When I turned to the Opinion section of the Statesman-Journal this morning, the main editorial was called “Fairview plan would pay dividends for city.” Since Laurel and I are investors in Sustainable Fairview Associates, the LLC (limited liability company) that is trying to purchase and develop the 275 acre Fairview property, naturally I was interested in what the newspaper had to say.
On the whole, I had to agree that the sustainable community that hopefully will emerge at Fairview is a wonderful opportunity to showcase Salem and spark the local economy. But since we’ve been so intimately involved with this project for almost two years, and know more than the editorial board does about how the original vision for Sustainable Fairview compares with what is actually happening (and is likely to happen), I was struck by how the Pollyannish tone of the editorial contrasted with our negative attitude about the current direction of Sustainable Fairview Associates.
For example, is the project really “solving tomorrow’s problems in creative ways”? Is it true that “Architects, city planners and developers would come to check us out”? Actually, while the original Fairview vision was cutting-edge and genuinely creative, that vision has been pared back considerably. While I’m no expert in this area, my impression is that quite a few other sustainable developments around the world are better examples of sustainability than Fairview.
This definitely is true as regards the social and economic sides of the three-legged stool of sustainability (the other side being ecological/environmental, the techno aspect of solar power, open spaces, recycling, living system wastewater treatment, that sort of stuff). I look upon our investment much as a manager of a socially conscious mutual fund would: the quality and form of governance of the company is a big part of determining how sustainable it is. An autocratic corporation that treats its employees and shareholders like dirt isn’t “sustainable,” even if it makes hydrogen fuel cells.
Knowing Sustainable Fairview Associates from the inside as we do, whereas editorial writers only know it from the outside, it isn’t surprising that Laurel and I have a different perspective about how successful and wonderful the Fairview development likely will be. So I was primed to get some fresh insights when, later that morning, I read some more of Brian Greene’s great new book, “The Fabric of the Cosmos.” Greene is a physicist who wrote “The Elegant Universe,” also a good book, but “The Fabric of the Cosmos” is better, for sure. Clearer, also deeper and more philosophical.
I always love to read about relativity theory, in part because I never can get it absolutely straight in my mind how space and time work together. Do clocks run slower at fast speeds, or slower? Do objects get longer or shorter as they approach the speed of light? And, more importantly, why the heck does whatever happens, happen? Greene does a fine job explaining Einstein’s theories, so fine that I might even remember the basics of relativity theory this time (and this space, given the reality of a spacetime continuum). He points out something that I have read before, that Einstein never was happy with the term “relativity theory” and preferred something like “invariance theory.” For even though the timing and spacing of events is indeed relative to the location of observers in time and space, this happens because of the invariance of the speed of light, and the objective reality of the spacetime continuum as a whole.
However, not being privy to the wisdom of the Whole, I’m necessarily relegated to playing my role as a Part. A part with a personal, relative, idiosyncratic perspective. Here, of course, I’m taking some liberties with relativity theory, using it to help explain psychological rather than physical realities, but it is difficult not to find parallels between the two. Einstein demonstrated that there isn’t a privileged spectator in the universe, an entity that can say conclusively, “This is the way it is.” Things appear different to different observers moving at different speeds in different locations because they are different. It isn’t that one observer is right and another wrong. They are both right, from their own perspective.
So reading Greene this morning led me to a glorious feeling: subjectivity should be wholeheartedly embraced, not anxiously questioned. Subjectivity, in the sense of a personal perspective, is all that any of us has. Unless, that is, we become the objective Whole of the universe. Or more broadly, the cosmos. Until that moment transpires in the spacetime continuum, we’re going to view things our way, whether this be a beam from a coastal lighthouse or how a mixed-use sustainable development at Fairview is coming along.
Since Laurel and I are more critical of the management of Sustainable Fairview Associates than a good share of our fellow investors, sometimes our minority status makes me uncomfortable, and I even begin to wonder, “Maybe all the happy SFA members are right, and I’m wrong.” Thankfully, I usually quickly come to my senses, as I did today, and realize “There isn’t any right, and there isn’t any wrong. There is just being true to your own self, and your own perspective.”
As clichéd as it may sound, this is what makes life interesting—our different ways of perceiving the world. While oneness may be the destination that we all are seeking, the path that leads there is marked by marvelously entertaining multiplicity. We all should revel in our relativity, screaming our subjectivity to the sky—and beyond. To do any less is to deny reality, the reality that everyone sees things in a different way. So I’ll continue to look with my critical eye upon the blurred sustainable vision of Sustainable Fairview Associates. When I see things differently, then things will be different—for me, the only source of my seeing.