and build a big new hotel on Main Street because we need more tourist lodging or this sad little resort of ours will wither and die.
You say that new big hotel is “affordable”?
Well, first of all, so what? Too many people is too many people. The fact that some of them can’t really afford to come here isn’t a good reason to cram them in. In fact, as an argument for bringing more people into a town that’s already overcrowded, it doesn’t make any sense at all.
But, second, there’s no need to pick on that particular project. Let’s look at Aspen Skiing Co.’s demand for a new hotel at the base of Lift 1A and the rapidly brewing plans for a new, high-priced Four Seasons hotel at the base of Shadow Mountain.
Both of those projects will (I am sure) be quite nice. Neither (I am equally sure) will be anything like “affordable.” And neither (I am damn well certain) are needed.
High-priced or (relatively) low-priced doesn’t make any difference.
If you change all the Audis, Mercedes and Range Rovers on Main Street into Volkswagens, it would still be a traffic jam.
If you change that 10 pounds of “stuff” into 10 pounds of rose petals, the 5-pound sack would still be too small.
So any way you slice it, there are your “two opposed ideas,” as plain as the marinara sauce spilling down the front of a fat man’s white shirt in a cheap Italian restaurant:
1. Aspen’s too crowded, and,
2. Aspen needs to build more hotels so we can bring in more people.
Pretty much everyone agrees on the first point (just ask anyone how they feel about the traffic jams). But a lot of people are still yammering away on the second, claiming we desperately need more people — and somehow trying to pretend there’s no relation between how many people are here and how crowded the town is.
They even have a study that “proves” we’ve lost hotel rooms.
It’s a clear-cut case of that old question, posed by Groucho Marx, “Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?”
I suppose we need to take a look at the last part of Scotty Fitz’s thought: The idea that the measure of intelligence depends on the ability to hold those opposing ideas and “still function.”
Aspen is not exactly Function Junction. More like Raging Dysfunction on the Roaring Fork.
Having festooned this column with quotations, I’m tempted to close with one from that font of mangled syntax, Yogi Berra, who once commented about a formerly favored restaurant, “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”
We don’t want that to be Aspen, do we?
But I won’t end right there. Let me stretch things just a little further with the rarely quoted end of the Fitzgerald thought that I opened with.
“One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.”
I guess that’s going to have to be my sad motto.
Talk about mental illness!
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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