I have lived for many years the People’s Socialist Green Republic of Santa Cruz in California, right in the Belly of the Beast. That’s not its real name actually, just the name it deserves. It’s a university town of about 50,000. A large campus of the University of California sits on the hills overlooking the town. The campus has several distinguished university departments, including Marine Biology and Astronomy. However, many more of it undergraduates believe in Astrology than know anything at all about Astronomy.
It’s a Bobo-land where LUGs prosper and the boys are quiet, timid, retiring, sweet, and too frightened to do the job that Mother Nature commanded for them. (LUG= Lesbian Until Graduation. I swear I have known several, young apparent lesbians who showed up a couple of years after school with a husband, a male husband, I mean. There is a logic to it: Lesbianism is the highest degree of feminism. It brings you a great deal of political prestige on campus. But then, soon, nature and convention re-assert themselves and everything returns pretty much to what the young woman’s parents always wished for, a dual income family, children, etc. Note that I have said nothing about or against lesbians by natural inclination.) The University of California at Santa Cruz has a healthy “Department of Feminist Studies,” not “Women’s Studies,” not “Feminine Studies, ” “Feminist,” with an “ist” indicating perhaps a certain lack of scholarly detachment!
Savvy faculty members of 70s vintage (like me) with more or less phony doctorates they invented have used this mass of ignorant, semi-literate, easily revolted, sometimes revolting, overwhelmingly middle-class young people to take over the running of the city. (Note for overseas readers: In California, you can pretty much register to vote anywhere where you have lived for I don’t know how long. I couldn’t even find it on the Internet. No identification is required or even permitted to actually vote. )
Picture it: a mass of voters who have no permanent stake in the city, whose parents in many cases pay their very indirect property taxes (via rent) determine who shall rule the city. When these voters graduate or go on Spring Break, permanent residents like me are left to live with their preferences. I hasten to say that their preferences are not always objectionable even when they are debatable. One example of the latter is covering the city hall parking lot with solar panels, an operation unlikely to be ever audited. I mean that I am not dead-set against such an experiment. I would just like to know how much it cost and how much power it actually produces. If it cost $500 per permanent resident of the city and it generates just enough power to light the city hall for three months, I am against it, dead-set against it. If it cost $50 per resident, anything goes, I think. Well, I will probably never know.
I will never really get old in Santa Cruz because I live here in a time warp. It’s still the sixties here and maybe the seventies. The radical professors go back to my time in graduate school. Some are young enough to have been “trained” by my graduate school colleagues when the latter became professors. They rule, often with the help of wealthy downtown businessmen who used to be hippies or Trostkysts, or both. The climate is a retro-mixture of the simplistic vulgar Marxism of those who have not read a single page of Marx, and of old New Age unexamined beliefs. There was a small demonstration downtown, just yesterday with signs reading: “Capitalism must die so we may live,” and also, “Four days work for five days pay.” (Why as many as four days, I wonder, why not three, or two?) What percentage of the young demonstrators could give definition of capitalism that’s not a mere slogan, I ask myself? (The answer is in Jacques Delacroix’s “Capitalism.” The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology. Blackwell Publishing. Vol. 2, Malden, Mass. 2006.) I would bet the answer is close to 0%, or even less!
In Santa Cruz, there is a brisk local trade in chunks of quartz, loved for their esoteric properties. Their properties are so esoteric, no one is able to explain to me what they are. Earth Day is celebrated here in a lively way. If anyone ventured to declare that one of the two original Earth Day founders, Ira Einhorn, beat his girlfriend to death and left her to dry in a trunk in a closet, he would be accused of slander so absurd as to prove madness, my madness (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ira_Einhorn). Incidentally, Einhorn, who had fled to France for fifteen-plus years, was defended to the end against extradition by the French Green Party. Does it show that greenies have a criminal bent? No, it indicates that they lack ordinary criticality. By the way, I knew the other founder, Dennis Hayes, when we were both undergraduates. I am sure he did not murder his girlfriend. That’s half of the founding team. We can’t all be perfect.
Here, in Santa Cruz, I am surrounded by irrationalisms of several categories. They range from otherwise dead varieties of communism, varieties dead everywhere else on earth, including North Korea, to environmentalist cults, through a large number of diet fads the least of which is veganism. Often, I think that my wife, my daughter, my toddler granddaughter, myself, and a handful of friends are the only rational and fact-bound people around.
Why do you live there, JD if you are so critical, if it’s so painful, they ask? Several answers. First, Santa Cruz maybe the only place on earth with beautiful, uncrowded beaches within a forty-five minute drive of Silicon Valley, a strong engine of economic development, of jobs, of technical innovation (perhaps, the strongest engine anywhere in the world). Second, it’s a very beautiful location (Big Sur is next door). Third, there are fish in the ocean only one mile from my house.
Fourth, the stranglehold of the university on the town is not all bad for me personally. It creates a kind of modern serfdom all to my advantage as a mature consumer. There is an inexhaustible local supply of young people who need a job but who are not about to go pick strawberries two miles away, as everyone knows. As a result, hardly anybody here earns more than ten dollars an hour. This basic economic fact makes for well-staffed bookstores, coffee shops, restaurants. Santa Cruz is better endowed with those attractions than any town of its size that would rely on seasonal tourism of non-elite variety. (My town’s main tourist attraction is the Boardwalk, a permanent carnival -a “Luna Park”- attracting blue-collar families and recent immigrants from poor countries who live in and near Silicon Valley.) There is presence of a permanent middle class of professors determined to live la vida loca even and especially if they are ardent Marxists. This fact helps Santa Cruz support restaurants that would probably not be found here without them. The movie theaters are better than average for the same reason. We actually also have three brick-and-mortar bookstores, one of which, Bookshop Santa Cruz, is downright lavish. I am often annoyed in this town; I am seldom in excruciating mental pain.
Fifth, with a median age that must hover next to 25 (I did not bother to check,) there is a fantastic music scene around me. I am of an age where I am wont to doddle to sleep in front of the TV fairly early but I like to know that there is good music to be had should it strike my fancy to remain awake. In fact, the rich night musical scene often bleeds into the day time, within my reach.
In general, if you have an open mind however, it’s not always easy to dismiss the other airheads, I find.
On the rare occasions when I go to one of the several “natural” stores in town, I wonder at the sight of paper-thin, shabbily dressed young women clutching three dollars to pay for what looks like an equal number of organic, sustainably and locally grown salad leaves. I snicker secretly of course. Yet, yet, there is good scientific evidence that rats fed a starvation diet live longer than their brethren fed a normal diet. The young women may just be doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.
It’s unavoidable that I have friends who partake more or less fully of the local culture, of course. For one thing, I spend time in coffee shops. They don’t have coffee shops for old conservative curmudgeons, it turns out. If there were, I would probably not patronize them. There is a difference between being one and liking others of the same kind. Besides, old men in public places often try shamelessly to recruit you into their mutual misery clubs: Let me tell you about my arthritis, I will listen about your shingles. Second, I am a writer of sorts. That fact entails a need for services not always provided by narrow rationalists like me. (By God, even my car mechanic is a spiritualist!) So, for example, the person who will adeptly lay out my stories for printing is a friend who will also try to persuade me of the merits of various herbal medicines.(I Used to Be French: an Immature Autobiography is live in the Kindle Store at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JY0G3SA)
Leave me alone, I protest, I go by science alone. I don’t think I have any choice on this. It’s science or it’s superstition from the days when life expectancy was about fifty. Of course, tea made from a flower in Asia the name of which I cannot pronounce is “natural,” but so is cobra venom; why don’t you try an injection of it, I ask my friend venomously? It’s sovereign against almost all ills and pains.
And then, I read an article in a trusted newspaper (the Wall Street Journal 5/3/5/14). The author, Nina Teichloz, argues rather persuasively that the health-based rejection of animal fats, going back to the fifties, is founded on pseudo-science, on almost-science, on exaggerated amplification of sparse research result, and on monstrous career ambitions. It may well turn out that bacon fat is good for you, and canola oil bad, she argues. It’s turning out, as I speak, that foods that tend to replace the banned animal fats in enlightened Americans’ diets, all based on carbohydrates, have recognizable, well- demonstrated noxious effects on health.
Wait a minute, I think, I am one of those enlightened Americans though reared in France! All my adult life, I have been what doctors call a compliant patient. They don’t have to tell me the dos and don’ts twice. Also most of my adult life, I have deprived myself of pâté, rillettes, terrine of this and terrine of that, cheese, marbled steak, etc. For a long time, I was even on a fairly stern macrobiotic diet involving a great deal of grain, several kinds of grain, three times a day. I have Type II diabetes although I am only moderately overweight. My four unenlightened French siblings – who share 50% of my genes – have no trace of diabetes. One is enormous. All ate everything they wanted on the extravagantly fat French menu all their lives. (But three out of four don’t eat much at all.) Did I get severely punished for my well-informed science-based rationalism, I wonder? (But to be fair, I have to remember that beer too is rich in carbohydrates, not just whole bulgur wheat.)*
I had smelled a rat for a long time anyway because French men, who do all the wrong things but one, persist in not dying. (They will let you know briskly, with a cold cigarette dangling from their upper lip, that their life expectancy is two years longer on the average than is American men’s.)
Anger wells up in me when I see a young father bicycling blithely in traffic with a his toddler in handlebar seat as if the kid were a bumper against oncoming cars. He is obviously trying to save the planet from “climate change” (formerly “global warming”). Yet, the child will most likely survive. Seeing the world from Dad’ bike at an early age may cause him to become a natural cyclist when he grows up. This may be enough to compensate for his relentless, ceaseless small screen habits, for his sedentariness, health-wise and with respect to the development of his imagination.
In the end, it may well be that my annoying town is a boon to the wider society, in the manner of a natural laboratory. If it turns out, for example, that a diet based largely on raw carrots causes cancer, the local vegans will be the last ones to know. Yet, they will constitute a valuable sample on which to run a serious epidemiological study, a real one. If it’s a fact that ten joints of cannabis a day is an effective remedy against aging, there is an excellent chance the discovery will be made in Santa Cruz. Also, this town fairly drips with bad artists. Many are mere artistry pimps, living at public expense for little in return. Some try but don’t succeed. But art may be like the Olympics: You need a broad base of practitioners of varying merits for a chance of a handful of medals.
Silliness and sometimes downright madness may just be the price we pay for a reasonably inventive society. In the other society I know best, France, there is far less mediocrity on all kinds on display than I see in the US and in Santa Cruz. In France, in the past thirty years, there is also little new to hear or to see, I believe. The main recent French artistic achievement is an original and pleasant way to light up he Eiffel Tower. (I am not contemptuous, I like it.) The French industrial achievements likewise have been modest and largely the result of precise engineering rather than of innovation.
In America, they say, “Far out; by all means try it!” even if it has only one wing to one side, and a motor made of twisted rubber bands. Our nonjudgmentalism is often exasperating. In France, they will tell you, “It will never fly” even if the article in question is a complete WWII jet. Accordingly, the first men to fly in a controlled flight were Americans and former bicycles repairmen, failed businessmen, as well as high school dropouts. Unlikely it would have ever happened in France. There, the Wright brothers would have been admonished to stay in school until age 23 or 24, earn a couple of proper engineering degrees first and then, ridiculed until they returned to serious business of building bikes.
Every time I grate my teeth at the irrationality, the childishness, the self-indulgence around me in Santa Cruz, California, I make myself repeat the obvious to myself: America invented live radio broadcasting, the Internet, the Windsurfer, country music as well as jazz, and the giant double roll of toilet paper in public accommodations. Irritation is a small price to pay, perhaps.
Still rock-solid among my beliefs: 1 Children should be vaccinated; 2 Almost every service the government provides could be better supplied by the market, private contracts, and insurance schemes. (It’s “Almost” because I have not seen my way yet to defense being outsourced to mercenary outfits. Libertarians hardly ever discuss this central issue.)
* full disclosure: I have been on the Paleolithic Diet – with some systematic cheating – for over a year. My diabetes number have never been so good in fifteen years. My doctor is speechless because he does not want inadvertently to promote another diet fad. I am not making any other claim except that I am rarely hungry. The cheating is this: I drink coffee and wine or beer every day. None is really part of that diet. It’s just good for my soul.