Maybe a bit deep for a Friday, but I happened upon this quote while perusing the list of quotes I keep for e-mails and thought I’d share.   I don’t recall exactly where I found it — it wasn’t at the original source — but it’s one of my favorites and I believe it applies to both motorists and bicyclists.

The only standard of performance that can sustain a free society is excellence.  It is increasingly claimed, however, that excellence is at odds with democracy; increasingly we are urged to offer a dangerous embrace to mere adequacy … Our flight from excellence is profoundly philosophical.  Out of well-intentioned but inept concern with quality of opportunity, we have begun to reject anything that exceeds anyone’s grasp.  Some might argue that it is our right to engage in this curious flight, and so it is, the right of free men to be fools.  But do we have the right as citizens in a free society to reject excellence on behalf of others who may not be so foolish?

— Dr. John Silber, president of Boston University in Harper’s magazine

7 replies
  1. ToddBS
    ToddBS says:

    I like the quote. Though I have to admit I was hoping for a lambasting of the woman in the photo. In another hundred years people will be sitting around saying “If man was meant to walk, he would have been born with functional leg muscles!”

    In fact, I think that picture is worthy of demotivating. Too bad I’m not creative enough to do it myself.

  2. Steve A
    Steve A says:

    Would she not have had an easier time with something just designed for the purpose on the Segway? At least there’s a little fresh air involved.

    We might be getting just a tad judgmental here. I imagine her and her baby would have passed without mention had she been driving a Hummer with a child seat.

    Personally, I LIKE a variety of road users. It helps keep the principle that all people have a right to use the roads a vibrant concept.

  3. Mighk
    Mighk says:

    Aside from the questionable safety of trying to operate two devices at once, each with their own “minds” of how they want to go, the Segway itself has bothered me since its inception.

    The quote should be thought of not just within the broader context of excellence, but also more narrowly. What happens when we replace personal excellence (or even mere competence) with technological excellence? The Segway is certainly an example of technological excellence, but if it contributes to atrophy of human-powered locomotion, I think we’re looking at a net loss. (See also: anti-lock brakes, self-parking technology, etc.)

    That said, the quote was not really about the Segway. Mostly it was about bicycling and bicyclists. Believing we can design-away the need for competent cycling is to me a tragedy. Do we want the whole of bicycling to be yet another celebration of the lowest common denominator, or a way to challenge people — even (especially!) children — towards personal excellence?

    The far end of the facilities-oriented side of advocacy has a mind-set of “we have to make bicycling immediately available to the least competent of bicyclists in order to get more people biking.”

    I’d rather be associated with those who want to empower individuals to not only learn to navigate the existing street network, but to help pass that knowledge along.

    And I do NOT include speed as a component of cycling excellence. Fast cyclists are often not competent; competent cyclists are often not fast.

    And, just because I know somebody will interpret the above as an anti-facilities statement, I’ll add the obligatory “No, that’s not what I mean.” Yes, some facilities are bad. Some are good. Some are a mixed bag.

    Excellence in facilities should mean design that supports competence and excellence in behavior. In too many cases I’ve seen design which does the opposite.

  4. john
    john says:

    How to turn GOOD into BAD:

    Baby-Cart = Fresh air via walking

    Segway = Over-engineered Complexity

    Segway + Baby-Cart = Irresponsible Parenting

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