In the world of citizen cycling, and honestly in U.S. culture as a whole, I find a tendency from a certain cross-section of people to get very upset about people asking for changes to the way society works, the way our public space is built, the way people are treated. This certain cross-section of people (which I’m designating simply by this held opinion, not by any other common characteristic) seem to think that if a person has it better than any other randomly selected person, they should just stop complaining and learn to live with whatever circumstances they find themselves in.
For instance, this kind of view pops up often enough in comment threads on BikePortland, where Jonathan, or another of his commenters, is criticizing something that Portland has done (or not done) regarding promoting citizen cycling. The viewpoint often thrown out is essentially “You have it better in Portland than in *insert city name here*, so stop complaining!” or “Portland is the #1 cycling city in the U.S., you have no right to complain about your conditions there!” Sometimes it comes from locals too, insinuating that because a person lives in the central city, where there is more cycling infrastructure, they have no right to complain because it’s way better than East Portland or Southwest Portland.
But here’s the thing; there’s a difference between better than, and good.
By stating that Portland is better for cycling than Houston, is there really a direct implication that Portland is good for cycling? By saying that Burger King is better than McDonalds health-wise, is there a direct implication that Burger King is therefore healthy? By stating that Starbucks is better than the little suburban parking lot espresso cart, is there then a direct implication that Starbucks is objectively good coffee?
The answer, I feel, to all of these, is no.
Whatever the reasons for these views, and I think there are probably many different circumstances that come together to produce them, I don’t really feel the position is valid.
Yes, I realize that I, in Portland, have it better than some people in the world. However, I don’t feel that this is a valid reason to just kick back and do nothing about the problems I find in Portland, of which there are many.
I’m not inclined to base my views about the quality of my life, the quality of the place I live, and the quality of my enjoyment on a comparison with the quality of everyone else’s life, the quality of every other place, and the quality of everyone else’s enjoyment. I want the quality of my life to be good, the quality of the place I live to be good, and the quality of my enjoyment to be good – standing on their own, apart from whether they are ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than anything else.
Don’t get me wrong, I want to improve, and see improved, conditions for those who are worse off than me. The aim of my life is not to better my condition at the expense of anyone else. I firmly believe that improving conditions from the bottom up improves conditions for all of society, and that is my emphasis and aim in life.
However, I also don’t believe that simply because my situation is better in some way than someone else’s situation, that I should just live with everything in my situation and do nothing to improve it. That is just asking for everything to get worse. I also don’t believe that ‘better’ implies ‘good’ – and I’m going to work to make conditions good where I live, regardless of whether they are already better or worse than anywhere else.
Who’s with me?