A further note on the lack of support for critical analysis within communities
Applying the theories of "positive illusions" and "optimistic bias" to local political and economic elites: Besides the piece I wrote yesterday about "the failure of the Coast Guard headquarters to spur economic revitalization 'East of the River'," which is something I predicted 8 years ago when it was first touted, while doing some filing this morning and re-reading/skimming of stuff I've clipped as I go along, I came across a mention of "positive illusions" and "optimistic bias" theories, spurred by an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy about how top officials of foundations don't have a lot of experience being criticized since they're handing out money, and people don't want to limit their chances of being recipients.
"Positive illusions" are unrealistically favorable attitudes that people have towards themselves or to people that are close to them. Positive illusions are a form of self-deception or self-enhancement that feel good, maintain self-esteem or stave off discomfort at least in the short term. There are three broad kinds: inflated assessment of one's own abilities, unrealistic optimism about the future and an illusion of control.
"Optimistic bias is commonly defined as the mistaken belief that one's chances of experiencing a negative event are lower (or a positive event higher) than that of one's peers."While most of the work on these theories focuses on individual behavior and action, I would argue that there is opportunity within the field to apply these theories to institutions, which are comprised of individuals applying their personal view to external settings and situations, and community action.
Although you could argue that's what Growth Machine and Urban Regime theories do, and maybe positive illusions theory is a good underpinning theory for insight into why local political and economic elites act in the ways that they do.
There is at least one book, Overconfidence and War: The Havoc and Glory of Positive Illusions, that applies positive illusions theories at the scale of nations. The author argues that:
states are no more rational than people, who are susceptible to exaggerated ideas of their own virtue, of their ability to control events, and of the future. By looking at this bias--called "positive illusions"--as it figures in evolutionary biology, psychology, and the politics of international conflict, this book offers compelling insights into why states wage warI think it's fair to say that individual political and economic actors believe that they are more able and more successful and more correct than their peers and citizens.
In fact, even before I wrote the other piece, as I was coming home from the Metro yesterday morning, a neighbor stopped me on the street to discuss a recent agency action affecting the little one block commercial district in our neighborhood. Among other things,concerning the matter he described past interactions with our Councilmember, who is running for mayor, as "like many people who work for government who don't really listen but after you say something, they instruct you on 'how things really work or are.'"
It's that kind of thinking, but to be fair to her, it's gone on along time.
E.g., I remember being shocked during the Bush Administration reading something in the New York Times Magazine about how the people running government create their own reality. From Ron Suskind, “Without a Doubt,” New York Times, 17 October 2004:
In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.
The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism.
He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
In fact they are classic examples of older ideas of urban redevelopment when the only value possessed by distressed communities is land able to be assembled and redeveloped for another another purpose.
Manifest destiny or "reproduction of space" by highly resourced economic elites is not ground up urban revitalization helping the impoverished.
And unless distressed neighborhoods are immediately proximate to some of the most successful neighborhoods in their region, they aren't going to be able to make the case to Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and others, using the examples presented.