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18th November
2011
written by Taylor Davidson

By: Taylor Davidson

The Importance Of Our Thinkers

I will start by saying I do not know Phil Lopes. 

However, he made a series of statements this last week (unusual in their clarity as examples)  that I would like to address due to their implications regarding the level of discourse and understanding in our fair Pueblo.

In case you are not familiar, Mr. Lopes is a long time Arizona activist, a founding staff member of Pima Community College, a former senior manager at the AZ Dept. of Health, a state legislator and the current coordinator of the Tucson Chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America a “group of left-leaning Democrats, Independents, and Greens who work… for progressive change.” (PDA Tucson website, pdatucson.blogspot.com). 

Those roles have placed Mr. Lopes in the group of what, in our city, passes for “Public Intellectuals”.  This group primarily includes other political party leaders as well as any number of media personalities, but also has some members of the university and a few participants from the business, religious, non-profit communities and others.

“Public Intellectuals”, as a vocation, can be defined as the entrepreneurial class within any community’s market of ideas.  And as with all entrepreneurs they are constantly competing for customers.  However, unlike those in the business world aiming for dollars or other measures of growth, entrepreneurs in the political and thought arenas are competing for ears and minds.  They count their success not in financial terms but in how many people they can get parroting their beliefs and the level of influence of those who echo their thinking.

So in this vein,  on or around Monday an email came out to some compatriots from Mr. Lopes detailing a new idea.  Let’s call it “Bank Local!”  The basic idea was that he was encouraging friends and neighbors to move their money from their current financial institutions into local credit unions and community banks.

Then lo and behold, what do I hear Wednesday morning?  Well it was Tucson City Council member Regina Romero on the radio stating that not only does she want to change the rules of our city parks to allow Occupiers to make campgrounds out of community property but oh, by the way, she’s also proposing the city government, as well as people in general, withdraw their bank accounts from Bank of America and Chase and move to credit unions.

Mr. Lopes, as an entrepreneurial Thinker, had just picked up a client.  He had earned his way in the market by moving his opinion into the mouth of an elected representative, a person with political influence and regular public audiences.

We can argue this, but I believe it is axiomatic that this is how the political process works.  Thinkers want to be leaders of electorate opinion and politicians can generally be nothing but followers of electorate opinion.  This is due to the simple fact that, at election time, they need 50% plus one vote to keep their jobs.  They can’t stray too far from the center and make that happen. Thus you are dealing with two separate but symbiotic entities: One with ideas but a need for some political power, the other with some political power but a need for ideas.

This revelation leads to an interesting conclusion.  That the public intellectuals in our city, state, nation and world are actually surprisingly more important than we would normally wish to admit. 

When we decide on an opinion we generally say to ourselves and others that is well considered and based in the facts, but if we were honest this is really a vain conceit.  Most people (particularly our elected officials) just don’t have the time or inclination to formulate fully realized philosophical positions on the extremely wide spectrum of topics we are presented with throughout the weeks and years of our lives.  Thus we all operate utilizing a vast number of assumptions and many times we base those assumptions on the position of someone we have chosen as trustworthy.  Those Thinkers in our lives about whom we say, “Well I trust Dave.  He’s very well read.”

The point of this is not an exhortation for us all to run out and get PhD’s in economics, sociology, ecology, etc. etc. so we are the perfect experts on everything that might confront us.  Personally I don’t have time for that and I don’t think anyone really does.  I certainly don’t want the people at TEP to take time off from keeping my lights on to finish term papers or the guys at Nimbus to have to slow down production of their Oatmeal Stout while the brewmeister is in class.

Instead we should recognize the futility of that idea and thus the critical importance of those in our lives who serve to fill in where our personal experience and understanding fails us.  And thus if these Thinkers are this influential in our personal choices and particularly to the political decision making process (a la Mr. Lopes and Councilwoman Romero), then we should make it a top priority that Tucson has the highest quality of public intellectuals that we can achieve.

So where does Mr. Lopes fall out for our community when we measure his suggestions against this level of importance? 

On this example, not well at all.

Our local bank branches (whether a credit union or multi-national)  employ local people, our local branches spend money with local vendors who employ other local people, our local branches lend money for other businesses to start and expand, our local branches help bring capital and other resources from around the country and the world to our city to be used in our city.

Instigating a strategy of targeting larger banks for financial damage, if successful, can only shrink the pool of money available for investment in our community and put thousands of local jobs in jeopardy.  It is simply foolish and ill-conceived.

But this idea came from the same person who, while on The Buckmaster Show last week describing the panel he had assembled to discuss job creation at a Progressive Democrats membership meeting, touted that they had made sure there was one panelist out of five who had “actually created jobs.”  How about 5 out of 5 next time Phil?

Who also in the same segment stated his main push for resurrecting Tucson’s job market revolved around making sure we keep our dollars and spending local.  Phil, are you aware that the level of trade with groups outside of a community is a primary determinant of economic prosperity?  If keeping everything local is so good, why don’t you do business within ONLY the Lopes household (grow your own food, make your own clothes, generate your own power, etc.)?  That would certainly be the pinnacle of the economic strategy you are espousing.

And to come full circle, isn’t it a little ironic to hold a Job Creation Panel one week only to come out the next week supporting a plan to purposefully harm a set of large local employers?

I don’t mean to pick on Representative Lopes, he is just the example at hand and I certainly ask his understanding for anything he may feel I am mistaken about.  He is only one of many local talking heads I could have pulled out to start making this point. 

The important issue is not in the positional details of one or another pundit.  The important issue is when we, as a community, are going to start holding these public Talkers and Idea Peddlers to a higher level, a higher standard, of intellectual integrity and understanding? 

When the professional Thinkers of Tucson know that they will be held to account for the objective results and consequences of their ideas we will finally be started on the path to getting Truth in the places where we now just find Ideology.

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