…I think we have nearly descended into Miller’s dark vision — especially the juxtaposition of occasional high technology with pre-modern notions of law and security. The state deficit is at $16 billion. Stockton went bankrupt; Fresno is rumored to be next. Unemployment stays over 10% and in the Central Valley is more like 15%. Seven out of the last eleven new Californians went on Medicaid, which is about broke. A third of the nation’s welfare recipients are in California. In many areas, 40% of Central Valley high school students do not graduate — and do not work, if the latest crisis in finding $10 an hour agricultural workers is any indication. And so on.
…brought on by a perfect storm of events that have shred the veneer of sophisticated civilization. Add up the causes. One was the destruction of the California rural middle class. Manufacturing jobs, small family farms, and new businesses disappeared due to globalization, high taxes, and new regulations. A pyramidal society followed of a few absentee land barons and corporate grandees, and a mass of those on entitlements or working for government or employed at low-skilled service jobs. The guy with a viable 60 acres of almonds ceased to exist. Illegal immigration did its share. No society can successfully absorb some 6-7 million illegal aliens, in less than two decades, the vast majority without English, legality, or education from the poorer provinces of Mexico, the arrivals subsidized by state entitlements while sending billions in remittances back to Mexico — all in a politicized climate where dissent is demonized as racism. This state of affairs is especially true when the host has given up on assimilation, integration, the melting pot, and basic requirements of lawful citizenship. Terrible governance was also a culprit, in the sense that the state worked like a lottery: those lucky enough by hook or by crook to get a state job thereby landed a bonanza of high wages, good benefits, no accountability, and rich pensions that eventually almost broke the larger and less well-compensated general society.
A coarsening of popular culture — a nationwide phenomenon — was intensified, as it always is, in California. The internet, video games, and modern pop culture translated into a generation of youth that did not know the value of hard work or a weekend hike in the Sierra. They didn’t learn how to open a good history book or poem, much less acquire even basic skills such as mowing the lawn or hammering a nail. But California’s Generation X did know that they were “somebody” whom teachers and officials dared not reprimand, punish, prosecute, or otherwise pass judgment on for their anti-social behavior. Add all that up with a whiny, pampered, influential elite on the coast that was more worried about wind power, gay marriage, ending plastic bags in the grocery stores — and, well, you get the present-day Road Warrior culture of California.
No one in the Central Valley believes that they can stop the epidemic of looting copper wire. I know the local Masonic Hall is not the Parthenon, but you get the picture of our modern Turks prying off the lead seals of the building clamps of classical temples. . . . I walk each night around the farm. What is the weirdest find? A nearby alleyway has become a dumping place for the rotting corpses of fighting dogs. Each evening or so, a dead dog (pit bulls, Queensland terriers) with a rope and plenty of wounds is thrown up on the high bank. The coyotes make short work of the remains. Scattered about are several skeletons with ropes still around their necks. I suppose that at about 2 a.m. the organizers of dog fights drive in and cast out the evenings’ losers. I have never seen such a thing in 58 years (although finding plastic bags with dead kittens in the trash outside my vineyard was a close second). Where is PETA when you need them? Is not the epidemic of dog- and cock-fighting in central California a concern of theirs? (Is berating in Berkeley a corporation over meat-packing a bit more glamorous than running an education awareness program about animal fights in Parlier?)
The public schools were once the key to California’s ascendance. Universal education turned out well-prepared citizens who were responsible for California’s rosy future — one based on an excellent tripartite higher education system of junior colleges, state colleges, and universities; sophisticated dams and irrigation systems; and a network of modern freeways and roads. . . . Those who are not educated soon inherit the reins of public responsibility. In practical terms, the symptoms are everywhere. I now expect that my county property tax returns will have common errors, from the spelling of my name or address to the particular acreage assessed. When entering the bank, I expect people not just to not speak English, but occasionally not to write any language, and thus put a mark down, in Old West fashion, to cash their checks.
…Forty years ago I assumed rightly that cars parked along the side of the road were out of gas or needed repair. Now? I expect that the cars are much more reliable, but the owner of any car parked outside my house is either stealing fruit, casing the joint, using drugs, or inebriated. Last week I explained to a passer-by why he could not steal the peaches from my trees; he honestly thought not only that he could, but that he almost was obligated to. . . . Sometimes a lone brave teacher makes the news for insisting that her students read Shakespeare. On occasion, I think the people silently seethe and resent their kingdom of lies, and so may prove their anger at the polls, perhaps this November. One looks for hope where one can find it.