Saturday, January 11, 2020

Minneapolis, Don't Forget to Miss Me

North by Northside, signing off.

Ever since I began to be drawn to the move to Superior, this song "Don't Forget to Miss Me" has been my personal Twin Cities theme song.

She said she's gonna make it back, it could be any day
It's not so much the waiting as not knowing what to say
She said, oh always keep me close
Even 'cross the distant sea
One more thing, oh yeah, before I go
Don't you forget to miss me

Sometimes I would be singing it as if directed at a place that had been my home, hoping the contributions I made and whatever lessons I could teach would remain and be built upon.  (Minneapolis, don't you forget to miss me.)  Other times I envisioned Minneapolis singing it to me, reminding me to keep what I have learned and continue my service to a community in my new home.  (Minneapolis: Don't you forget to miss me.)  For a very long time, my relationship with wherever I happen to live has extended almost to a personal level of attachment.

Have you ever been in a long-term relationship with someone and then felt yourselves growing apart?  Have you ever woken up one morning, and turned your gaze to your loved one only to realize that because one or both of you have changed, now you don't love them the same way anymore?  What do you do when that happens, do you recommit yourselves to what essentially amounts to a new relationship, do you go through the motions and stay together even though things now feel hollow, or do you realize that it's now time to part ways?  What happens when you feel that way about your home?

I don't love Minneapolis anymore and I hadn't for a while even before I left.  Or at least I stopped loving it in the way I used to.  If I were to characterize my relationship with this city on a personal level...

...I would say it feels like a parent whose child has finally grown to the point where they are ready to venture out on their own.  I know that child will make mistakes yet I hope they will achieve greater things than if I held on to them too tightly or for too long.  Sometimes that feeling devolves into paternalistic condescension.  I can see or at least think I see where certain actions are going and how they'll lead down a harmful path.  Other times I am pleasantly surprised with genuine hope that Minneapolis can go in new and bold directions that I personally would not have chosen for it.

This blog has been dedicated to my commitment to change Minneapolis for the better.  Since that time has come to a close, the time to stop writing here is at hand as well.  I intend to keep the site open, but the likelihood that I will add more content is quite small.  I'd like to leave my fair and former city with one final piece of guidance.  There is a growing trend of what I would call "tribal epistemology" that threatens how we move forward as a country, and a similar strain has taken hold in Minneapolis.

"Epistemology" is, in short, the study of how we separate belief from opinion.  How we individually and collectively decide and agree upon what is true.  It's phonetically similar to entomology, the study of bugs, and etymology, the study of language.  Applied in the arena of politics, either of the latter could be useful too.  But the risk we face comes from the former of the three.

If, like me, you were shocked at the ascent of Donald Trump you probably still ask yourself the question of how did we get here?  How do so many people support someone who lies with such abandon about issues large and small that can be so quickly and easily disproven?  Even before we get into whether right or left, Republican or Democratic ideas serve us best, how is it that a person like this receives credence?  One factor among many is the phenomenon of tribal epistemology.

We live in almost a binary existence and as that existence becomes increasingly fractured, one way we evaluate information is if it comes from "our tribe."  If an opinion or an interpretation of a fact or an outright lie is presented on Fox News or CNN, how many people will immediately accept or reject that statement almost entirely on the basis of its source?  Far too many of us.  If people who already think like me present that item I'm going to consider it more favorably than if it were to come from an opponent.  If an idea is "good for my tribe" or at least "bad for the other tribe," its merits can carry far less importance.

It's easy to look to a national scale or to an ideological or political opponent and see someone else behaving that way.  But Minneapolitans and the ascendant progressive wing of Democrats there would be wise to recognize this course amongst yourselves.  I have noticed the dynamic several times as I began to distance myself physically and mentally from the city, most recently in the contested proposals for changes to landlord and rental policies.

The leading voice opposing that ordinance was a group of landlords who campaigned heavily on social media.  One fault of the rule changes is they did little to distinguish between good and bad landlords, or larger corporations managing hundreds of units vs. smaller scale owners of only one or a few properties.  Those who supported the change also made no such distinction when bombarding the social media posts with comments.

We were goaded to disregard anything from this group simply on the basis that it was coming from landlords.  People would describe a poor and often blatantly unjust experience they had under a landlord, then use that ordeal to justify almost any action that landlords as a whole would consider punitive.  The merits of the issue at hand were secondary to the belief that anything coming from a landlord group should be opposed.  Even if the harm one received from a landlord was already illegal or would not be diminished from the new ordinance, people supported the measures because it would inflict cost, inconvenience, or other pain upon the other "tribe."

I can be guilty of the same reaction.  Take the current uproar over the Upper Harbor Terminal as an example.  I rather like the new design and I worry that trying to cram in too many sociopolitical concerns du jour will be unwieldy for the eventual development.  At the same time, I recognize how the northside in particular has been harmed by unfavorable designs and land use and ownership in the Above The Falls portion of our riverfront, and have no desire for those mistakes to be repeated.  I am quite agnostic about how to untangle this particular knot.

But I do not like this current council, and feel a certain sense of schadenfreude as it wrestles with the dilemma.  If the course of events is bad for people I don't like, part of me takes pleasure in that aspect above any other consideration.

That's why I'm stepping away from this blog and my commentary on the state of north Minneapolis.  I came to my signature issue of housing preservation through initially celebrating demolitions and then being convinced that my position was in fact wrong.  Tribal epistemology makes that kind of intellectual arc almost impossible to apply to complex political concerns.  The longer I am away from this city, the easier it is for me to misapply that method.

So my final piece of advice to you is to examine yourselves for such a bias, to reach out and work with people across divides, and to be able to recognize both what ideas work and when your own vision may be wrong.

Don't forget to miss me Minneapolis.

*One final housekeeping note.  I am going to turn comments off on this blog.  They will remain open through the end of the month in case anyone wants to leave a public comment on here one last time.  While blogs are still useful for long-form writing, interactions tend to be far more robust on social media.  Blogger has also completely failed to keep up with spam filters.  Over the course of the last year I have had to manually approve or reject over 1,200 comments that were not immediately classified as spam.  The amount of real comments was less than one half of one percent.  I will make sure a contact email is prominently displayed, but there is little benefit to a soon-to-be dormant blog keeping open a feature that is 99.5% spam.

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