The state of California [Part 2]

By | April 18, 2014

In Part 1 of this post, I detailed three areas of concern in the current public space that is California today. Here, I’d like to suggest two other major sets of problems, and then draw some implication for the nation as a whole.

The almost complete failure of the Brown administration to do anything meaningful about the rapid growth of the “prison-industrial complex. Indeed, Brown has actively resisted any and all court orders related to reducing the growth of the inmate population and the conditions of imprisonment, while heaping rewards on the guards’ unions and expanding the part of the population held in private prisons – a complete social obscenity if there ever was one. Throw into the mix the growing use of supermax solitary confinement on dubious grounds and under ghastly conditions and you have a giant social abscess. The administration deliberately chose this social strategy – nothing forced them into it. The guards aren’t that politically powerful – actually, more of a nuisance. Bad judgment at the best; evil at work at worst. Unforgiveable. I still probably won’t vote for Goofy, but sometimes I’m tempted.

The problematical nature of Silicon Valley. I certainly agree that it has made its contributions; as the resident technophile here I could hardly do otherwise. But I’m afraid that there are a number of pathologies embedded into that matrix whose internal contradictions could eventually crash the edifice. First, there is the “bubble mentality” endemic to the start-up environment; all that was learned by the tech sector from the 2000-1 debacle was the need to get out quicker next time after you’ve got yours. Second, there is the social fractionation of the tech society. San Francisco can be seen as a sort of natural experiment as to what happens when social inequality is given full rein. Tech firms are enormous reservoirs of active discrimination based on age, gender, ability (very narrowly defined), current employment, race, and other factors. And the sector is absolutely Malthusian when it comes to those pushed to the outside for whatever reason. The current HBO show “Silicon Valley” (just after “Game of Thrones”, appropriately enough) is only a slight exaggeration of this culture. It might be excused to some degree if the sector were actually as socially productive as its propaganda would indicate, but there has been little real innovation for a long time – even Apple has lost its edge after Jobs. It’s almost as though we’ve finally come to the end of the technology that we could reverse-engineer from crashed UFOs. All recent innovation has served mainly to strengthen centralized authority rather than empower the individual. And the tech firms have gladly let themselves become partners in the national security state manipulated by the finance sector in its own narrow interests.

There are some other less horrible problems, but these will do for now.

It’s important to note that these problems aren’t by any means unique to California; they’re part of the national agenda of the right. Some states, particularly in the South and Midwest are even worse in these areas than California, with few if any of the countervailing positives. And at present, the Federal government is actively abetting these trends and deserves equal condemnation, particularly for draconian drug laws of no demonstrable effectiveness and horrendous social consequences and for the continued march toward the police state. The national Democrats have no alternative vision to make even the most basic kinds of improvements that California has been able to implement. The presidency has become the farcical Evil Twin of the “West Wing” presidency that we all so loved – the second half of Marx’s prediction about history repeating itself. I don’t see anything in Clinton’s background that indicates that she’d reverse any of these vile trends, and no Democratic alternative to her candidacy if she wants it. For the Republicans, Jeb Bush will probably hang around and pick up the pieces after the other factions have exhausted themselves with mouth froth. He might even win if Obama continues to systematically alienate each component of his support by bungling every attempt to craft a “legacy” of some sort. So prospects for national improvement are slim to none.

Perhaps California can overcome of these problems and develop what could turn into a new national vision. But first it has to come to terms with them itself. We can teach the nation. But until we can cast out our own beams, we’ll have a real problem with the motes of the rest of the states and the Federal government.