Issaquah Councilman: Twisted Irony or Perverse Sentimentalism?

When I was a young philosophy student we spent many hours debating ethics and morality and learning the difference. One element of the pedagogy was the hypothetical scenario as a way to explore whether human beings can behave in ways that are moral and what that even means. One key discussion was always around altruism, that is, can people behave in ways that are not self interested? A recent story in the Seattle Weekly about an Issaquah Councilmember having to leave town because it had become unaffordable sounded like something right out of the text book, especially because the Councilmember in question was against building more housing in the city. The Weekly called it “twisted irony,” but I call the story an example of perverse sentimentalism and the story explains the lengths to which people will go holding on to views that are just wrong and hurt their own self interest.

The Seattle Weekly describes Justin Walsh as having run for the Issaquah City Council largely on his frustration over housing prices.

“We need to create affordable housing in a way that maintains the community we love,” he told Issaquah Daily in June. “If our teachers and small business owners cannot afford to be community members, they will move elsewhere and we will lose their stewardship over the community.”

In yet another case of journalistic malpractice typical in the region, the Weekly doesn’t focus on the fact that Wash was in the process of buying a house in North Bend while he was running for the Issaquah City Council. Yes, that’s right. It’s right there in the story.

However, during the campaign Walsh moved outside of Issaquah city limits to North Bend, rendering him ineligible to hold a city government position.

Walsh called the decision to move “heart-wrenching.


The guy is running for office then moves out of town durning the campaign. And what’s the news flash?

Walsh ended up winning the November election. But in a twisted bit of irony, he will not be taking his seat come January. The reason? A lack of affordable housing.

So the story becomes another validating story for those bent on squashing housing supply. Also right there in the story, is an example of one of those bizarre things that is truly the headline and lead of the story: Walsh was in favor of a moratorium on new housing! And the Issaquah City Council passed a moratorium until next summer.


Housing is so expensive in Issaquah we’ve got to stop building it! 

The story ought to be an object lesson in the role of sentimentalism in the way people make decisions. Walsh was so concerned about housing prices in Issaquah he moved away after running a campaign that supported building no more housing in Issaquah, housing that would have ameliorated the very thing that practically meant moving out of town. Walsh acted in a way exactly opposite to his own self-interest and that of his community, yet the outcome of the things he supported act as validation for doing more of the same. It’s like watching someone trying to put out a fire with gasoline.

There’s a satisfyingly comprehensive article on altruism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy that might put most people to sleep. I read through it trying to find Walsh’s case but I couldn’t. But his story is not uncommon and the real news and urgent warning is that we have thousands of Justin Walshes in the Puget Sound in positions of influence who continue to believe that making more housing means prices just get higher and higher. And perhaps the most disturbing part of the article is the last paragraph.

Walsh still plans to maintain his law firm in Issaquah and “stay active in the region.”


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