I call them doorstoppers. Back-and-forths in our comment sections, extended debates which often veer off-topic and, because of the WordPress page design, take inches on the screen, feet maybe, to scroll past, with the “collapse thread” icon being of limited use to reach their other side.
Here’s the thing though, sometimes those discussions end up being really interesting.
That’s what happened on our post last week on the heated exchange between an Interstate Bridge Replacement project official and a critic. An extended discussion about consumption, capitalism, and climate catastrophe arose between Watts, John, Damien, 9Watts, ShadowsFolly, Jake—did I leave someone out? People want to talk about these issues, and they will do it where they can.
BikePortland’s (ongoing) discussion about how many people our planet can support, and how we should live, is age-old. People engraved it on stone tablets millennia before it became ephemeral bits of text on a blog. Which isn’t to say that everything is going to turn out fine. A quarter of the world’s children under five have so little to eat that it stunts their growth, both physical and cognitive. Yet the world has enough grain to feed them. That is real.
The debate on BikePortland tends to happen between Watts, who views himself as a clear-eyed realist who believes that technology is on the cusp of solving many problems, and a shifting cast of commenters who disagree with him.
This week’s debate engaged a lot of people, and there were many good comments to choose from. This comment from 9Watts (not to be confused with Watts) is as good a place as any to jump in:
Watts’ theory of change denies people agency, refuses to allow that all progressive change has always come from the bottom, from exactly those places he refuses to look. It is a Panglossian worldview that enshrines/hopes for/celebrates technical progress while refusing to allow the possibility of social or political progress.
Being dazzled by goodies, goodies that aren’t good for us or the planet, is part of our condition, our curse, but it is not all there is to know about us either. We are able to evaluate our preferences after all, recognize that plastics and pavement and popsicles and porn are not what we need right now, that to have any chance of avoiding the inferno we can, indeed must, choose more wisely.
And conversations like we sometimes have here are one way to understand this better.
Thank you 9Watts and everyone else who participated in the conversation! You can read all the great comments under the original post.