This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

January 22, 2009 - when bad things happen to good ideas...

"Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof." - John Kenneth Galbraith

Isn't it the truth? Every single one of us has held onto strategies that have been clearly demonstrated not to work. Women trapped in situations with abusive men finally get themselves out -- only to immediately hook up with another one.

Business owners persist in plans that focus firmly on a long-gone past (think the American automobile industry) or demonstrate the most incredibly cynical and short-sighted greed (subprime lending, for instance).

Politicians -- whether it's fostering Great Society welfare dependency, or proclaiming the gospel of market deregulation up to, and right past, the point of public health or industry collapse -- just can't accept the fact that negative results disprove really bad ideas.

Every day we find out that things we just know to be true, aren't true at all. And even though our erroneous premises cause us direct damage, we pull ourselves together and bravely ... stay the course.

Maybe if we just try harder... If we just BELIEVE...

Last week I mentioned the scientific method. Rational people test hypotheses, and discard the ones that fail. What could be clearer?

Except even scientists can't pull it off. Almost every time there's a major shift in scientific understanding -- whether it's Copernican cosmology or quantum physics or climatology -- a whole generation of stubborn scientists has to die off before the new insight can be adopted, and pave the way for the next advance.

Based on brain research, the problem is something called "framing." The way our brains work is that we build a series of linked assumptions that help us make sense of things. But frames not only define "meaning," they also filter out anything that contradicts them.

Here's a two word frame: "tax burden." Make those two words into a single axiom, and even if a tax is the cheapest, simplest, fairest means to accomplish something most people agree is essential to our common survival, you just can't see it. Literally. It's outside the frame.

It's impossible to be human without finding that sooner or later, your frame doesn't fit reality. But trying to make reality fit the frame when it doesn't is, when you get right down to it, a delusion.

Delusions are common. Here was mine: for the past 13 years, I believed that growing library use would result in the growth of library support.

In 1996, our library won a tax increase by a slim 51%. Back then, 51% of the county's households had a library card, and the average annual checkouts per person was about 9.

In 2007, a year BEFORE the economic meltdown, 84% of the households had a library card, and the average annual checkouts had risen to over 20 per person -- among the highest not just in Colorado, not just in the United States, but in the world.

That would seem to be the right time to ask for more financial support, which we needed for clearly identifiable projects, in obvious demand, and which we could not otherwise afford. So we did.

And we LOST by 51%.

Every tax increase is not automatically justified or worthy of support. Neither, by the way, is every private sector price increase (gasoline or insurance, for example) -- which might well result in far more of a financial "burden" than a particular tax.

But my conclusion is this: even intense use of public library service is not sufficient to ensure additional library funding. I have proof.

The act of intellectual courage I most respect is the ability to change one's mind. To say, "I was wrong. I see that."

And to build a new, more accurate frame.

LaRue's Views are his own. The odds are good, as noted above, that at least some of them are mistaken.

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