Recently, my favorite sports writer, Joe Posnanski wrote a piece about the meanings of advanced baseball statistics. He started quoting this piece from Louis CK:
“And then I was looking at the little Chinese lady. There was a beauty to her — she was just a tiny little Chinese lady, I was staring at her because I was fascinated by her. I don’t know anybody like her, and I am SO not a little old Chinese lady.
“Then I look and I think, ‘What are her thoughts?’ That’s what I was burning inside with. ‘What is she thinking right now?’ I can never know. And my dumb brain is telling me she’s just thinking: ‘Ching chung cheeng, chung cheeng chaing.’ That’s how dumb I am, that I think Chinese jibberish* that I made up is in her actually Chinese mind.”
Posnanski then went on to explain that a lot of people who oppose the use of advanced statistics are arguing with the Chinese jibberish in their head.
Baseball people really don’t get at all what people like Bill James and Tom Tango and Pete Palmer and the like are doing at all. They might THINK they know. But in the end, they are just assuming that the Chinese jibberish that they make up is what is actually happening in the minds of the most brilliant sabermetric minds.
This is a long way of saying that whenever I mention car culture or Washington State imposing car culture on its city folk, that I feel like the arguments I get into are with people assuming the Chinese jibberish in their head is my argument. If this was confined to the Internet, I’d just chalk it up to trollery and use this post to write about something else (more metacommentary, probably), but I hear it in conversation elsewhere, so I thought I should clarify what I mean, and hopefully we can get away from that and onto an actual conversation.
To address the jibberish: Opposing car culture doesn’t mean that nobody will ever be allowed to drive anywhere. It doesn’t mean that we’ll turn all the roads into bike paths. It doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to drive. While I can’t speak to anyone else who uses the term, for me it certainly doesn’t mean I think you’re a bad person if you drive or if you enjoy driving. It doesn’t mean that you are a bad person for feeling unsafe on a bike, or thinking it’s important to have a car if you have children.
Car culture is the myriad ways we privilege driving over other ways to get around as a society. It’s the fact that you need a car for so many jobs, even jobs unrelated to driving. It’s the fact that our bicycle infrastructure even in Seattle is pretty inadequate, and worse further out. It’s the fact that so many parents have such a need for cars. It’s all the roads without a shoulder let alone a decent bike lane. It’s the sidewalks that neighborhoods have been promised for decades but that never quite seem to materialize. It’s the underfunded public transit. It’s the fact that when we discuss the viaduct replacement that many people are more concerned about how to move cars than how to move people. It’s our refusal to deal with the externalities of driving from pollution, to global warming gases, to the big holes in cities where we have to park, to the fact that streets aren’t safe for pedestrians in the way they were before cars.
And car culture is treating all these things as inevitable instead of the result of choices we make. When I say the legislature imposes car culture (especially, but not exclusively) on Seattle, I’m saying that consciously or not, the policies that the state pushes make those things in the above paragraph, and more, worse. So when, for example, a state legislator from Yakima tries to impose a maximum parking tax on Seattle that’s a choice for that legislator, and possibly the entire state. They’re saying we should have cheaper parking. Not we should figure out what’s reasonable given the budget deficit and the things that extra parking does to a city, but that they know best. When the legislature wants to build a replacement for the Viaduct, instead of looking at how to move people around, they’re looking at how to move cars. Until they recognize that cars are one way people and goods move around, but aren’t the only way, they’ll still push cars on us when there are better alternatives. Not just with the Viaduct replacement but with all sorts of policies.